Sister of Charity Nancy Bramlage has packed a lot into her five years as Director of Mission and Ministry at the Mount.
Some experiences—like trips to New Orleans to renovate homes ravaged by Hurricane Katrina or pilgrimages to Emmitsburg, Md., to explore the spirituality of Sister of Charity founder Elizabeth Ann Seton—invited her to travel south or east, usually packed into a Mount van rubbing shoulders with faculty and staff.
Other adventures found her closer to home, like her coordination of the New Student Orientation Heritage Walks for incoming Mount students on the Motherhouse grounds down the road, or monthly meetings of the Charity Learning Community on campus.
With the recent announcement of her retirement at the end of June, many faculty and staff expressed sadness at losing her presence as a guiding force on campus, but also acknowledged that after a mission-driven life, she has more than earned the right to retire.
In her 55 years as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, Bramlage has devoted her years to living out her commitment to the values of her congregation. She has taught French at Alter High School in Dayton; lived seven years working with the people of Malawi, Africa; served as the Sisters of Charity personnel director, coordinator of missionaries, and director of the Global Awareness Through Education program, through which she oriented Sisters to 10-week immersion programs in Mexico, Nicaragua and Cuba.
Closer to home, she worked in campus ministry at the University of Dayton, while directing the Center for Social Concern, shadowed a Sister of Charity working as an NGO (nongovernmental organization) at the United Nations, and, 13 years ago, accepted the call to serve two four-year terms in a leadership position with the Sisters of Charity.
Now, at age 73, “though I still have lots of energy, it feels like the right time to step down from active ministry,” she said in an interview with Dateline.
“Juggling all the different roles and projects associated with my position, and facing the challenges of new technology has gotten more time-consuming,” she says. In addition, because of “a genetic disease that affects the muscles in my legs,” she has ended up in the emergency room several times as a result of falls.
In her years at the University, she has seen the Mount community “progress in an understanding of its mission. I foresee possibilities for more focus and a broader understanding of our mission.”
As the number of Sisters of Charity at the Mount has dwindled over the past few years with Sisters retiring, Bramlage has observed that “lay people here have wanted to be more involved with activities that promote our mission.”
She has noticed a growing desire among students, faculty and staff to be more connected with the mission of the Sisters of Charity, founders and sponsors of the University. That mission, she says, boils down to “What did Jesus want his disciples to do?”
That charge is clearly delineated in the Gospel of Luke, she explains: “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
Bramlage’s embrace of this vision has attracted members of the Mount community to mission-related events, and, in the process, endeared them to her.
It was on a 2015 faculty-staff trip to New Orleans to work as a team building and rehabbing damaged homes in the poorest parts of that city that Carol Cooper first worked closely with Bramlage.
“She is so easy to talk to, collaborative, and appreciative of each person’s efforts,” observes Cooper, Transfer Credit Analyst and Academic Advisor. “I can even say I enjoyed the long drive from Delhi to New Orleans because Sister Nancy made the trip fun and she’s fascinating to talk with. She has such a warm, welcoming way of relating to each person individually as well as in a group setting.”
Some faculty and staff who made pilgrimages to Emmitsburg, living for a week in the simple home where Elizabeth Seton and her community lived in the early 19th-century and reading Seton’s personal letters in the Emmitsburg archive, have been moved to share the story of Elizabeth and her Sisters of Charity as part of the Orientation Heritage Walk.
On evenings during the past few summers, if you wandered over to the front walk of the Motherhouse, you might meet Michael Sontag, Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, or Peter Robinson, Professor of History, costumed and speaking as St. Joseph, the University’s patron saint. Walk on and you’ll see Patsy Schwaiger, Director of the Wellness Center, clothed as Mother Margaret George, founder of the Cincinnati Charities, sharing tidbits about the Mount during her era. Up the hill, Associate Professor of Religious Studies John Trokan sits in the cemetery, playing Civil War Era music in the guise of Joe Clark, celebrating the “angels of the battlefield,” Civil War nurses buried there.
As important as events such as the Heritage Walk are to Trokan, he says, “What impacted me most (about Bramlage) was her ability to walk gracefully with us in the loss and grief of our loved ones here: Pete Mosher (of the Physical Therapy faculty), Jeff Oelker (head of the grounds crew) and Lauren Hill (who battled an inoperable brain cancer). It was particularly in these moments where I witnessed her depth of caring, compassion, and empathy as she helped the families and our community prayerfully let go and experience the presence of God.”
Although Bramlage will soon be leaving the Mount as Director of Mission and Ministry, she says she’s glad that her home is just across Delhi Road, so she can continue to attend programs and events on campus and stay in to touch with her friends over a cup of Starbucks.
“Everyone is telling me to take it easy and not jump into a new project too soon,” she says.
Her retirement goal? “To play more and pray more. And see what comes.”
Photo: Sister Nancy Bramlage (middle row, blue shirt) with faculty, staff and St. Bernard Project team in New Orleans in 2015.