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In Loving Memory of Sister Diane Marie Collins 

Birth date:  April 30, 1950

Entered into Religious Life:  August 25, 1968

Born Into Eternal Life:  August 4, 2023

“I shall sing to the Lord all my life, make music for my God as long as I live.  (Psalm 104.33)

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A little girl was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 30, 1950, to a Polish lady and an African American man who were not married.  Her birth mother gave her the name Sharon Lee and placed her in St. Vincent’s Orphanage soon after birth. 

 

This little girl was adopted by Delight Bessie and Ernest Joseph Collins and named Diane Leona.  They had her baptized at St. Anselm Church on July 23, 1950.  The adoption became final on April 24, 1951.  She was their only child.  Diane was four years old when her parents divorced and she and her mother moved to Gary, Indiana. The following years were very difficult, and Diane suffered immensely.  Diane wrote the following in her short autobiography: “I believe that in some way every scar has made me more able to relate to, understand, and be compassionate toward all of those who have experienced emotional pain.” 

 

Diane attended Sacred Heart School in Gary, Indiana and was taught by the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago.  Sister Joseph Marie Zenda was her 1st grade teacher.  When Diane received the Sacrament of Confirmation on October 18, 1960, she took Rosetta for her Confirmation name.  Diane credits the Sisters for the development of her faith and its importance in her life.  As she reached the eighth grade Diane began to feel that she might like to do what the sisters did.  She became an aspirant of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago after graduation from grade school and attended Madonna High School in Chicago, Illinois.

 

While attending Madonna High, Diane lived as a boarding student in the convent with nine other young women.  The aspirancy closed at the end of her junior year of high school and she had to return home for her senior year.  This was a very difficult year for Diane because she had to leave people and a place that she knew and where she felt comfortable.  She had to adjust to being at home with her mother again.  Her mother had remarried and at first Diane was not happy about this new person in her life.  It took a little time, but Diane eventually came to know her stepfather, John, as a very kind and caring person. 

 

In 1968, during her senior year at Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, Indiana Diane said she felt like a puzzle piece that didn’t belong until she realized that it was up to her to reach out, meet people and get involved, and that is what she did to the point where she thoroughly enjoyed her senior year of high school  She also had a great time working at Sears Roebuck and Co. in the credit department where she met all kinds of interesting people.    

 

Diane kept in touch with the sisters and after graduation from Bishop Noll Institute she joined the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago on August 25, 1968.  A year later on August 11th she entered the novitiate and received the name of Sister Diane Marie.  Two years later, Sister made her First Profession of Vows on August 8, 1971, and her Final Profession on August 14, 1977. 

In addition to classes on Scripture and the history of the congregation and the spirit of our foundress, Sister Diane Marie worked on obtaining a degree in English.  On July 26, 1973, Sister graduated from Marillac College in St. Louis, Missouri with a Bachelor of Arts and was assigned to Madonna High School as an English teacher.  While teaching others, she herself was a student at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois and in 1983 Sister graduated with a master’s degree in English. 

 

During her years at Madonna High School Sister detected a need that wasn’t being fulfilled at Madonna for the students and their families.  They would approach Sister with various problems that she felt lacking in sufficient skills to help them.  Consequently, Sister asked for permission to return to school and obtain a degree in social work.  On May 23, 1987, Sister Diane Marie obtained a degree of Master of Social Work from Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois.  

 

During her 17 years at Madonna High School Sister, besides teaching, served as Parents Club Moderator, Student Council Moderator, Mother’s Club and Guitar Club, debate team, speech coach and even a year as Local Minister.  Sister Diane Marie knew that her strength was in God and her favorite hymn was “Be Not Afraid”.  She taught it to all her students.  Sister liked the color green and everything Winnie the Pooh. 

 

Sister Diane Marie came to Our Lady of Victory Convent, in Lemont, Illinois in 1991 and for the next three years Sister was the Vocation/Formation Director.  In 1993 Sister Diane Marie was elected General Vicar and she served in this position for five years. For the next five years, 1998-2003, Sister served as a General Councilor and the General Secretary.  From 1999-2002 Sister moved off campus when she was the Principal of Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, Indiana.   In 2002 Sister returned to Lemont to help with the awesome task of moving into the new administration building and soon after helping to move all the Sisters and belongings into the new motherhouse

 

Sister Diane Marie served as General Minister for ten years, 2003-2013.  During this time, she also was active in the Franciscan Federation as chairman of Region 3, 2004-2006, Second Vice president, 2006-2007, Vice president, 2007-2008 and President, 2008-2009.

 

During her many years in religious life Sister Diane Marie served as chair of St. Jude House Board of Directors for 18 years, 1995-2013.  She also served as chair of Franciscan Village Board for five years and was a member of the St. Anthony Medical Center Board for six years.  During her career she was a member of many boards and committees.   

After a Sabbatical year in 2013 Sister Diane Marie accepted a ministry at the John Paul II Newman Center of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Here she served the students, professors, and staff as a campus minister. In 2019 she also became the Director of Campus Outreach and assisted the Newman Center staff and student volunteers in organizing the liturgy and music.

 

In June of that year, she left the University for a position at St. John Berchmans Parish where she became the Evangelization Director, RCIA Coordinator, and helped with Baptism preparations. When the threat of COVID abated in 2020, the children were invited to return to the parish elementary school. Sister took this occasion as an opportunity to welcome not only the children, but also their parents, when she positioned herself on the corner of the block where parents dropped off their youngsters in the morning and returned to pick them up in the late afternoon. She would smile and wave to them faithfully every school day.

 

Through the Archdiocesan program, Renew My Church, it became apparent that St. John Berchmans would be combined with St. Hedwig Parish. Sister played a major role in helping families adjust to this change and on June 1, 2022, the combined parishes became the new Bl. Carlos Acutis Parish. Sister also facilitated the Alpha Program, an intensive 10-week program which invites people to have honest conversations about life, faith, and meaning.

 

Sister Diane Marie organized the parish’s Prayer Warriors, who are volunteers that reach out to homebound seniors for spiritual wellness checks. She also served as a board member in the Avondale neighborhood community advocating for mental health services.  Sister’s most creative evangelization effort was distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday at the neighborhood CTA Blue Line station to commuters traveling between O’Hare airport and downtown Chicago.

 

In the 54th year of religious life and at the age of 73, on August 3rd Sister Diane Marie died suddenly at her apartment in Chicago, Illinois.  Her death wasn’t discovered until Friday, August 4, 2023.  While it is a great shock to all those who love her, Sister is now with Jesus, her brother, whom she loved and served with all her heart.  In her own words Sister Diane said that she “continues to learn that Jesus calls her in a unique way, day after day, to journey with others toward Himself.”

Like you I have been flooded with many memories of Sister Diane Marie over the past few weeks. It’s so hard to believe that she is no longer physically present with us. Our lives intersected with each other about 12 years ago. I received a handwritten letter (in perfect penmanship, thank you sisters!) from Sister Diane. Not one of a few words, Sister wrote over five pages about her life and ministry. She had recently ended her term in General Administration, had taken a sabbatical and was ready to get back into ministry. It didn’t occur to me until later that Sister could have sent me an email but her style was always to make it more personal. I was the Director of the St. John Paul II Newman Center at the time. I called her and asked her to come in for an interview. She was there the next day, forty minutes early!

 

During the interview she shared more about her life.  She was very open about her history having been given up for adoption as an infant; being adopted by an African American couple in Gary, Indiana. She told me an interesting story that when she was ready to go to first grade her mother brought her to the nearby Catholic school to enroll her, but she was refused entrance by the Pastor because she was a mixed-race child.  Her mother was outraged and contacted the Bishop of Gary to seek his intervention. He told Diane’s mother that he would contact the Pastor and that she would be able to start at that school the following day. The school was staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, the community that Diane entered maybe ten years later whom she shared her life with over the past 55 years.  So much for Divine Providence! I offered her a position on the campus ministry team on the spot!  We have ministered together ever since at Newman, St. John Berchmans and now at Blessed Carlo Acutis parish.

 

I’ve been a keen observer of Sister Diane’s life. Sister Diane Marie’s initial ministry was teaching. That formed and shaped the rest of her life. She was a teacher at heart. Through her life and example, she taught us many lessons.  Jesus was at the center of Diane’s life.  She was faithful to her prayer life and was diligent in receiving Jesus daily in the Eucharist.  I reflected on last Sunday’s gospel about the disciples being tossed in a boat by winds and waves and Jesus came toward them walking on water. Peter asked Jesus to join him, and Jesus responded ‘Come, do not be afraid.’ That’s how I picture Diane’s sudden passing – her reaching out to Jesus and He responds Come.

 

This past year we had a young woman in our RCIA program. Sr. Diane’s ministry included RCIA.  Diane met diligently every Sunday from October through May with the young woman in the rectory’s dining room.  She had always set up the table with some comforting symbols and Diane was always prepared. They shared their faith together and the young woman learned and grew because of these sharings. Another lesson from the teacher – person to person contact is ultimately important.  Numbers are not as important as are relationships.  Sr. Diane was a master at this.

 

When we were at the Newman Center there was a young man who would come by every day.   He would sit by himself and not interact with the other students.  Sr. Diane made it her mission to reach out to him.  She found out that the young man loved playing the guitar.  She told him that she played guitar also (something I didn’t know about her) so they started playing together in her office.  Eventually Sister convinced him to play at some of the Masses.  As a result, he made some friends and got involved. The lesson from the teacher – reach out to the isolated, find common ground and connect with others.

 

Funeral Homily for Sister Diane Marie Collins OSF

By Father Patrick Marshall

 

When the state started cutting funding for community mental health centers a community organization gathered people together in particular legislative districts to vote  on a referendum that if people would give 10 cents more on their state tax that money would go to community organizations that would oversee the development of a community run mental health center.  It is a very ambitious project. When this was beginning in our local community of Avondale, I was asked to suggest potentential Board members.  The first one to come to my mind was Sr. Diane.  She had a MSW degree, was always organized and was an enthusiastic supporter of responding to the needs of the underserved. She was ready to kill me when I told her that I suggested her as a board member! But she accepted the board position and has worked diligently to see this become a reality. The lesson from the teacher – use your talents and skills for the good of others especially the poor and underserved.

 

There are many other stories I can share about Sr. Diane’s life and ministry, but you have as many or more. God has given us a gift in the person of Sr. Diane Marie Collins.  We are grateful for the time that we had with her.  We are very sad because of her sudden passing. Let us honor her life by taking the lessons that she taught us and integrating them more fully into our lives.

Sister Diane Marie Collins at Madonna High School.

Sister Diane Marie Collins at Madonna High School.

Sister Diane Marie Collins was General Minister of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago from 2003 to 2013.

Sister Diane Marie and Sister M. Francis Clare Radke with Pope John Paul at the Vatican.

Sister Diane Marie at World Youth Day festivities in Krakow, Poland.

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