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Sister Micki: Ready for a change

Modified: Sunday, Nov 2nd, 2008

Professor Mildred Flynn aka Sister Micki Flynn, SND has come a long way from the black-and-white , head-to-toe habits the nuns of her order used to wear.

"They call me Dr. Flynn." That's appropriate for her students , since Mildred L. Flynn, 71, is a professor in the English Department at South Dakota State University. Now, after a half-century of teaching, she's getting ready to shed that identity and return to a role that is more traditional for someone with her credentials and her vocation. In addition to the Ph.D. Flynn can note after her name, she can and does use the letters SND Sisters of Notre Dame. In months to come, she may follow a more "religious" path.

Now, however, she tells her students right upfront, "For better or worse, they've got a nun for a teacher."

In her order, she is "Sister Micki Flynn."

In an earlier day when nuns still dressed in basic black, brown or white head-to-toe habits, she was "Sister Patrick Ann."

Now she teaches "Technical Writing in Engineering." The course is limited to students in the Department of Engineering.

Flynn also teaches a literature course every semester, adding, "This semester it's a seminar in 19th British literature; I'm teaching the poet (Percy Bysse) Shelley at one end and Gerard Manley Hopkins at the other end and calling it 'spirituality , strange bedfellows .' Of course, the two could not be more different on the surface."

In the spring of 2009, prior to her stepping down and into retirement , she'll again teach the technical writing course, plus a course in 19th century Victorian literature. Two nuns in department

Flynn is in her 19th year at SDSU and in her 51st year of teaching. She added, "I think that's enough. I will be 72 in September, and I'm tired. It's enough."

Continuing and laughing a bit, she said, "May 13 is the date grades are due, and that's it. I quit."

Flynn, with a total of 34 years as a nun, admitted that a member of a religious order teaching at a secular university was a bit of a rarity; and she explained how she came to find her niche at SDSU.

"When I finished my doctorate , I spent five years trying to find a position at both Catholic universities and at schools where I could be close to my (religious) community . I had nibbles, I had interviews, but South Dakota hired me.

"Well , you know Mary O'Connor . And she, too, is a nun. We just laugh that there's two nuns in our English Department. I'm the only one in our community, in the Ohio Province, who has ever been at a secular university." Waiting on word from God

Asked if she had any retirement plans, Flynn replied, "God hasn't told me yet. And that's a serious answer. I have things mulling around in my brain.

"There are articles, monographs longer than an article, shorter than a book that I want to write: a couple of them spiritual, many of them academic."

But she's also considering ventures that would take her far from the world of academia and into the world of the corporal works of mercy: "I have ideas about wanting to work with alcoholics and the homeless." And missionary work abroad might beckon.

Flynn explained, "Every now and then, I think about going to Japan. We have a Japanese province." She could teach English there, in a university setting. But for now, her future plans are "all up in the air." Some kind of ministry

But will she really ever retire? No. She said she'll always be doing "some kind of ministry."

Flynn added that she "is currently doing a little bit of (religious) retreat work and spiritual direction." She would like to do more in both those ministries; she has a degree from Creighton University (Omaha) in those religious disciplines. A long life-journey from Chicago

From where she is and where she might go is a long way from where she was. Flynn grew up and graduated from high school in the Windy City. She was 16 years old. Four days after her 17th birthday, she entered the convent.

Her higher education came with a bachelor's degree from DePaul University in Chicago. From there, she pursued graduate work at the the University of Missouri (Columbia), where she earned her master's degree and doctorate. Flynn enthusiastically admits to a love of her job, especially teaching technical writing. It's turned her into a student of sorts of the engineering-oriented students she teaches. It's given her an appreciation for and understanding of the almost-always-underwayconstruction on the SDSU campus. But grading papers ....

"I have learned so much," she said, with a big smile. "When I walk past those construction sites on campus , I almost know what they're doing. It's just wonderful ." Looking back further on her many decades in academia , she said, again showing a big smile, "I've taught everything from first-grade through graduate students. I love teaching. And if I didn't have to grade papers, I could keep teaching.

"But it's working long hours and grading papers at night I want to do something where when I come home, I can come home." John Kubal may be reached at jkubal@brookingsregister.com.

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