Basketball Sisters Now Play For God: College Roommates Take Different Paths, End Up On The Same Journey 40 Years Later (2023)

Von Linda Reeves

MIAMI (OSV News) -- Divine intervention may be the only explanation for how two college teammates graduated, ventured miles apart in different careers, and then ended up in Miami 40 years later on the same journey, both with habits.

“I think we met at our first practice on the basketball court,” said Sister Pauline Irene Regina, reflecting on her college days at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, where she met Carmelite Sister Margaret Ann Laechelin.

The two rekindle their friendship after Sister Irene is assigned to the Pauline Book and Media Store in Miami. Sister Margaret Ann is the principal of Archbishop Coleman Carroll High School in Miami. Sister Irene's move to Miami marks the first time since college that the two women have lived in the same city and in close proximity.

“We were freshmen and we both wanted to play college basketball,” Sister Irene said of the fall semester of 1979 when Mary Hoernschemeyer of St. Louis and Brenda Laechelin of San Antonio met.

Both had earned basketball scholarships. Sister Irene was from an all-girls high school, Ursuline Academy in St. Louis, where she played softball, basketball, and volleyball. He photographed for the yearbook and wrote for the newspaper.

Sister Margaret Ann attended East Central High School, a large public school in San Antonio, where she played basketball and track. She got straight A's, took honors classes and was the sports editor for the school newspaper.

They both came from Catholic families, were tall, athletic, and loved basketball. You got it from the start.

“We could talk about anything,” Sister Irene said in an interview with Florida Catholic Media, a Florida provider of multimedia communications services. “We were committed Catholics and went to Mass together on campus every day. Even on car trips, we both went to Sunday mass. Our coach was Catholic and always found us a Catholic church nearby.”

They were both thrilled to be part of the School Class of 1983 and Lady Rattlers.
“We quickly became friends,” said Sister Margaret Ann. “We share almost everything. He shared his meal menu with me and I gave him a set of my car keys. We didn't talk much about God or our faith. We just live it together."

Both women played in post position on the pitch and often had to face each other in training.

"We were co-captains: his wits and my strength," Sister Irene quipped. "She's the reason I've become such a good player. We had to practice against each other a lot, with all the nudges and bruises that entails, and we're still friends."

They helped each other in their game.

“She was an incredible basketball player. He was strong under the basket and played with a lot of determination. I wasn't the athlete. I was more of a student of the game,” said Sister Margaret Ann.

The Lady Rattlers won two games and lost 18 in their freshman year, but the losses didn't discourage the women. “When we were juniors it was completely the opposite,” said Sister Margaret Ann.

In their senior year, the girls were the only seniors on the team, and both were chosen by the coach to be co-captains. Then their relationship became even closer.

Doctors discovered a malignant tumor near Sister Margaret Ann's third rib and the reports were not good. During a lengthy operation, the medical team removed the tumor along with half of the second, third, and fourth ribs.

“Sister Irene was a great help,” said Sister Margaret Ann. “She helped me to think about life and not so much to prepare for death. With the help of Nurse Irene I played a month after the operation, actually made a demo. Sister was the strength I needed. She really helped me carry the cross."

Sister Irene initially studied engineering but then switched to physical education as she felt it would be more appropriate, but had no particular career in mind. After graduating, he returned home to look for a job.

"I remember being interviewed for a job at a Catholic high school," he said. “The nun who interviewed me brought me to the convent. I thought it was funny because I was applying for a job, not a convent."

Sister Margaret Ann initially studied mathematics, but switched several times before deciding to study English. “I decided to become a basketball coach and teacher. I've been training with little kids and I've really enjoyed it."

After graduating, he got a job at Troy State University in Troy, Alabama. “I was able to coach college basketball and get a master's degree in 11 months. Then I came back to San Antonio and coached high school basketball and taught English in major public high schools for four years.”

Sister Irene continued her search. She learned that the Archdiocese of St. Louis was holding its first vocation retreat for young women. There she met the Daughters of St. Paul, also known as the Media Nuns.

“I felt the community was a perfect fit. I didn't find a job, I found a community," he said.

She was incorporated in Boston on November 1, 1983 and took her first vows in 1987, with her good friend cheering her on.

"She may have had a premonition that she was going to enter religious life," Sister Irene said of her teammate. "About the time we graduated, he told me that our coach wasn't worried about my future. He told her that she would probably become a pilot or a sister and that either way she would be close to God.”

Sister Margaret Ann continued to train and teach her dream jobs in the public schools, but she felt something was missing. He continued to recognize God's will. "I wanted to do and be what he made me to do."

When some students at her school asked her to start a Bible course, she knew that God was answering her prayers and working in her life.

"My principal was willing to let it happen as long as it was discreet," he said.

His Bible study was full, the students engaged and interested. “It was the hunger for truth, goodness and beauty that I saw in their eyes that made me ask God what I needed to do to help them better. I knew that God had created me as a nun.”

She attended the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Los Angeles and, after her discernment, made her first vows in 1993 with the support of her good friend.

Sister Margaret Ann served Archbishop Carroll High School for seven years, and during her tenure her dedication to her students and the school community has not gone unnoticed. The former Lady Rattler rose to fame in 2017 when a video of her cutting down trees after Hurricane Irma went viral, racking up more than seven million views on Facebook. Her followers called her "the chainsaw nun".

Her popularity continued after another video surfaced of her and her religious sisters showing off their basketball skills in support of the Miami Heat. The Globetrotters watched the video and made them and their team's players honor picks during their draft.

As one of the media nuns, Sister Irene's ministry has taken her to Anchorage, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Cleveland, Toronto, New York City, Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles and now Miami.

Both women remain active and occasionally take to the pitches to shoot a few baskets.

“A good friend is a gift from God,” Sister Irene said. "Although it has been a long time since we have seen each other, it is heartening to know that someone is praying for you and hoping for your well being. As religious sisters, we encourage one another to holiness."

“We started out as teammates on the basketball court and now we're religious sisters, true sisters helping one another on our way to heaven,” said Sister Margaret Ann. “Now our goal is much more than a basketball trophy. One day we will spend eternity together in the heavenly court of God."

Linda Reeves is a correspondent for Florida Catholic Media.

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