Shelly Pennefather has been a champion at all levels of her life, from the scholastic and collegiate ranks to her devout religious calling.
Her high school teams never lost a single basketball game in four seasons. She was chosen most valuable player in the state basketball tournaments four consecutive years.
In 1982, when her family came to the Utica-Rome area from Denver, Colo., Shelly enrolled at Notre Dame High School in Utica for her senior year. The 6-foot-2 starting center made a startling impact as the Lady Jugglers basketball team became a juggernaut in the 1982-83 season. Notre Dame went 26-0 under Coach Ed Hobbes, and beat previously undefeated August Martin High School of Queens, 57-43, in the Ne\v York State Class A championship game.
Pennefather scored 496 points that season, second best in team history. She tied Geralyn Babiarz for most field goals (19) in a single game and is second all-time in single-season field goals (229). She undoubtedly would have taken a crack at the school record for career points (1,946) if she had spent four seasons at Notre Dame.
Pennefather earned a full athletic scholarship to Villanova University, where she blossomed into a quiet, remarkably unassuming AII-American basketball star. She scored 2.408 points in her career with the Wildcats and had 1,171 rebounds. She was named the Big East Player of the Year three consecutive seasons. In 1987, she earned the Wade Trophy as the women's college player of the year.
Off the court as well, Pennefather showed a strong dedication to duty. She became a student teacher in mathematics and founded a girls' basketball camp.
She took her love of the game to Japan, where she was richly rewarded by playing professional basketball for four seasons. In her spare time, she gave English lessons to local children and attended daily mass. Each summer she returned to the United States as a volunteer for the Missionaries of Charity. On the verge of her fifth pro season, she rejected a $200,000 contract and soon hung up her sneakers for good.
Pennefather answered God's call in 1991, happily choosing a life poverty as a cloistered nun. She entered the Queen of Angels, Order of the Poor Clares Convent in Alexandria, VA. As Sister Rose Marie, she has learned to accept the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and monastic enclosure.