2015 Jubilarian – Nila Neill
Sister Nila Neill attended public school in Las Vegas for grades four-10 while her father, a master bricklayer, worked on the Boulder (Hoover) Dam. The family moved to Detroit after the dam was completed; she graduated from Girls’ Catholic Central High School. Less than two weeks after graduation, “as a young and green” 18-year-old, she joined the IHM community.
She admits she knew very little about the lifestyle of a sister, but she wanted to be a part of the dedication to religious life that she had seen in her teachers. At first, Sister Nila says she pushed away the calling because she didn’t want to have to give things up. She “wanted it all” – and eventually found it all. Her mother was very pleased by her decision, but her father, not being Catholic, knew very little about religious life.
When Sister Nila joined the community, she was surprised by the silence. “Silence, all the time silence,” she says. “And I like to jabber.” She also missed listening to music, especially classical.
Her first mission was teaching second and third grades, “a murderous combination,” at St. Louis in Mount Clemens, Mich. After a year, the school closed, so she went to St. Matthew in Flint, Mich., and taught fourth grade. World War II broke out, and Sister Nila felt the effect through rationing of sugar, coffee, rubber and pencil erasers. She recalls senior boys being eligible for the draft. “I was walking behind two 12th-graders and one’s draft number came up. He had to leave by the end of the school year,” she says.
Sister Nila then taught fourth grade at St. Felicitas in Chicago for the next five years, followed by teaching at a number of grade schools in the Detroit area over the next 13 years. She taught at Immaculate Heart of Mary High School in Westchester, Ill., for six years, and then at Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She taught English at Universidad Catolica in Puerto Rico for three years before ministering in Illinois, Michigan, Florida, Delaware and California.
When she returned to Michigan to stay, she served at Marygrove College and as secretary for the IHM Leadership Council before ministering in the IHM Archives and the congregational Library.
She says of her varied ministries, “It was in the will of God. I didn’t always understand it, but I was ready to accept it.” That attitude, she comments, got her through many difficult situations. Through her disappointments, she learned to become more compassionate toward her students’, especially those who struggled.
Sister Nila has loved being a sister and meeting wonderful people. She describes Vatican II as “a drink of water in the desert that knocked the wall down. All the silence wasn’t necessary to be able to know and love God.”
Her greatest joy since joining the community has been teaching. She is most grateful for being accepted into the community.