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SOAR! grants helps IHM Sisters lend an ear

Sister Eileen Houlihan

Sister Eileen Houlihan, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, Michigan, still sees her former students sometimes.

“When we have jubilees and things at the Mother House, the young people I had before who are now in their 70s will come up to me and say, ‘Do you ever know how grateful I am for the music you taught me?’” she said.

“I am so glad. That’s a great uplift for me.”

Sister Eileen is now almost 94 years old, and after years of teaching music and singing in church, she said her hearing has suffered. With new assistive listening devices from SOAR!, “it’s almost the difference between day and night,” she said.

Teaching music is still one of Sister Eileen’s happiest memories from her life in ministry.

Sister Eileen Houlihan tries out the new assistive listening devices.

Sister Eileen Houlihan tries out the new assistive listening devices.

Music was always a family affair. Her father Simon, who immigrated to America from County Clare, Ireland, was a step-dancer who played the Jew’s harp and the fiddle. Sister Eileen still remembers her mother, Marie, singing at the piano every Sunday morning.

The IHM Sisters were an early influence on Sister Eileen, who grew up in Detroit. Along with her seven brothers and sisters, she attended St. Mary of Redford Grade and High Schools, where the Sisters taught her for 12 years.

Her older sister Kathleen joined the IHM Sisters of Monroe in 1939; Eileen followed in 1940.

“We would go to visit her and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do too,” Sister Eileen remembered.

“I joined the IHMs two weeks after I finished high school.”

As a girl during the Great Depression, Sister Eileen said her parents couldn’t always afford music lessons; when she joined the community, though, it was understood that she would continue her musical education.

After she made her first vows in 1943, Sister Eileen went to Marygrove College in Detroit and later to Notre Dame College in South Bend, Indiana, where she received her master’s in music and liturgy.

“I think the gift of music is such a special gift and such a wonderful language. I’m so grateful,” she said in a phone interview. “Even though I’m not a professional musician, I’m so glad that God has used me to make so many people happy.”

As she aged, Sister Eileen began to notice she was having trouble hearing. After she retired to the Mother House in Monroe at the age of 80, she realized she could barely hear Mass in the chapel.

In an open space like the community room, “I could not hear a word,” she said, “even with the microphones on and even with my hearing aid on.”

Sister Fran Mlocek poses with development director Richard DeLoof while testing the new assistive listening system.

Sister Fran Mlocek poses with development director Richard DeLoof while testing the new assistive listening system.

For Sister Frances Mlocek, age 81, the assistive listening devices have transformed day-to-day conversations. Before the system was installed, Sister Fran said she could hear people speaking, but she couldn’t understand what they were saying.

“I just sort of sat there trying to understand what words were being spoken,” Sister Fran said. “I might catch a word here or there that I could understand.”

“It feels pretty stupid to sit at a meeting or any conversational group, and not be part of what’s occurring.”

Over the past few months, the Sisters have used the new assistive listening devices to participate in prayer gatherings, retreats, conferences and more.

“The hearing devices have allowed me to understand presentations, particularly presentations to a large group. I’ve found that allows me to participate in governance conversation, educational meetings and presentations.”

“These assistive devices have helped me become so much more involved than I was before,” Sister Eileen said.

“I can…sit here and almost not know what’s going on at all, but with these assisted hearing devices, I can tell you, I can hear every single thing. It is absolutely remarkable.”

“It was awful not to be able to hear, but now that’s over with,” she said.

Your kindness means that these Sisters and so many other religious can continue to live out their vocations, without feeling isolated because they can’t hear what is being said. Thank you to our donors who answer the call to help!

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