Sister Sheila Novak, SDS, celebrates with gratitude the many ways she has ministered during her 50 years as a Sister of the Divine Savior. Her latest ministry draws on a long-held passion to improve the lives of women.
Sister Sheila played an important role in focusing the worldwide mission of Salvatorian religious while serving in leadership in the early 2000s. When a door opened to look at dire needs of women around the world Sister Sheila stepped right in. Today, along with Sister Jean Schafer, SDS, she operates Hope House, where they provide long-term healing for victims of human trafficking in Southern California.
Sister Sheila’s past ministries equipped her with many skills, but it’s her true passion for the plight of women that keeps her going. She works to raise awareness and advocates for anti-trafficking legislation. She collaborates with other women religious to address the needs of victims, and as a member of the Coalition of Catholic Organizations against Human Trafficking.
“I came to California without a plan, which is very unusual for me,” says Sister Sheila. “At first I tried to sit down with trafficked victims
to learn what I could do to help them. Communication barriers and trust issues hindered those discussions, but along the way, the basic need for housing came to light.”
“Providing housing is the easy part,” admits Sister Sheila. “Other needs like employment training and referrals for social services are
areas where we’re still trying to build.” Hope House has been operating for a couple of years so there’s not enough history to say how long a typical client might stay.
“There are many levels of healing, and some take longer than others,” Sister Sheila explains. “This ministry is a real call to faith. You don’t really know what effect you’re having on people you serve. You have to take it on faith—it’s the only way to keep going.”
Sister Sheila taught many years in private and public elementary schools and then trained in Rome. While ministering in spiritual
formation, she took a bold step to initiate intercommunity formation programs for men’s and women’s congregations.
After obtaining a master’s degree at Chicago’s Loyola University, Sister Sheila served 12 years as a pastoral associate in the Diocese
of Saginaw, Mich., then seven years as U.S. Provincial. She first came to know Sisters of the Divine Savior in third grade at Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Milwaukee. She recalls, “My parents went on a Sunday afternoon to enroll us in school. Sister Maureen Hopkins answered the door and then gave a grand tour of the parish complex. She always remained special to our family as the first Salvatorian Sister we met.” As a student at Divine Savior High School, Sister Sheila talked little about becoming a Sister. Upon graduation, she shared her intentions with her closest friends and found them all very supportive. It affirmed the quality of her friendships as well as Sister Sheila’s call to religious life.