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Softball slugger Sister covers all the bases at work and play

Posted By June 26, 2013 | 5:05 pm | Featured Article #3

Reprinted from the 2012 Retirement supplement of The Catholic Free Press
Catholic Free Press reporter William T. Clew hit a home run with his story about Sister Anne Marie Wildenhain, pastoral associate at St. Richard of Chichester Parish in Sterling.
Mr. Clew’s story about the 82-year-old Sister of St. Joseph, who swings a mean bat as a slow-pitch softball player, took first place in the 2013 Catholic Press Association Best Sports Journalism category. The story follows.

By William T. Clew

Sister Anne Marie Wildenhain, SSJ, is pastoral associate at St. Richard of Chichester Parish in Sterling.
At age 82 she is not retired, she said. She works at the parish on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays and half days on Fridays.
That gives her time to play second base on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a slow-pitch softball team in a men’s senior league at Worcester State University’s Rockwell Field. She also has been playing for the last eight years in a women’s league in West Boylston.
She said she joined the men’s league 10 or 12 years ago and is the only woman in it. Frank Marcel, the league commissioner, said the league has had three women in the past, and they were good players.
So is Sister Anne Marie, her teammates say.
She said that she approached members of the league about playing in a coed league.
“Why don’t you play with us?” one of the men asked.
When she wondered whether the men would object to playing with a woman they said, “We don’t discriminate.”
That was “10 or 12 years ago.” she said. When they found out that she was a nun they wondered what they should do and how they should address her.
“Just call me Anne Marie,” she said, and that’s what they do. She fits right in. At a recent game at Worcester State, players talked and joked with her when she was on the bench and spoke with admiration about her playing ability when she took the field. The consensus is that she knows what she’s doing, both on the field and at bat.
Several joked that when they use bad language Sister Anne Marie fines them 25 cents. But no money changes hands. If it did, she said with a laugh, she’d be rich.
She isn’t the language police, but if she wanted to be she’d have help. There are four ministers in the league; Tim Hanley, pastor of Chaffins Congregational Church in Holden, Manny Forty, a Pentacostal minister, and two retired ministers, Raul Ferrin and Rick Monstur.
At a game a couple of weeks ago at Rockwell Field, a game she said she hadn’t expected to play because she had hurt her ribs in a fall the week before, she grabbed her glove – which from the look of it has had plenty of use – and got out on the field.
When it was her turn to bat, a photographer wanted to take her picture in her batting stance at the plate. She agreed, though she said she probably wouldn’t get a hit.     After a few pictures, it was time to “Play ball!”
She eyed the first pitch, took a nice level swing and whacked a base hit into left field.
In another game earlier this week she backed up the pitcher who had trouble fielding a pop fly, picked the ball up and threw the runner out at first base. Later in the game she made a nice across-the-body, one-handed running catch of a line drive.
She was born Nov. 30, 1929, in Pawtucket. There were very few opportunities for girls to play sports when she was growing up, she said. But she had five brothers. They taught her how hit, throw and catch a baseball and she played in neighborhood games.
She said she also played in pick-up football games when she was a youngster. One of the neighborhood kids told her brothers that he didn’t like to be tackled by their sister because she hit harder than the other kids.
She attended Catholic schools in Pawtucket. She said she and her mother used to make novenas, as did several nuns. She said she watched the nuns at prayer and one night the thought came to her.
“This is what God wants me to be,” she said.
On July 2, 1948, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph at the Mother House in Springfield, and “I’ve never regretted it,” she said.
She received her bachelor of arts degree in education with a concentration in history in 1959 from the Elms College and a masters degree in 1973 from Worcester State College. She taught for 29 years, 18 in Newport, R.I., and 11 years at Worcester Central Catholic Elementary School, where she also coached girls softball and basketball. She also served as principal at St. Joseph’s School in Leicester. She also studied at Gonzaga University, a Jesuit University in Spokane, Wash., and received a certificate in leadership.
Sister Anne Marie lives at 783 Grove St, Worcester, with two other Sisters of St. Joseph, Sister Joan Pollock and Sister Frances Barry. She said she has been at St. Richard’s in Sterling for 24 years, serving with three pastors, Father Andre N. Remillard, now retired; Father Thomas B. Garlick, who died May 22 last year, and the present pastor, Father James N. Steuterman.
At first she was a religious education teacher in the parish. Now, as pastoral assistant, she supervises the preparation of the altar for Masses, prepares schedules for lectors and eucharistic ministers for Masses, serves at funerals and visits the sick and elderly and brings them Communion.
One of her softball teammates, Bobby Ducimo, said that when he was in the hospital after knee surgery and later, while he was recuperating in a rehabilitation center in Charlton, Sister Anne Marie brought him Communion.
On Tuesdays once a month, from October to June, she heads a reflection group at the parish. She said there are nine people in the group. They use “Book of Awakening,” by Martin Nepo. Each member of the group takes a page from the book and explains what it means to them, she said.
She also visits a nursing home in Sterling once a month and volunteers at the St. John’s Parish food kitchen in Worcester. She helps make soup and sandwiches. She said “it’s important that I can do that,” and the people who come to the kitchen are very grateful. And Sister Anne Marie also is grateful.
“I love the Sisters of St. Joseph,” she said. “They’ve been good to me. And God has been good to me.”