We honor the sisters and associates who have shared their lives with us and who have died recently. A Mass is offered at each of our retirement homes for each of them.
Sister Anne Abler
Born: February 22, 1928
Died: September 28, 2014
If you are neither from Wisconsin nor familiar with the references given to some of its localities and someone said to you, “Oh, I’m from the Holy Land,” you would give a look of surprise and probably reply, “Really? How come you are in Wisconsin? ”
This was the scenario Sister Anne enjoyed many times during her life. She was always proud of being born and raised in Wisconsin’s Holy Land, the Fond du Lac/Mount Calvary/Malone and surrounding area, and the home of many Catholic parishes.
Today we are here to celebrate Sister Anne Abler’s life, which began on February 22, 1928, in Malone, Wisconsin. Anne was the first child in the Alois and Alvina Abler family, followed by a younger sister, two brothers and three other siblings who died in infancy.
Anne grew up on a dairy farm during the Great Depression. Even though money was scarce, her family was always grateful for their homegrown meat and vegetables. German was the language spoken at home.
Anne, along with her sister and brothers, attended St Peter’s School, which was taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Even though she greatly admired the sisters, felt a call to religious life early, and saw her younger sister, Marie, join the community, Anne waited until August 28, 1948, to enter the convent. Reception into the School Sisters of St. Francis for Anne was June 13, 1949. She requested and received the name of Sister Lavina, a variation of her mother’s name.
To prepare for what she expected to be a lifetime career of teaching, Sister Anne attended Alverno College. In fall 1953, she received her first appointment as a teacher of grades one through four in Wheaton, Illinois. It didn’t take long for her to endear herself to her students and for the children to fall in love with their teacher. Being small in stature, and having big brown sparkling eyes and a quick smile, were all it took to win their attention in the classroom.
Sister Anne’s teaching career lasted 30 years in Illinois and in Wisconsin. When asked how she felt about teaching, her response was, “It was glorious!” She thoroughly enjoyed the children.
Sister Anne felt that there was more to life than teaching. It was probably the influence of her sister, Sister Marie, who was a registered nurse, that prompted her to ask herself, “How about patient home care?” In 1980, she began working for the Tau Home Health Care and stayed with the agency until it closed in 1983. As expected, the clients she served loved her and requested her kind and loving services. She had an inner peace and an excellent bedside manner so appreciated and needed by her patients.
Life still held a new challenge for Sister Anne. This time it was off to Arizona where she worked as a pastoral minister and liturgy coordinator for several years.
In 2004, Sister Anne returned to Milwaukee to volunteer her services wherever needed, especially as a substitute teacher and tutor. Sister Anne was always interested in the children and families she served.
As Sister Anne’s health failed, she moved to Sacred Heart Convent where she continued to be a loving inspiration to all. Shortly after Sister Anne was anointed, one of the sisters who was praying with her asked, “Do you think Jesus will come for you tonight?” Her quick response was, “Not tonight. We aren’t quite ready!”
Sister Anne will be fondly remembered and missed by all, especially her family whom she dearly loved, and who knew and felt her kind, loving, and understanding heart.
Sister Anne, you have spent many years as a School Sister of St. Francis being the face of the Gospel to countless people. We know you are ready to meet Jesus. We witnessed you being a religious in the truest sense of the word. Go now to the place prepared for you in Heaven!
Sister Celesta Blackbird
Born: June 13, 1924
Died: November 28, 2014
Some people dream of raising a family living near a lake. This dream was a reality for Kathryn and Joseph Blackbird, whose home was in the country near Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin. They welcomed their first of seven children–three girls and four boys–on June 13, 1924. The baby was a girl, who was baptized Mary Kathryn. They were a very happy, fun-loving family who enjoyed each other, playing all sorts of games, swimming, hiking and climbing.
Mary was the climber and she always aimed high! Once she was dared to climb the roof of a building. First she climbed the tree next to the building, then swung herself on to the roof and proceeded to climb to the top, never looking back. Once she reached the peak she realized that she could never make it down without help. Her Dad was called. Needless to say, her climbing days ended then and there.
A one-room public school was the setting for the first six years of her education. She stayed at a boarding school in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to finish seventh and eighth grade at St. Mary’s Springs. During this time, her mother contracted tuberculosis and had to go for treatment at a sanitarium. Being the oldest, Mary tried to do her best to help at home, but the situation overwhelmed her Dad. He decided to divide the seven children among their three aunts. The distances between the three homes resulted in the loss of their former close bonds. The aunts were very kind toward these soon-to-be-motherless children. Their mother died at the age of 37, and Mary Kathryn lived with her Aunt Rose in Waupun, Wisconsin.
While at boarding school, Mary Kathryn admired an older student who was going to the convent. After Aunt Rose took her to the convent to visit her postulant friend, Mary Kathryn packed her suitcase in the summer of 1938 and asked her aunt to take her again – this time to stay. She completed her high school courses at St. Joseph High School in the Motherhouse. Reception into the School Sisters of St Francis was on June 13, 1941; her new name was Sister Celesta. Her Dad and three aunts came to the celebration. What a great day for the family! She shared with them her dream – to be a missionary!
Upon graduating from Alverno College in 1945, Sister Celesta was assigned to practice teach at St. Joseph School in Aurora, Illinois, for one year. During the year, she learned of a new school – Holy Angels in Chicago –which was to be staffed by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Now was her chance to be a missionary, to be among the African-American children. And so it was – she prayed fervently and begged Mother Corona to let her go there.
Her prayers were answered, and from 1946 to 1953 she felt like a real missionary as she taught the children to use all of their creative talents. They put on plays, musicals, and had a good sports program. She and the other sisters walked the streets and stopped to talk to youth gangs. Their friendliness averted many fights between opposing gangs. When cautioned about walking the streets, Sister Celesta would often refer to St. Francis and say, “We’re only teaching by example, and when that doesn’t work, we use words.” In the summers, they offered educational and recreational activities in Chicago’s CYO Parks program.
A new very difficult assignment was given her in 1953. She was sent to teach in Stuart, Nebraska. It was extremely difficult for her to leave her beloved African-American children, so she desperately prayed that God would change His mind, and He did. This time her assignment was to be in the Deep South – Yazoo City, Mississippi. A school was to open that would concentrate on the poverty-stricken African-American children. Sister Celesta spent 11 happy, rewarding years there before returning to Holy Angels in Chicago, where she joined three other sisters.
For her, life went smoothly until, in 1982, there was unrest in the school. The four sisters had to leave and find other jobs. They accepted short-term teachings positions at St. Kilian’s in Chicago, and next in Harvey, Illinois, at St. Suzanna’s. In 1985, they were overjoyed to be invited back to Holy Angels, at which time Sister Celesta’s teaching load was lightened and she did numerous other helpful tasks while continuing to enjoy her contacts with the students and staff.
Her health was beginning to fail due to Parkinson’s disease. She realized that she’d soon have to leave her beloved sisters, friends, children and the places she loved for so very long. It was in 1998 that the sisters with whom she lived brought her to St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, and have never forgotten her. Their visits and phone calls are full of memories, laughter and even songs. Life was so peaceful and wonderful for her there.
However, God was asking something else of her. Structural changes were developing for the convent in Campbellsport. In 2013, many of the sisters were requested to move to Sacred Heart Convent in Milwaukee, and Sister Celesta was among them. She transitioned into her new surroundings with the same beautiful smile and peaceful countenance that she had when she accepted every other change in her life.
In one of Sister’s last conversations, with eyes that were radiant, she said, “God has been so good to me!” Sister Celesta, we want you to know that the world is certainly brighter, happier, and more peaceful because you so were deeply rooted in justice as you modeled the Face of the Gospel. Go now, and enter your Father’s House.
Sister Dorothy Bongard
Born: May 2, 1925
Died: January 13, 2015
The Bongard family portrait is composed of the mother and father, Helen and George, two sons, Bud and Jerome, and one beautiful daughter who was baptized Dorothy, which means “gift of God.” This precious baby girl arrived on May 2, 1925. Anyone who knew Dorothy realized that she treasured her name and spent her whole life proving herself worthy of it as she brought much joy to her parents, her brothers, sisters-in-law, and many nieces and nephews.
St. Lawrence, across the street from St. Joseph Convent, was the family’s home parish where the children were baptized, confirmed, received their first Holy Communion, and attended elementary school. Dorothy and her best friend Anne Beitzinger graduated from St. Lawrence and enrolled at Mercy High School on 29th and Lapham Street, where the Mercy Sisters taught. Since Dorothy and Anne were classmates all through elementary and high school, it was only natural they both followed their dream and entered St. Joseph Convent together. Reception into the School Sisters of St. Francis was on June 13, 1944. Dorothy was given the name Sister Adelaide.
From childhood on, Sister Dorothy was instilled with a deep spirit of faith, fostered first by her parents and family and then by her School Sisters of St. Francis Community. It was this faith in God, her family and her community that, she often said, sustained her in both the good and difficult times she encountered over the years, and she manifested it in three very distinct ways. First, she tried to always smile. Second, she tried to think positively. Third, she kept busy.
Over the years, Sister Dorothy was a well-known and respected teacher in elementary schools in Wisconsin and Illinois. Her academic expertise and organizational skills were only surpassed by her genuine love for children, upon whom her warm and welcoming smile always rested.
Never one to keep her talents hidden under a bushel basket, she acquired bookkeeping and purchasing skills, and in a competent, positive and cheerful manner utilized them at St. Joseph Hospital in Beaver Dam and Goodwill Industries in Madison.
However, there were still other ways in which Sister Dorothy kept busy. Her enthusiasm for life overflowed in numerous volunteer and leisure time activities. Her tutorial work with children at St. Sebastian School in Milwaukee extended the warmth of her smile and presence to countless others. She enjoyed knitting, crocheting and other crafts, and literally made hundreds of baby blankets, caps and mittens—not only for family members and community , but for countless children sponsored by the Association of Interfaith in the South East Milwaukee area. She loved to express her innermost thoughts in poetry and then share it with others. For years, a nightly game of cards – any kind – was part of her evening routine. Above all, she was an avid Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers fan. A peek in her closet will attest to this – lots of appropriate tee shirts and caps. Could Dorothy secretly have a conflict of interest? A CUBS cap was also found!
Sister Dorothy, your life was truly a gift of God to all whose life you touched! Go now and enjoy your eternal gift from God!
Sister Mary Buechner
Born: April 14, 1921
Died: May 18, 2014
It is the custom for some School Sisters to write their own words of remembrance. I am now sharing some of Sister Mary's thoughts as found in her drafts.
My parents, Catherine and Carl Buechner, guided me from birth on April 14, 1921, until August 30, 1936. There were 11 children. I was the second child. I had five brothers and five sisters. We Buechners are a close family.
But then I answered the call to join the School Sisters of St. Francis. The Lord has been good to me in and through my community, the School Sisters of St. Francis. God called me to fulfill His mission in Nebraska, Chicago, Illinois, and in Wisconsin to guide and teach children in grades one through eight for over 50 years. Through all the years, I was blessed and grateful to be able to serve in his name. Life has connected me with many miracles of success—moments so precious, like gifts, imprinted in my memory for recall. There have been so many years and so much change that I wish to tell only a little.
My life in the convent began in 1936 when I was 14. My Dad and Uncle Louie accompanied me to St. Joseph Convent. It was lunchtime when we entered the sacred walls, my soon-to-be home. A bell began to ring in all its loudness announcing my arrival—or so we Buechners thought! The halls began to fill with people, among them were the aspirants. What a welcome for my future 75 years in religious life. It was later that I figured out that the bell rang for various functions, but I felt welcomed on my arrival, and have always felt so.
I liked my Nebraska missions, and served in Randolph and later in St. Helena, but the large classes in Chicago, Holy Angels, were a real challenge. Yet, I felt quite competent in the primary grades.
When I was the first principal at the new school at St. Therese, Kenosha, I felt like a true missionary forging new roads, since there was no tradition to follow. Nevertheless, I moved on after the traditional six years as principal.
At St. Monica, Whitefish Bay, I began to see myself as more than a teacher. I read and went to classes learning to take more and more a role in guidance. I saw myself entrusted with a responsibility to change lives not just educationally, but spiritually.
It was at Lancaster, Wisconsin, St. Clement School that I developed self-paced science and math classes to accommodate every student's need. Oh, such work, but success beyond my expectations. Having success gave me courage to join Immaculate Heart School in Madison that already was organized as a school of innovation. Although I was satisfied and happy, I again moved on after learning of a junior high position at St. Killian School in Hartford. I was attracted because of the opportunity to develop religious classes along with science labs and self-paced math classes. I had the reward of success when a Hartford high school teacher visited my classes to become informed of the self-paced math classes that were the source of my students’ high school success. This teacher noticed a significant change in the graduates. I was elated; it helped compensate for the long hours demanded for my program. I thanked God!
While at St. Killian school, I had open heart surgery and experienced a supporting lifetime spiritual experience previous to the operation. Father Michael Strakoda directed a Sacrament of Healing involving my seventh and eighth grade students. Each student laid his hands on me and said a prayer! I was moved and felt that I could face anything! God was with me through so many others. God was good to me again.
I have always started every day so that it is really a new day, so that every student has as much chance as the day before. That is my philosophy. So far it had worked with the grace of God!
Now with open heart surgery I had begun to learn that I was living on borrowed time. I felt that I definitely was returned to health to share my skills. After a summer school and much homework personally, I taught at St. Mary School, Pewaukee. I taught computers for all grades for about seven years, followed by a year of the same at Germantown and St. John the Evangelist in Greenfield. When computer curriculums became reorganized and no longer included curriculum content, which was my style of teaching, but became strictly computer skills, I knew it was time to leave my 52 years of working in schools! I felt blest and grateful.
The next 17 years I fulfilled God's mission by serving in the U.S. Province Office. Nine of those were volunteer. When this history of me is shared, it will be to tell you of my mission in my next life, for I will again have passed on to something new and different.
I touch your memory as I would touch a sacred icon with a kiss. My heart wells with gratitude for the cherished gift of your love. My life was richer for having shared with you. All of you showed me the way to God in the goodness of your ways, in your kindness and forgiveness. You overlooked my faults and ignored my shortcomings. You taught me to recognize God in daily life. I have dearly loved you all. You helped me travel. Farewell. I have left you, but we shall all meet again in our Father's Home.
Sister Corrine Dais
Born: April 5, 1936
Died: May 7, 2014
Sister Corrine Dais was born at home during a blizzard on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, in Rubicon, Wisconsin, to Peter and Catherine Dais. She was baptized on Holy Saturday at St. John’s Church in Rubicon. Growing up on a farm with seven siblings made life exciting. She loved to tell stories of the tricks that her brothers and older sisters played on her. She remained a farm girl all her life, and this was good because many of her places of ministry were in rural towns and small cities.
After eighth grade, Corrine joined the School Sisters of St. Francis. As an aspirant and postulant, she attended St. Joseph Convent High School. She was received on June 13, 1953, and given the name Sister Ardelle. During her second year novitiate, she did her practice teaching at Holy Ghost School and was sent out to teach in 1955. She spent four days at St. Matthias in Milwaukee and an overnight at Immaculate Conception in Chicago before arriving at her final destination in Perron, Illinois, a small country parish, where she stayed for 11 years.
One of her favorite missions was St. Patrick Parish in Kankakee, Illinois. She made many friends there and stayed in touch with a number of them over the years. A special joy for her was that Richard Pighini, whom she hired as a teacher, later joined the Viatorians and became a priest. Corrine was grateful that he agreed to be the presider at her funeral Mass.
After her teaching career, Corrine had a variety of ministries: driver, administrator, and archivist for St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee, and teacher of English to our young sisters in South India.
Corrine always said that she had an exciting life. With her family and friends, she visited many places in the United States. She also traveled to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and India.
Whenever possible, she had a vegetable garden. Once she even grew mushrooms in her bedroom in the winter. At the request of Sister Carol Rigali, she and Nancy Taylor began a straw-bale garden at St. Joseph Center. Corrine loved to cook, read, and give parties. Another of her hobbies was decorating candles as gifts for her friends and the Jubilee celebrations in the U.S. Province.
In the 1970s, Corrine, influenced by Ade Bethune of the Catholic Worker Movement, made her own casket. It became a prayer table in her home, a daily reminder that “in dying we are born to eternal life.” We are confident that Corrine is now enjoying that life with God.
Sister Alida Dittrich
Born: March 5, 1922
Died: December 21, 2014
Did you ever hear of Cream, Wisconsin? It really is on the map! First, you need to find Buffalo County on the western side of Wisconsin. Then use a magnifying glass and find Waumandee, and then increase the intensity, and you will see that Cream, Wisconsin, is actually on the map. Next, you ask the question, “Can anything good come from Cream?” The answer, of course, is yes. Then you ask, “When?”
The answer to that is a little bit more confusing. According to a birth certificate, a daughter was born to Jerome and Esther (Fink) Dittrich on March 5, 1922. However, according to the baptismal certificate filed at St. Boniface Church in Waumandee, Jerome and Esther (Fink) Dittrich’s daughter was born on March 6, 1922, and was christened Cecilia Dorothy. She was third of the four Dittrich children. An older brother died in infancy. Cecilia grew up as the middle child between an older sister and a younger brother. The Dittrichs were a close-knit, loving family who shared the highs and lows of everyday life on the farm.
The village of Cream had a general store, a pool hall, gas station, and a one-room school where Cecilia attended and completed grades one through six. She then transferred to St. Boniface Elementary in Waumandee, which was taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Not having bus service meant that the children had to board with the sisters from Monday morning until school let out on Friday. Boarding with the sisters was so very exciting. In fact, Cecilia’s vocation to religious life began to bud. Even though she anticipated spending weekends with the rest of the family, she was always eager to return to the school on Monday and shadow her confidante and mentor, Sister Jeolanta.
Cecilia’s parents were thrilled to learn of her decision to enter St. Joseph Convent. It was with their blessing that on September 19, 1936, Sister Jeolanta and Cecilia boarded the train for Milwaukee. At the tender age of 14, she did not realize that leaving her family in Cream and going to Milwaukee would be so traumatic. After a few weeks, the unexpected happened. Cecilia developed a fever that required medical attention—at least that was the thinking of the aspirant directress. Secretly, Cecilia hoped and prayed that God was sending her a sign to return home. However, the attending physician assured her that she was just homesick, not a life-threatening malady. The sure remedy was getting involved in her high school classes. It worked!
On June 13, 1939, Cecilia was received into the School Sisters of St. Francis and was given the name of Sister Alida. Her class was the first group who completed their college education before being sent out to teach. Equipped with a bachelor’s degree in education, Sister Alida embarked on her teaching ministry, which lasted for 53 years. Forty-three of these years were spent in Illinois, two in Nebraska and eight in Wisconsin. Judging from the way the first graders flocked around her, it was evident that this was her favorite grade, and she dearly loved that age group. Nothing gave her more pleasure than preparing them for their First Confession and First Communion. She often commented, “They are so innocent!” This was a virtue Sister Alida’s life exemplified—innocence.
After the death of her mother in 1969, Sister Alida returned to Wisconsin to live with her dad who was now living in Waumadee within walking distance from the parish church and school. Her excellent teaching reputation preceded her. Immediately, she was invited to teach first and second grades at St. Boniface, the same school she attended as a little girl. To her surprise and delight, she learned that her nephew Dan would be numbered among her pupils. During the three years she spent with her dad, she reconnected with other family members and friends. How wonderful for her!
It seemed only natural that Sister Alida would return to Illinois after her dad’s death in 1972. She had three short stays—Glenview, Chatsworth, and St. Bartholomew’s in Chicago—before settling in again for 17 more years at St. James in Arlington Heights. Of the 43 years in Illinois, 23 were spent in Arlington Heights, a place she called home. One of the highlights of life at St. James was a weekend called “Christ Renews His Parish”—a very inspiring spiritual experience. About 15 women, including sister Alida formed a close-knit group who met and still meet monthly for prayer and discussion. (With tongue in cheek, Sister Alida defined discussion to mean “bringing everyone up to speed” or “maybe just plain gossip”!)
A bout with cancer and other health issues were signals that it was time to leave mission life and move to St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport. As expected, Sister Alida, in her very calm and quiet way, transitioned into a new ministry in March 2000. It was an adjustment for her and she did get homesick again. This time, doing crafts and other odd jobs around the convent proved to be the sure cure. Her most rewarding task was assisting in feeding the sisters dinner and supper. Her special friend, whom she helped, was Sister Richardine. This is what Sister Alida had to say, “To me, she is a model of growing old gracefully. I hope someday someone will say that I grew old gracefully, too.”
At the end of May 2013, at the age of 91, Sister Alida moved to Sacred Heart Convent, where she truly was a model of prayerful presence to all.
Sister Alida, you did grow old gracefully! You are an inspiration for all of us! Go now and be with everyone you met on your life’s journey, especially all those innocent little ones, who are in Heaven waiting to welcome you.
By: Sister M. Louette Guenther
Sister Loretta Jo Geigel (Agathella)
Born: May 1, 1910
Died: November 19, 2014
“What is so rare as a day in May when supposedly a baby girl is found in a May basket at the back door?” That is what my mother said. But the fact is, three months after I arrived, my mother became very sick, actually delirious for almost a week with typhoid fever, contracted by using water from a contaminated well. In her delirium, Mother lost all her memory of present events. She could never tell about the birth of this baby girl. But how wonderful to think I might have come in a May basket! At that time, I boosted the family to five girls and three boys. Soon after, two more boys arrived to even the family to five girls and five boys.
In a rural district with lots of fresh air and garden produce, I grew up fast and found myself in a Catholic school, learning the German alphabet by finding and circling the letters in a section of the German newspaper. This was fun, like looking for someone in a game of hide-and-seek . The saga was short lived, as I found myself in a one-room country school (all eight grades), and of all things, my oldest sister as the teacher, the principal, and everything else. Oh my, I just had to know my lessons.
The time came to do the big move to the city. All the family now lived in a one-flat, five-room house. What a change from what we were used to. City life had many attractions for us, especially the marvel of the streetcar. How did they work? Every time I heard a rumble of the streetcar, I would scoot out to the street to see down three blocks, but all too late, for by that time, the streetcar had passed the intersection. After some time, we learned to joyride the streetcar to the end of the line and back for only six cents, half price!
Next came the wonder of moving into a brand new house. We left our home on the south side of the city and moved to a two-story house on the north side. To us it was a castle. School also was a new adventure, only two grades in one room. With all the moving we experienced, I wasn’t up to the standards of the parish school staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Silver Lake. I had to repeat the second half of the third grade. I thought that was a shame to my family. Now I see it as a help to the rest of my school years, especially since I had begun school a year ahead of the standard age.
Our vacations were most enjoyable, real vacations for my sister and two brothers. We all had our several daily chores, but after those, many an afternoon was spent at the north side beach of Lake Michigan. We also went on hikes into the woods, putting into practice our Boy Scout and Girl Scout knowledge. There, in the swampy area, we caught frogs and crabs, built bonfires, roasted potatoes, and feasted on frog legs, now a delicacy in restaurants. We always brought home wildflowers for Mother, who was anxiously awaiting our safe return. Of course, we also enjoyed games with the kids on our block.
Throughout the last year of grade school, I was determined to follow my older sister, Sister Adjutora, into religious life. After the summer of 1924, I said goodbye to the family and, accompanied by my sister, I arrived at St. Joseph Convent in the late afternoon of August 14. Do you remember the old entrance on the boulevard and the steps leading up to the door? At the top of the stairs, my sister stopped, turned me around, and said, “I came up with you now, but I won’t go back down with you.” She added our Lord’s words: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is fit for the Kingdom.” Since then I have thought that over many, many times. After two years in the candidature, I was accepted into the Novitiate Class of 1926 and received the name of Sister Agathella. I was privileged to remain in the novitiate and finish high school.
My assignments took me to Minnesota, Illinois and, Wisconsin, teaching in the primary grades. Because of a permanent hearing deficiency problem that developed during the years, I was asked to help in some areas of work, to help as a homemaker on one of our bigger mission convents. Soon, I found myself as the homemaker for three sisters in Winfield, Illinois.
In 1951, a problem disturbed the quiet atmosphere at Winfield: It was urgent that a kindergarten class be opened at the school. With a classroom available in the school, the pastor encouraged its use for this purpose. Engaging a teacher posed a problem. Hearing the discussion between the pastor and principal, I offered my experience if that proved satisfactory. In a few weeks, a sister homemaker arrived from Milwaukee, and I was relieved of my double duty as teacher and homemaker.
It was in 1978, after 50 years of teaching the primary grades , that I retired and moved to Marian Hall where, for the next 23 years, I served as the sacristan and volunteered in the maintenance areas, cleaning rooms and stairways.
In autumn 2002, at the spry age of 92, I moved to Campbellsport to relax, spend extra time with the Lord, visit the sisters, listen to music, sew, and do needlepoint and other fancywork.
NOTE: Along with many of the other Sisters who lived at St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, Sister Loretta Jo, at the age of 104, moved to Sacred Heart Convent where she spent the last lap of her life in prayer and presence with the community she so loved and served. She wrote this autobiography when she was 93.
Sister Loretta Jo, thank you for living your life with us. You taught us so much as you put your hand to the plow and never looked back. You truly are fit for the Kingdom! --Sister M. Louette Guenther
Sister Marietta Greiner
Born: October 16, 1927
Died: May 5th, 2014
Marietta was born on October 16, 1927, in Keota, Iowa, to Clara and Charles Greiner. Later, in 1929, the family moved to Washington County. Marietta comes from a large family with seven brothers and three sisters.
From kindergarten through grade four, she attended public school in Washington County and then transferred to West Chester Consolidated Schools for grades five through junior high. Her last year of high school was at St. Joseph High School at our Motherhouse in Milwaukee.
Marietta was inspired to join the School Sisters of Saint Francis partly because of the good example of her aunts, Sisters Urbana, Marmenia, and Licenia, as well as the good example of cousins, Sisters Carolita, Laurelle, Terese, Cascia, and Madeline Mary. Her own sister Dolores, Sister Conradine, was received into our community in 1943.
Marietta was received on June 13, 1946, and given the name Sister Pascaline. Her first ministry, Catholic education, took her to various schools in New York, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. In 1987, Sister moved to the Motherhouse, where she ministered in various ways, helping at the switchboard, reception desk, and in the sacristy. Eventually she took training for home health care and worked for agencies and in private homes for ten years. She retired to Marian Hall in 2001, where she continued volunteer services until coming to Campbellsport in September of 2002.
Here at Campbellsport, Sister Marietta served God and others through her ministry of prayer and presence. Vision problems and other health issues were a challenge that she dealt with for many years; however, these never stopped her from keeping her mind active. She listened to talking books and public radio, keeping up to date on world affairs. Her prayers reached out across the miles.
Sister Marietta, although your physical vision was really impaired these last years, you now have the greatest vision of all: the vision of God, the angels, and the Saints. You can truly say, “The Lord is my Light.”
Associate Robert L. Haeussler
Born: July 3, 1939
Died: November 16, 2014
Bob Haeussler was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He grew up in Pasadena California. In 1959 he married Tina de los Cobos. For the next 15 years he attended Pasadena City College and California State University in Los Angeles in the evening after working a full-time job. This enabled him to advance in his career with the City of Pasadena, and ultimately with the State of California Board of Equalization. His career spanned 44 years with the highlight being the opening of the Branch Office in Laguna Hill. He was promoted to manager of the office where he ran its operation for 10 years until his retirement in 2002.
As a husband and father, Bob was dedicated to the wants and needs of his family. At Tina and Bob’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, the children and grandchildren told wonderful stories of their childhood. Later, visits by them to Bob and Tina’s home were treasured experiences. Tina and Bob celebrated 55 years of marriage this past October. For years Bob’s brother lived with Tina and Bob. After his death, Bob invited his elderly uncle to live with them. The love and respect shown to his brother and later to his uncle was remarkable.
When he retired, Bob donated his services to St. Timothy Parish, where he joined Gary Carlson and Gene Griffith (now deceased) assisting in the pastoral outreach program. As a team, they worked effectively and provided much expertise to the parish family. Later, as first president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Timothy, he quietly listened to endless stories of persons experiencing financial problems, homelessness, and personal problems. He then would analyze the situation and would offer hope with possible solutions. Because Tina worked in the food bank at the parish, they spent endless hours developing programs and procedures to assist those in need.
About 20 years ago, Sister Bernice Petronaitis invited Bob and Tina to be School Sisters of St. Francis associates. For years the spring garage sale benefitting the School Sisters of the Southwest was held at the home of Bob and Tina, as were monthly meetings.
Throughout the years the associates have been involved in the Christmas Giving Tree project. This has been an extensive program involving the parishioners of St. Timothy Parish in which gift certificates are given to five different organizations benefitting the needy and in which new clothes are given to as many as 120 homeless persons. For years gift cards have been sent to the School Sisters living in the Southwest. Bob and Tina have been a vital part of this program.
Many of the sisters enjoyed the wonderful hospitality provided by Tina and Bob during their visits to Orange County. They loved to entertain and provided travel for visiting sisters. Tina and Bob’s generosity will be fondly remembered.
Bob was an excellent listener, a careful analyzer, and therefore was able to provide excellent advice and reflections. So now, we will remember this generous, kind, and wise man “who acted justly, loved tenderly, and walked humbly with his God.”
Written by Sister Agnes M. Steiner
Sister Martinus Kullowitsch
Born: February 4, 1928
Died: January 28, 2015
It was on September 15, 2013, that we celebrated the life of Sister Georganne Kullowitsch, and today we celebrate her younger sister Mary, who was not only her sibling, but was also her best friend, her confidant and shadow. As we listened to Sister Georganne’s life story, we learned that God blessed George and Anna Kullowitsch with eight children, of which five died as infants. A daughter, Anna, was the third child, followed by Therese—Sister Georganne. On February 4, 1928, their fifth baby, Mary, made her earthly debut.
Little Mary claimed she wasn’t spoiled, but always boasted about feeling very much loved, cared for, and wanted as she grew up with her two older sisters. They taught her how to read and write before she attended school. Her favorite toy was a child’s blackboard on which she played word games. Each of the girls was assigned certain daily chores around the house. Mary was responsible for dusting the table legs and cleaning the stairways—both chores she could work at while reading a book.
An incident in Mary’s childhood made such a strong impression on her future that she wrote it in her journal. “A child on our street could not go to school because she babbled constantly, but this child visited our mother daily, received something to eat and was happy. In return, her mother became our mother’s witness when our mom became a citizen. This kindness to a handicapped child impressed me and inspired me to always be kindest to the most neglected and shyest child in the classroom or on the playground. I played games with them where all could participate.”
Mary attended St Martin’s grade school where she shadowed her favorite teacher, Sister Patrice. One day Sister Patrice turned to her and said, “Mary, you are going to the convent!” Mary thought, “Great, I’ll tell this to Therese!” Upon hearing it, Therese responded, “You are not going without me.” So it was, on August 28, 1942 that Ma and Pa Kullowitsch brought Therese and Mary to St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee.
Reception into the School Sisters of St Francis was on June 13, 1945. Mary requested and received the name Sister Martinus, in honor of their home parish, St Martin’s. Upon enrollment at Alverno College, as a second year novice, Sister Martinus was asked to list the major and minor she would want to pursue. She requested a History major and a Science minor, but was given an English major and Math, Latin and Social Studies minors. In her good natured way she said, “Well, I’ve just learned my first lesson in college: how to give up my ideas!”
Sister Martinus was a born teacher. She loved it! After eight happy years teaching grades two and five, she was sent to St. Benedict’s High School in Chicago to teach English and other subjects she could capably teach. Given her bubbly personality, she could teach anything. Later she was sent to teach at Pius XI High School in Milwaukee. Because of her mother’s failing health, she only stayed two years at Pius and then returned to St. Ben’s in Chicago. She and Sister Georganne were able to assist their dad in caring for their mom.
After 25 years of teaching, Sister Martinus was ready for a new challenge – development work, specifically, the raising of funds for Catholic schools. She was hired by the Maryknoll Foreign Mission Society, which was opening churches and schools in Asia and Africa. She loved this work, especially the silence and solitude of a one-person office where she updated diocesan directories, prepared income and expense reports, and made weekly deposits.
The Kullowitschs were a very closely knit family. Some of the relatives had moved to Florida. According to Sister Martinus, at the advanced age of 60, she gathered her courage and asked Sister Georganne if she would join her and drive to Florida where they could share an apartment and each would work at their separate ministries as the bishop’s administrative assistant and in tutoring at Catholic institutions.
Being able to speak and understand German, and having a Europass were great assets for them. During the 1960s Sister Georganne and Sister Martinus had the opportunity to learn firsthand about their ancestry as they travelled throughout Austria, visiting relatives and seeing their parents’ homeland. Then it was on to Switzerland, Germany, and Rome. An unforgettable experience!
For both of them, 2007 was a year of transition. Both were experiencing health problems. Sister Martinus had to be hospitalized on three occasions. It was time to come back north. Sister Martinus convinced Sister Georgeann that retirement—a life of prayer and presence with the Sisters at St. Joseph Convent, Campbellsport—would be a good thing. It didn’t take long for either of them to adjust to their new life. In May 2013, both moved to Sacred Heart Convent where they continued to share a room together and a life of prayer and presence with the sisters. For Sister Georganne, it was a return to the place where she began her ministry. For Sister Martinus, it meant getting to know a new group of sisters with whom she could share her stories and the one-liners which came so quickly.
Sister Martinus, you have spent many years as a School Sister of St. Francis being the face the Gospel to countless people. What a happy and smiling face you have been! Go now and be with your parents and other family members and all the wonderful people you helped along the way.
Sister Joan Frances Mueller
Born: June 3, 1920
Died: May 18, 2014
Sister Joan Frances was born in Charlestown, Wisconsin, on June 3, 1920—a few days after St. Joan of Arc was canonized. Her parents were going to name her Rita, but when the family’s priest persuaded them to name her Johanna (the German form of Joan), her parents did not argue with the staunch German pastor. Also, as it was the custom to take one’s godmother’s name for a middle name, the child was baptized Johanna Francisca.
The second youngest in a family of three brothers and two sisters, she attended the parish school of St. Martin where our School Sisters of St. Francis taught. In September 1935, she entered St. Mary of the Springs Academy and finished two years of high school, which, at the time, was an all-girls’ school completely taught by the Sisters of St. Agnes.
As a small child, Joan Frances had thought of becoming a sister. In her second year of high school, she decided to go to St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee in August 1937. Before she left St. Mary of the Springs Academy in June, she went to each of her teachers to say goodbye and tell them she was entering St. Joseph Convent. Each sister hugged and kissed her, and wished her well.
Sister Joan Frances was an aspirant for one year and then a postulant. She was received on June 13, 1939, and given the name Sister Alphonsetta. She was a novice for the next two years and professed her first vows on June 21, 1941.
Sister’s first mission assignment was as a teacher in Cassville, Wisconsin, a beautiful scenic area of bluffs not far from the Mississippi River. Afterward, she spent 46 years of mission life in Illinois: 17 in Naperville, seven in Kankakee, 14 in Decatur, and eight in Summit. Sister delighted in teaching the primary grade students. Her gentle spirit and kind ways endeared her to those among whom she lived and worked. At the end of the school year, she often came to volunteer at the Motherhouse or at the convent in Campbellsport.
In summer 1991, she moved to Campbellsport. She was very happy about her choice. She said, “The country scenes on two sides of the convent, and the town on the other two sides, suit me just fine.”
Sister served for many years as sacristan at Campbellsport. She had a great sense of ritual and the ability to create lovely bouquets for the altar, using flowers from the garden.
God blessed Sister Joan Frances with good health for many years. She said, “I’ve tried to be thankful for that. What the future holds, only God knows. I realize a time may come when I become incapacitated and am no longer able to work, or my lot may be suffering. I hope and pray that through it all I can calmly accept it, as I see so many sisters do so beautifully in this house in Campbellsport. May God grant me the grace to imitate these saintly sisters.”
Indeed, Sister Joan Frances was also a “saintly sister” who moved from active ministry to the ministry of prayer and presence. Her quiet and pleasant manner brought joy to many, and in her hours of prayer, all were inspired by her simple faith and great love. The back seat in chapel was always a place to look first if one needed to find her.
On May 5, 2014, Sister Joan Frances moved to Our Lady of the Angels Convent in Greenfield. Although she was there for only a very short time, she adjusted well. As was her routine in Campbellsport, she spent much time in prayer in the chapel. She also attended activities and enjoyed afternoon tea time. We know that God now has a special place for her, and we can continue to count on her prayers for us.
Sister Marianne Nilges
Born: September 7, 1930
Died: July 16, 2014
Our Sister Marianne was born in Aurora, Illinois, the youngest of three and the only girl. She often announced herself to her brother Tony, whom she spoke with daily, as “this is your little sister.”
Entering the congregation after eighth grade, her simple lifestyle and devotion to helping others were the hallmarks of her entire life. Sister Marianne ministered in Illinois teaching all levels, kindergarten to ninth grade. Like her musical family, Sister Marianne often played keyboard directing plays, dancing, and often using her lovely voice to enhance the liturgies at her parishes, especially at St. Catherine’s in Genoa.
She prepared her students to live the life of the Gospel. Some of these people have kept in close contact with her over the years – one even visiting her these last days. There are stories of her well-developed sense of humor, even having students jump out of pre-wrapped gifts as a surprise for the pastor.
Later, Sister Marianne gave her love and care in ministering, serving and caring for her beloved father and brother, Father Harold, while also helping our as pastoral minister at his parish. Upon his death in 2006, Sister Marianne moved to Campbellsport where she volunteered, helping the other sisters by writing letters, reading to them, and assisting them with meals. A quick wit until the end made each day easier. When the opportunity to learn the computer arose, Marianne found “another joy in my life!”
Many were the recipients of her notes and cards. Her kindness extended to her many nieces and nephew whom she prayed for daily and loved dearly.
Perhaps the word “grateful” is the most descriptive of Sister Marianne. She’d often say, “I’m so lucky to have my family. I was so blessed to take care of my dad and Father Harold. I could not have joined a more beautiful order than the School Sisters.” And to the Villa and hospital staff (and myself), “Thank you for all you do for me. All are so nice. I so love it at the Villa.” And at the end, to family and friends, “Thank you for coming.”In gratitude to you, Marianne: Thank you for sharing your humor, your gifts, your faith, and life with us.
Sister Helen Pisors (Sister de Porres)
Born: March 31, 1926
Died: December 30, 2014
Helen Pisors, daughter of George Pisors and Agnes Fitzmorris, was born on March 31, 1926, in Kansas City, Missouri. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where Helen grew up, receiving her elementary education at Our Lady of Mercy and St. Viator’s Schools. It was at Alvernia High School where she became acquainted with the School Sisters of St. Francis and felt the call to enter this community. Prior to reception in June 1944, Helen indicated the three choices of a name by which she would be known in religious life. Her first choice was Sister de Porres, second choice, Sister de Porres, and third choice, Sister de Porres.
She was given the name of Sister de Porres and, for the rest of her life, she did “strive to bear it in a worthy manner” through her life for and dedication to the African-American people of Holy Angels, Chicago, Illinois, and Holly Springs, Mississippi.
As time went on, Helen also realized that she was being called to serve those of the Latin American culture, and she spent 10 years in Bogotá, Colombia, teaching, ministering to the sick, homebound, and orphaned. Her return to the United States following this 10-year commitment was not without its challenges, especially since her understanding of poverty had taken on a very different connotation. When asked about the greatest challenge as she saw it, her answer was “…it is hard not to become discouraged with the situation in the United States that presents material prosperity and selfish satisfaction as the highest goals in life.” When asked what qualities she thought were necessary, her answer was, “Recognition that the people with whom you minister have much more to offer and teach you than you to them, the ability to live simply and to enter into the lives of others.”
After Helen decided that it was time to retire from teaching, she spent a few years in Walls, Mississippi, doing volunteer work. This was followed by her move to St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport and, just six months ago, to Sacred Heart. Her final journey toward union with God was entered into just a few days ago with that journey completed on December 30.
Helen, we now continue our celebration of your life and your commitment to “giving, healing and defending life” (Response in Faith), and we celebrate the hope you have planted in our world.
Sister Mary Pisors, her sister
Sister Pauline Radosky
Born: October 3, 1914
Died: August 5, 2014
Everyone has a unique and interesting life history. This was especially true when you listened to Sister Pauline relating her story. Her eyes sparkled as she traced her parents’ journey from Czechoslovakia to the United States of America. Michael and Anna Radosky had not known each other until they met in Connecticut, where they fell in love, got married, and moved to a place of opportunity: Chicago.
It was on October 3, 1914, when Pauline, the oldest of five children—three girls and two boys—was born. At a very early age she learned her work ethic from her immigrant parents. Her father worked the day shift for the Chicago Park District and stayed home in the evening to help Pauline care for her younger siblings while her mother worked in downtown Chicago in the Wrigley Building.
Pauline received her primary education at Sts. Cyril and Methodius grade school, where the School Sisters of St. Francis taught. Early on she dreamed of becoming a sister. After eighth grade, her teacher, Sister Marcelina, brought her to St. Joseph Convent where she attended high school and in June 1933, was received into the community and given the name, Sister Protase—a name she didn’t like. In fact, as soon as she could, she returned to her baptismal name.
Two months after her reception, hardly time enough to adjust to a new name, the wearing of the long religious habit and praying the office in Latin, Sister Pauline was sent to Ford City, Pennsylvania, to a school that needed a teacher who could speak the Slovak language. Who better to send than Sister Pauline, who had spoken it all her life? It didn’t matter that she was only 19 years old, had no teaching experience, or that Ford City seemed to be on another continent. There was a need, and Sister Pauline knew she could share her heritage with the immigrant children. After three wonderful years, Sister Pauline returned to the Motherhouse to make her canonical novitiate followed by her profession of vows. Soon after, she once again packed her bags and was sent to teach in various Slovak parish schools. Her summers were spent pursuing a teaching degree from Alverno College. She said, “It only took me some 20 years to get through college, but I did it!”
Sister Pauline’s 51 years in the teaching ministry took her to Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. She thoroughly enjoyed the immigrant parishes where she could speak the Slovak language to the parents while teaching English to the children.
Failing health—a bout with cancer followed by a stroke which caused permanent paralysis to her left side—led to her retirement to Maryhill in 1985
The years that followed the stroke were difficult and she often felt discouraged and saddened that she could not do more. But it was amazing what things Sister would still accomplish with the use of just her right side. She enjoyed making posters to remember holidays, birthdays, or make other signs of greeting that she would place around for all to see and enjoy. She continued to write as many letters as she could.
In 1995, after Sacred Heart Rehab Hospital relocated its therapies to another site, the sisters residing at Maryhill moved to the area of Sacred Heart which became their new home, Sacred Heart Convent. Sister Pauline was among this group. Here she found more time for prayer. She loved to say prayers in her Slovak language and would often use a word or two in her conversation with the sisters.Sister Pauline, you were a gift to all of us. We are ever grateful for your sharing your Slovak heritage with our international community. Peace and all good to you!
Sister Mary Louise Reinke
Born: April 22, 1927
Died: August 19, 2014
April 22, 1927 was a special day for the Reinke family of Chicago. The fourth and fifth of their six children were born—Francis and his twin sister Mary Louise. All six have now entered into eternal life.
Mary Louise attended Immaculate Conception School in the Bridgeport area of Chicago and became acquainted with the School Sisters of St. Francis. She marveled at the uniforms the sisters wore, and when two came together she looked very hard to find some difference, but found none. She would spend some Saturdays helping the sisters clean vigil lights in church. She was attracted by their friendliness, consideration, and overall contentment.
On August 20, 1941, at age 14, Mary Louise entered St. Joseph Convent, attended St. Joseph High School, and graduated in 1944. On June 13 of that year, she was received into the community and was given the name Sister Augusta. She continued her religious formation, and two years later, on June 21, 1946, she made her first profession of vows. She also continued her education at Alverno College and graduated in 1948. Her first assignment was St. Mary’s School in Westville, Illinois. After two years she was sent to Holy Angels School in Chicago. There, she taught grades 1-6 and held out for 15 years. She considered this experience “boot camp” and felt that she could do anything after that.
In 1965, Sister was assigned as principal of St. Francis Elementary School in Yazoo City, Mississippi. The city was very different from Chicago—very hot, rural, and with a small population of 10,000. After one year in Yazoo City, she was assigned to work for the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, in the education department as a reading consultant for Mississippi Catholic Schools. This lasted about six years. While residing in Jackson, Sister continued her education by attending Jackson State University and getting her master’s degree in education. She was the only white student in the African-American student body that year.
After 33 years in the south, it was time to come home. On June 1, 1998, Sister settled in where she had started 50 years before—at St. Joseph Center. She worked at Sacred Heart Center as facility director for five years. She missed the beautiful spring and the flowers of the South, and substituted “y’all” for “youse guys.” She also missed the gentle, comfortable ambience of the South, but she loved her job at Sacred Heart and called it the BBC—best building on campus.
Sister retired to St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, in 2008, with a goal of reconnecting with her family. She always displayed photos of her nieces and nephews. One of her nephews is a Franciscan Brother—they became soul mates over the years. “God’s gift to our family,” she would say.
Sister Mary Louise loved murder mysteries, either on TV or in books. The who-done-its were always a favorite.
During her life, Sister Mary Louise had the good fortune of traveling to Holland, France, the Motherhouse in Erlenbad, Germany, England, Belgium, Hawaii, Italy, Ireland, and Spain.
Sister continued to downsize her stuff, complete unfinished matters, and enjoy the calm, peaceful environment of the rural Campbellsport community until Our Lady of the Angels Convent opened in Greenfield, Wisconsin. Sister became one of its first residents. There, she continued to live her religious life, and celebrated her 70th year of it this year.
God must certainly be pleased with the labors of such a good and faithful servant.
Sister Helen Therese Salus
Born: October 16, 1921
Died: January 6, 2015
Sister Helen Therese, formerly known as Sister Emile, was born in 1921 in Indiana Harbor, Indiana, to John and Theresa Salus. She was the third child of five: three girls and two boys. Her parents were very religious people and her mother made sure that they learned their prayers before they started school. When she was old enough, she attended Assumption School in Indiana Harbor, where she was taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. She attributed her vocation to Sister Antonelda Zilla, her third grade teacher, whom she said was kind and gentle.
After completing her elementary education, she entered the School Sisters of St. Francis community in 1936 at the age of 14. She was received as a novice in 1939.
Sister Helen Therese spent her teaching career in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Her first year of teaching, due to unforeseen circumstances, was spent as a “floating teacher.” She taught at four different schools that year, and to her surprise, all went well. Sister Jutta just said, “Mother Corona was very happy to have a sister she could put where she needed her.” The sisters at each place where she taught were most kind, understanding, and helpful.
Teaching was her first love and her students knew that their progress was very important to her. If a child was bullied by some of the students, they could count on her being there for them.
In the spring of 1987, she was one of the teachers awarded special recognition as Outstanding Teacher of the Year in the Fifth Congressional District of Chicago.
Sister served full time in the ministry of Catholic education for 48 years as teacher or principal. Later, she also worked as sacristan, did substitute teaching, and a variety of other services in the convent. She also enjoyed doing garden work.
Sister’s many activities were curtailed in October of 2000, when a by-pass on her right leg was not successful and her leg had to be amputated. God was good to her and she was able to accept her cross graciously. She attributed her good progress to the many prayers that were said for her. She thanked God that she had a good mind, good eyesight, and strong arms. She felt she could still do many things.
In November of 2000, Sister was transferred to Campbellsport for continued healing and assistance. Progress was slow, and the promise to walk was never fulfilled.
After a short time, her left leg became a problem and amputation of that leg was suggested. Sister Helen Therese started to pray to her deceased family members with great confidence that they would not let her down. The doctor had been sure that she would lose the left leg, but by her next visit to the doctor, the sores were healed and there was no need for another amputation.
During her 14 years here at Campbellsport, Sister treasured her extra time for prayer and other religious activities. She did jobs for different departments and also tutored sisters from Central America and India in the English language as well as tutoring an employee in reading. She was very interested and concerned with United States politics and did her share of writing letters to government officials, expressing her opinions.
She had a wonderful trip on the occasion of her 75th Jubilee and had many beautiful memories to share. She had things very well planned and as usual, she managed very well with her wheelchair during her travels.
Sister Helen Therese, you traveled into eternity with great swiftness. You are now whole in the presence of the Holy One. Be at peace. With continued confidence in the power of prayer, we now ask you to remember us in your prayers.
Sister Mary Catherine Schuit
Born: April 25, 1912
Died: May 7, 2014
In the spring of 1912—more than a century, 102 years ago—on April 25, in Chicago, Illinois, Richard and Margaret Burgman Schuit became the proud parents of a baby girl. The first of six children—three boys and three girls—the baby was named Mary Catherine. Both parents were from Holland. Her father first worked for the Pullman Train Company and later was a contractor while her mother cared for the children.
Mary Catherine had a happy Christian childhood, praying the rosary every night. Even though she went to a Catholic school, Mary Catherine and her brothers and sisters had to attend Catechism classes on Saturdays and Sundays at a Holland church. However, her brothers and sisters, cousins and the neighborhood kids still had time for lots of fun.
Since the Holland church did not have a school, she had to go to St. Louis Academy (French School) for kindergarten and high school. For grades one through eight, she went to the Irish school but always liked St. Nicholas, where her cousins attended and were taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Mary Catherine enjoyed school and got high grades but didn’t like to be called “The Little Dutch Kid.” Later on as a teacher, she was very careful not to make distinctions among the children.
Mary Catherine was in eighth grade when she thought about being a sister. After one year of high school, she decided to enter the School Sisters of St. Francis, where a couple of her cousins and many girls from the neighborhood were. She loved the excitement. So many wonderful things were happening!
It was on June 12, 1928, at the age of 16, that Mary Catherine was received as Sister Thecla. Immediately after reception she was assigned to St. William School in Chicago to teach second grade. On the weekends and during the summer, she earned her degree from De Paul University.
Sister Mary Catherine was very grateful and felt very fortunate that her 60 years in education took her to many different areas of the United States, which gave her the opportunity to teach many cultures. In addition to teaching in Chicago, Mary Catherine also taught in Manhattan and Staten Island, New York, rural Wisconsin, and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Las Vegas had a culture all its own. While there, she taught many famous people’s children—among them were Wayne Newton and Paul Anka. St. Viator Parish in Las Vegas placed a statue of Our Lady in their Hall of Fame to honor Sister Mary Catherine for all her years of preparing First Communion classes. She often laughed about the fact that the statue was taller than she was.
While in Manhattan, she saw all the sights of the city and loved taking the ferry to Staten Island. She enjoyed working with the sailors mapping out routes for them to go sight-seeing from one end of New York to the other. Sister Mary Catherine summed up her teaching years saying, “I got more education that I gave.”
At the age of 77, Sister Mary Catherine retired to the Motherhouse in Milwaukee where she volunteered for various jobs. She enjoyed the atmosphere of freedom, as it afforded her time to visit the many friends she made over the years.
As her energy faded and her age increased, Sister Mary Catherine felt the need for medical care and moved to Sacred Heart Convent, where her daily routine allowed her ample time to continue educating herself with the news of the day. Reading the newspaper was a priority for her. She also spent hours in prayer remembering especially the First Communion classes, soldiers and sailors, and the School Sisters of St. Francis whom she loved.
Now, Sister Mary Catherine, with grateful hearts we pray that after 102 years and 12 days you may you enter Heaven’s “Hall of Fame.”
Sister Marcella Schweitzer (Sister Simon)
Born: September 17, 1915
Died: August 30, 2014
An event, a date, an expression can be a meaningful clue for recalling something and someone special. For many of us, when we hear the date of September 17 mentioned, we immediately remember that it is the feast of a Franciscan saint, St. Joseph Cupertino. We also remember that this is the date, September 17, 1915, when Marcella Schweitzer was born (the third of eight children) to Emma and Theodore Schweitzer in Racine, Wisconsin.
Marcella’s mother was Bohemian, and her father was German. Since they lived within a block or two of St. John Nepomuk Church, a Bohemian parish, it was only natural for them to belong to it. Marcella attended public school kindergarten because it was not available at any local Catholic school at the time, and later joined the other Schweitzer children at St. John Nepomuk School, where she met the School Sisters of St. Francis. As a fast-track student, she completed her elementary education in just seven and a half years.
Marcella was only 12 years old when her mother died, so her dad raised the family, with the help of the Schweitzers’ eldest daughter, Grace. One day, on the way home from church devotions, Marcella told her dad that she would like to become a nun. When her dad responded, “They might be very strict with you,” Marcella quickly replied, “Well, so are you!”
Marcella graduated from eighth grade on January 22, 1929, and by Sunday, February 3, was packed and ready to go. Her dad borrowed a car from a cousin, and that afternoon, she and another postulant, Mary Frances Ryan, along with their eighth grade teacher, Sister Gertina, motored to St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee.
Reception into the School Sisters of St. Francis was on June 14, 1932, and Marcella was given the name Sister Simon, which she felt was more fitting for someone who was robust and taller. She returned to her baptismal name as soon as the community allowed it. Like so many sisters, she was sent out to teach during her novitiate and earned her teaching certification while attending night, weekend, and summer school classes. Sister Marcella was an elementary and middle school teacher in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Florida. She was also a school principal for 10 years at Our Lady of Charity School in Cicero, Illinois.
Afterward, Sister Marcella moved to Florida to be with Grace, whose husband had recently died.
Missing the challenge and daily contact with students, Sister Marcella applied for a teaching position at St. Luke’s School in Lake Worth, Florida. This experience was very rewarding and invigorating. The teaching staff of sisters was from Ireland. While they were very strict, Marcella found them to be extremely compassionate and delightful, and immediately loved them.
After Grace died in 1994, Sister Marcella stayed in Florida until 1999. She returned to St. Joseph Convent, and for the next five years, this gentle woman participated in various tasks and hobbies: reading, singing and (her favorite) working crossword puzzles. Whenever The Milwaukee Journal’s “Green Sheet” disappeared, everyone knew who had it since it contained not only the funnies, but also the daily crossword puzzle.
As Sister Marcella’s health declined, she requested to move to Sacred Heart Convent, where her medical needs would be better met and where she said, “I can be lazy!” Her keen sense of humor and quick wit never diminished.
For her, a favorite time of the day was rosary time. She had a very large rosary, which, over the years, lost 10 beads, leaving only four decades. One day, she was given a brand new five-decade rosary, which she placed next to her large four-decade one. She studied and measured the situation for a while, and then, with mischief in her eyes, said, “I’ll stick with my old one because it’s going to take me just as long to get around four decades as someone else would take with five.”
Sister Marcella, we will miss your quiet and loving ways of affirmation, soft voice, ready wit and quick smile. Because of you, the world is truly brighter. Peace and all good!
Sister Lucy Windolph
Born: May 28, 1927
Died: July 13, 2014
Lucy was born on May 28, 1927, in Humphrey, Nebraska. Her parents were Oscar and Agnes (Burkhard) Windolph. Her father was the town pharmacist, and owned the Corner Drug Store. Her mother had 12 children and one miscarriage. One child, Gladys, died when she was just five days old. The miscarriage and the death of Gladys were both around the time of the big flu epidemic in 1918. Lucy’s parents both had the flu.
The children in the order of their birth were Rita, Norberta, Catherine, Adelaide, Gladys, Joseph, George, Frank and Philip (twins), Dorothy, Lucy, and Bernard. The children did not go to kindergarten, but started school with first grade. Lucy’s mother believed that kindergarten was for children whose parents wanted to get them out of the house, but she loved her children and wanted to keep them at home until they had to go to school. Lucy was seven years old when she started first grade in 1934.
The family belonged to St. Francis Parish in Humphrey which was staffed by Franciscan priests. The children went to St. Francis grade and high school. Their teachers were Franciscan Sisters from Colorado Springs, Colorado.
For Lucy’s first day in school she had a “store bought” dress, which was unusual, since their mother made most of their clothes. On that first day, Lucy ran too close to the swings and was hit by one of them. She found herself on the ground with a very bloody forehead and a bloody new dress! Someone ran and got one of the sisters, who took her in and bandaged her head. Then Sister sent for Lucy’s oldest brother, Joseph, who was in the eighth grade. He took her to her dad at the drug store, and she was taken to the doctor, who put some kind of clamps on the wound and then covered it with a bandage and adhesive tape. It made a nice “frontlet” – although Lucy didn’t know that word at the time – and she was able to make believe she was a sister.
She had already decided to go to the convent, when her oldest sister Rita went to the Missionary Catechists before Lucy started first grade. By the time Lucy graduated from high school, all the older members of the family had gone into religious life. The boys all went to the OFM Franciscans, and the girls all went to different communities; four different Franciscan communities and a Carmelite community. Since the girls’ communities were all different, Lucy didn’t want to “favor” a particular one, so she decided to find another community. She ended up following some cousins (the Kaufmans, “first cousins, once removed”) and joined the School Sisters of St. Francis.
Most of Sister Lucy’s siblings are deceased; she has only one sister and one brother left. Her sister, Dorothy who prefers to be called by her middle name Therese, was a Carmelite, but left that community and now lives in Milwaukee. Her youngest brother, Bernard, who is now Father Nestor, OFM, is stationed in Belem, Brazil, South America, where he has been for most of his priestly life. Sister Lucy last saw him in 1976, when he returned to the States on medical leave.
Lucy was the last one of the children at home and found it hard to leave. She had worked in her dad’s drug store for many years, from grade school through high school and through her post-graduation years. When her dad sold the store, he and Lucy both worked part time for the pharmacist who bought it.
Lucy left for the convent when she was 20 years old, in 1947. She was received with the class of 1948, and given the name Sister Luke.
She wanted to teach little children, and was told she might start there, but probably wouldn’t stay there. She did start her teaching in kindergarten in Greendale, but after only one year the community closed its kindergartens, and Sister Lucy was moved to first, second, and third grades. After a few years she moved to high school and taught math. She taught for ten years at St. Joseph High School in Kenosha and then was transferred to Pius XI High School, where she taught math for two years, before moving into the scheduling office, where she worked for the next 38 years.
After a total of 40 years at Pius, Sister Lucy retired to Campbellsport on June 25, 2007. Her main occupation there was pushing wheelchairs whenever and wherever needed.
In 2013, Sister Lucy moved to Our Lady of the Angels. She spent her days doing Sudoku puzzles and reading. She loved the many spiritual opportunities offered at OLA, and she looked forward to going out to lunch with Father Bill on Thursdays!
Although Sister Lucy was a quiet person, we all enjoyed her dry sense of humor. She could always make us smile and brighten our days. Today we rejoice with Sister Lucy as she celebrates her new life with God.
Sister Marciana Zeimen
Born: March 19, 1926
Died: May 4, 2014
Sister Marciana was born on March 19, 1926 to Sarah (Uhl) and Nick Zeimen. She was baptized as Marcella at St. Mary Church in Mapleton, Iowa, where she later went to school and was taught by the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters. She grew up on a farm with her five brothers and five sisters. When she was in eighth grade, the family moved to Denison, Iowa.
She worked for several years after graduation. Through a cousin of Sister Leona Bissen of our community, she became acquainted with the School Sisters of St. Francis. She decided she wanted to join our community. At the age of 19, she entered St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee on August 31, 1945, and was received as a novice on June 13, 1946.
Sister’s first ministry was that of a teacher at St. Nicholas, Aurora, Illinois. She also taught in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. When we were able to choose ministries, she began a variety of services including Religious Education for children and adults in Tucson, Arizona. At a very young age she had felt called to stand with those on the margins. In grade school she was the support person for her cousin with intellectual disabilities, making sure that the other children did not tease or take advantage of him in any way. He still asks about her.
In 1980 she answered this call by working with the unions in Tupelo, Mississippi, for African-Americans and the economically poor; later in Syracuse, New York, where she lived and worked with women and children who had been in abusive situations; and finally in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she ministered among those who had no home of their own.
In 1987, she returned to Denison, Iowa, to care for her mother, who at the age of 92 had had a hip replacement. She cared for her until her mother’s death in 1990.
Sister Marciana’s sisters and brothers remember her as vibrant and fun-loving—a great story teller, and one committed to all things right and just. They are amazed at the dedicated and life-time friends that she made as she ministered with the people of many diverse backgrounds. Many stayed in contact with her over the years through letters and phone calls. They were grateful for the way she believed in them and convinced them that they had the power within them to live full and meaningful lives. She taught and lived the belief that people are more important than rules and regulations, and that relationships are more important than institutions. Her prayers, concern and love for family, friends and those for and with whom she ministered became visible through transformation of their lives. We are grateful for the 88 years of her earthly life and know that the same love, concern and prayers will continue for us in her new life.