Meet Sister Eileen Neville
My vocation story began on a Nebraska farm about ten miles from the town of York, where the Ursuline Sisters had a motherhouse, just shortly before the Great Depression of the 1930’s began. Dad was from a strongly united Irish family, mostly situated on farms in the immediate area
While the extended Neville family had several Mercy Sisters in the family — and they did come home for funerals — a stronger tug was coming to me to become an Ursuline. Mother had received her high school education from them and planned to join them after several years of teaching in rural schools. But during those years she met dad, Bill Neville, and the rest is history. Nevertheless, mother remained very close to them, and they even kept us children on some Saturday afternoons so mother could be free for shopping. By about my tenth birthday I had fallen in love with them and knew I would join them.
But several years later the Great Depression got very bad and the Ursulines decided to close their York motherhouse. A group of Sisters we’d never heard of before, Benedictines, came from South Dakota to staff the parish’s K-12 school. Aunt Rose, who had taught me piano since I was five, insisted I now take piano from one of them, Sister Gladys. I soon was eagerly looking forward to lesson days and was excited to learn that Sister Gladys would also be among my high school teachers. Every year my attraction to them seemed to grow, and as the Sisters shared with me more and more about their Rule and life, I knew I belonged with them. Benedictine life seemed like a perfect fit for this Nebraska farm girl who hoped to spend much of her life teaching.
I decided I would enter the Benedictines the summer after graduating from high school. Mother seemed to be just fine with my decision, and she encouraged me to bring Dad up to date on my plans. However, Dad’s family belonged to a branch of Irish in which the youngest girl in the family had the duty to care for her parents until their deaths. This was a serious family obligation, one Dad was not about to give in on. I was devastated. My mother told me to let her handle Dad and suggested that I should plan to attend college with these Benedictine Sisters in Yankton, SD for a year. That would give me time to become better acquainted with them and their community, and meanwhile she would work with Dad.
I followed her plan and was told I would not have a car, but Dad would drive to Yankton to bring me and my friends home for occasional weekends. I gradually began to notice that almost every time Dad came, a Sister or two would accidentally meet us somewhere and insist we have coffee and cookies. Dad really came to relax them and soon was his own Irish story-teller self. By year’s end he was won over, was quite well acquainted with the monastery, and really seemed to like it and thought it was a good choice for me. Some of my five younger brothers would just have to take care of him and mother in their last years. Actually, during those years I was teaching at the college here in Yankton, and would go home to take care of things with our parents on weekends. Not a bad price to pay for the opportunity to be in a community with women I loved and living by a Rule that just seemed to pattern the kind of life God had created me for.
Now, sixty-five years later, I still feel — I know–this was the right path for me, and I am deeply grateful to God, not only for guiding me here, but also for setting up a few challenges along the way that helped me test and confirm the decisions I was making. I even had to thank Dad for his challenging my plan. He just laughed, said he’s glad I’m where I am, and hinted that maybe Mother or Sister Gladys was behind some of that unexpected hospitality he received during his early visits to pick me up and bring me back to college.