Sister Michelle empowers girls to be leaders
Sister Michelle Germanson is touched by students' words during the 20th Anniversary party for her on April 24 at Trinity High School in River Forest. | Tamara Bell~Sun Times Media
Updated: June 4, 2012 10:58AM
Sister Michelle Germanson didn’t always want to be a nun.
In fact, it was peer pressure that started Trinity High School’s principal on the path to taking her solemn vows.
“I was going to go to a college in Minnesota, but my friends were going to become nuns. They were going to try it out,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, there was an idea.’
“I didn’t have any pious reason. I just went because they did,” Germanson said.
She could have left the convent, but she could not walk away from a challenge.
“To be honest with you, there were many bets that I wouldn’t stay,” she said. “I stayed to prove them wrong. That’s what kept me there.”
She became a nun in 1962.
Now 67 and president of the all-girl Catholic high school in River Forest, Germanson said she’s always had a lot of energy and thrives on it.
“As I look over my life everything that I have done has been challenging and because it is, that’s been the drive of my life,” she said.
She interviewed for the Trinity president’s position in 1991, while she was dean of students at Dominican University in River Forest.
She really didn’t want to leave the university, but there were a lot of people who wanted her to take the position.
“The only question I remember from my interview is being asked do I have any skills in development, otherwise going out and getting money,” she said. “I said I’d rather spend money than go get it.”
“Then the president of the (school) board called me numerous times to tell me I was the choice of the board. I took my name out (of the running) eight times,” she said.
But she changed her mind after she went down to the school’s cafeteria to interact with the students.
“I really felt I could get a real feel for the school by walking around interacting with the students for two lunch periods,” she said. “I thought this was a really cool school.”
“I didn’t know how to be president and the school was really having a challenging time. I thought, ‘Well if people think I can do it, I’ll give it a try,’” she said.
She accepted the position and the challenge.
From 1992 to 2000 the school was plagued with financial problems due to low enrollment. There were even talks of making the school co-ed. But Germanson dug in her heels.
“You can see that each time there has always been a challenge that empowers me to not be bored and empowers me to think beyond my own thinking.
“Now, Trinity High School is thriving,” she said.
There is a waiting list for the freshman class next year.
“I can truthfully say we’re grateful that we were in such a crisis because we took that crisis and the board, faculty, staff, parents and students, everybody together, took that crisis and created the best school for young women.”
She is affirmed by the number of graduates who go to college and the alumni who come back to visit.
“They are strong and they believe in their own sense of empowerment,” she said. “They are not waiting for someone else to say yes or waiting for someone else to speak. They speak.”
Her pride was boosted after a rally last week celebrating her 20 years at the school. Students gave testimonials about her and the school. There was one common theme they all shared.
“What I loved the most is that student after student got up and talked about their own empowerment and their own belief in themselves,” she said.
“That’s what we hope will happen, but to hear them say it says to me: ‘Wow! They get it. They live it. They know it.’ I think that’s awesome.”
“I’ll be here as long as I feel I’m contributing and making a difference. I know my age is creeping up there, but age is a matter of how you feel and what you think.”
“I think what I do, my ministry, I don’t think of it as a job,” she said. “It’s what I love.”