February 14, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Many people set aside Valentine’s Day to celebrate their own unique love story. The Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, Co-workers, and friends celebrated a unique love story this year: the 100th birthday of Sister Charles Christine Uhnavy, OP, who has been an Adrian Dominican Sister for nearly 80 years.
The special celebration included Mass; a special lunch that Sister Charles Christine shared with nearly 20 family members who attended the event; and an afternoon reception and birthday party.
“While the whole country is celebrating Valentine’s Day, here we are celebrating this day like none other,” said Sister Patricia Dulka, OP, Co-Chapter Prioress of Holy Rosary Mission Chapter. “Sister Charles Christine, we come to celebrate you with hearts full of love and joy for your 100 years young, for your life full of blessings, and for your life among us. You are a gift to us.”
Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, also spoke of the blessing of celebrating Sister Charles Christine’s 100th birthday. She introduced Jim Berryman, Mayor of Adrian, who brought birthday blessings from a number of sources. As a special surprise, he showed a short video of a group of students from all schools in Adrian, including Siena Heights University, Adrian College, Jackson College, and the Adrian public schools. The students kicked off a new program, Pay if Forward Tuesday, by singing “Happy Birthday” to Sister Charles Christine.
Among the surprises of the day were a framed Papal Blessing from Pope Francis; letters from Mayor Berryman, Archbishop of Detroit Allen H. Vigneron, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder; and a chest full of birthday cards from Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates from throughout the country.
“I never thought I’d get to be 100 years old,” Sister Charles Christine said during an interview. She expressed her gratitude for the many people who organized her birthday celebration and for those who joined in the celebration.
Sister Charles Christine has led a quiet life, but one that has had a great impact on countless children who today remember her as their first-grade teacher. Although she had taught other grades over the years – third, fourth, and fifth – her specialty was teaching first grade.
“I liked being a first-grade teacher,” Sister Charles Christine said. She especially enjoyed watching the young students progress from knowing very little to learning to read and write.
Sister Charles Christine has also taught teachers, helping to develop a phonics system to teach reading. She recalled giving a phonics presentation in the 1960s at Our Lady Gate of Heaven in Detroit – in front of her own first-grade teacher Sister Patricia Downs, OP. “She was happy and surprised that one of her [former] pupils was able to give the demonstration,” Sister Charles Christine recalled.
Although she enjoyed every mission in which she served and appreciated all of her local Superiors, Sister Charles Christine spoke fondly of her time at Our Lady Gate of Heaven. “That was a brand new school,” she recalled, explaining that the pastor had asked the Adrian Dominican Congregation for 14 Sisters but received 12. Because the convent was not ready at the beginning of the school year, “we had to live with the Little Sisters of the Poor for a couple of months, and there we were, all in one big row, sleeping in cots.”
Born Eunice Uhnavy on February 14, 1917, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sister Charles Christine was one of four children of Gerald and Olivia Uhnavy. Also in the family were her sisters Vivian and Arlene and a brother, Charles. Her father, a tailor, owned his own business.
When she was young, the family moved to Detroit and then to Royal Oak, Michigan, where Sister Charles Christine attended St. Mary School for grades one to 12. She entered the Congregation in 1938.
Sister Charles Christine’s first missions took her to Chicago, where she taught at St. Nicholas of Tolentine from 1939 to 1940 and at St. Philip Neri from 1940 to 1943. She returned to Michigan, teaching at St. Mary, New Baltimore, from 1943 to 1944; St. Alphonsus, Dearborn, 1944 to 1947; and Our Lady Gate of Heaven, Detroit, 1947 to 1957.
After teaching at St. Mary in Defiance, Ohio, from 1957 to 1962, Sister Charles Christine returned a final time to Michigan, to teach at Holy Name, Detroit, 1962 to 1967; St. Jude, Detroit, 1967 to 1967; Anchor Bay Catholic, Anchorville, 1969 to 1971; and her home parish, St. Mary, Royal Oak, 1971 to 1977.
Sister Charles Christine lived with her sister in the family home from 1977 to 2012, when she moved to the Dominican Life Center in Adrian.
Among the many blessings of her rich and full life, Sister Charles Christine counts her travels. She celebrated her Silver Jubilee at the Basilica of Sainte Anne De Beaupré in Quebec, and, to celebrate her Golden Jubilee, traveled to Germany on a group tour.
Sister Charles Christine is the first in her family to reach the age of 100. Her advice for anyone who wants to live such a long and healthy life?
“Live one day at a time. You never know if this will be your last.”