Fifty-three years ago, at the age of 18, Candice Tucci, chaplain in the College of Nursing, was a high school student in Buffalo, New York, being taught by the Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity and hearing that insistent small voice that for centuries has whispered to the called.
It was 1967, a very different world, when youthful idealism enjoyed generous rein in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s creation of the Peace Corps and religious orders demonstrated more drawing power than they do today.
And Candice was feeling drawn.
This year, as Sister Candice Tucci, she marked the 50th anniversary of her response to that call.
“The sisters who taught me in high school were of the order I eventually joined,” Sr. Tucci says. “I really felt drawn to work with those who were in need, and the Peace Corps with the opportunity to work in different countries among different cultures was something that sounded very attractive to me.”
When she learned that the Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity is an international community of the third order, which is to say, engaged in practical service to the world rather than living cloistered lives, her interest grew.
“So I talked with them, and, I think, just praying about it during my senior retreat — which was led by Jesuits from the New York Province — through their guidance, and the guidance of the sisters, I felt that I was really being called to be a missionary.”
In 1970, she completed her novitiate and took her first vows with the order.
The passage of 50 years since then makes for a winding trail, and Sr. Tucci’s has passed through nine states; Rome, where she met Pope Francis; and Tanzania in East Africa, where she spent three years from 1990 to 1993 with the Wasubi Tribe, providing women’s development programs, emergency medical assistance, children’s programing, pastoral ministry, learned native languages and witnessed the emergence of the genocide against the Tutsi, Twa and Hutu peoples in neighboring Rwanda.
“It was the very beginning of the Rwandan Civil War, and we had a number of Rwandan refugees crossing into Tanzania,” she says. “There was blood flowing in the rivers, and really the genocide had just about started, although it had not yet reached the capacity that it would after I left.”
Sr. Tucci over the past five decades held leadership posts in her order and in multiple institutions of higher learning, earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Rosary Hill College in New York and a master’s degree in Religious Studies from Mundelein College in Chicago. She has organized, created or led campus ministries and liturgical events, designed and created leaded glass windows for the chapel at Saint Leo University in Florida, earned a high reputation as an artist whose creations can be seen around Creighton’s campus, and, among other pursuits that fill three single-spaced pages of her curriculum vitae, served as vocation director for the Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity, and the Diocese of Buffalo.
For all that, perhaps the most prophetic time of Sr. Tucci’s vowed life was early on, when from 1970 to 1977 she served with Saint Francis Indian School on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. There she made Jesuit friendships that have lasted to this day and which, in 2015, saw her begin service as chaplain to the Creighton University College of Nursing.
“It’s wonderful to be the chaplain at the College of Nursing,” she says. “I work with an incredible group of faculty and staff. Our students are exceptional.”
Sr. Tucci says she recognizes in Creighton’s nursing students that sense of mission that first called her to service.
“I hope that in some way I have been able to help them grow to be more loving and compassionate nurses in their fields as they meet humanity in its most frail condition both in life and in death and helping them live through that with a sense of dignity,” she says.
“Right now, during this time of COVID, we really need loving and compassionate health care professionals. If in any way I can help them develop that spirit — whether through pastoral counseling or blessing their hands or talking about their calling and vocation — then I am hopefully doing whatever God is asking me to do during this time of my life.”