Friends Bid Farewell To Sister Judy Nickels
By Pat Szpekowski, Observer Correspondent
July 12, 2018
ST. CHARLES— “I don’t have a string of degrees after my name, money in my pocket, or miles of travel, but I have been given many blessings,” said Sister Judy Nickels, OSF, as she reflected on her retirement and 32 years of active ministry at St. John Neumann parish, here.
The news of Sister Judy’s retirement evoked shared memories and experiences for many parishioners as they took in her impending absence. 
The wheels were set in motion to celebrate her commitment to the ministries of adult  religious education, community leadership and action.
Amid waves of the color purple and bright sunflower yellow, Sister Judy’s favorites, family and friends showed their heartfelt appreciation at the 10:30 am Mass and a reception that followed on July 24. 
The choir, dressed in purple, too, was accompanied by  handbells for the occasion. 
Nancy Carney, who was parish secretary for 33 years and recently had open heart surgery, did not want to miss the Mass and reception. 
“I was here for many years with Sister Judy and just had to be here today,” she said. “She is such a blessing to everybody.”
During remarks at Mass, Father David Peck, pastor, acknowledged Sister Judy’s gifts. 
She was a childhood member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish and a native of Aurora, like himself. 
“We both have said it is an honor to come back home,” he said. “Being near families and friends, it keeps us humble and as St. John the Baptist has said, ‘I must decrease so Jesus Christ can increase,’ ” he said, on the saint’s feast day.
“Sister Judy reminds me a lot of St. John the Baptist and the spirit of second chances God has given us all. We are proud of Sister Judy for being a religious sister and having her here with us for 32 years,”  he added.
During a “second collection” at Mass, baskets filled with packets of sunflower seeds moved through the pews so everyone could take one.  
“At Sister Judy’s request, please plant these seeds and watch them grow,” Father Peck said.
In recalling her ministry, Sister Judy shared memories of arriving at the parish after working at St. Michael Parish in Wheaton and St. Raphael Parish in Naperville, both in the Joliet Diocese. 
“I would not even be here without former pastor Msgr. Daniel Hermes inviting me to get involved with adult faith education. It has been such a blessing,” she said. 
“For many years every Sunday with a group of parishioners and deacons, it was wonderful to hear people sharing the faith at RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults),” she added.
Other ministries also touched her heart. 
“The Fox Valley Bible study for women was special. as people came together to pray and support one another in faith,” she said.  “Relationships formed and there was much spiritual growth as the Holy Spirit dwelled very strong within us.”
Sister Judy also spoke of the work of Christ Renews His Parish retreat weekends, which had been held at St. John Neumann parish. 
“These were life-changing, faith sharing retreats which continued for many years as participants built strong relationships with each other and continued to teach at the following retreats,” she said.
The more she thought about all of the ministries she has been involved with at the parish, Sister Judy was flooded with even more memories.  
“Oh, I love the Giving Tree at Christmas,” she said. “There is a really huge mountain of gifts, thousands of them. It is such a symbol of the generosity of our parish.” 
She also appreciated the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Sister Judy’s activism and caring nature haven’t been confined just to St. John Neumann.  She’s been involved with other parishes by assisting women in domestic abuse situations through social agencies such as the shelters of Lazarus House in St. Charles and Hesed House in Aurora. 
At the reception, a wall was colorfully decorated with banners heralding “the fruits of Sister Judy’s leadership.”
Guests were able to view a video of photos that celebrated many facets of Sister Judy’s life. They ranged from her childhood through  entering religious life at age 18  to parishioners participating in various ministries. Each photo depicted Sister Judy with her signature smile. 
When she entered the convent, she chose the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, Wis., who taught her at Our Lady of Good Counsel and the former Madonna High School in Aurora. 
“I got to grow up with two parents, Joseph and Jeanne Nickels, and seven siblings,” she said. “I knew my faith-filled parents loved one another and we never doubted that each child was a gift from heaven above to show us God’s love.”
“Sister Judy has such a great sense of humor and is so accepting of people and the message of life,” Molly Howieson said.  
Kathy Cornell, a member of the RCIA team, said, “We are so grateful for the years of blessings she gave to us.”
In a message to parishioners, Sister Judy wrote, “Please pray with me that we will all continue to trust in God’s provident care in the time we have left to serve God and God’s people.”