Sr. Cecilia Fandel shares her first Communion story with students at Our Lady of Sorrows School, Ladysmith. A finalist for the SDCCW’s Pax Christi Award, the Servite worked in education – as a teacher, principal, director, catechist and more – for decades. (Submitted photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles on finalists for the Superior Diocesan Council of 2022 Catholic Women’s Pax Christi Award.

“Only boring people get bored,” so the Ruth Burke quote goes.

In her in her 63 years of vowed religious life, Sr. Cecilia Fandel has never had the experience.

“There’s plenty to do,” she said. “I haven’t been bored a day in my life … I really haven’t.”

The finalist from the South Central Deanery for the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s 2022 Pax Christi award, the Servants of Mary sister has dedicated her life to the Catholic Church and to the pursuit of justice. She’s used her talents – a love for reading and writing and a gift for building relationships and community – to make the world better and brighter for many.

Born in Ladysmith, she was the sixth of 13 children. She entered the Servites as a postulant in 1957 and made permanent vows in 1959.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Mount Senario College, Ladysmith, and a master’s degree in community organizing and organizational development from Loyola University, Chicago. Sr. Cecilia later spent 25 years working as a community organizer in a multicultural neighborhood in Chicago.

Bookending that mission is a vocational life lived in the Diocese of Superior – as a teacher and principal, a religious educator, activist and organizer. She has been involved in too many ministries in her parish and community to name, but some of her passions include working with youths, supporting farmers and raising awareness about domestic violence, sex trafficking, trauma and other social issues, particularly in rural areas.

She’s also served in a number of diocesan capacities, including on the sisters council and the deacon board and as a diocesan representative in the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.

Sr. Cecilia is passionate about reaching out to Spanish-speaking Catholics in the diocese. Once made aware of the area’s immigrant population almost a decade ago, she worked with a council for a year to develop a Hispanic ministry.

“That’s how that started in our diocese,” she said. Her contributions have included teaching English as a Second Language and collaborating with a committee to organize parish- and county-level outreach and activities.

Her recent interest included bringing a Native exhibit to the local museum, which had featured only the area’s history since European settlement, and she also writes letters to the editor of the local newspaper, the Ladysmith News, on pertinent issues.

Now in her 80s, Sr. Cecilia remains active in her parish “in a retired sort of way.” She serves on the parish council and tries to contribute what she can but said she doesn’t “necessarily take a leadership role.”

Her order, too, has moved into a retirement phase. Once active in education, healthcare, poverty abatement, their parish and other facets of Ladysmith life, the Servites have transferred their ministries to other organizations and are leaving their legacy via a lay community.

When Sr. Cecilia prays the diocese’s prayer for vocations, she hopes someday “novices” will be included alongside the request for seminarians, and the need for religious sisters and brothers will be specified as well.

Retirement has given her more time to pursue her twin passions of history and genealogy. She’s written three books on Servite history and recorded her family’s history and stories as well, for both the patrilineal and matrilineal lines.

“My nephew wants me to write a book about my life,” she added. “I may – who knows.

“My life has been so full.”

Being a Pax Christi finalist represents a sort of victory for the religious sister and, posthumously, her mother. Decades ago, her mother – whom Sr. Cecilia characterized as “outspoken” – tried to nominate her for the SDCCW’s annual award, then the Mother of the Year. Her mother’s request was rejected because Sr. Cecilia did not have children, so her mother wrote a letter to the bishop protesting the exclusion.

The award was later changed to the Pax Christi, for which religious women qualify; Sr. Cecilia still has her mother’s letter.

The sister was treated to a reception at her parish for being named a 2022 finalist.

These days, her role in her Servite community is “chief cook and bottle washer.” She loves cooking – it affords her the opportunity to learn and grow – and just before the video interview for this article, she was busy researching the day’s menu.

“People don’t know what I’m going to serve at the table, and I don’t either,” she laughed. She had just been googling whether apples and avocados go well together, because she wanted to make a salad.

She found out they do.