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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Sister Spotlight: Eva Hooker remembers nontraditional path to sisterhood

Editor’s Note: Sister Spotlight is an effort by the Saint Mary’s News Department to shed light on the shared experience of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross and Saint Mary’s College students. We will be sharing the mission and stories of the sisters in an on-going series.

Sister Eva Hooker, an English professor at Saint Mary’s, has been a Sister of the Holy Cross for 60 years. She entered the community of the Congregation of the Holy Cross after her sophomore year of college and, apart from a 20-year teaching position in Minnesota, has remained at Saint Mary’s ever since. However, her path to the convent was by no means traditional, she said.

“For one thing, my family was Protestant,” Hooker said. “My father worked for the government and was often on assignment out of the country, so my sister and I went to a Lutheran boarding school. My mother became Catholic because she had an emergency and the hospital was Catholic. The priest visited her and one thing led to another.”

Both of Hooker’s parents were baptized while she was in high school, and she said she was allowed to choose if she would enter the Church.

“The priest who was guiding my parents was very wise,” she said. “He said that because my sister and I were teenagers, my parents couldn’t just force us into the Church. It was his suggestion that they put us in Catholic school. So we changed to Holy Cross Academy in Washington D.C.. I had to study religion just like everyone else, and I got hooked. I got baptized my senior year of high school, and my sister did, too.”

Hooker said she first came in contact with the Sisters of the Holy Cross at Holy Cross Academy, and when she applied to college, she decided to go to Saint Mary’s.

“My parents wanted me to go to a Catholic college and there were three very good Catholic colleges at the time — Trinity College, Manhattanville College and Saint Mary’s College,” she said. “I was already in Washington, so I didn’t want to go to Trinity. Manhattanville had just moved its campus, and I was wondering where all the boys were going to be. Well, I was told that everyone just goes down to New York, and I knew I wasn’t going to have the money to do that, so I scratched that option off. Saint Mary’s gave me a full scholarship to attend, and that made a huge difference. I still have Sr. Madaleva [Wolff]’s letter.”

It was at Saint Mary’s that Hooker furthered her relationship with the Sisters of the Holy Cross and ultimately found her vocation, she said.

“The sisters who worked in the college at the time — there were lots of them — were the most vibrant, intellectual women I had ever met,“ Hooker said. “I just wanted to be like them. I had them as real examples of the kind of teacher, sister and scholar that I wanted to be. They were active politically, they read everything, they loved art, they came up to Chicago for different things — their lives were full of 20th-century culture.”

However, her path to the convent was not without obstacles, she said.

“I had fallen in love with a young man from Notre Dame, and we had really thought about marriage,” Hooker said. “The thing that I really worried about was whether I was going to regret not marrying and having children. That was the piece. I think the sisters got wind of all this because the next thing I knew, Mother Rose Elizabeth, head of the Congregation at that time, sent me a note inviting me to come have a talk with her. I went in fear and trembling not knowing what to think. She was very charming. She really talked with me about religious life and presented it in a very positive way. Then, I don’t know why, I decided that I want to enter now. So I made that decision the spring of my sophomore year and entered the convent that fall.”

While in formation, Hooker finished her degree in English from the College, went on to receive a Master’s degree in English from Notre Dame and later earned a Ph.D., also in English.

Hooker said the intellectual vigor of the sisters that originally attracted her to the College, and which she tried to emulate today as a professor, ultimately stems from what she perceives as Wolff’s vision.

“She was amazing,” Hooker said. “She was charming. You had a real sense of her intellectual power and she was a real example, along with the other wonderful teachers, of commitment to the intellectual life and to having an intellectual life that is woven with a spiritual life. And that’s no small task. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to become that person whom I dreamed of becoming, a sister who taught in college and loved a particular discipline.”