Lisa Polega ’91 was earning a good living as an environmental consultant, but something was missing. “I had a luxury apartment and nice things, but was keeping my gifts to myself,” she said during a March 14 panel discussion, “Living an Interfaith Life.” Polega said she had an “ah-ha” moment and decided to become Sister Lisa Polega.
Polega and two fellow alumnae—Syeda Reema Kamran ’01 and the Reverend Kelly Stone ’03—discussed their career paths and the role of faith in their lives in the discussion marking Women’s History Month. The panel, moderated by Associate Chaplain Michelle Hughes, was part of the College’s yearlong focus on religion in public life, Still Speaking, Conversations on Faith.
Polega earned a master’s degree in theology from Loyola University Chicago and is now a member of the Sisters of the Living Word. She works as the parish outreach coordinator for the Diocese of Joliet.
“Becoming a sister enabled me to give back to the community,” she said.
Kamran grew up in India, Saudi Arabia and Canada. She arrived at Elmhurst College as a “lost” teen, she said, with a “Muslim faith that was on autopilot.” Through debates in her religion class, Kamran said, she explored her faith. She co-founded the College’s Spiritual Life Council and Muslim Student Association.
Faith is the constant
Kamran’s degree in economics and business equipped her to launch R&R Event Management in Elmhurst, which organizes fund-raisers, educational seminars and conferences for non-profit organizations, some of which are faith-based.
Wearing a hijab was a decision Kamran made at age 21, she told the audience. “I didn’t want to be seen as the exotic, beautiful Indian woman,” she said. “Being covered, I am seen as a Muslim woman.”
Stone hails from a rural town so small, she said, that she had no female professional role models except schoolteachers. “I was raised Protestant, but it wasn’t until my Habitat for Humanity [service project] trip during college that I was able to live out my faith,” she said. The communications major headed to Yale University for a master’s degree in divinity, which led to her post as chaplain at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.
Asked how their gender affects their work, Kamran volunteered: “Women wear many hats—sister, mother, wife, daughter, citizen. My faith is the constant in all these roles. There are a lot of women warriors out there for young women to look up to now.”
Stone said she was the first female chaplain at Lakeland. “But it’s been a blessing,” she said. “I believe my gender helps me help the young women there.”
Polega said being a female in the Catholic Church “is a challenge and a blessing. People ask how I can work in such a patriarchal church. But I tell them there’s more to the church than that.”
For the mostly female audience at the lecture, Kamran closed with a “you-go-girl” quote from New York-based Muslim leader Shaykh Abdallah Adhami: “When we shine as men, the implication is that we are reflecting the glorious light of our women.”