You’ll Never Walk Alone: Sister of Charity looks back on faith journey

Sister Agnes Giblin, BVM, displays a quilt symbolizing moments of her faith journey. Sister Giblin shared her story at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Iowa City earlier this month.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — A group of young women sang the words to “Bye Bye Love” as they traveled by bus from Chicago to Dubuque, Iowa, 67 years ago to become religious sisters. “Bye bye love, bye bye happiness, hello loneliness,” seemed to be the future that awaited the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary postulants.

“The song should have been, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’” said Sister Agnes Giblin, BVM, who sat on the bus that day. “I could tell you stories of so many people that have touched my life; that have nourished and nurtured my faith.”

Sister Giblin shared her story during a Faith Journeys event earlier this month at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Iowa City, where she has served as a pastoral associate for four decades. “I have known her for just shy of 39 years; I know some of you have known her longer,” said Dan Teets, the parish’s director of Adult Faith Formation and a coordinator of the Faith Journeys speaker series. “She’s very encouraging. She’s been a real blessing in my life,” he told the congregation, voice wavering.


Sister Giblin was born in 1939 to a “traditional Irish family” that gifted her the seed of faith. “Through the years, that seed has been nurtured by family, friends, the BVM community and by relationships with people whom I have lived with and ministered to, nature, music, prayer and, above all, by God.”

Tragedy and resilience marked her early years growing up on the west side of Chicago. When she was 4 years old, her mother died during childbirth. “She left that morning as a vibrant woman but returned home in a casket,” Sister Giblin said solemnly. Her father and two uncles worked alternating schedules to ensure that the little girl and her baby brother were never alone in the duplex the family shared. Her father declined a more lucrative job elsewhere because he wanted the children to attend the same Catholic schools as their late mother. At the time, the family lived within walking distance of these schools and could hear the parish bells.

When Sister Giblin was a teenager, a priest asked her if she’d thought about becoming a religious sister. “Without hesitation, I said I had thought about it and the answer was ‘no.’” However, another seed had been planted, “and you know how it flourished.” The night before she left for Mount Carmel in Dubuque, the spiritual home of the BVM community, her father reassured her that she could leave if it wasn’t a good fit, “but not for 30 days, because he was not packing that trunk again.” As it turned out, “my dad never needed to repack the trunk… There were always people there to walk with us and to help encourage us and we had each other as sisters.”

Sister Giblin initially pursued a teaching vocation, and Sister Jean Schmidt, BVM, was among her first mentors. Sister Schmidt later gained national recognition as the chaplain of the Loyola Ramblers’ men’s basketball team during their 2018 run to the Final Four.

Sister Giblin accepted a position at the Iowa City Catholic Grade School (now Regina) in the late 1960s. She lived downtown with about a dozen religious sisters from nine different congregations, including Sister Jean Marie Brady, BVM, who eventually became principal of the Iowa City school. They welcomed Sister Giblin’s father into their home when he developed cancer so he could be close to his daughter while receiving care at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “What a blessing it had been that he was there and that he got the care and support from the community of Iowa City. I still am grateful for it today.” Sister Brady’s mother also lived there at the time and Sister Giblin’s father often cooked her breakfast and lunch.

Like her early mentor, Sister Schmidt, Sister Giblin developed a connection to the world of sports. Former student Jim Harbaugh, a National Football League coach, keeps in touch with his third-grade teacher. “I called and left a message the day he and his brother (John) played each other in the Super Bowl. He called me back before the game.” He has invited her to some of his most important games, including the 2022 Fiesta Bowl.

Other memorable students include Wong, a Vietnamese refugee, and Marcelo, a Chilean youth whose father was studying at the University of Iowa. Sister Giblin admired the boys’ perseverance as she helped them with their English-speaking skills. Wong later became head oncologist at a Minnesota hospital and Marcelo recently received an award for leading clean water efforts in his home country. Both men have reached out to Sister Giblin to thank her for her help and encouragement. She was surprised and humbled. “You don’t know what effect you have on people, nor do they know what effect they have on each of us,” she said.

Sister Giblin transitioned into parish work at St. Mary’s about 40 years ago and has been active in religious education and Christian Experience Weekend (CEW) programs. As her Faith Journeys talk concluded, she displayed a quilt that CEW community members made for her about 10 years ago. Each square symbolizes a part of her faith journey, which, like the quilt is “a gift, a treasure.”

Sister Giblin is grateful to the parish community for ensuring that she never has to walk alone. “You have been and continue to be companions on the journey, people who have accompanied me in good times and in bad times, in hard times, in sickness and in health. You are companions with loving hearts, listening ears and helping hands. You are… visible signs of the invisible God in my life every single day.”

VIEW A RECORDING OF THIS PRESENTATION on St. Mary-Iowa City’s YouTube channel,

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