Sister Marilyn Winkel, CSA: Inspired by the Gospel

Sister Marilyn Winkel, CSA, knows exactly where her inspiration comes from: “My motivation is my baptismal commitment to the Gospel. Jesus came for all people through all time.” She goes on to quote from Matthew 25: “‘For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in, I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me.’ If I had a single chance to speak to people, that would be it.”

Sister Marilyn has lived out her baptismal call in the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes for more than 60 years. As a young woman, she recognized that her gifts were in teaching and religious education ministries, so she responded to that call by serving as a professional educator for more than 50 years. She primarily served as an elementary school teacher and principal and also used her teaching acumen to lead Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) classes. Her work often took her to new locations throughout the United States. She began as a teacher in Hudson, Wisconsin, then moved to Bronx, New York. After a few years there, she was challenged to take on additional responsibilities as a school principal in New York City.

After a combined total of 15 years in New York, she was brought back to Wisconsin. There, she served in Waunakee and Milwaukee, before moving to Bisbee, Arizona, to serve as the Director of Religious Education for St. Patrick Parish. A few years later, she moved to Meridian, Mississippi, where she served seven years in religious education.

two women in conversation, one is facing the camera and is laughing.

“My motivation is my baptismal commitment to the Gospel. Jesus came for all people through all time.”

sister marilyn winkel, csa

Like everyone, moving from place to place occasionally left Sister Marilyn feeling alone or discouraged. At times like these, she often thought of Isaiah 6:8: “The Lord asks, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘send me!’” The words rang true in her heart and motivated her throughout the years.

When she retired in 2020, she asked herself how she could continue to respond, “Here am I. Send me!” to God’s call. She found herself being drawn to work as an educator within the Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, community, focusing her efforts on people experiencing homelessness. Sister Marilyn volunteers her time as part of the Getting Ahead program provided by the St. Katharine Drexel Shelter and St. Vincent de Paul Society.

In 1996, Dr. Ruby Payne defined poverty as “the extent to which an individual does without resources.” Getting Ahead is designed to help those experiencing poverty recognize and utilize their own current resources and build upon them to expand their opportunities. Getting Ahead offers participating individuals an immediate increase in their network of resources by providing guiding facilitators like Sister Marilyn. Over the course of eight weeks, participants complete 16 sessions and work together to build individual plans for future stability in their lives.

Sister Marilyn recognizes how her role as a facilitator is similar to that of her own mentors and how those mentors shaped her into the person she is. “We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. For Christians, we look to saints, families, and ancestors.” As a Sister of St. Agnes, she gets a bit choked up when thinking about the congregational mission statement because it resonates so deeply with her. She sees her values perfectly reflected in the first two paragraphs:

We, the Sisters of St. Agnes, participate in the mission of Christ by joyful service in the Church, always aware that we, too, are among the needy and are enriched by those we serve.

Inspired by our founders — by the missionary zeal of Father Caspar Rehrl, the courageous initiatives of Mother Agnes Hazotte and the spiritual influence of Father Francis Haas — we continue to respond in our own times to those whose faith life or human dignity is threatened.

The first paragraph highlights her baptismal call to service and to vowed life, while the second paragraph acknowledges the importance of those who came before her to make this life of service possible. As she thought about how she could continue using her gifts to live out the mission statement in retirement, she sought a service opportunity that would align with her values.

Sister Marilyn found a perfect fit in the work of St. Vincent de Paul and Getting Ahead. The St. Vincent de Paul mission of living “… the Gospel message by serving Christ in the poor with love, respect, justice, hopes and joy and by working to shape a more just and compassionate society,” seemed tailor-made to her motivation and values. The program allows her to continue to utilize her teaching skills in new ways. When she heard of the need for facilitators, she raised her hand once again and responded, “Here am I. Send me!”

— by Dusty Krikau