The horror of having a nun, who's your mentor, bail you out of jail

Sister and former student share special bond, recall era of discrimination

October 5, 2012

By Lynette Kalsnes and Katie Klocksin

 
 

Getting bailed out of jail by a nun who also happens to be your mentor is just about as horrible as you’d imagine.

Denise Ferguson was a student at Rosary College, now Dominican University, when that happened to her. Sister Joan O’Shea was dean of students.

Ferguson – who recently retired as director of the Chicago Advisory Council on Women, after a career spent helping fight discrimination against girls and women  – was taking the school station wagon out for the best of reasons: She and her classmates were delivering donated food to Operation Breadbasket.

StoryCorps’s mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. These excerpts, edited by WBEZ, present some of our favorites from the current visit, as well as from previous trips.

 

FERGUSON: "And so the police pulls me over … and he says: 'May I see your license?' And I turn to him and I say: 'Oh, I don't have one.'

Ferguson had to post a $50 bond, but when she and her friends pooled their resources, they only came up with $38.

FERGUSON: So who shows up to get me out of jail? You. (O’Shea laughs.) That was the worst day of my life. You just always loved on me so and had such high aspirations for me. And here I am, having to look at you as you say to me: 'In all of my life, I have never had to come and get a student out of jail.' It was a funny time, but it was also a scary time for me because I thought I was gonna lose you."

O'SHEA: "Not a chance."

Ferguson entered the college during the height of the Civil Rights Movement when administrators were trying to recruit a more diverse  student body. She herself had gone to segregated grade schools.

FERGUSON: "Even though I was born a year after Brown v. Board of Education, the first time I ever had a new book in my hand, I was a senior in high school. And all I could do was just smell it. I had never smelled a fresh textbook in my life!"

O'SHEA: "My own personal ‘Ah-ha! moment:’ Both the black students and the white students had all kinds of problems with each other. A white person came to my office one day and said: 'Oh, the black students are doing this or that or the other thing.' And I looked at this person and I said: 'Oh, come on now, our students would have ....' And I stopped myself. I was about to say: 'Our students would have done the same thing.' And then I said: 'Wait a minute. All of these students are our students.' “

Sister O’Shea says she’s thankful for what Ferguson and her friends did in helping her have that “ah-ha moment,” and for what they did for the college.

To find out what happens when Ferguson decides she has a calling to be a nun (even though she wasn’t Catholic), listen to the audio above.

—Adam Peindl helped produce this report.

 

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