Sister Camella Menotti, SSMN, carves out a ministry from walking sticks, gardens, and computers

North Texas Catholic
(May 7, 2024) Local

Sister Camella Menotti

Sister Camella Menotti, SSMN, is seen in her workshop where she makes walking sticks from fallen crepe myrtle branches found on the property of the SSMN Western Region Convent in Fort Worth, on March 6, 2024. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Sister Camella Menotti, SSMN, greets her visitor with a smile in the foyer of the Our Lady of Victory Center.

She carries one of her handmade, distinctive walking sticks, stained mahogany and tipped in sturdy rubber as she escorts her visitor past the computer room she maintains.

Out the back door, they go into the spacious yard. Sr. Camella leans on her walking stick a bit as she navigates the pavers next to the blossoming white and pink pear and peach trees under her care.

Her destination is a red brick building that used to house the facility’s laundry but now is used for grounds maintenance and, at one end, Sr. Camella’s small woodworking shop.

She points out the donated compound miter saw and drill press, along with smaller power tools padlocked in a tall cabinet she crafted herself. Other supplies are neatly arranged in wooden boxes she made.

On the other side of the small room, long branches in various stages of completion lean against the wall and a workbench. Some are bare, gathered like a bouquet in a box. Some have been sanded, while others are stained and awaiting varnish. 

Sr. Camella began making walking sticks in 2016 while helping prune a row of crepe myrtles along the fence of the property.

“We started cutting branches, and I thought, ‘They’re too pretty to throw away,’” she said.

Since then, she’s crafted more than 200. Some are long and straight, and others are thick and offer slight curves to fit a hand. Each one has a special seal of a stylized

Christ and cross, the symbol of Sr. Camella’s order, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur.

“This is my ministry, working on walking sticks,” she said.

Many of them she gives away to those who have trouble walking. Others are sold for $15 to $50, with the proceeds benefiting the order.

She’s made so many that she ran out of materials from the grounds, and friends and former pupils bring her branches from their own yards.

Never getting around to retirement

One of the recipients of Sr. Camella’s walking sticks is Father John Shanahan, TOR, parochial vicar at St. Andrew Parish and the SSMN chaplain.

When Sr. Camella heard Fr. Shanahan was going hiking in New Mexico four years ago, she gave him one of her walking sticks.

Fr. Shanahan has since used his walking stick while hiking all over the Rockies. More recently, when he began having knee problems, she made him a cane.

Sister Camella Menotti, SSMN, walks in the backyard of the SSMN Western Region convent on March 6, where she finds fallen branches from crepe myrtle to use for her walking sticks. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

“Sr. Camella is very generous,” Fr. Shanahan said. “She also gave me one for a friend who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and lives in New York.”

Some of her walking sticks have gone to doctors and nurses where she goes for her weekly cancer treatment, a regular part of her life since she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma 16 years ago.

This was a rough winter for Sr. Camella, fighting COVID and hospitalized twice with RSV. But spring has sprung, and along with it, renewed energy to get back to work.

At 93, she continues to work whenever she feels up to it.

“The word ‘retirement’ is not in our vocabulary,” she joked.

Beyond walking sticks, she’s in the process of refinishing some 50 wooden chairs used at the center, and she paints the outdoor benches a bright red when they need a new coat.

Roots in south Texas ranching and rodeo

The daughter of a grocer/rancher in the South Texas town of Dickinson, Sr. Camella, the second of six children, has always worked hard, and she’s always been good with her hands. Whether it was working wood, working cattle and horses, or working in the family store, she stayed busy.

The family had a rodeo arena on their ranch and held rodeos, with Sr. Camella and some of her siblings keeping time.

Sr. Camella was a barrel racer and a rodeo queen, representing her hometown of Dickinson. She even met Roy Rogers and Dale Evans when she rode in the Grand Entry at the Houston Fat Stock Show.

She was named runner-up for Houston Rodeo Queen in 1950, with Kathryn Grant, the future wife of Bing Crosby, winning the title.

Meanwhile, she began to help the Catholic school in Dickinson. After working at the school for two years after high school graduation, Sr. Camella surprised her family by her decision to join the order in 1952.

She credits the kindness and encouragement from the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in Dickinson.

“They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” she said.

She didn’t stop riding horses after entering the order, finding time over the years to ride the horses of friends and students.

A number of years ago, she was a nominee for the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth.

Using her "capable" hands to bless others

Sister Louise Smith, the archivist at the OLV Center, was a young novitiate in Dickinson when Sr. Camella joined the order.

Right from the start, Sr. Camella made a positive impression. “She was so capable,” Sr. Louise said.

Sr. Camella taught and served as principal in Dickinson for 12 years. She also taught in Houston, Beaumont, and Hollister, California.

She thought she’d retire from education when she moved to Fort Worth at age 65, but she ended up teaching in the diocese at Holy Name, St. Andrew, St. Mary, and Our Lady of Victory.

For many of those years, she taught computers, and she’s still one of two resident experts at the OLV Center, teaching skills to sisters.

Sr. Camella was an early adopter and remembers getting Radio Shack computers for the Dickinson school in 1983, courtesy of the local Knights of Columbus.

Computers, woodworking, and helping tend plants still fill Sr. Camella’s days.

She doesn’t let cancer, diabetes, or age keep her from doing whatever her hands find to do.

She does so much despite her health challenges, Sr. Louise said. She may take frequent rest, but she always returns to the work that has shaped her life. She also has plenty of ideas she wants to share with others. 

Sr. Camella doesn’t allow illness or age define her, saying simply, “I’m myself. I say what I think.”

Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur, SSMN, Sister Camella Menotti, walking stick, hiking stick, trending-english