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 Beitzinger (Sister Lawrence)
Born: May 27, 1925
Died: March 19, 2015
South Layton Boulevard – home sweet home! Without a doubt this could have been Sister Anne’s theme song since she spent most of her life in this neighborhood, the immediate south side of Milwaukee. George and Anna Zimmerman Beitzinger already had a trio of sons – Florian, Alfons and George – before they were gifted with their last child, a daughter, Anna Marie Barbara, born on May 17, 1925.
The boys were happy and accepting of their little sister and when she was old enough they let tag along to Mitchell Park to play with the rest of the neighborhood kids. Anne loved relating stories about her childhood. Probably the one she enjoyed the most and best described how “tough” she could be is this one:
“I was in third grade. It was winter and the sidewalks and streets were very slippery. I was crossing South 28th Street when I slipped and fell. The next thing I knew, the milk wagon and its horse were beside me and the milkman was lifting me up. He hailed down a car and wanted to take me to the hospital because he feared that his wagon had rolled over my leg and broken it. I insisted on going home because I knew the leg was only bruised and not broken. Sensing that I didn’t want to be the center of attention, he looked at the concerned bystanders and announced, “She’s okay. My horse just kicked her out of our way!’”
The Beitzingers were members of St. Lawrence Parish which was just across the street from St. Joseph Convent. All the children were baptized, confirmed and made their First Holy Communion at St. Lawrence and all graduated from St. Lawrence Elementary School, which was staffed by the School Sisters of St Francis. After graduation from grade school, Anne attended Mercy High School on 29th and Lapham, where the Mercy Sisters taught. She and her good friend Dorothy Bongard were classmates all through their St. Lawrence Elementary and Mercy High School days and together, on September 5, 1943, they both followed their dream and entered St. Joseph Convent. Reception into the School Sisters of St. Francis was June 13, 1944. Anne was thrilled to receive the name of Sister Lawrence – a name that honored her home parish.
For Anne, music was always a part of her life. At the tender age of five she launched her music career by taking piano lessons from the School Sisters of St. Francis in St. Joseph Convent Motherhouse. As a child she never needed to be prodded to sing or play the piano for an adoring audience. It was only natural that she developed and used her talents as a Music major in college and beyond. She became one of the best piano teachers in Alverno College’s Music Department. Her favorite instruments were the keyboards, piano and organ. She had a close relationship with Sister Gerda Moehler, an outstanding violinist in our community. Long hours were spent rehearsing and together they performed music programs for many occasions. As a member of the Chapel Singers, Anne was known for her deep, rich alto range.
With the beginning of the 1946 school year, Sister Anne began her music ministry at St. Martin’s in Chicago and stayed for two years. She worked in the same capacity in Howells and Creighton, Nebraska. Her Nebraska experience was invigorating and she truly enjoyed the wide open spaces where she could sing to the stars, howl at the moon, and whistle with the winds to her heart’s content. Then it was time to begin her years at Madonna High School in Aurora, Illinois, where with encouraging words, gentle nudges, and occasional “You can do or you will do this!” she endeared herself to a chorus of at least 100 girls who produced and recorded quality music. This was an exciting and fun time.
Members of the chorus related that Sister Lawrence could conduct the group without the use of her arms as she had a facial expression to fit all musical scenarios. Raised eyebrows meant “reach for the high notes” and half closed eyes meant “softer.” Pursed lips meant “You’re not singing together” and wide open eyes meant “Sing brightly!” A broad smile indicated the piece was going well, whereas a frown meant “We’ll be going over this in class.” The most vividly remembered look was the squinty-eyed stare which meant “You’re flat!” The complete ensemble – hands, arms, body language, and facial expressions – was a sight to behold, a sight only Whoopi Goldberg could imitate, years later, in the movie “Sister Act”!
Sister Anne brought all her music talent back to St. Joseph Convent-Motherhouse in 1966, directing the Novice Choir and teaching piano at the Boulevard Music Studio in a little house across the street.
While in Milwaukee, other skills surfaced in the area of community finance and leadership roles, where she worked for the Generalate Business Office, then went on to help at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Province in the area of finance and later served on the Wisconsin Provincial Team. Sister Anne also served as the Treasurer for the Carmelites at St. Florian’s. In all, nearly 20 years were spent taking care of “money matters.” Somewhere between all these jobs, she helped open a House of Prayer and cared for her aging mother.
Sister Anne did take time for relaxation and travel opportunities. Memorable trips included one to Switzerland in 1991 and a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in 1993. A year’s sabbatical between 1987 and 1988 was an unforgettable experience, as were several extended retreats in Los Altos, California, and Gloucester, Massachusetts.
In 2005, it was time for Sister Anne to transition into a life of prayer and presence with the sisters at St. Joseph Convent, Campbellsport. It was wonderful to slow down and enjoy the country air and stars again.
In May, 2013 Sister Anne came back to South Layton Boulevard where she could continue her life of prayer and presence and play the keyboard for the sisters at Sacred Heart Convent. Sister Anne, may God reward you for so generously sharing with us your life, your love, and your many talents. We have been blessed! Go now and play and sing a joyful song to the Lord!
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 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 Austin Doherty
Born: August 10, 1927
Died: February 8, 2015
Thomas More, the 16th-century statesman and saint, so vividly presented in the play, A Man for All Seasons, said shortly before his death, “Pray for me as I will pray for thee, that we will merrily meet in heaven.” I thought of these words when I heard of Austin’s passing, knowing that now, she is merrily meeting with her Doherty brothers (Francis, James, and Thomas) whom she loved dearly and so yearned to meet again as she went through her last days.
And I thought of these words for another reason: I know she is praying for each person in this chapel right now—especially her Doherty, School Sisters of St. Francis, and Alverno families—helping us see her death as a time to be merry, just as we Irish like to be merry in times of grief. She is saying, with her eyes sparkling and in that certain mischievous way she had, “Listen, buddies, carry on!”
Although I first met Austin when I was a freshman in high school at Pius XI, and later worked many years with her in Academic Affairs at Alverno, I know I can only describe a little of who she was and what she meant to so many. I’ll try to capture a bit of her spirit, and hope you will fill in the gaps with your own full memories. So who was this Austin we want to be merry about?
She was born Mary Austin, one of four children, to Rose and James Doherty, who emigrated to the United States from County Donegal, Ireland; met in New York City; married; and moved to Chicago, Illinois. Rose and James were distant cousins, both with the surname Doherty. This caused the young Mary Doherty much consternation when her teachers insisted that both of her parents couldn’t be Dohertys!
Her father died when she was a little girl. Despite entreaties from relatives in Ireland, her mother decided to stay in Chicago to raise her daughter and three boys. She said, “No child of mine will spend their lives sitting along the hedgerows, watching the cows.” Mary went to Alvernia High School and then worked at Loyola University, and began classes there, too. She joined the School Sisters of St. Francis, finished her undergraduate degree in history at Alverno, and soon began teaching at Pius XI High School while finishing her master’s degree in history at Marquette University. But the School Sisters of St. Francis had other plans for her, asking her to take on a new scholarly direction: to start the psychology program at Alverno College. In the early 1960s, she began another academic endeavor, eventually earning a Ph.D. in psychology from Loyola University.
Austin brought to all her studies a mission: to focus on students and their learning. She was a scholar in the finest sense of the word. She didn't love academic discourse for its own sake, but for our students' sake, and that made her one of the most disciplined, dedicated scholars in the field of education. She pored over journals, books and reports so thoroughly and thoughtfully, always seeking a better understanding of how Alverno could give our students more room and opportunity to grow. When asked, she attributed much of her intense and thorough scholarship to the time she spent at Loyola in Chicago and at Marquette. Because she loved the Jesuits she met and the education she received, we are particularly happy that Father O’Connor has joined us today to celebrate this liturgy and her life.
She certainly challenged the rest of us to be scholarly as well to keep up with her. She inspired us to study, attend, pay attention to the needs of each student, and encourage each to grow and develop. Is there a person in this chapel who wasn’t the recipient of one of her piercing questions that led us to learn more?
She was not a sit-and–reflect-only scholar, but an action-oriented one. This made her one of the most influential educational leaders of the past 50 years. She had more than an idea about how to teach better, and to design and implement a radically new curriculum. She understood how the best ideas on teaching all fit together. And she had more than a discerning eye for teaching talent. She knew how to draw the best from it and connect it with all the other talents on the Alverno faculty.
For Austin, every encounter—whether with a student, faculty or staff member, not to mention with those she met outside the college—became a teachable moment. One former student tells the story about the time she, as a member of a student club, tried to sell Austin some candy bars to raise money for a certain cause. Austin would always generously provide some funds, but first she would ask, “Now tell me why you think I should buy this? What’s your rationale? What might pull me into your cause? Now tell me what you think?” She was, of course, helping this student practice using the abilities in this very everyday interaction, and she did so with an infectious smile that delighted the students. Most never forgot these teachable moments.
She was also a feminist in the best sense of the word. She never felt obliged to say women were as good as, or better than, men. Nor did she settle for the argument that women were simply different, learned differently, worked together differently, and so on. The feminism that lived in her heart was the realization that the dreams and talents of young girls and young women are every bit as valuable to this world as those of their brothers. Women and girls deserved the chance to develop them and put them to work without prejudice and stereotype. And if you have the sense that that's a critical part of Alverno's culture, give Austin the credit she's due for it. She had an extraordinary engagement with Alverno students, rooting students onward, challenging them higher. She drew energy from them, gave it back freely, and relished every single minute.
She had many talents, and some that few people knew about. For instance, did you know she was a whiz at shorthand and was also an accomplished seamstress? She could fashion all kinds of lovely outfits out of simple cloth. And that was a good thing, because she never seemed to master the art of cooking. I think it was the Irish thing again. To her, a meal was an excuse to have great conversation, so why waste time in preparation?
It was also important to Austin that she was a religious sister, a School Sister of Saint Francis, in particular. She was deeply committed to the life of community that she had with Sisters Joel Read, Georgine Loacker, Margaret Earley, Margaret Buscher, J. Delores Brunner, and all the rest of us. She looked after her fellow sisters with a candor, care and unconditional love that inspired.
She also saw the beauty of creation and the wisdom of simplicity that St. Francis epitomized. She understood that, above all else, Francis was a reformer, and so it was perfectly plausible to her that she and her Alverno colleagues should gently and lovingly attempt not to just remake Alverno, but also to return all of higher education to its student-centered roots.
Finally, Austin was Irish to the core. Remember how she loved her brothers and touted them without reservation as the most outstanding men in the world? Remember the way she would punch you lightly in the arm and start out, "Listen, buddy," whenever she wanted to playfully scold you for something you had said or done? Or remember the zest she had for travel and connecting with different cultures, and the joy she took in drama and music? A colleague once asked her if she had ever read the book, How the Irish Saved Western Civilization. Without missing a beat she replied, “I thought they created it.”
So, dear Austin, we know you are with us as we grieve your loss. Help us feel you poking us in the shoulder, saying “Get on with it! There’s still lots to do in this life to serve our students and our colleagues. So get on with it.” But know that I am praying for you right now, as you do for me, that we will merrily meet in heaven.
By Sister Kathleen O’Brien
Associate Adalice Marie Hurst
Born: July 10, 1919
Died: April 13, 2015
In April, Adalice Marie Hurst entered into eternal life. She became an associate at the age of 76 and was an associate for 19 years. She was part of the Great Plains Region, later know as Our Lady of Peace area. She committed herself to living the gospel through dedicated service to the poor and the sick. She believed in spreading a positive spirit of peace and joy. She also ministered to unwed mothers.
Adalice grew up in a small fishing village in Portugal and came to Boston to attend college. After graduating, she returned to Portugal where she met her husband, Lestell. They had three children, two boys and a girl. Because of her husband’s work, the family traveled all over the world. After his death at age 44, she and the children moved to the United States. Times were hard, but God was there for them. All of her children graduated from college and went on for master’s degrees.
Adalice lived in a nursing home supported by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Colorado. The sisters were in her room praying a night prayer when she died. Part of that prayer was the singing of the “Salve Maria.” Adalice died peacefully. Lord, give her eternal life.
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 Marianelle Lies
Born: September 23, 1921
Died: March 15, 2015
Sister Marianelle was born on September 23, 1921, to Barbara and Michael Lies in Naperville, Illinois. Her baptismal name was Genevieve, and she was the sixth of 11 children.
With so many brothers and sisters, Genevieve never lacked friends. She once said that although they were economically poor, they were rich because they experienced so much love from their parents and each other.
Besides praying and working together, playing, climbing trees and jumping fences, music was the bond that tied their lives together. Genevieve had a natural aptitude for music. When she was very young, a friend gave the family a piano and Genevieve began to play by ear. Later, a cousin gave her piano lessons. Her musical and academic gifts were nurtured by the School Sisters of St. Francis at Annunciation School in Big Woods, Illinois, and at St. Michael’s School in Wheaton.
By 1936, Genevieve knew that she wanted to be a School Sisters of St. Francis, and she entered the aspirancy at St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was formally received into the community in 1940 and given the name Sister Marianelle.
After making first vows, Sister was sent to her first mission as a musician at St. Martin’s School in Chicago, Illinois. It was here that she not only taught violin, piano, and primary school music, but also continued her own education in the teaching of music. Experience was her teacher, and she often learned the hard but true way—from her mistakes.
In 1946, Sister Marianelle was sent to Mississippi. She taught in Yazoo City, and later in Holly Springs and Walls. At all the southern missions, the sisters lived and worked among the poorest of the poor. Theirs was truly a community endeavor, as they went about supporting the students and the students’ families spiritually and educationally, even trying to meet their social and economic needs. Music was the ribbon that tied together all their endeavors, and while the sisters worked for nothing and with very few materials, they and their students produced captivating concerts and even formed a marching band—complete with baton twirlers!
After leaving Mississippi, Sister Marianelle continued teaching music in schools in Illinois, Nevada, and Wisconsin.
Then in the mid-1980s, Sister joined the computer age and began to help establish a computer program at Santa Maria Addolorata School in Chicago. Once again, experience proved to be her best teacher as she learned about the world of technology.
In May of 1996, Sister began to long for a time when she could simply live a life of prayer and presence. She wanted time to read, write, meditate, and spend time praising God. She was convinced that the angels helped her to make the decision to stop teaching. After retiring, she lived first with other retired sisters at St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, and then spent her final years at Our Lady of the Angels Convent in Greenfield.
Now she has joined her family, members of the community who have preceded her, and the whole community of angels and saints who make music in the presence of God all the day long.
Sister Jane McKenzie
Born: July 7, 1932
Died: July 4, 2015
Jane McKenzie was born on July 7, 1932, the second child of Ella and James McKenzie. She was baptized at St. James Parish in Decatur, Illinois. Her older sister, Marianne, and she were joined by their brother, Jim, in 1934. Jane and Marianne had their own ideas about how a baby brother should be raised and took it upon themselves to do so, especially in the area of discipline. Their father used to warn them, “Someday he is going to grow up!” He did and learned a lot of coping skills from his sisters.
As soon as Jane was able, she was out and about in the neighborhood. Her mother once remarked that she knew all about new neighbors because Jane shared all about them, even taking on their mannerisms.
She was not into hobbies, like arts and crafts, but was definitely a reader, not just of fiction or entertainment but also heavier, informative books. She seemed to thrive on planning and organizing, which provided a good avenue for having fun, too. She was an outdoor person in the sense of exploring and being out and about. Her sister remarked, “Jane was the center and heart of our trio. She is all I could ever want in a sister.”
Marianne often talked about her first grade teacher, Sister Prosper. When Jane was about two or three years old, and people asked her what she was going to be, she would answer, “Sister Prosper.” Jane never deviated from that choice. She attended all eight grades at St. James and was taught by our sisters. She also took piano lessons from them. Since her early years, Jane had exhibited a love for the poor. When a sister asked her mother for the money for her lessons because Jane had not given it, Jane simply said, “I gave that to help poor babies.”
After graduation, Jane entered St. Joseph Convent at age 14 in 1946. In 1949, Jane was received into the community and given the name, “Mary James,” after her father. Following her novitiate, her first mission was St. William’s School in Chicago from 1951 to 1958. There she joined 21 other sisters and had large classes of 50 or more primary grade children.
Sister Arlene Einwalter, her classmate and friend, remembers that Jane never liked to play cards. She found a solution by staying in the bathroom until there were enough sisters to make the group.
Sister Jane’s summers were busy at Alverno, and in 1960, she received her BA degree in Latin and education. She continued as an elementary teacher in three schools in Wisconsin and Illinois until 1965. Then for five years, she worked as principal and high school teacher in four other schools, one of which was Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford, Illinois. After getting her Master of Arts degree in administration in 1971 at Clark College, she worked in the Rockford Diocesan Office for Elementary Education and at Mount St. Francis as administration coordinator. Two more years were spent as a teacher in Peoria, Illinois, at an elementary gifted program.
From 1976 to 1982, Jane was high school teacher in Costa Rica at our own St. Clare College, which was taught by many of our sisters and had an excellent reputation. The students, grades 7 through 11, were typical teenagers. In religion class, when Sister Jane and her students discussed the play, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” she became seen as one who was accepted as an understanding teacher.
Upon returning home, she went on a prayer/study sabbatical. Perhaps it was all her summer enrichment experiences that changed the direction in her life. Her study and travel to complete her MA program took her to England, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland. She had taken courses in liberation theology by renowned teachers as Gutierres, Boff, and Sobrino.
From 1983 to 1987, Sister Jane was assistant administrator for a shelter in Washington, D.C., and worked for the Center for Communication in Cuernavaca, Mexico. As executive director of St. Elizabeth Shelter for the homeless in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she teamed up with a sister from another community. During these years, she also began to take courses in grief counseling and hospice care at the Elizabeth Kubler Ross Institute. In 1991, she applied to be a full-time student at Northern New Mexico Community College in El Rito, New Mexico. She felt her work with the homeless and street people would be good background for this change in ministry.
At age 61, Sister Jane wrote, “I’m still in very good health, am sensitive to the issues, and not afraid of AIDS or persons living with AIDS. My age may be a limitation in the near future. However, society’s attitude toward aging is also changing, so this may become a plus. I believe in being well prepared and knowledgeable about my ministry. It’s time for me to change ministries, and this is a whole new area for the future.”
In 1993, Sister Jane completed her degree in associate applied science with an emphasis on hospice and grief counseling. From 1992 to 1999, she worked as chaplain in bereavement and counseling in Texas. Then in 1999, she returned to Milwaukee to work as hospice chaplain with Covenant Health Care.
In Milwaukee, she and Sister Arlene Einwalter began Kyle’s Corner in the Alstadt Tyborski Funeral Home. This was a program for children who have experienced loss and grief because of a death. At this time, Sister Jane also became a mentor to Sister Connie Taylor, who later began “My Good Mourning Place,” a bereavement center designed to help children cope with grief; it continues to operate today. Sister Jane was back in Texas to work in a VA hospital as chaplain and thanatologist from 2003 to 2006.
In 2006, she returned to the St. Joseph Center motherhouse in Milwaukee to serve as pastoral minister to the sisters and continued her own private sessions as grief counselor. From 2007 to 2012, she continued to pursue her work as chaplain and thanatologist. Gradually over the last several years, her memory began to fail. In 2012, she moved into the Maria Linden Apartments and finally to Our Lady of the Angels for assisted care.
Sister Jane always loved animals, especially dogs, as her family had always had one. She had a dog in Texas, and when she came to Milwaukee, people often saw her in the neighborhood walking her dog.
Her life, with its many changes in ministry, shows her as an adventurous person, open to new opportunities and following Mother Alexia’s dream to respond to the needs of the time according to the will of God.
Sister Shirley Marie Patzelt
Born: July 30, 1936
Died: February 27, 2015
I feel very honored to share with you the life of Sister Shirley in her own words given at the time of her 60th Jubilee in 2013:
“I was born on July 30, 1936, to Christine and Edward Patzelt, two of the most wonderful and amazing parents that a child could ever imagine. Even though the doctors advised Mom not to have more children after serious complications the previous year during the birth of my brother, Edward, Mom said, ‘Just one more.’ So here I am!
“Edward and I were two normal kids, good sometimes and not so good other times. My memories of early childhood are ones of the family fun we had and the values we learned from Mom and Dad.
“In 1942, we moved from Berwyn to Forest Park, Illinois. At St. Bernardine School, I met the School Sisters of St. Francis. We loved our kindergarten teacher, Sister Theodolph. Back then we even had kindergarten graduation. My first grade teacher was Sister Audrey Rymars, who announced to my mother that I was going to St. Joseph Convent after 8th grade. Of course, Mom was thrilled. From that day on, my teachers reminded me of my destiny. It didn’t matter much to the sisters that during 7th and 8th grade, my classmate Norman and I sort of fell in love. After graduation, in August 1950, Sister Anthelma, Mom and Dad, and my trunk and I left for St. Joseph Convent. My brother didn’t come; he had said, ‘Oh, I’ll give you a week and you’ll be calling Mom and Dad to bring you home.’
“But there was no turning back for me. On June 13, 1953, I was received and given the name Sister Emilienne. Then on September 10, 1954, God called my mother home to heaven, but as we celebrated my First Profession the following year, on June 21, 1955, my family and I knew that Mom was with us in spirit.
“From 1955 to the 1990s, I made wonderful memories of my years on mission: in Wisconsin at St. John the Baptist in Muscoda; in Illinois at St. William, Chicago; at St. Beatrice, Schiller Park; at St. Paul of the Cross, Park Ridge; and at the Bartlett Learning Center.
“I was choir director and organist at Resurrection Life Center for almost 27 years; case manager for teens at Maryville Stepping Stones Program; case manager for teenage parents who were wards of the State of Illinois-Ulich Parenting Teen Program; director of admissions at Resurrection Life Center; and most recently, as administrative assistant at the Maryville Children’s Crisis Center and Medical Center, where I had the added joy of providing music therapy.
“It was not hard to go to work every morning. The dedication and love shown to these children by the nurses and staff is exceptional. I liked to call these children ‘angels’ and we walked there on holy ground.
“Lastly, I would like to say what a blessing to have shared so much of my journey with two of the best friends ever, Sister Kate Brenner and Sister Barbara Forster, who never failed to encourage me, and like good friends do, laugh, cry, pray, and play together.
“The greatest gift of my entire journey of 60 years has been in sharing in the life and mission of the School Sisters of St. Francis and knowing that, with God’s grace, we will continue to reach out beyond ourselves and answer the call wherever it may lead us.”
As I continue to contemplate and celebrate Shirley’s life, the word that best describes her is “presence.” She was always present to the other. Her life had a single strain: to see Jesus in every human being. Nothing kept her from singing. Her life was a song!
By Sister Kate Brenner
Sister Lauretta Ann Pint (Sister Nerius)
Born: February 20, 1919
Died: December 15, 2015
Sister Lauretta Ann’s life story began on February 20, 1919, in Union Hill—not far from New Prague—Minnesota. She was the youngest of eight children, four boys and four girls, who were the pride and joy of Matthias and Barbara Pint. Growing up in a small Catholic German farming community had much to offer. Living on a farm, she learned what it meant to depend on and trust God and neighbor. The entire Pint family helped plant the crops, God gave the rain and sunshine, and all the neighbors came together to gather the harvest.
Hers was a happy childhood, with lots of teasing from her siblings. She remembered walking to school with the neighbor kids, and to Catechism classes on Saturday, and to summer school. As a young child, her parents were examples of gentleness, kindness, generosity, and how to reach out to others.
At the young age of 15, she and her cousin, Alda, decided to join her sister, Sister Clement, at St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee. Another sister, Sister Agnes Rose, soon followed. Many years later, their cousins Sisters Jean and Eunice Becker also joined the community.
Sister Lauretta Ann was received into the community in 1935 and was given the name Sister Nerius. Already in 1936 and for the next 50 years, she kept many sisters healthy and happy in her life as a homemaker. She always seemed to find time for crocheting items for the sale, working in the garden, volunteering her services wherever needed, and playing Scrabble.
After retiring from homemaking, Sister Lauretta Ann generously offered her services at Maryhill Convent, and later at Sacred Heart Convent, especially as a companion for the sisters going to appointments. This was something she thoroughly loved, and was loved for in return. Her bag of crocheting thread and hooks always went with her. She was a very quiet person, always pleasant, and a very good listener. She took great pride in helping the sisters look neat as she ironed their clothes and did little extra things for them.
As her heart signaled that it was time for her to slow down, it was no surprise that she chose to live at Sacred Heart Convent and share her life with her sister, Sister Agnes Rose, and later with her cousin, Sister Jean Becker, and the other sisters she lovingly cared for. This also gave her a chance to sneak back into doing some ironing or helping the sisters out in small ways. Her fingers were always busy crocheting, and she never turned down an invitation to play a game of Scrabble. None of her opponents ever won a game! Without any pondering, she came up with words no one else thought of.
Sister Lauretta Ann, we could not always think of the right words during Scrabble games, but it is not difficult to come up with the words to describe your life: kindness, generosity, faithfulness, quietness, and availability. We thank you for the joy you brought to our lives. May God embrace you eternally in His love.
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 Margaret Ann Polk
Born: October 20, 1930
Died: April 24, 2015
In her own words:
My parents, not knowing each other, emigrated from Germany around 1926, met in Chicago, Illinois, and were married. My sister, Elsie was born to Joseph and Ottilie Polk in Chicago, in 1928 and I followed two years later on October 20, 1930. I was baptized at St. Michael’s in Chicago, and when I was five, we moved into St. Benedict’s parish, where I attended grade school. From there, I went to Alvernia High School for four years, and then joined the School Sisters of St. Francis and began preparation to be a teacher at Alverno. Although I had an aunt in another order, I was drawn to the School Sisters of St. Francis.
After graduating from Alverno, I was sent to Lombard, Illinois, and taught first grade and intermediate for 12 years. St. Michael in Wheaton is where I taught junior high for seven years and was then promoted to be principal. From there I went to St. Raphael School in Naperville from 1971 to 1973.
A summer job in a hospital helped me realize there was another calling. I applied for a housekeeping position at Edward Hospital in Naperville. I took the position, thinking it would be short term. After a few months, I was offered the position of p.m. supervisor and was responsible for both the p.m. shift and NOC shift. I retired 26 years later! While working there, my crew was made up of immigrants from China, Jerusalem, Israel, Bosnia, Laos, Poland, Italy, Germany, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico, and of course, the United States. Some were former teachers and nurses who escaped Communism. We all got along very well (most of the time). Teaching was fun, but so was this. God knows me.
Along with my usual work, I enjoyed gardening early in the morning before going to work. I spent time in my 20' x 60' vegetable garden. Unusual items interested me, like growing peanuts (they didn't quite make maturity). What a surprise when I found a sign on my plot stating that I had won “The Garden of the Week.”
On three different occasions I was blessed to accompany my mother to Germany to visit my aunts, uncles and cousins. We also traveled to Austria, Italy, England and Switzerland. An unexpected surprise came when I won a Caribbean cruise for two, with all expenses paid. My sister companion and I enjoyed every minute of it.
When I was about ten years old, I was introduced to Cubs baseball by an “adopted grandfather.” (I had never met my biological grandparents, since they were in Germany and my parents could not afford to go to see them. Also, World War II was taking place.) Since I lived within walking distance of Wrigley Field, it was easy to take in a few games. My love for Cubs baseball remained with me all my life. Since as novices we did not have access to newspapers, I would crawl around on the bathroom floor looking for the sport pages which covered the freshly scrubbed floor. Sometime later in life, when I was able to understand football, the Chicago Bears also became my team of choice. Go Bears! My rule to live by is “Live and let live, and God will handle the rest.”
Now, all of us who accompanied Sister Margaret Ann during these last three weeks of her life witnessed how she lived this motto. She found it difficult to accept her illness, but as she prayed with us, she made the difficult decisions. When she was ready, she asked for the Anointing of the Sick and then accepted hospice care.
Yes, God did indeed “handle the rest.” Thank you, Sister Margaret Ann, for your 66 years of faithful Franciscan living
Sister Sarabeth Prindle (Sister Seraphin)
Born: July 29, 1927
Died: March 20, 2015
Sister Sarabeth was originally called Betty Jane when she was born on July 29, 1927, in Quincy, Illinois. Her parents, Preston and Lulu Patterson Prindle, were both from Missouri – just across the Mississippi River from Quincy. Betty Jane was the youngest of three children; big brother, Paul and big sister, Vivian. Betty later became aunt to Paul’s seven sons and Vivian’s daughter, Bonnie, who is with us today. In her young, growing years, the Quincy public schools offered this interested young learner, Betty, a fine elementary and secondary education.
After high school, Betty’s life took a different path from that of her family. She attended Quincy College, a Catholic Franciscan College, and there was drawn to Catholicism. At the age of 19, she received instructions and was baptized on May 8, 1946, at St. Boniface Church by a Franciscan priest. Her full baptismal name was Elizabeth Jane. The following year, she continued instructions for First Eucharist and Confirmation.
After Confirmation, before two years were up, Betty felt a calling to religious life, specifically to the School Sisters of St. Francis. God was leading her to Himself, following in the footsteps of St. Francis. She entered St. Joseph Convent here in Milwaukee in 1949 after receiving her bachelor’s degree, and so was one of the “older postulants” in her class. She was received into the Order on June 13, 1950, receiving the new name, Sister Seraphin, the name she requested after one of her admired Franciscan Fathers of Quincy College, Fr. Seraphin.
Sister’s mission years began as a secondary teacher at Madonna High School in Aurora, Illinois, in 1952. There she taught Latin and as moderator of the secular Third Order of St. Francis, she inspired several religious vocations, one being Sister Jo Ann Miller. Sister Sarabeth was known to be an excellent teacher and loved by her students. She had a curious mind, was highly intelligent and naturally gifted in many ways, always seeking to learn more and broadened her perspective and global grasp.
Throughout her prime mission years, she taught in several secondary schools besides Madonna High School. Among them were Holy Redeemer High School in Milwaukee, Ryan High School in Omaha, and Boylan High School in Rockford. Some years later, when Madonna became Aurora Central Catholic High School, she returned for some time as a counselor.
After several years of high school teaching, Sister Sarabeth returned to her hometown, Quincy, and served in the Quincy College library for a few years. And after that she did counseling in one of the Quincy public schools.
Back in Milwaukee in the ’80s, she was a counselor/social worker at Holy Family Retirement Home, followed by a job as a clerk at Maryhill Retirement Center. In 1986-87 she worked as a crisis hotline counselor for Family Service of Milwaukee. From there she volunteered service at St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport for three years before returning to Milwaukee to be a receptionist and private tutor. By this time, in the 1990s, sisters from India were coming to the United States for education at Alverno and Sister Sarabeth became a favored English language tutor. Sister Paulita Chandy is one, forever grateful for her insights and caring assistance, and eternally grateful to Sarabeth, who saved her life one July 4th when she was choking!
Over the years, Sister Sarabeth accepted every challenge life offered her, no matter how difficult. Returning to Campbellsport for fuller assistance in her later years, she continued to deal with both physical and mental challenges. These she met head on. Finally a stroke left her entirely unable to speak or care for herself, yet her keen mind always continued its search for more and no doubt this inability to speak was a heavy burden for her to sustain. Everyone caring for her came to respect and value her patient acceptance of her day-to-day experiences. Then last September, along with other Campbellsport Sisters, she returned to Milwaukee and spent her last six months at Sacred Heart Convent.
As a daughter of St. Francis, Sister Sarabeth gave her all to God, in whose name she served and lived out her commitment for a few months short of 65 years. Sister Sarabeth, may God richly reward you and bestow His favor upon you a hundred-fold. You are loved. Go now in peace and claim your reward!
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 Elizabeth Tellesen (Sister Chrysanthus)
Born: July 10, 1920
Died: July 31, 2015
Miracles: They do happen! One was witnessed by the staff at St. Joseph Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 10, 1920, at the birth of a baby whose tiny heart could barely pump. The baby, a daughter born to Charles and Elizabeth Warschartke Tellesen, was promptly baptized Elizabeth Lucy and immediately transferred to the neo-natal unit for intensive care and observation.
Even though Betty’s dad was a physician and her mom was a nurse, keeping vigil over their own delicate tiny baby demanded great faith and trust that God would pull them through this crisis. They had already lost a three-year-old daughter, Margaret, who died of diphtheria, and a premature son, Otto, who died at birth. Another toddler son, Clyde, was being cared for by relatives. After, what seemed to be an eternity, the parents were able to introduce Clyde to his baby sister. Shortly after the long hospital stay the Tellesen family moved to the edge the small rural town – Wynot, Nebraska – where Dr, Tellesen set up his practice. Two more sons, Bob and Dick, completed the family picture.
Betty was prone to health problems as a child and caught every childhood disease that came her way. However at the age of five she enrolled at Sacred Heart School in Wynot and made it through until eighth grade graduation. That summer she fell and sustained an injury that required a metal brace to support her back that had to be worn throughout her teenage growing years.
Thoughts of becoming a Sister surfaced as early as the first grade. She confided them to her dad, who simply said, “We’ll see.” At age ten she was advised to think about other things and to keep an open mind. Her eighth grade teacher told that she was not convent material. Betty quietly accepted this and enrolled in the town’s public high school.
One day as her dad was driving her, a teacher, and other friends to Lincoln for a music concert, a drunk driver ran a stop sign and crashed headlong into their car. Her dad was severely injured and died in the hospital. Betty was so shaken and filled with guilt, thinking that if she had gone to the convent this would not have happened. It took a long time before she was able to let go of the guilt feelings.
After graduating from high school, in 1937 Betty wanted to get a baby-sitting or cleaning job in Sioux City. An aunt in Minnesota discouraged this and offered her a job on her farm. After one summer of this, Betty refused to continue on because her aunt was far too fussy about how she should wear her curly red hair. Instead, she chose to go to the St. Joseph Convent, arriving in Milwaukee in time for entering the fall semester at Alverno College. After all, she was 18 and could make her own decisions. In June 1938, Betty was received into the School Sisters of St. Francis and received the name of Sister Chrysanthus.
With a bachelor’s degree in education, Betty was ready to launch her teaching career in the fall of 1941. Her first mission was Frankenstein, Missouri, then on to Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. During this time she attended Marquette University for summer school and took courses throughout the year, graduating with a master’s degree in 1950. Her next missions took her to Iowa, Nebraska, and Montana, where she taught and served as principal. Listening to her students and their parents was sacred time for her.
In 1967 Sister Betty was elected Provincial in the Omaha Province and served in that position for two terms. Then it was on to religious education coordinator in Tempe, Arizona while attending Arizona State University taking courses in psychotherapy. Upon completion of the psychotherapy program, Sister Betty returned to Omaha where she served as a counselor, consultant and therapist for several years. During these years she also travelled around in India, teaching psychology and conducting group sessions with the sisters. An invitation from the Eastern Counseling Center took her to Tucson where for three years she worked as a counselor-therapist. She was then prepared to spend the next ten years self-employed with individuals in psychotherapy. This was a challenge that was so very rewarding for her!
Because of macular degeneration, her eyesight became increasingly poor, and so it was that Sister Betty, at age 80, in 2000, moved back north to St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, where she volunteered her services in the fields she knew so well: counselor-therapist and teacher of psychology classes for La Farge.
Sometimes God slows us down in ways we don’t expect. A fall for Sister Betty resulted in a broken hip. Knowing Sister Betty, you knew that she would take it in stride. She told everyone that this was God’s way of arranging her schedule so that she could spent more time with Him in prayer besides allowing her time to explore the many library books that were on her “to be read” list. Betty moved to Sacred Heart Convent in June, 2013. By then she had significant memory loss, and lost the ability to function normally. However, her quick wit and happy face still enlivened her as she continued to share her life of prayer and presence with all at Sacred Heart.
Miracles! You are a miracle! Sister Betty, yours was an awesome life! You have been the face of the Gospel for countless people in many areas of the world, and you did everything in His name. Go now and receive the reward God has prepared for you!
Sister Mynette Tossing
Born: September 24, 1933
Died: July 11, 2015
It was a beautiful fall day, September 24, 1933, when Marilyn Tossing was born in Aurora, Illinois to Mary and Ralph Tossing. She was the first of three children. Her brothers Duane and Frank completed the family.
Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Aurora was the center of their family life. Marilyn entered first grade and began her long relationship with the School Sisters of St. Francis. After finishing grade school she went on to Madonna High School. She was proud to say that her mother was one of the early graduates of Madonna High School.
After high school, Marilyn entered the School Sisters of St. Francis. She was received in 1950 and was given the name Sister Mynette.
In the next years, Sister Mynette began her education at Alverno College preparing for her teaching ministry. That ministry of education was carried on in Illinois and Indiana. She served in many elementary schools as teacher and was also principal in Monroeville, Indiana, and at St. Theresa, Aurora, Illinois.
In later years Sister Mynette served as a reading specialist and ESL [English as a Second Language] teacher. She also was a teacher in the summer program for migrant workers in Indiana. Sister had an open heart and a helping hand for any struggling student, especially for those who came from other countries.
Regardless of her active lifestyle as a teacher or principal, Sister always kept a loving eye on members of her family, praying for them and showing great interest in their lives. She enjoyed family visits and was always interested in new experiences. She was a great communicator with family and friends. Sister was also very interested in all types of learning as well as in building her stamp collection.
A sudden bout with cancer changed her pace for some time, but her goal was to return to her cherished ministry as a reading specialist. Sister Mynette achieved that goal. She and Sister Marilyn Wolfram again supported each other in their varied ministries for another ten years.
Eventually, health problems led to both Sister Mynette and Sister Marilyn moving into a less strenuous schedule of daily living. They both came to Sacred Heart early in 2013. As all the sisters at Sacred Heart well know, change and renovation can be a challenge. However, Sister Mynette always was solid in her prayer life. She likewise kept abreast of her Chicago area news, avidly reading her Chicago Tribune newspaper. She always enjoyed the visits of family as well as occasional visits from former colleagues in the field of education.
As more health problems surfaced, Sister kept a positive attitude. Her last health challenge, her recent stroke, was still faced with a calm, pleasant smile and a positive attitude. God knew it was time and Sister Mynette was ready.
Sister Mynette, we are grateful for your presence among us. We are sure that former students and colleagues look back with appreciation upon the times when you gave help and words of encouragement. We thank God for your good example and now ask you to pray for all of us as you enjoy the presence of God for all eternity.
Sister Phyllis Vater
Born: April 4, 1955
Died: October 18, 2015
Dorothy Ann Vater was born on April 4, 1936, in Milwaukee to George and Phyllis (Winkowski) Vater. She is survived by her brother, Michael; her nephew, Jeremy; Aunt Shirley, cousins and friends, and her School Sisters of St. Francis community with whom she shared life for more than 60 years. She was received in 1955 and given the name, Phyllis, after her mother. Phyllis’ canonical novitiate was briefly interrupted as she went home to care for her ailing mother. Upon her return, she was placed with the next reception class to complete novitiate and made her First Profession with them in 1958.
Phyllis attended Alverno College, majoring in chemistry and minoring in physics and math. Her first assignment was at St. Joseph High School, Kenosha where she taught for ten years. During those years she attended summer school at the University of Notre Dame and earned a Master’s degree. After leaving St. Joe’s, she continued teaching, this time at her alma mater, Pius XI High School, Milwaukee. In the mid-1980s, while still teaching, Phyllis started working part-time in the U.S. Province Institutional Sponsorship Services office.
In 1987, Phyllis was elected to the U.S. Provincial Team and served two terms. This past week it was shared with me that she truly lived “the grace of office.” After a brief sabbatical, Phyllis was elected to the School Sisters of St. Francis Generalate Team as Vice President, serving one term. Phyllis also served on several boards, including Sacred Heart Southern Missions. She often referred to the sisters in Walls [Mississippi] as her second living group.
After her time in elected leadership, Phyllis continued ministry in varied ways. She served the sisters living at Marian Hall, eventually helping them transition to new places of residency when Marian Hall closed. She became Mission Director for St. Joseph Center - Milwaukee campus, and she worked as a spiritual director. In 2009 it was time for Phyllis to move from active ministry to one of prayer and presence as Alzheimer’s began to take her mind and body, but never her spirit.
Reflecting on her time in leadership Phyllis wrote: “I was a very happy high school chemistry teacher for 27 years before Sister Agnes Marie Henkel invited me to explore working with our sponsored institutions. ‘Just one day a week’ she said, ‘see how you like it.’ Agnes Marie had a reputation for being a good mentor, so I gingerly explored leadership in that area under her guidance for the next three years. She helped a serious introvert find her voice and use her gifts in new forms of service. I would have never been open to congregational leadership if she had not mentored me.”
Phyllis learned well the lessons Agnes Marie taught. In her own words she says: “I believe we need to call others forth. We need to support them, mentor them, and not give up when there are mistakes, or even failures. They need support and encouragement along with the wisdom and experience of others who have accepted the challenges of serving in community leadership. All of us can empower others to lead by recognizing their gifts for leadership.”
Dot adored her brother Mike, eight years her junior. Mike shares stories of Dot “hanging out” with him, and says she was his soul. And Dot had stories of adventures with Mike that would make any parent scream. She influenced Mike with her reading of Merton and Catholic Worker publications. Dot was Mike’s strongest supporter during his most difficult times. As they aged they became close friends and these last years, Mike was the one who “hung out” with Dot.
Dot was also the proud aunt of Mike’s son Jeremy. Every summer Jeremy came to town to visit, and spending time with “Auntie Dot” was a priority. They had a special bond and I found Jeremy’s birth announcement among Phyllis’ remaining treasures. Many years ago Jeremy gave Phyllis a stuffed Kermit the Frog. Anyone who was ever in her classroom or any of her offices saw Kermit. Phyllis’s province secretary even made Kermit seasonal clothes. It is only appropriate that Kermit joins Phyllis now; he will be buried with her.
I first knew of Phyllis when I was a student at Pius XI in the late 1970s. She was the chair of the science department and THE chemistry teacher. We called her “Darth Vater;” it was the time of the original Star Wars movie. I didn’t take chemistry because I was scared of her, something I reluctantly admitted to her many years later, and she would playfully remind me of from time to time.
Fast forward 20 years and I found myself in a living group with Phyllis and teaching in her former classroom. She teased she would haunt me, in the best sense of that word; ghost confetti, ghost note paper, ghost socks, etc., would appear from time to time. It is very appropriate she left us around the time of All Hallows’ Eve. As Agnes Marie did for her, Phyllis did for so many, including me. I was nudged and encouraged and challenged, I’ve met sisters from around the world, and have connections with people I’ve never met and places I’ve never been.
We all have stories of Phyllis. We all knew her in different and unique ways. Let her own words speak a final time: “I experienced local, provincial and international community in ways I will always cherish. It was profound to know the spirit and charism of my congregation through an aged sister tending a huge organic garden in Germany, through a young sister nurse in a remote village in India, through an agile teacher with street children in Nicaragua, and in my own province as I daily learn from the youngest and oldest that ‘the needs of the times are the will of God.’”
Phyllis, we come now to celebrate you and say good bye. Continue to mentor us. Phyllis, pray for us.
Sister Jane Marie Bradish
Sister Patricia Michaelin Woeckner (Sister Michaelin)
Born: July 28, 1922
Died: October 23, 2015
Today we are celebrating the long life of an artist-Sister Patricia Michaelin Woeckner who was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 28, 1922, and was baptized Patricia Dolores. Growing up Patricia was exposed to music and the fine arts through her mother’s side of the family. Her father’s interest in medicine caused the curious little girl to be fascinated by his anatomy book, as she spent hours looking over its pages.
Patricia’s mother, Margaret Thelen-Woeckner, shared her own interest and enthusiasm for art with her daughters. From young on, Patricia remembered her mother taking oil painting lessons from a professional artist along with taking the girls regularly to view works of art at the Chicago Art Institute.
The stock market crash of 1929 changed things for many people, including the Woeckner family. At the age of seven, Patricia and her older sister were sent to Oshkosh to live with their aunts. In a household where she was the youngest and often the only child, Patricia observed the adults around her making art and so she did the same. Looking back at her childhood, Sister Patricia said she was more fortunate than most children. Art was so highly valued in her mother’s family that sacrifices were made that allowed her to experience many different mediums such as ceramics and word carving by way of private instructors while she was growing up.
Upon graduating from high school Patricia attended the teachers’ college in Oshkosh for her academic coursework. In 1941 she moved back to Chicago to attend the American Academy of Art. While at the academy she also worked part-time at several art studios doing commercial art. Upon graduation from the academy in 1947, her family made it possible for her to travel to Mexico for six months to paint and sketch in various parts of the country.
Returning to Chicago, Patricia resumed her work as a commercial artist as well as painting portraits. But the influence of her visit to Deserto de Leones, a former monastery in Mexico, awakened in Patricia a calling to religious life that she could not ignore. Patricia left her work and entered St. Joseph Convent in 1948. Reception into the School Sisters of St. Francis was June 13, 1949, and she was given the name of Sister Michaelin.
Art remained a central focus for Patricia during her formation years and beyond. Her prior art training was recognized and as a novice she did commercial art in the community’s printing department. After making her first vows she was appointed to the Art Department and remained there until it closed. In addition to her duties as an artist she also taught an art course in St. Joseph Convent High School for two years. In 1970 Sister Patricia began caring for her mother in Oshkosh. While living in her hometown, she was still a part of the Art Department and taught ceramics at the senior center. Sister Patricia also used this time to paint the exquisite garden of family friends and other scenery of the area.
Sister Patricia’s chosen medium was watercolor because of its beauty and practical qualities. But she was versatile and worked with many mediums. Among them were silkscreen, mono-printing, block printing, cloisonné, photography, ceramics, woodcarving and china painting.
Many of her works focused on religious subjects such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Maria de la Granada, the Sacred Heart, the Infant of Prague, the Christmas crèche, and other saints. Her favorite subject matter was sketching and painting portraits of adults and children.
One of her life’s highlights was a year of travel in Central America from 1969-1970. During this time she sketched and painted portraits, landscapes and still life in local areas across Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. Sister Patricia’s goal was to catch impressions, expressions and colors that were fleeting and sometimes instantly gone.
At every place she stayed and to everyone who befriended her, she left some of her art behind. She acknowledged that she brought much more than art back to Milwaukee. “I observed the people, how they lived, their daily routines and how they built their homes. This helped to bring authenticity to my work.” As she traveled by bus from country to country sketching other travelers, her art also became her meditation and prayer as she strove to capture a visual record of indigenous people’s simple lives while being touched by their receptivity to her presence.
Always aware of suffering individuals on the streets where she lived and in the world at large, Sister Patricia strove to use her artwork to spread beauty. She said, “My aim is to promote hope through art.” Sister shared her art through a variety of exhibitions in Wisconsin and Florida as well as in San Miguel, Mexico, and in Latin America.
Sister Patricia felt these lines from the Christian Prayer Book captured her desire to serve God as an artist: “May the talents of artists reflect Your splendor. May their works give the world hope and joy. May the arts and sciences advance Your glory and the happiness of all people.”
We are grateful for Sister Patricia’s mission to bring hope and beauty through art. She generously shared it with our community, with those she met in her travels, and with those who visited her exhibits.
Sister Patricia, may you now see God in full splendor and with joy!