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Sr. Trina Marie Ulrich and her ministry as teacher

By Tammy Townsend Kise, Communications Director 

The teenage girls began filing into the classroom less than a minute after the bell buzzed.

"Sister Trina, can you..."

"Sister Trina, do you..."

"Sister Trina, I need..."

Sr. Trina Marie Ulrich, teacher and head of campus ministry at Queen of Peace High School in Burbank, IL, responded to each request with the unflustered grace and ease that comes with over a decade of working with students.    

"I have a very structured classroom," Sr. Trina said. Soon the girls were in their desks - two rows on each side of the classroom, turned toward each other - ready to begin the Servant Leadership class.

It was "Dress Down Day" at the school - no traditional Catholic school uniforms for the students on this day at the all-girls high school in south suburban Chicago. Yet, even in their jeans and t-shirts, the students conveyed respect in the words they exchanged with their teacher and in the whispers among themselves before the bell rang.

Their first task? Read Mark 11: 27 -33 and answer the questions which Sr. Trina projected on the screen:

"What servant-leader characteristics enables Jesus to answer the way he does? Why are the authorities interested in Jesus' authority?"

With Catholic Youth Bibles open at their desks, the students went to work. Sr. Trina made her rounds, reading the answers that began to form in their notebooks, stopping to offer assistance for those who weren't quite sure how to answer the challenging questions.  

"My dream is to publish a teacher's supplement, a resource for teachers who might not be as familiar with the scriptures," she explained later. Finding the time, though, is the great challenge. In addition to her teaching and campus ministry duties, Sr. Trina also works with a group of student evangelists, the Student Preachers, as they're known at the school, who prepare a reflection on the Mass readings for each school Mass. With a Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies from Catholic Theological Union and her extensive spiritual discernment and formation with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth that began in 1993, Sr. Trina has a wealth of scriptural knowledge and experience to share with her students.

That knowledge and experience showed as she began to guide the class through an understanding of the day's questions, urging the students to a deeper understanding of the scripture, guiding them to a greater familiarity with the challenging text.

As the discussion ended, Sr. Trina dimmed the lights, closed the window blinds and prepared to lead the class through a viewing of a part of Bakhita: From Slave to Saint (Ignatius Press). The movie, about Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave who was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2000, offered a multicultural dimension that reflected the diversity in this classroom. Sr. Trina explained she had chosen the movie because St. Josephine Bakhita embodied the characteristics of servant leadership the students had studied, including listening, empathy, awareness, foresight, commitment and building community.

"This is the part I was telling you about," Sr. Trina said to her students as Sudanese drumbeats began to thump on the screen. "They're ritualizing her identity. Her tribe says she has nature within her."

The students nodded, taking notes for the one-page response paper. For the paper, Sr. Trina asked them to describe Bakhita's personal authority or lack of authority, her sense of self, her self-confidence.

Throughout the movie, the scripture reading, the reflection and the questions, Sr. Trina guided the students to deepen their understanding of servant leadership, demonstrating the love of Jesus and the oneness of the human family in the lessons she offered.

"I love the fact that I'm giving them [the students] a real grounding in scripture," she said after class.  It's a peaceful and satisfying ministry. I'm getting to help form people. I feel God has called me here [to Queen of Peace High School] to help build the campus ministry."

Sr. Trina went on to say, "I love teaching at Queen of Peace. There's a strong sense of community here. The students are down to earth and there's a lot of practical parental support."

Another bell rang and soon a new set of high school girls entered the classroom, pulling their desks in a circle around Sr. Trina. They were there to discuss their reflections on partnership for the next school Mass - these are the Student Preachers. Reviewing the presentation slides on their computers, the students decided they would lead a singing of Bill Withers' popular song "Lean on Me" at Mass as an example of partnership, assuring Sr. Trina the other students would know all the words.

Sr. Trina's joy and love for her teaching ministry echoed in the laughter the students shared with her.

Looking at a photo from months earlier, Sr. Trina smiled and explained how she had the unexpected opportunity to release a dove with Fr. Vanecko during his visit to the school. In that brief moment and in countless others throughout her teaching ministry, Sr. Trina continues to celebrate the loving relationships she is blessed to create each day with her students, with their families and with the world.

Sr. Trina entered the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in August 1995 and professed her perpetual vows on September 11, 2004. She has served at the Queen of Peace High School since May 2014.

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