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Sister Olberding plans 50-year celebration trip to start & end in Manteca
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It’s been 22 years since Sister LaVern Olberding worked in the Religious Education program at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca.

At that time, the church was simply called St. Anthony, and the south side of the Highway 120 Bypass was still plain agricultural lands.

But come January, Sister LaVern of the Franciscan Sisters of Clinton, Iowa, is returning to Manteca. Not to get her old job back but to start a year-long celebration of her 50th year as a nun. During the entire year of 2011, she plans to visit all the different parishes, schools, colleges and archdioceses throughout the country where she worked during the half-century period of her life as a peripatetic Franciscan sister.

She served the parish of St. Anthony of Padua from 1982 to 1988. During that time, she taught hundreds of elementary and high school students who took part in the Religious Education – also known as CCD – program of the parish. That’s not even including the numerous parishioners she befriended in the six years she lived in Manteca.

There were too many, in fact, that her year-long jubilee-celebration travel itinerary will have her criss-crossing the continental United States from San Diego where she currently works as a solid-surface installer for Atwood & Thompson, San Diego’s oldest solid surface company – she is known as Sister Fix It – to Louisville, Kentucky, and her order’s mother house in Clinton, Iowa.

Her January celebration in Manteca – she has already reserved the school cafeteria – will be on Saturday, Jan. 1 for the reunion with her former CCD students, from noon to 4:30 p.m. She will wind up her year-long jubilee itinerary on Labor Day weekend in September 2011 in Manteca to have another reunion, this time, with staff, teachers and other people she worked with in the Religious Education program of the parish.

Those who would like to get more information about those upcoming events can contact Sharon Lange in Manteca (209/823-7588) or Lisa Fetko (209/957-2853). They can also go to Lisa Fetko’s facebook page. “She has an invitation that she’s spreading around,” Sister LaVern said.

She is hoping that her former students who may be visiting family and friends in Manteca on Thanksgiving will hear about her planned visit and mark the two reunion dates on their calendars and save the day.

After her January visit to Manteca, the rest of her itinerary will take her to the following places and dates: February, El Cajon, Calif., where she taught fourth through sixth grades; March, Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona; April and May, Kentucky; and back to El Cajon and San  Diego for the Memorial Day weekend; June, back to Kentucky where she will visit the University of Louisville and Marysville where she also taught, plus a stop-over at the mother house in Iowa; July, St. Anne’s at Lexington in Nebraska where she will spend the Fourth of July weekend; then to her hometown of Varina in Iowa for her jubilee celebration along with a class reunion of her graduating glass of 11 students.

“Varina is a small town. The population is 100 if you count everyone’s pets,” Sister LaVern said of the farming town where she grew up.

After her Labor Day reunion in Manteca, she will return on Sept. 8 to the mother house in Clinton, Iowa, where there will be another celebration with the other sisters and the community. She also taught at the high school and college owned by the Franciscan Sisters in Clinton.

Sister LaVern was one of three Franciscan Sisters of Clinton, Iowa, who served at the St. Anthony of Padua parish in Manteca. The other two were Sister Mel, who is currently at the order’s retired home and is struggling with dementia, and Sister Yvonne who currently works in the office of an insurance company in El Cajon.

As for Sister LaVern’s present job, she said, “I am working in solid surface. We do countertops. Today, we worked on a yacht all day. We were doing vanities. Next thing, we’re going to do the galley where they prepare food.”

She had been working in campus ministry at the sisters’ university in the San Diego area – Mt. St. Claire University – when the nuns had to sell it to a for-profit company.

“The president of our (religious) community said, ‘you’re going to need to get a job because they (the new owners of the school) won’t need you.”

A former student who happened to own the solid surface company called her up and offered her a job. Having had previous carpentry experience growing up with a carpenter father whom she helped during the summer, Sister LaVern did not need any training when she got to her new job which includes picking up 140-lb, 12-foot-long slabs of acrylic for kitchen counters.