Sister Michelle Germanson, president of Trinity High School in River Forest, takes her school pride with her -- literally -- everywhere she drives. The word "TRINITY" has been emblazoned on the vanity plate of Sister Michelle’s car for the better part of two decades. Her passion for her job is hard to miss.
"I’m in my 23rd year here, come on, get a life! I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I love this school. I love watching young women be empowered. This is family," she recently told NBC 5 INVESTIGATES.
It was this very public symbol of commitment to her job that created an 18-month nightmare for the beloved nun. The first red flag came with a call in 2013 from the Dominican Mother House in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin -- the order of nuns to which the car is registered
"Sister, you have a ticket here, and it’s rather large," she recalled being told. "And I say, 'Really? Well, what happened?'"
What happened was months and months of erratic parking, all over New York City, in a car that seemed to have an identical vanity plate with the word "TRINITY" and also registered in the state of Wisconsin.
The trouble, according to Sister Michelle: "I haven’t been to New York, and certainly my car hasn’t been because I haven’t been."
Facing hundreds of dollars in fines, the sister and her assistant, Andrea Lamacki, took to mounting a defense. They compiled proof that Sister Michelle's car was a different color than the one in the tickets, though both were Toyotas registered in Wisconsin with the word "TRINITY" on the plate -- or, as it turns out, almost the same vanity plate.
Upon closer look, the other car’s plate was actually spelled "TR1NITY," with the first "I " replaced by the number one. It's a distinction with a huge difference, they argued.
Still, the tickets kept coming. Help from a lawyer and other connections who offered help fell flat, and that’s when Sister Michelle and Lamacki saw a report last December about a man who'd received incorrectly-issued parking tickets. NBC 5 INVESTIGATES at that time revealed that Illinois law offers scores of designer plate options, allowing different versions of the personalized plates to share the same words or initials.
That report, Sister Michelle said, gave her hope just when she toyed with the idea of giving in.
"What I do here at Trinity is empower women to be themselves and standup for what they believe in. I thought, 'Hello? Self? Do something here!' And I’m like, 'No, I’m not changing my plate.'"
NBC 5 INVESTIGATES confirmed with the state of Wisconsin that the driver of the other car – the one with the plate "TR1NITY" -- is a woman from Milwaukee. It was a conflict that convinced the New York Department of Finance – after our calls – to dismiss all of Sister Michelle’s tickets.
A spokesperson for the department said Sister Michelle’s files were now "flagged" so the issue won't pop up again.
After a year and a half of hassle, it was news Sister Michelle greeted with relief, and her signature humor.
"I don’t look so good in orange, so I hope this stops!" she said.