Throughout history there have been men and women who, from birth, have been singled out for a life of service and devotion to God. Such was the case with John the Baptist, the prophet Samuel, and our Blessed Mother with her Immaculate Conception. Although much too modest to include herself among such company, Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF, a member of the Sylvania Franciscans (Sylvania, Ohio), shares a similar life experience.
Sister Sharon was born prematurely in Northeast Minneapolis. “My aunt, Sister Marie Paul, a Sylvania Franciscan, decided that, if I survived, I would eventually join her in the convent,” says Sister Sharon, who was born the second oldest of five children in a devoutly Catholic family. Her aunt’s proclamation stuck with her. “I was the one deemed for a vocation and the one who received a nun doll as a present for her first Communion,” she says with a laugh.
Joining the sisters was always in the back of Sister Sharon’s mind, but her vocation began to take shape when she was in the sixth grade. She attended Immaculate Conception School where Sylvania Franciscan Sisters were her teachers.
“Sister Mary Ann, the vocation minister, traveled to Minneapolis to talk to our class about joining the sisters. I don’t remember much of what she said, but I do remember her showing us slides of the motherhouse grounds with all these beautiful pine trees and thinking, That’s my home! That feeling remained with me.”
A Choice to Make
Although it seemed she was destined for a life with the Sylvania Franciscans, Sister Sharon, like those others before her, had to consciously choose to follow God’s will for her. “I knew I couldn’t rely on others’ expectations of me; I had to freely commit to my vocation,” she says.
Aspiring to become a Sister of St. Francis, she briefly attended St. Clare Academy in Sylvania, Ohio. She later returned to Sylvania and professed her final vows in 1973. “Early in my novitiate after Vatican II, things were very unsettled with many leaving the convent, and I had to evaluate what I wanted to do,” says Sister Sharon.
“Through prayer and much soul-searching, I realized that I would take me, with my strengths and weaknesses, wherever I went, and life outside of the convent would be just as complicated, and so I chose to honor my commitment.”
From 1968 to 1977, she taught grade school, then became a member of Trinity House of Prayer. After working various odd jobs, “I started teaching art part-time and then went back to college to get a master’s degree in art from Bowling Green State University,” she says. “For a time, I taught studio art and art history at the university level.”
Putting Creativity to Use
In 2000, Sister Sharon was elected to the congregation’s leadership, serving for the next eight years. Since then, she has devoted her time to being the congregation’s justice and peace coordinator and working in the Sylvania Franciscan Sisters’ gift shop, All Good Things.
“We had sisters selling their products and craft s from their offices, and in 2009, we decided to convert the former mailroom in the convent to a gift shop that not only features things made by the sisters but also from people around the world, by selling fair-trade items,” says Sister Sharon.
Some of the shop’s most popular items are the sisters’ Holy Aromas line of body washes, soaps, and lotions, and their handcrafted Alverno Tiles featuring Franciscan themes. Sister Sharon also provides some of her creations. “I was a print major when I earned my degree, and I dye and hand-paint scarves,” she says, adding that the shop appeals to customers not only because they receive handcrafted, quality pieces but also because it helps to support the sisters’ mission.
In addition to her work in the All Good Things gift shop, she gives talks on justice and peace, spirituality, and the environment.
The Franciscan charism that speaks most to her is poverty. “Poverty allows you to live simply, and that is so freeing,” says Sister Sharon. “St. Francis is such a role model and is so important to our world today. The charisms that his life exemplified (poverty, contemplation, conversion, and minority) speak to me differently as I grow and change; different aspects impact me today than when I was 19 and just entering religious life. But that is the beauty of the Franciscan values, and why they are so precious; they are timeless and keep drawing us closer to God.”
For more information, visit AllGoodThingsosf.org.