A century of birthdays will catch the attention of people in high places.
That’s the lesson Sister Gladys Marie Lowe learned. In the days leading up to her 100th birthday on May 30, Sister Gladys received dozens of cards and notes, including an Apostolic Blessing from Pope Francis. Willard Scott sent her a letter and Queen Elizabeth weighed in with a card of her own. A note from President Obama was one of the first to arrive.
Her Precious Blood community also hosted several birthday events highlighted by a special luncheon with Mass and a reception on June 1 at Salem Heights. Sisters from Dayton and Cincinnati joined with family and friends to celebrate the milestone. The dining room was adorned with gifts, signs and colorful linens.
Sister Gladys held back tears as Sister Jeanette Buehler read aloud the blessing from the Holy Father.
“I was so surprised,” Sister Gladys said. “I never expected so many people and so much support. Every day there was something going on.”
On May 30 the Sisters and employees at Salem Heights sang and recognized Sister Gladys during lunch.
A day earlier, Sister Anne Schulz brought the fourth grade class from Mother Teresa Catholic Elementary School in Liberty Township, Ohio, to Salem Heights for an early birthday party with Sister Gladys, who has been a strong supporter of the school for years.
The students gave a special birthday greeting and a large basket of stuffed animals for Sister Gladys, who simply loves stuffed toys. She beamed as she promptly affixed a small plush dog to her walker. After a snack of cake and punch, the students accompanied Sister Gladys to the Salem Heights chapel for a brief tour. Later as their school bus pulled away, Sister Gladys, with a wide smile, waved and blew kisses to the students.
The visit from the students was special, she said, because much of her ministry was spent working with children, and it was during her own childhood with Precious Blood Sisters that she discovered her calling to religious life.
A native of Dayton, Sister Gladys grew up in the former Sacred Heart Parish. Her father died when she was young and her mother sent her three young children to live at St. Joseph Orphanage, which was operated by the Sisters of the Precious Blood. Sister spent much of her childhood at the orphanage until her mom eventually remarried. A short time later, however, her mom died and Gladys was sent back to orphanage at age 12.
She loved the orphanage and the Sisters.
“They had so much kindness in caring for the children and the needs that they had,” Sister Gladys said. “Their prayer services were so fulfilling that that’s why I wanted to be a Sister.”
She remembers sneaking out of bed into the choir loft at the orphanage and listening to the Sisters praying and singing. At age 16, one of the Sisters asked Gladys what she wanted to do with her life. There was no hesitation: she wanted to join the convent.
After formation, she spent 15 years working in the orphanage, taking care of the little boys. She then ministered in Rome City, Ind., for 19 years before spending nearly 20 years at San Luis Rey in Oceanside, Calif.
She made her lasting impact at San Luis Rey, first at the Academy and then at the Old Mission Montessori School. She ran the student lunch store, watched the younger kids and helped the needy through St. Vincent de Paul.
The school’s annual fiesta, though, is where she is best remembered. Sister Gladys operated a booth that sold everything from trinkets to toys to jewelry. The items were donated. She was so popular that people would show up the day before the fiesta opened in order get a jump on their shopping. The booth is still part of the annual fiesta and it is named after Sister Gladys.
“She’s just whole-hearted and gives to everybody,” said Sister Mary Yarger, who taught at San Luis Rey Academy when Sister Gladys worked there. “She’s just a good human soul.”
Story and photos by Dave Eck