Family, friends, colleagues reflect on life of Sr. Carol Hoverman

By Dan Russo
Witness Editor

DUBUQUE — Both the vigil service and funeral Mass for Sister Carol Hoverman, OSF, opened with those in attendance singing hymns the Alta Vista native had written — two of the many she created over the course of her 80 years.  Family, friends and colleagues expressed a melody of memories in recent days as they reflected on Sister Carol’s life. As they did, tears and laughter poured out like the notes of the sacred music she made.

“Carol was a ‘go-to’ person in terms of the family history,” said Sister Mary Lechtenberg, OSF, during the funeral liturgy Oct. 7. “So this quote from one of her songs is for the cousins and all the friends: ‘The Lord gave me friends and my family, their presence and their love is my joy.’ And not to leave anyone out, this message is for all of us to remember: ‘God’s loving hand will direct us.’”

Sister Mary — Sister Carol’s cousin and a member of the same religious order — spoke of Sister Carol’s attitude toward the illness that eventually took her life.

“While facing the limited availability of cancer treatments, she said: ‘If they don’t bring about a cure, I’ve had 80 good years,’” said Sister Mary.

The Sister of St. Francis, who was at the forefront of Catholic communications for over three decades, died Oct. 3.  Sister Carol was the first director of communications in the history of the Archdiocese of Dubuque and the first woman to be editor of The Witness, the official archdiocesan publication. She also distinguished herself in the fields of video production and music. She retired in late 2014 from her archdiocesan position. In a 2015 interview, she described her time in this ministry as an “unfolding journey.”

“I would say the whole 34 years were a wonderful adventure,” she said. “It was a wonderful time because the church was just waking up to the potential of media evangelization. I treasure the relationships with diocesan staff, communication directors and editors in Iowa and nationwide. I just never could have imagined how God would guide my life in this direction.”

Sister Carol heard the call of her vocation early in life, inspired by the example of the sisters who taught her in elementary school. She entered her congregation in 1956, was received with the name Sr. Mary Angela Merici in 1957 and made her final vows in 1962.

Sister Carol’s brother, Jim Hoverman, speaking at her vigil, shared funny and poignant stories from her life, including her childhood, through a poem:

“At ten she saw the light
Knew she would be a nun
I planned to be a cowboy
With toy Roy Rodgers gun

So then in fifty-six
She left home and we missed-her
She joined St. Francis order
Became my sister-sister”

An accomplished pianist and organist, Sister Carol began her focus on communications after working as a music teacher for many years. She first taught at Sacred Heart School in Melrose Park, Illinois, until 1969 and then at St. Mary’s School in Dubuque from 1969 to 1982. During that time, she began nurturing an interest in photography and writing. She eventually enrolled in a class on video sponsored by a local cable company.

Archbishop James Byrne asked her to begin working part-time for the Dubuque Archdiocese in 1980. In 1982, she became the full-time director of communications. From 1982 to 1985, she produced segments for “Real to Real,” a faith-based weekly TV series that was a collaborative effort of the archdiocese and the Iowa dioceses of Davenport, Des Moines and Sioux City and the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.

Sister Carol assisted in directing the filming of the installation of Archbishop Daniel W. Kucera, OSB, in 1984. The event was broadcast live to a statewide TV audience. During this period, Sister Carol also contributed to The Witness. In late 2001, Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB, offered Sister Carol the position of editor. She filled the roles of director of communications and editor from that time forward. She also continued to serve in music ministry and founded Sisters United News, with members of nine other congregations.

Sister Carol Hoverman, OSF, is shown reading an issue of The Witness with Msgr. Thomas Ralph, her predecessor as Witness editor. She took over the position in 2002, the first woman to hold the post. (Photo from Witness Archives)

“Sister Carol reached out to the media with news and was always available to them, including during the difficult times,” said Sister Mira Mosle, BVM, who worked with Sister Carol on many projects. “She mentored younger women in Catholic communications. … Always, she worked with enormous patience, perseverance, diplomacy and creativity and became a leader in church communications. We shared a passion for communications ministry. She was a dear and faithful friend, whom I will miss deeply.”

Sister Carol took particular pride in featuring the people of the archdiocese engaged in positive efforts, including stories on women in the church. Under her tenure, the newspaper did many series on vocations and discernment.

Sister Carol also had to deal with some difficult stories such as the sex abuse scandals that shook Dubuque and many other dioceses in the early to mid-2000s and the Postville, Iowa, immigration raid of 2008, which garnered national attention.

“I will always remember Sister’s ready smile, her quick, dry wit, her breadth of knowledge and interests, her views on local, national and international issues, her compassionate outlook on the rest of the human race, and her strong, steadfast friendship,” recalled Mary Nevans-­Pederson, former Telegraph Herald reporter and newspaper publisher.

Sister Carol’s contributions to St. Mary Parish were numerous: as parish organist and choir director, she supervised care of the impressive organ, which continues to be used for concerts at Steeple Square, the community center which now occupies the former church. After 50 years being active in the parish, she was passionate about maintaining the organ.

“One of the hardest things I had to do as editor was to cover the closing of St. Mary’s (in Dubuque),” said Sister Carol in the 2015 interview. “The night of the final Mass at St. Mary’s, I had a video camera upstairs next to the organ. I had a still camera up there getting pictures. I was directing the choir, and I had to get an article written for the front page of the paper the next day.”

In recent years, Sister Carol continued her work in music ministry at the linked parishes of St. Patrick and the Cathedral of St. Raphael in Dubuque.

Sister Ann Marie Dunn, OSF, also from the Alta Vista area, entered religious life the same year as her. At the vigil, Sister Ann Marie recalled the many trips they took together to visit family in Colorado. Although their personalities sometimes clashed, their friendship deepened over 63 years together in religious life.

“In spite of how different we were in some things, we respected and loved one another,” said Sister Ann Marie. “Carol was a very good friend to me and helped me along my journey. I will miss her, and I know she will be with me now in a new and different way. Thank you, Carol, for being a friend to me, and I’m sure you will enjoy the glorious music of eternity.”

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