Sister Carolyn was born on Independence Day, July 4, 1939 and was brought up on the family’s vegetable truck farm on Walnut Avenue in Lisle, Illinois. Joseph and Catherine Sieg were her beloved parents. Carolyn was the youngest child in her family always tenderly protected by her three brothers and three sisters. Her mother often called her “the joy of her life” as she was a happy child with an enthusiastic spirit.
From childhood, she attended St. Joan of Arc School in Lisle taught by the Benedictine Sisters. She found the Sisters to be gentle, fun loving and prayerful, and she wanted to grow up to be like them. She especially admired her fourth grade teacher, Sister Mary Patricia Fallon. Later, it became natural to follow the Sisters to Sacred Heart Academy for high school. During her studies at the academy, on April 8, 1954, she decided to enter the postulancy, which was the first phase of formation in becoming a Benedictine Sister. Not yet, 15 years old, but with her strong drive to follow the Lord, she was determined to proceed with her plans. After that, she spent her Novitiate year preparing for the following phase of professing her first vows on June 25, 1956 and in 1960, she made her final profession.
Having the qualifications to be a teacher and doing well in her college classes, she was soon introduced to start her teaching ministry. It was exciting for her to be sent to parochial schools first to Fort Worth, Texas, then to Chicago and later to Cicero as well as to her home school at St. Joan of Arc for 2 years. Through the experience of teaching every grade except second grade in these schools, she was ready for greater challenges.
The brightest light of her ministry in education came in 1967. With a background in teaching as well as now having a degree in education from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana, and soon to have a Masters in Administration from St. Thomas University in St. Paul, she was ready to take over the daunting job of principal of St. Joan of Arc School. The enrollment was over 500 students, preschool to eighth grade. However, she was not intimidated, rather, she immediately loved her ministry at St. Joan of Arc School and as she put it, “she pitched her tent there to be ready for her adventure in service.”
St. Joan of Arc School became her passion impelling her to keep learning useful educational guidelines, envisioning potential ways to be attentive to every student and to set up programs of teaching through the years to benefit the whole student body according to their level and ability. This meant she would take an interest in every individual child’s learning progress. She knew that she needed always to pray with the children to remind them that God loved each of them and would always be ready to help them. She included the students to take part in the Morning Prayer Ritual on the loudspeaker. Her aim as well, was to keep inspiring the teachers to have an optimistic, Christ-centered attitude in the classroom in order to integrate the curriculum with an environment of respect and companionship for one another. She wanted all children in her care to be regarded as “sacred vessels of the altar”, quoting St. Benedict. She often told parents that Catholic school education isn’t finished at any point in life; learning the “good news” of the Gospel is a forever learning endeavor; an ongoing, joyful journey to reach eternal life.
As the principal, Sister Carolyn mentored the parents of the students and shared her leadership role with the pastor of the parish. She called her threefold responsibility to the pupils, their parents and the pastor as her three P duty.
Sister Carolyn’s exceptional, visionary attention in conceiving the addition of classroom space, a learning center, a gymnasium, and a computer lab was very important for the betterment of the school, but just as important was her dynamic, inspirational leadership. She took time to listen to the needs of everyone in her care and was able to offer a solution with her helpful insights. Her focus for the total five decades of serving St. Joan of Arc School was always student centered.
In the school year of 1985-86, the United States Department of Education recognized St. Joan of Arc as a school of excellence giving national recognition to the accomplishments to Sister Carolyn Sieg as principal and her faculty and staff. In receiving the award in Washington, D.C., she was able to meet with President Reagan in the White House with almost 300 other elementary school principals who also received this distinctive recognition.
In 2010, Sister Carolyn Sieg received another leadership award, namely “The Bishop Kaffer Outstanding Principal Award” from the Diocese of Joliet. She was chosen by all the elementary and secondary schools in the Diocese of Joliet.
Known for her innovation and technology brought into the classroom as well as creating a high morale with the staff, students and parents and for fostering professional growth of the staff. Her unifying spirit resulted in having a family atmosphere at the school in that everyone was welcome.
We know that Sister Carolyn’s 2 years of teaching plus her 48 years of principalship equaled 50 years of a loving relationship with the people of St. Joan of Arc parish and school. At her retirement in 2015, she credited the St. Joan of Arc people who closely worked with her to accomplish the work that had been mapped out for them and thanked them for their continuous partnership in her 50 years.
As a member of our monastery, Sister Carolyn was known as a person of loving kindness. She tried to remember each Sister on her birthday or give her a get-well card when she was sick. She loved to develop her personal association by encouraging the good that the Sisters were doing. She had an attitude of gratitude that was her significant attribute in community life. Her ability to speak up and support a good cause was the reason that she was acknowledged for leadership roles throughout her monastic life as a council member.
After her retirement from her role as principal at St. Joan of Arc, though afflicted with health issues, she was active in interviewing and later mentoring new principals in the Joliet Diocese. She was also active in tutoring our international Benedictine Sisters who are students at Benedictine University.
Her presence here at the monastery will be missed but knowing that she is happy in God’s loving embrace is reason to rejoice. Her patient suffering is being rewarded. Let us give thanks to our most loving sacred heart of Jesus for her good life!
In gratitude as Benedictine Sisters, we want to express our sincere thanks to Sister Carolyn’s Sister, Donna Grey and her wonderful family, who did so much in providing care and comfort for the many years in support of Sister Carolyn especially in being with her continually in her dying moments. May God’s abundant blessings uplift all of you knowing that she is at peace.
Sister Carolyn is a native of Lisle, Illinois. She grew up in town here on Walnut Avenue, one of seven children of Joseph and Catherine Sieg. She was the baby of the family and her mother used to call her the “joy of my life“ Sister Carolyn attended the local elementary school, St. Joan of Arc, where she was taught by the Benedictine Sisters. She recalls from her childhood that the Sisters were such gentle, fun-loving, prayerful women and she fell in love with the order. She reflects now that these teachers from her youth were responsible for her vocation.
Sister Carolyn’s family maintained a tradition of service. Young Carolyn found herself spending her free time at the parish, in the parish school and with the Benedictines. She attended Sacred Heart Academy and entered the community in her teens. She continued her education with an undergraduate degree in education from St. Mary of the Woods and a masters in Administration from St. Thomas in St. Paul.
Sister Carolyn put her education studies to good use in elementary schools in Fort Worth Texas Chicago and Cicero, Illinois. She taught every grade from first through eighth with the exception of second grade. This training served her well, indeed, when she was called by her Prioress to accept the job of principal at her childhood elementary school, St. Joan of Arc – at the ripe old age of 26!!
Sister Carolyn says she reflected on the opportunity, decided that St. Joan of Arc had gifted her with her vocation and she needed to give back to that beloved school. She took the job and has been there ever since – 38 years of leadership that has seen the school to 750 students, preschool through 8th grade, and one that now offers extended daycare and summer school. Sister Carolyn loves her work and her school is her passion. She sees her life as continual journey. She likes to describe herself as a perpetual student, attending education and professional development opportunities every year, as she expects of her staff.
In community now for over fifty years, Sister Carolyn has served several terms on the Monastic Council, the Trustee’s Committee, the Finance Committee and has recently joined the Villa St. Benedict Board of Directors. She believes the community’s decisions regarding the co-sponsorship of Villa St. Benedict have been wise and has allowed the Benedictine Sisters to direct their own future. She sees the Sisters’ ministry to the elderly as enriching and is looking forward to the completion of the renovated, smaller, more intimate monastery. During the commotion of the construction and temporary living quarters in one of the Sisters’ duplexes, Sister Carolyn often reflects with comfort on the following:“Be still and know that I am God.”