Among the many retired women religious in the Diocese of Buffalo is Sister Norine Truax, RSM, who helped area Catholics develop ways to help children with special needs.
The youngest of six girls, Sister Norine grew up in Lakewood, which is near Jamestown. She graduated from the public school there in 1949.
"I had a very happy childhood. I was spoiled as the youngest of six girls," she said. "We were all swimmers; that was one of the advantages of living by the lake."
Religious life was a central part of Sister Norine's upbringing, as the family went to Mass every Sunday and even sat in the same pew. The parish pastor suggested furthering her religious life when Sister Norine was a senior in high school.
"He introduced me to the Sisters of Mercy, who were in Jamestown at that time," she said. "I just felt that God was calling me to the Sisters of Mercy. I wanted to be a nurse, and they had three hospitals in the diocese at that time, but I ended up teaching."
Sister Norine taught for 25 years primarily with first- and second-grade students, receiving a bachelor's degree from St. Bonaventure in 1964 and a master's degree in 1974. After several years of teaching, Sister Norine had a desire to focus on working with special education students.
"(I was inspired by) just knowing some parents who had children who were developmentally disabled," she said. "That was the main reason I wanted to go, and my community encouraged me."
In 1974, Sister Norine was appointed as the diocesan director for religious special education, a role in which she served for nine years. She worked with another teacher and together they developed programs for parishes to better serve the less fortunate.
"I prepared the physically and mentally handicapped for the sacraments," she said. "We had a lot of programs in the parishes."
They also trained teachers to handle special education students within their classrooms and assisted parents who needed help with their children.
"We developed an organization called, 'Parents Who Care,'" Sister Norine said. "Parents needed a lot of guidance. Some were not resigned and we tried to help them along those lines. Sometimes the fathers would walk out, and the mothers would be left with the children. It was like a support group that met once a month. It really helped them."
After nearly a decade of working for the diocese, Sister Norine then became the director of the Mount Mercy Regents Center on Abbott Road in 1983. She worked with students on a one-on-one basis after school to help them improve in their studies. In 1987, she began helping adults learn basic skills as well.
Sister Norine continued working with special needs students when she was hired as a coordinator of testing for Trocaire College in Buffalo in 1988. She worked in the Palisano Center at the college while assisting students. She also taught an English course that helped develop critical reasoning skills.
"It was very rewarding to see them struggle and then become successful," Sister Norine said. "We had a lot of help in the Learning Center."
After her long career in education, Sister Norine retired in 2008. But like many women religious, retirement doesn't mean sitting on the couch watching game shows all day. Sister Norine currently volunteers for Kenmore Mercy Hospital and lives near the campus with another Sister of Mercy. She often talks to families who are at the hospital for a loved one's surgery and updates them about the patient's progress.
"I love it," she said of her volunteer work. "It's wonderful to have the opportunity to be at the hospital and visit the sick. They always need encouragement. Some of the ones in intensive care are so sick, and I hope that visiting them and bringing them Holy Communion helps them cope."
When asked what continues to inspire her about religious life, Sister Norine said, "The goodness of God and the daily graces He gives us that inspires us to spread mercy." She recently heard a speaker, Sister Mary Patricia Garvin, RSM, address her community.
"Her whole talk was that we need courage for the future, because there's so many unknown facts about the future in religious life," Sister Norine said. "But with courage, confidence and trust, we will be able to do God's will.
"I really feel blessed. I try to have deep trust in the future, because we are very limited in numbers now. I just trust that God knows what He's doing; things will level off and we might start getting vocations in the future. It's all a mystery."
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