“My entire nursing career, I wanted to work with those who were underserved.”Carol Sejda, Covenant Companion
Guided by that powerful statement, she has experienced a lifelong journey of faith and ministry to those in need.
Carol was born in Hammond, IN, in 1944. She recalls the loving influence of her mom, her dad, and her sister, all examples of faith and strength in the face of adversity. Carol remembers her mom as a resilient, faithful woman who worked full-time and still kept a spotless house, loved to read, and prepared feasts for large family gatherings. Carol’s dad was disabled and died when she was 16 years old. As a youth, Carol witnessed variability in the quality of nursing care he received at several veterans’ hospitals, which sparked her interest in nursing as a career.
Her first encounter with Franciscan Sisters occurred when she attended Catholic grade school.
Years later Carol earned her BS in Nursing degree at St. Xavier College in Chicago. After college, Carol joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Brazil. “I was too naive to be scared!” laughs Carol about serving as the only American in a small village. She learned to speak Portuguese, worked as a nurse, and collaborated with an Italian priest to found a health clinic at the local church in the poorest part of town. During her 3.5 years in Brazil, Carol helped to obtain funds for villagers to build their own privies and also trained health care workers.
When Carol returned to the U.S., she had difficulty adjusting to life in the states. “It was a difficult time. Our country was in turmoil and the war in Viet Nam was tearing us apart,” she notes. She was angry and stopped going to church.
When an opportunity arose to work with migrant farm workers in Brawley, CA, Carol traveled there to again work with the underserved. She earned an MSN degree as a nurse practitioner at UCLA and made lifelong friends. She moved to San Diego County near the home of a friend and delivered health care and support, by jeep, to the homes of isolated senior citizens with chronic conditions and failing health. Carol then joined the faculty of a university associated with the Nazarene Church. “I learned to appreciate the Bible and found the experience very enriching, yet I was drawn back to my Catholic roots,” she recalls.
After a close friend in San Diego died, Carol wanted to be nearer to her family. Returning to the Midwest, she joined the nursing faculty at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, and learned from Sister Rosalie Klein about the Wheaton Franciscan mission in Santarem, Brazil. Carol traveled there twice, spending a year in total. She became a CC while working in the maternity hospital and living in community with the Sisters there.
Back in Milwaukee, Carol became involved with the Capuchin community at St. Benedict the Moor parish and community meal program where she helped establish a clinic for homeless adults. She recalls, “One memory stands out. While I was standing at the back of the meal site just watching people, I felt such a sense of peace and love and knew I was part of a transforming holy experience.” Carol nursed and ministered at St. Ben’s and participated in a vibrant faith-sharing group with Wheaton Franciscan Sisters and CCs until she retired in 2010.
Today Carol lives with her dear sister, Mary, in Dyer, IN. She explains, “I love gardening and nature, especially supporting the wildlife around my home: birds, butterflies, and even squirrels. These experiences are healing for my soul. We continue to share our home with pets who fill our lives with laughter and unconditional love.” Carol continues: “I am transitioning from doing to being in retirement. I like to say I came to the Wheaton Franciscans for the ministry and stayed for the charism.” She actively participated in CC leadership and organization from 2014-2021. Today Carol continues to be part of a small CC faith-sharing group. She also facilitates a book club for CCs and helps publish Weavings, moving reflections of spiritually focused stories. These experiences have led to many close friendships.
Looking over four decades, Carol treasures the Wheaton Franciscan community as always welcoming her. “My greatest happiness in being a CC is being able to share our stories in deeper ways and being true companions on the journey. When we flounder, we have each other. This jubilee is an important moment to share my joy,” she explains.
What a remarkable woman you are, Carol!! I applaud all you have done for poor in this country and in Brazil! Your loving spirit is evident in all you do so just your being is a blessing! Thank you for sharing yourself with us in this article!