As a student at Fontbonne, Sister Sarah Heger felt she could accomplish anything. Through her experiences here and her connections with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, she did just that.
I sat down with Sister Sarah Heger, a 2004 Fontbonne alumna and current principal of my former middle school, Marian Middle School. We began discussing her time at Fontbonne and how it progressed into her joining the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and becoming the principal of Marian.
During her time at Fontbonne, which she chose for its great education program, Sister Sarah majored in Special Education. She also chose Fontbonne because she had the chance to play volleyball, which she loves. Her first year roommate, now assistant professor of speech-language pathology at Fontbonne, Dr. Laura O’Hara, recalls that Sister Sarah could often be found in the weight room practicing vertical jumps by jumping on tables.
While attending Fontbonne, Sister Sarah was very involved; in addition to being a part of the volleyball team, she was also on the track team. She credits her involvement with track to attending Fontbonne, saying it’s something she probably would not have participated in if she had attended a larger school. Alongside her sports involvement, Sister Sarah was also an RA and Student Government president.
According to others, Sister Sarah has always been destined to accomplish great things. O’Hara said, “you could just tell that she would achieve greatness in whatever she did—academics, athletics, campus ministry, service opportunities. You name it—Sister Sarah was motivated to do it well.”
For Sister Sarah, “Fontbonne felt like a place where I could do anything or try anything that I wanted.” Most importantly, Fontbonne was the place where she met the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
As the oldest of seven children, Sister Sarah didn’t really know any sisters when she was growing up, and didn’t think too much about religious vocation. The sisters’ presence at Fontbonne is what influenced her thoughts on becoming a sister.
The desire wasn’t an immediate decision. But witnessing “the joy in which they lived and the drive to always be about justice,” coupled with knowing since high school that she wanted to give her life to service in some way, helped with the decision.
On December 8 of her senior year, during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the priest talked about how Mary said yes to being the mother of Jesus despite not having all the answers. In the midst of the homily, Sister Sarah’s questions and doubts about becoming a sister were dissolved. “If Mary can say yes to that with so many questions…why not give this a try?”
With the decision made, and the news being well accepted by her friends and family, Sister Sarah began her journey. As part of her discernment she did a year of service in Concordia, Kansas. During her time in Kansas she worked in a small Hispanic grade school, doing special education work with children ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade.
Afterwards she moved back to St. Louis and taught third grade at St. Joan of Arc. During this time Sister Sarah was living with the Sisters of St. Joseph as a part of her candidacy, giving her and the Sisters a chance to get to know more about each other. She took classes on the meaning of the vows and got a better understanding of religious life. Along with this, she spent a lot of time traveling with the sisters and doing service in St. Paul, Denver, Peru, and Mississippi. Upon returning to St. Louis, she took a position teaching fifth grade at Marian Middle.
During her interview for the position at Marian, Sister Sarah fell in love with the school’s mission and the idea of “taking these girls from fifth grade and following them through high school, through college, and just watching them grow and develop, and become these amazing people that our world just desperately needs.” She knew that Marian was something she wanted to be a part of, leading her to teach fifth grade for five years. During her five years of teaching she attended Saint Louis University and received her master’s degree. She later became the principal of Marian, and has been for the past three years.
As an important part of the Marian community, Sister Sarah has been able to bring many of the things she enjoyed at Fontbonne to Marian, such as volleyball and track. Among many other things, Sister Sarah attributes “the inspiration of the girls and families” and their many stories to the enjoyment of her job.
As a sister she loves the “self-giving commitment to service and justice”. Sister Sarah’s life as a sister has taken her many places, allowing her kindness and service to touch many. Sister Linda Markway, also a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, said, “[Sister] Sarah does everything with a deep passion for service. She loves the dear neighbor and wants to both be an advocate for them as well as to learn from them.”
Wherever Sister Sarah is, be it home or school, her attention is on ministry. She admits that sometimes it can be exhausting, but the reward of giving herself entirely to something so important outweighs that.
Those who know her have said that when Sister Sarah is set to do something, she gives 100 percent of herself to the task. Perhaps, some of that comes from the feeling of “anything is possible” she experienced during her years at Fontbonne. Since graduating, she has taken that mindset with her throughout her life as a sister, and applied it to the service she extends to others.