Roasting a nun? Really? Seems risky to me. I can almost see Father Ray's bushy eyebrows arching over his big black sunglasses in warning of possible consequences. Father Ray, as strong a symbol of the behavior expected by the church as I knew as a child, was among those who warned of consequences. As in perpetuity.

A roast. Yep, where folks take the mike to tell embarrassing stories about you, laughing all the while.

"When I ran this idea past her, she got beet red and said, 'Robert, don't you dare...'" says Bob Hoffer of Sister Jean Marie Hoffman, S.N.D. Asked who has the nerve to roast a nun, he laughs and pauses.

But Hoffer, an attorney whose Northern Kentucky Catholic upbringing includes Covington Latin, is braving it "” with all due respect, of course.

But he remembers her admonition: "Robert, just be gentle."

On Saturday, Feb. 12 at the Marquise Conference & Banquet Center, Hoffman will be roasted to raise money for the Diocesan Catholic Children's Home in Covington, where she began working as a social worker 30 years ago and has been executive director for 20 years. She works for the children, loving each unconditionally and helping each build a future.

It's hoped the money will be the final piece in a $3.8-million project under way to provide a gym and a new building for Guardian Angel School. The new building also will provide room for offices that, in the older building, have encroached upon the children's living space.

Translated, that means a place to play, modern classrooms and more home-like privacy in the living areas.

So, what's the scoop?

Try as we might, we failed to find out who has the goods on Sister Jean Marie and what they might say to bring out the chuckles and knowing guffaws at the roast.

The Most Rev. Roger Foys, Bishop of Covington, says, "Sister Jean Marie Hoffman is a remarkable religious (Sister of Notre Dame) whose dedication to the children under her care is nothing short of legendary."

Famed jockey Steve Cauthen credits Sister Jean Marie for "taking it on the chin" to raise money for the Children's Home. But the toughest thing the Triple Crown winner will say about her is "she is a hard woman to turn down when she comes looking for you" to help the children. He knows because he's on the Campaign Leadership Team.

For his part, Hoffer calls her an "angel in our midst." Not exactly the type of ribbing insult that Dean Martin used to toss at celebrity roasts.

A weakness? OK, it's not a weakness. But it is a fun fact "” Sister likes to dance. Amy Quinn, also a member of the Leadership Team, claims to have seen her dancing to the funky beat of her phone's ring tone before she picks it up. "She loves to break out all of her moves at our Annual Swing into Spring event," attests the First Security Trust Bank vice president.

Kelly Schoening, a lawyer along with Hoffer at Dressman Benzinger LaVelle, says the roast is a perfect example of Sister Jean Marie's devotion to the children. Schoening, a member of the Home's executive committee, adds, "Not everyone would be willing to put themselves out there to have others talk about you to a room full of people. It didn't even faze her."

For play and privacy

During a look around the older building, Sister Jean Marie points to a wall that was bounced out, stealing space from a living room, to accommodate office mailboxes and a copier. With a shrug and a smile, she explains how important it is for the children to have privacy to play and study away from people attending to the business of the Children's Home, visitors, or perhaps estranged parents working with social workers.

From its vantage on Orphanage Road, the red brick buildings at the end of the winding tree-lined access road overlook woods, a playground, a basketball court and a swimming pool donated by a supporter after just one phone call. Founded as an orphanage in 1948, the Children's Home's mission has changed from serving orphans to providing residential care for as many as 34 children at a time with moderate to severe emotional problems "” many are victims of sexual abuse at the hands of those who should have been nurturing and protecting them.

Stepping Up

"We've got to do something for those kids, to save them," she says. "Somebody has to step up to the plate."

There's a school on campus. A master's level therapist provides care and, when possible, families are involved. Group therapy lets the children know they are not alone in what they suffered and what they face. The "goal is to help them get strong so they can make it in adoptive or foster care," she says. For many, Sister Jean Marie says, the Children's Home is their "last hope." Just one measure of success are the 42 adoptions in the past seven years.

There is a lot going on. Classes are meeting, teachers are checking for hats as kids eagerly head out for recess on a frosty day. Children are laughing over a lunch of tacos. The rooms are freshly painted in pinks, blues and yellows. A mural of fairies graces a hallway near the girls' rooms. Each child has a single room, a place to hang a poster, read a book, regroup.

When you see her in action, you understand why Sister Jean Marie is able to raise money during the worst economy in recent memory. For the kids.

Relax, Father Ray, we'll be good.
 
Dianne Gebhardt-French, former editor of the Kentucky Enquirer, writes about newsmakers of Northern Kentucky. Contact her at (513) 297-6209 or dfrench@cincymagazine.com.