Stories of Faith

High-Flying NunR8

Sister Clarice Lolich as told to Diana L. Chapman

Gumption and prayers have helped me live my dreams for more than seven decades. As an eleven-year-old, I read a news story about a barking dog leading two nuns to a newborn baby abandoned in the bushes. My dream of becoming a nun and helping others was born. Five years later I joined a convent in Mission San Jose.

After serving as a Dominican Sister for thirty-six years, I began to dream new dreams. Pope John XXIII had announced that nuns should consider leading more contemporary lives. In my early fifties at the time, I remember thinking, I could do that. So when I was asked to teach high school science, I wasted no time accepting the offer and tackling the preparation required to teach these courses. I provided the gumption, and I asked everyone I knew to lift up their prayers for me. Despite my "advanced age," I earned two master's degrees, and later finished a Ph.D. at the ripe old age of sixty-seven.

Following the pope's directive ended up being fun. My new "contemporary life" included flying, bungee jumping, sky diving and striving to do other things I had never contemplated. Somewhere along the way I was called "the high-flying nun," and that nickname has stuck.

I took jobs with the Archdiocese in Los Angeles as a curriculum coordinator and then as a director of education for the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles. A student's comment triggered the beginning of a new dream. The student said, "This is supposed to be a science museum, and there's nothing about space science." My passion for space science was born.

After organizing an Explorer Post Program, I took its sixty-three young members up and down the state of California to visit aerospace companies such as Lockheed and Rockwell. Next came tours on four chartered planes with the museum's docents and their family members to see the astronauts fly into space on Apollo missions from Cape Canaveral.

Another dream was fulfilled when NASA asked if I would teach hundreds of inner-city children about space. With stars and planets twinkling in my eyes, I spent twelve years traveling as an aerospace education specialist, showing children aircraft models, space rockets, astronaut suits and moon rocks, and teaching them about scientific principles from gravity to inertia.

When I was seventy-two, I retired from NASA and refocused. Now I fly just once a month up and down the California coast working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to teach elementary students.

Aging hasn't stopped me from doing fulfilling and fun things. With tremendous fulfillment, I traveled to Bosnia and Croatia to help orphans. More recently, I went to Honduras and Guatemala, taking along toothbrushes, toothpaste, T-shirts and learning items such as periscopes and magnifying glasses.

Just for fun when I was seventy-nine, I white-water rafted down the Colorado River, hiked for miles and slept under the stars along the Grand Canyon. And only months ago I accepted the invitation of a pilot at an air show to soar into the sky on a navy training plane to enjoy a few aerobatic twists and turns. He even let me pilot the plane! My only regret is that we didn't turn upside down.

People often ask what has been the most fun and fulfilling dream in my life. Hands down, it's the students. I remember one extremely troubled high school student who was going downhill fast. He wrote me a letter I still have. Evidently my teaching about science and space touched a chord in him, for he wrote, "Sometimes I lie out at night just looking at the stars." When I was eighty, he found out where I lived and came to show me how well he had done. He owned his own company, and he had with him a lovely wife and their baby.

I've loved my career of literally soaring with mind, body and spirit upward to the heavens. But the real thrill has been showing young people how to reach their own stars.

(699 words)