October 26, 2017
BY TONI CASHNELLI
PHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLIEvelyn Dilger with Jeff Scheeler and Joe Ricchini at St. Anthony Shrine: “It’s hard to leave here,” she says.Evelyn Dilger
For 45 years Evelyn – “Evie” to many – has been connected to St. John the Baptist Province. Friars hired her as a guidance counselor, an assistant principal, a cook and a member of their formation team. And she was always actively involved, teaching postulants Spanish, singing with the choir at St. Anthony’s, and subbing as a receptionist at St. Francis Seraph.
Next month Evelyn will move to Evansville, Ind. – four hours from Cincinnati – to be near relatives. For friars, friends and many she has mentored, it’s like losing a member of the family.
“It’s hard to leave here,” says Evelyn, one of the few lay people who’s been made an Affiliate of the Order. “I’ve loved everything,” from counseling kids to helping young friars find their spiritual footing.
“I can’t say enough about her,” says Hilarion Kistner, a former colleague on the novitiate team. “She’s been such a good influence on so many people.”
FILE PHOTOEvelyn teaching postulants Spanish in 2012.As a novice, Al Mascia benefited from her wisdom and guidance. “Throughout her life,” he says, “Evelyn has always been comfortable being wherever God wants her to be.” And wherever that is, she creates community.
“It’s been an interesting life,” Evelyn agrees. “There isn’t much I haven’t tried.”
She’s not exaggerating.
Beyond her work with friars, Evelyn was a public school teacher, tutor, and classroom aide, a caregiver for the aged and a volunteer for Hospice. She treated Alzheimer’s patients to music therapy, earned a certificate in Spiritual Eldering and obtained a degree in Lay Pastoral Ministry.
Ask her to elaborate and she shrugs. “I don’t like spotlights.”
According to friar friend Joe Ricchini, “She’s not pushy or demanding. She’s a quiet, simple person who likes to help out.”
That pattern was set early in life as Evelyn, a native of tiny Mariah Hill, Ind., learned the value and dignity of hard work. The local parish had a Benedictine pastor; the school was staffed by Benedictine nuns. At age 19, Evelyn was invited by the sisters to teach First Grade in Evansville.
Then along came the ISM, the Institute of Secular Missionaries, in the person of two dedicated Spanish women. In love with their lifestyle, their language, their intensity and their service to the poor, Evelyn joined their formation program in Covington, Ky. In 1972, armed with an MA in Guidance and Counseling from Xavier, she applied with the friars for work at St. Francis Seraph School in Over-the-Rhine.
“We can’t afford you,” said Humbert Moster, the pastor at the parish.
“Let me give you a price,” said Evelyn. The salary she named, $4,000, was an offer he couldn’t refuse. After six months as guidance counselor, she became assistant principal. The Franciscan charism – its simplicity, care for creation and concern for the poor – resonated and took hold. “I was nurtured spiritually. It won my heart.”
In 1982 she made another leap of faith. “I wanted to do something totally different,” Evelyn admits. “I love cooking and baking bread,” so she applied for a job in the kitchen at St. Anthony Friary. “I started here on Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis.” She was suddenly feeding 20 men. Soon her spiritual advice was as popular as her soup.
In January, “Nick Lohkamp came through the kitchen and said, ‘I think we should put you on the formation team because the novices are always in the kitchen.’” He wasn’t joking. “Because of my background in teaching and counseling,” Evelyn says, “it kind of fit.”
She took on another challenge, joining a novitiate team that variously included Hilarion, Joe Rayes, Mike Chowning, Mel Brady, Sr. Norma Rocklage, OSF, Paul Desch, and The novitiate team in 1984 (clockwise): Evelyn (top left), Joe Rayes, Sr. Norma Rocklage and Hilarion KistnerJeff Scheeler. “We were all equal,” Evelyn says. “We all did the same things,” giving spiritual direction, teaching classes on topics like Gospel values and contemplative prayer.
“She was a wonderful addition to our formation team,” says Mike. “She brought a balanced maturity and appreciation for who we are as friars. She could pick up on things I as a friar would not pick up on.”
Jeff uses the words “bridges” and “harmony” in describing Evelyn. Her teaching style was “personal and gentle,” he says. “But she could also do the hard things, like when guys had to be challenged for their behavior.” On the team, “It was very helpful to have a feminine perspective. Somebody you feel safe with. Understood. Accepted. Affirmed. We all knew we were involved in discerning a life direction with the novices, and we took the responsibility seriously.”
After nine years, Evelyn says, “I just felt the need to move on to something else. Because of my love for children, I went back to classroom teaching,” the job from which she eventually retired. Recalling her first salary with the friars, “[Provincial] Andrew Fox told me to go to public schools to earn good money.” She took his advice.
PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMEvelyn with Richard Goodin at his solemn profession in 2011
“She’s been here a long time,” says Joe. “She has mixed feelings of course. She knows the friars so well. But it’s time to be with her family.”
In Evansville Evelyn will be close to her five siblings – the oldest is 90 – and numerous nieces and nephews. They are tickled pink. “My sisters practically did a dance. One of them yelled out, ‘Whoo-hoo!’”
Hilarion speaks for a lot of friars when he says, “I’ll miss her.”
“She’s been around us so long and in so many capacities, she’s a member of the family,” says Jeff.
When she is settled, Evelyn says, “I’ll probably teach English” in the Spanish community. She will never be bored. “I’m writing my life in story form,” with chapters devoted to life among the friars.
“I think the province has been blessed by her friendship over the years,” Mike says.
Or as Humbert once told Evelyn,
“You sure proved you were worth the salary.”
Evelyn with novices in 1989
–Al Mascia, OFM
Gene Mayer of Roger Bacon High School invites friars to attend this weekend’s Open House, 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29. “Show up for all of it or for any time you can be available,” he asks. “It’s great to have lots of brown robes in and around the building.”
PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFM
Congratulations to the 2018 pilgrims:
Ren Austing – St. Francis Seraph Ministries
Nancy Cahoon – Transfiguration Parish – Southfield
Rita Gentry – Holy Name Parish – Mt. Auburn
Susan Huerkamp – Roger Bacon High School
Halsey Mabry – St. Francis Seraph School
John McDaniel – Roger Bacon High School
Peggy Story – Franciscan Media
Kelly Sundberg – Franciscan Media
When I received the news that Francis Wendling had died last week, I was walking with the Provincial Council through Over-the-Rhine. It seemed very surreal to hear of Francis riding on a tractor minutes before his heart attack. This week Bill Farris went to celebrate the funeral of Francis in Olpe, Kansas. With sadness we return our brother to the Lord.
Visitation began for St. John the Baptist Friary in Cincinnati on Tuesday and Wednesday. This is the fifth visitation of the friars that I have done. Each fraternity is so different based on the individual friars, their ages, their ministries. While it pulls me out of my local fraternity, it does allow me in some way to be a part of all the fraternities. I leave these moments of encounter amazed at how God works in our lives, drawing us out of our moments of death into a life we can only get hints about now. But we do get hints. I am grateful.
— Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM
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PHOTO BY TONI CASHNELLIEvelyn Dilger with Jeff Scheeler and Joe Ricchini at St. Anthony Shrine: “It’s hard to leave here,” she says.She isn’t going far. But everyone close to Evelyn Dilger hates to see her leave.
PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMEvelyn with Richard Goodin at his solemn profession in 2011Now, at the age of 80, it’s time for another move. Last weekend St. Anthony’s Sunday community and choir said thanks to Evelyn, one of their favorite altos, with a blessing during Mass and a reception afterward. She fought to keep her emotions in check.
Evelyn with novices in 1989Consistency of character says it all! The very first day I met Evelyn Dilger – as I began my novitiate at St. Anthony’s – I knew I was in the presence of someone very special. Here was a woman willing to think “outside the box” years before that expression ever made it into common parlance. Was she a teacher who also cooked or a cook who gave spiritual direction? I knew that she wasn’t a “nun”, but then again she did belong to that religious community where everybody spoke Spanish. How exotic! Still, she was part of the novitiate team responsible for my formation and to this day continues to inspire me! I remember learning that she wouldn’t buy herself anything nice unless she could also buy something like it for somebody else! Wow, I thought then; Wow, I think now! That she would eventually become an Affiliate of our Order, go on to assume a leadership role in the Spiritual Eldering movement and sign letters to President Trump in support of nuclear abolition doesn’t surprise me in the least. It’s just the same Evie I’ve known all along!
PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMNext year, eight co-workers will be walking in the footsteps of St. Francis. Nominated through the province’s Sharing Our Charism pilgrimage program, they will travel to Assisi and Rome for what many have described as a life-changing experience.