By Barb Arland-Fye
Memories from 20 years ago resurfaced when I learned Mount Saint Clare Speech and Hearing Clinic in Clinton will close this coming April. Sister Marcella Marie Narlock, the center’s longtime director, provided speech therapy to my son Colin for two years, beginning when he was 3 years old.
Now almost 25, he doesn’t remember those sometimes difficult sessions, but Sister recalls them vividly. She remembers calming his anxious mother, who wondered what would become of him.
Colin and I visited Sr. Marcella last weekend at The Canticle, motherhouse of the Clinton Franciscans, the community to which she has belonged for 56 years.
Demonstrating the skills she’s honed in 43 years as Mount St. Clare Speech and Hearing Center’s director, she asked Colin many questions, which he answered spontaneously. He summarized his school years and said he plans to go to college in 2013 (with assistance from individuals who help him with independent living skills). Sr. Marcella marveled at his responses and the fact that he asked her questions, too! He played the piano for her, promised to visit in the future and said he’d pray for her to be able to continue her work.
Sr. Marcella reminded me how far Colin has come since she first started working with him 21 years ago. Those early sessions had been forgotten, when he wouldn’t sit in his chair, and my husband and I would have to set him back in the chair over and over again.
He yelled and screamed because he didn’t want to be there, Sister said. He didn’t talk much, except to echo what we said, or babble. But over time, with Sister’s hard work, his schooling and follow-up at home, Colin began stringing words into sentences.
Because we’re so close to the situation, we can’t appreciate nearly as much as Sister the amazing accomplishments he’s achieved in verbal communication. But witnessing Colin and Sister conversing last weekend brought me great joy. Colin enjoyed the exchange, too; Sister made him feel like the young adult he is.
Her desire to help children and adults like Colin remains as strong as ever; she estimates she’s assisted as many as 3,000 individuals in her years with Mount Saint Claire Speech and Hearing Clinic. But her commitment to helping others goes back to childhood.
At 4 years of age, “I told people I’m going to be a Sister and I’m going to take care of babies that don’t have mommies,” Sr. Marcella said. While in Catholic high school in Chicago, she did take care of babies without mommies – for part of each Saturday at an orphanage operated by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. One of the children she “mothered” was a boy who was blind. “I’ve always been drawn to children with disabilities,” she said.
As a novice, she saw children with various disabilities waiting to see Sister Edward Smith, who founded Mount Saint Clare Speech and Hearing Center at the college the Clinton Franciscans operated. Eight years later, when Sr. Edward was dying of cancer, she was heartened to learn that Sr. Marcella would succeed her at the center.
Even though the center is closing after 65 years of existence for financial and other reasons that Sr. Marcella understands and accepts, “I don’t plan to stop,” she said. “I’ll continue to provide services for my people … God takes care of me. I’m doing his work. As long as I keep doing his work, he will provide.”
Colin said a prayer for Sister last night that she would continue to be able to do her work because he knows she’s doing God’s will.