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Sister Cabrini Diez
Born: February 14, 1917
Died: January 4, 2014
Sister Cabrini Diez was a Valentine baby, born February 14, 1917, on a farm near Verdigre, Nebraska. The fourth of ten children born to Carl and Mary Diez, she was baptized Nell Rose and called “Nellie” by the family. Nellie was a sickly child during the first year of her life, but due to the tender loving care of her mother, she survived and began to gain strength and weight. In 1992, Sister Cabrini quipped: “At 75 I’m still gaining weight.”
When she was eight years old, the family moved to a farm near Winner, South Dakota. There she attended school in a one-room sod house school, traveling the three miles by horse and buggy. Later she attended a boarding school in Geddes, South Dakota, which was about 100 miles from her home. There she was taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Her father helped pay for her room and board as well as the tuition by bringing a half of a beef to the sisters from time to time.
In 1927, Nellie’s oldest sister Ellen left for the convent. There were tears as they waved goodbye when their father drove off with Ellen in their Model T, heading for Winner, South Dakota, to get the train to Milwaukee.
After high school, Nellie worked in Sioux City in a doctor’s office for $5.00 a week but soon began seeking other jobs that paid higher wages. She did finally secure a position in a dentist’s office for a wage of $17.00 a week.
In 1943, Nellie decided to follow in her older sister’s footsteps and made arrangements to enter St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee. Because of a mix-up in communications, when she got off the train there was no one there to meet her. Undaunted, she took a cab and arrived at the convent where Sister Viola greeted her warmly. She began preparing to become a sister and also preparing for ministry in health care.
She was received as a novice in June of 1944 and given the name Sister Mary Cabrini. From novitiate on, Sister Cabrini amused her fellow sisters with her guitar music and beautiful singing voice. She was self-taught and played the guitar and piano by ear. Many of the little ditties she sang had the sisters laughing. Then she would say, “My Dad taught me that.”
After novitiate, Sister Cabrini began her ministry as an X-ray technician at Beaver Dam and continued to serve in that field for 29 years, serving at Waupun and Sacred Heart Sanatorium. When she no longer served as an X-ray technician, she worked for five years in Doctor Barman’s office in downtown Milwaukee. During many of her years in health care, she also found ways to reach out to the poor and homeless, especially at St. Ben’s Parish. After participating in our Living Aware Program, she spent the summer in service with our sisters in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
In 1978, she was asked to work as a nursing assistant at Maryhill which had just been converted into a sisters’ retirement home. Sister Cabrini was scheduled for night duty and continued in that service for five years. However, she found it difficult to sleep during the day so when a daytime position as housekeeping supervisor was available, she moved into that role and continued in that capacity for five years. Then in 1987 she decided to move to St. Joseph Convent, Campbellsport. At that time her sister, Sister Ellen, was on the leadership team here.
Sister Cabrini did many volunteer jobs here at Campbellsport: helping in the country store, taking care of central supply, and escorting sisters for doctor’s appointments. When her health demanded that she slow down, she continued her ministry of prayer and presence – always pleasant, always positive, and always ready for a party or entertainment.
Sister was also always ready for visits from family and friends. She enjoyed keeping in touch with them all. She left us some good advice, handwritten on yellow tablet paper: “Doing good and being happy encourages others to go and do likewise. It is contagious, so let’s be happy, It will shine through our soul.”
Sister went to her eternal reward early on the morning of January 4. We can imagine her singing in heaven just as she did on our second floor corridor many days: “You are my sunshine…” Yes, Jesus was her sunshine and she reflected His light in many ways.
Sister Cabrini, we will miss you and we thank you for teaching us by your example to be ourselves. We love you and count on your prayers until you welcome us home together with Jesus, our sunshine.
Compiled by Sister Claradine Bauer and Sister Charlotte Schuele from Sister Cabrini’s autobiography.
Sister Diane Drufenbrock
Born: October 7, 1929
Died: November 7, 2013
Diane Drufenbrock was born Mary Jane Floyd, daughter of Alice Floyd, in a small Southern Indiana town on October 7, 1929. Diane was adopted by Bessie and George Drufenbrock when she was two years old. She lived her youth in Evansville, Indiana, until she came to Milwaukee in 1948 to join the School Sisters of St. Francis.
Professional life: Diane graduated from Alverno in 1953, her first mission teaching seventh graders in Lombard, Illinois. During the summers of 1955 through 1958, Diane studied at Marquette. And during the year she taught at St. Joe’s Kenosha. In 1959 she went to Urbana, Illinois, to get her doctorate in mathematics. There were only two women in the class. By 1962 Diane was teaching at Alverno. After her years at Alverno, Diane did social justice work at Walker’s Point. At this time she joined the Socialist Party. In 1980 Diane was on the Socialist ticket for vice president of the United States.
Diane’s loves and gifts:
The out of doors, everything that is natural: Camping, trees, the heavens and its movements, the earth and its aliveness. All animals, especially her dogs and her cats.
Music—Beethoven and opera are at the top of the list.
Visual art of any medium could hold her captive for hours.
All literature, especially poetry—Rumi, Rilke, Dickinson, as well as the ancient classics. She read the autobiography of Teresa of Avila when she was in high school and has had a life time dialogical relationship with her.
Scripture—Her Bibles, concordances, Hebrew and Greek dictionaries were always at hand as she read the ancient texts.
Her own writings, which are many, she used to come to a deeper understanding of herself and of life as she experienced it.
Diane studied German avidly and though she was never as fluent as she would like to have been, her love of it lingered.
Math and physics were far beyond teaching material for Diane. She entered into the relationship between math and music. She read and loved the writing of Chardin. In these regards she could see beyond into the scientific truth which did not contradict her deeply intuitive knowing of God.
Diane’s trained and seeking mind stayed clear to the very end. On Sunday morning, the day before she passed into the presence that is God, we had a two minute conversation that she initiated. It was about friends being on both sides of the veil. This conversation led to the very last words she said on that morning before they gave her more morphine. Her words: “I’m ready.”
Diane and God:
I ask, “Who is this woman that I came to love so very much when I was in my early 20s?”
In my youth the attraction was: She was someone important and intelligent who loved me.
But what I knew even then is that this woman was at her depths a lover of God and all God’s creation—a true Franciscan.
She was ever loyal. As she lived her life, she was not paralyzed by fear; she was not disrespectful through pride. Within that deep well of silence that she lived, wrote about, and sometimes spoke, she was a reservoir of love.
Sister Helen Knotek
Born: March 11, 1925
Died: April 28, 2014
For those of us who are familiar with Racine, Wisconsin, we immediately say, “Ah, yes, the kringle capital of the Midwest – the small city famous for its many bakeries!” We also know that this is the home of the Knotek family, who could boast of being a “baker’s dozen” - a family of thirteen children – six boys and seven girls.
Today we celebrate the life of the ninth child born into this family. Like all members of the family, Helen was born at home, on March 11, 1925. There was nothing unusual about the circumstances of her birth, except that the children in the family had chicken pox at that time and one of the girls died of diphtheria on the day Helen was born.
As expected, growing up with many brothers and sisters in addition to having loving parents was a happy and wonderful time. The Knotek home was one of the most popular in the neighborhood and was most often the gathering place for ball games, hide and seek, hop scotch, shooting marbles, and every other game that was thought of. It was also there that the neighborhood girls would gather to sew doll dresses, and where they all learned how to crochet. Crocheting and sewing are still hobbies of the girls.
Along with her 11 siblings, Helen attended St. John Nepomuk School. Being an extremely intelligent pupil, Helen completed eight grades in seven and a half years. She graduated in January and enrolled in a public high school for ninth grade. She transferred to St. Catherine’s High School for her sophomore and junior years, where she became an avid sports fan—especially following the football team. Helen confessed that she had a crush on a couple of the guys. It was nothing too serious!
In her junior year, the dream of entering religious life became very strong. She was determined to enter the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee where two of her sisters – Sister Rose and Sister Julie - were already professed members. Her parents weren’t too thrilled about her life’s choice. They were convinced that they already had two daughters in the convent and that certainly was sufficient. However, Helen’s mind was made up and nothing could stop her from entering St. Joseph Convent. The Racine Dominicans, who taught at St. Catherine’s High School, were disappointed that Helen did not join them. After all, their convent was in Racine! Helen could be close to home.
In the fall of 1942, Mom and Dad Knotek motored to Milwaukee, gave Helen their blessing and told her that they, too, were happy with her decision. She completed her senior year in the convent’s high school. The following June, 1943, she was received into the School Sisters of St. Francis and was known as Sister Emily.
Sister Helen’s ministry began with teaching the middle grades in elementary schools, then she was on to teaching English and religion to junior high students. This she found to be most invigorating because she could carry on interesting conversations with the students concerning the material being studied.
After teaching for 19 years, Sister Helen became a qualified Director of Religious Education. In this capacity she trained lay people to teach in the religious education program. Following this, she engaged in yet another ministry – the ministry of care. She spent many years at Prince of Peace Parish in Lake Villa, Illinois, visiting the sick and homebound, taking the Eucharist to them, and training others to do the same. She was also a part of the parish liturgy planning committee, and took an active part in liturgical celebrations.
Sister Helen experienced much physical pain in her knees during her years in the active ministry. After three unsuccessful knee replacements, she retired to Sacred Heart Convent in Milwaukee for a short time for rehab therapy. In February, 2002 she requested to move to St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, where she could enjoy more time for prayer, reading, conversation with many classmates and mission friends, and doing her hobbies – charcoal drawings and crocheting. Sister Helen often remarked that she chose Campbellsport for retirement purposes. However, she enjoyed her choices of retirement so much that she was busier than she ever was while in the active ministry!
During the spring and summer of 2013, the School Sisters of St. Francis had to make some decisions regarding the future of the Campbellsport facility. Sister Helen elected to move back to Sacred Heart Convent in Milwaukee. It was a good choice – a happy family reunion for Sisters Helen, Rose and Julie, who were now all in Milwaukee.
Sister Helen, we are so grateful to you for the many years of living your life among us – a life rooted in Christ and woven in love. You have been a faithful School Sister of St. Francis, the face of the Gospel for countless people. Go now and accept God’s invitation, “You are Mine!”
Sister Irene Laible
Born: June 28, 1919
Died: February 8, 2014
Sister Irene Laible was born on June 28, 1919, in Atkinson, Nebraska, of John and Mary Laible. There she grew up on a farm with six brothers and four sisters. Irene and her siblings began their education in a country school, but later went to St. Boniface School in Stuart, where the School Sisters of St. Francis taught.
Irene’s older sister entered the School Sisters of St. Francis, receiving the name Sister Lorenzo. A cousin also entered, receiving the name Sister Beatus. Naturally, when Irene chose to become a religious, she followed in their footsteps.
She came to our convent in August 1934 and completed her high school education after entering the School Sisters. She was received on June 13, 1936, and given the name Sister Raynardus. Sister soon began her active ministry as a homemaker. Her sister, Sister Lorenzo, had gone into health care ministry and served at our hospital in Waupun.
Sister Irene served as a homemaker for the sisters and also laundered the church linens in several convents and parishes, including St. John in Racine; St. William in Chicago; St. Alexis in Bensenville, Illinois; and five places in Nebraska: St. Gerald in Ralston, St. Leo in Snyder, Mary our Queen and Our Lady of Lourdes in Omaha, and St. Boniface in Stuart.
She was a hard worker as a homemaker and served her sisters willingly and lovingly. After many years of service she had the opportunity to attend Fontbonne College in St. Louis, Missouri, where she received a certificate in dietary and management.
In 1986, Sister went home to Atkinson for a year to take care of her mother until her mother died in March 1987. Sister Irene then continued to live and work in Stuart, Nebraska, until she moved to Our Lady of Lourdes in Omaha in 1998, where she helped out in the kitchen, laundry, and with the general cleaning. While at that convent she also took care of a handicapped boy for six years. In her free time, Sister used to do a lot of crocheting and also spent time working word search puzzles and playing Rummikub with friends.
Sister Irene moved to St. Joseph Convent, Campbellsport, in 2003. Here she showed herself to be a very grateful sister – grateful for any small favor or help given her. She had very strong hands from her years as a homemaker, making bread and doing other tasks. When we would help her to chapel or another gathering place she would grasp our hand tightly in greeting. When we would arrive at our destination she would again grasp our hand and at the same time plant a loving kiss on it. Her hand grasp was a reminder of how firmly she grasped the Lord in prayer and how strong was her desire to be pleasing to him and do what was right. Often when we would bring her to chapel or other areas of the house, she would say, “Thank you for getting me to the right place.”
Sister Irene, you have always tried to be in the right place and now you are in that final “right place,” where you can continue to grasp the hand of Jesus and all the saints.
Sister Virginia Lange
Born: March 15, 1916
Died: January 17, 2014
Sister requested that we not have a formal commentary for her but she did wish us to summarize briefly and then share with you a favored poem.
Our Sister Virginia began life in Chicago as Martha Virginia Lange 97 years ago. Some might remember her in community first as Sister Terence, but she returned to her preferred name, Virginia, in the ’60s. She served our congregation as an educator and administrator, completing full-time ministry at her beloved Misericordia Home in Chicago in 1988. She volunteered at St. Joseph Convent, Campbellsport, her home until last October when she moved to Villa St. Francis in Milwaukee.
As indicated, in lieu of further commentary, Sister requested that the following poem, translated from the ancient Aztec, by Sister Sandra Smithson, be read for her. It is called “Friendship Poem.”
O God, you have loaned us to each other
Only for a short time, only for a short time,
That we may cherish one another
In a short time—forever.
We were conceived in your act of drawing us,
We took flesh in your act of painting us,
We were fulfilled in your act of singing us.
Only for a short time.
For even a drawing cut in crystalline—
Crystalline, obsidian fades.
And the green crown feathers of the quetzal
Lose their colors in the space of a word.
And the river dries when the season dies
And its music is no longer heard.
But you, O God,
Have loaned us to each other,
Only for short time, only for a short time,
That we may cherish one another
In a short time—forever.|
Sister Remi Lauer
Born: February 12, 1925
Died: November 3, 2013
Sister Remi was born on a farm just outside of Stone Lake, Wisconsin, to Mary and Edward Lauer and was baptized Leona Margaret. She was the second youngest of the seven children – two boys and five girls. Because her brothers were some of the older children and were gone from home as she was growing up, she became the helper her father needed on the farm.
Leona did not attend a Catholic school since there was none near her home. She did, however, attend catechism school for two weeks in the summer. She took her sister Vera with her on the one bike that they had, traveling the ten-mile round trip to town and back home. There, Vera told the sisters that Leona wanted to go to the convent, and the sisters right away started making plans for her trip to Milwaukee.
On September 23, 1941, at the age of 15, Leona had her first train ride. She later said that as each mile went by she was getting more lonesome and thought, “Why am I doing this?” However, little by little she did get used to convent life.
Leona was received as a novice in 1942 and given the name of Sister Remi. In her second year of the novitiate she was sent as a homemaker to Our Lady of Victory in Chicago. She spent five years at Our Lady of Victory and was then sent for one year to Bow Valley, Nebraska. After, that she served at Alvernia High School in Chicago for three years.
As Waupun Memorial Hospital opened its doors, Sister Remi was assigned to food service there. She served there in the kitchen for 13 years. It was here that she and Sister Charla Buening began serving together, a special relationship that has lasted for over 55 years.
At the end of her ministry at Waupun, Sister was transferred to food service work here at Campbellsport. After her time here, she was determined to someday come back to Campbellsport. That would only be after serving at Villa Clement for ten years and Maryhill for 18 years.
While Sister Remi was serving at Maryhill, she became seriously ill and needed surgery. Father Alex, who was chaplain at Maryhill, visited her and reported at Mass one day: “I don’t know what her diagnosis is, but I’d say she has a very enlarged heart.” Yes, Sister Remi did have a heart that was large enough to welcome and serve any “honeys” that came to her kitchen. All were made to feel special and welcome.
We here at Campbellsport miss her many “thank you, honey” comments, but her spirit of gratitude is well stated in her own autobiography:
“I am very grateful to God and all my fellow sisters for all the blessings and love I have received … and I want to thank my dear family for the many good things and good times together… I love you all.”
Sister Remi, we, too, thank you for the many joys you have brought to us and for your faithful service. We can imagine you standing before God and being welcomed into heaven with a “Come on in, honey.”
Sister Beata Lavinio
Born: June 9, 1926
Died: January 30, 2014
Sister Beata was the oldest of six children born to Peter Lavinio and Grace Serio Lavinio. Her father was born in Sicily. At age 16, he ran away from home and was a stowaway on a boat to America. When he arrived in America, he was sent back to Sicily because he was entering illegally. Back in Sicily, he joined the Navy and returned to America four years later, legally.
Sister Beata’s mother was born and grew up in West Allis, where she lived when she married Peter. On June 9, 1926, their first child (Beata) was born there and baptized Josephine. She had three brothers: Frank, Joe, and Steve, all of whom are now deceased. Her sisters, Madeline and Catherine, are both married and live in Milwaukee. Sister Beata’s story continues in her own words:
“I went to St. Rita School in West Allis, which was staffed by our sisters. Once a year, the eighth grade girls visited St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee. I remember saying, as we were going on the bus, ‘If I become a nun, I would not enter this order because they’re teachers and I have a hard time in school.’ God had other plans for me. After eighth grade, I went to the public high school. After tenth grade, I dropped out and got jobs at cookie, candy, and bakery factories. I liked working with food.
“In 1944, I became seriously ill with scarlet fever and almost died. Later in March, my brother Frank was killed in the war. These two events caused me think seriously about life. After I got well, I took a job as a long-distance telephone operator. This job was conducive for reflection and I began reading the lives of the saints and the Sacred Heart Messenger magazine with its ads for different convents. I fell in love with the cloistered Order of the Precious Blood in Philadelphia. I wrote for the application papers and had them filled out, except the recommendation from my pastor. When I approached him, he said: ‘Go to the School Sisters of St. Francis.’ I was crushed, but because I wanted to be a nun, I did as he said. On Reception Day, June 13, 1946, I received the name Sister Beata. When Mother Corona asked me what I would like to do, I said I would like to be a homemaker. She said, ‘Try school!’ I did that for 60 years!”
After her First Profession in 1948, Sister Beata began her teaching career in Fort Atkinson, Iowa. She eventually earned her BA degree from Alverno College in 1960. Her ministries included: teacher, teacher’s aide, CCD catechist, tutor for children and Spanish-speakers, learning center assistant, and archives assistant. She ministered in 20 parishes and schools in northern Illinois and Milwaukee. She enjoyed movies, Scrabble, Rummikub, needlework, reading and playing cards.
In 2002, while in Glenview, Illinois, at the age of 76, Sister Beata decided it was time to minister to her own elderly and sick sisters at St. Joseph’s Convent in Campbellsport, Wisconsin. She said, “I’d like to give service to our sisters before I need care. My health and energy are on the way down. I hear there is a great spirit in Campbellsport.”
In 2011, Sister Beata began to experience some memory loss and moved to Our Lady of the Angels in Greenfield, Wisconsin.
Some highlights of Sister Beata’s life which she treasured very much included retreats given by notable persons, such as Fr. Richard Rohr in New Mexico and Sister Barbara Fiand; books autographed by Henri Nouwen and Robert Wick; and attending the funeral of the former Mother General of the Carmelite Order at the Mother of God Convent in Des Plaines, Illinois.
One memory dear to Sister Beata was of a first grade pupil who took a mum flower from a trash pile and followed her around the playground pulling the petals off while saying, “She loves me, she loves me not. She loves me, she loves me not.” We don’t know how the story ended, but we can hope it was “She loves me.”
We all know how much Sister Beata loved the children she taught, her family and friends, and the sisters of her religious community. And we know how they all loved her. She will be greatly missed by all of us, but we know that in the Communion of Saints, she is still with us and looking at us with her beautiful and mischievous smile!.
Sister Bernadelle Mehmert
Born: June 27, 1922
Died: April 11, 2014
These Words of Remembrance will be in two parts. The first part is a letter to us from Sister Bernadelle, expressing her gratitude: the focus and central theme of her choices for the funeral liturgy.
The second part is a poem titled “Testament,” written by Sister Kevin Robertson for Sister Bernadelle on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee. It is a profound expression of her life and legacy, and of our promise to remember her.
In the words of Sister Bernadelle,
“If your memories of me are pleasant ones, smile and praise God. If not so pleasant, I ask your forgiveness.
My life has been a history of God’s much-appreciated gifts. My dear mom and dad, Bernard and Mary Mehmert, were faith-filled parents who respected God’s creation in their vocation as farmers, and they passed on to me a deep appreciation of the earth and the satisfaction of working diligently.
My most respected place was St. James Church, St. Paul, Iowa, where I became a child of God’s family when baptized Mary Agnes Francella on the day of my birth, June 27, 1922.
Brother Joe, his wife, Rita, my nieces, nephews, their husbands and wives, and their families have been a source of joy to me over the years. Joe, I especially thank you for your genuine brotherly care and concern as I now hug you in heaven.
I have been gifted with many sister friends who have been an inspiration to me since my entrance into St. Joseph Convent in 1937. My treasured friend, Sister Beverly, has journeyed with me, creating so many joys and hearty laughs as we practiced for heaven together.
I am grateful for those responsible adult choir members and the children I endeavored to bring closer to God and to one another through the teaching of music at St. Philomena in Chicago, St. Joseph in Wilmette, and St. Matthias in Milwaukee, and those very special friends who were always there for me—what gifts! I am thankful also to the sisters and staff at St. Joseph Convent, Villa Clement, and Allis Care Center, where I worked after leaving my music teaching career. The sisters and associates in our Portiuncula area community were treasured companions on my journey. Clement Manor was a very happy and fulfilling experience, as I could again live with my sisters in community.
My cup flowed over with spiritual benefits provided by Eucharistic celebrations, the Scripture and the School Sister of St. Francis community as we prayed, worked, and enjoyed life together, endeavoring to bring justice and peace to our world.
Because I’ve always been rather energetic by nature, I apologize to those of you whom I simply made tired when observing me.
May all the bearers of gifts to me be themselves wrapped in the embrace of our gracious God. Deo Gratias! Pax et bene.
And now, in the words of Sister Kevin,
We will not forget
her in the rush
of traffic or stifling
surge of time. She
will always walk slim
and lithe—lovely lady
with a zeal heaven-fueled.
We will remember her
hands, delicate but firm,
raised to lift song
straight to God and
trickling to us en route;
her tapered fingers fashioning
magic to delight, soothe.
We will not forget
her gentle face, her
listening eyes, and how—
like a divining rod—
they can divert disaster.
We will remember her
compassion, love, care always
singing in our souls.
Yes, we will remember!
Sister Camilla Menting
Born: July 30, 1928
Died: April 3, 2014
Sister Camilla was born on July 30, 1928, in Phlox, Wisconsin, to Frank and Cecilia Menting. She was baptized Johanna Therese because the Little Flower had been canonized that year. Johanna and her five brothers and five sisters grew up on a farm. Her friends used to say she was from the “Picking Family” because she was always “picking” something – berries, vegetables, and whatever else needed to be harvested.
Johanna attended St. Joseph School, a small three-room school in Phlox, and was taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Already as a young child, she loved reading. When she wasn’t doing farm chores or homework, she would go to her secret place under the sewing machine to read. She would become so involved in the story that she sometimes didn’t her name called to do some chore.
After she finished eighth grade, the principal of the school encouraged Johanna’s father to send her to the convent high school in Milwaukee to get a quality secondary education. Maybe she had another idea in mind, but at any rate Johanna became an aspirant. She attended classes at St. Joseph High School in Milwaukee, and in Aurora, Illinois, in the summer and was able to finish high school in three years. Since Johanna enjoyed learning, high school was a happy time for her. After one year as a postulant, Johanna became a novice in 1945 and received the name Sister Camilla, which she liked.
After her profession in 1947, Sister Camilla continued her education to become a teacher at Alverno College. She often spoke of walking to St. Wenceslaus School where she did her practice teaching.
Sister Camilla’s first mission was teaching primary grades in Earling, Iowa, where there was a grade school and a high school. Her superior had many sister friends and Sister Camilla enjoyed visiting and sharing with the sisters on the neighboring missions in Westphalia and even in Omaha, Nebraska. Sister Camilla continued teaching the primary grades in Naperville, Illinois, and in schools in Cudahy and Martinsville, Wisconsin. From 1967 to 1984 she taught and was principal at Holy Rosary School in Medford, Wisconsin. Her summers were filled with exciting activities, including studying for her master’s degree, doing park work in Chicago, training new teachers, and teaching CCD in parishes.
In 1984, after a sabbatical, Sister Camilla visited her sister Margaret in Alaska and decided to apply for a position in the diocese as a pastoral associate. She was quickly hired at St. Andrew Parish in Eagle River, where she stayed for 26 years. She was coordinator of the religious education program for the children, prepared adults and children for the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation, served as sacristan and did church work. She was totally involved in the life of the parish.
During her years at St. Andrew’s, Sister Camilla made many friends. They spent time together studying the stories of operas and then attending the operas. She was also a welcome guest in their homes for good conversation and meals.
Sister Camilla loved to travel. She enjoyed the natural beauty of Alaska and captured it in her many paintings. She also traveled to Europe, Canada, and the Holy Land. Her other hobbies included reading and doing puzzles. And when she could, she enjoyed spending time with her family at the lake.
In 2010, Sister Camilla retired and moved to the Motherhouse in Milwaukee. This move was not easy for her, but she adjusted well and accepted her ministry of prayer and presence with the other retired sisters. Her last ministry was at Our Lady of the Angels, where she continued to read, do puzzles, enjoy art, and pray for the needs of her community and the world.
Sister Camilla was a very pleasant person, undemanding and grateful for any little kindness. She often said, “I am not hard to please.” We are sure that God is now saying to her, “Come, my beloved Camilla. I am well pleased with you.”
Sister Mary Angela Saeman
Born: January 11, 1917
Died: February 20, 2014
We have gathered today to remember a dear woman, a friend, a teacher, a sister - Mary Angela Saeman. In reflecting on her own life, Mary Angela spoke of having had three careers: as teacher, as pastoral minister in several parishes, and as director of retirement for our sisters in the Wisconsin Province of our Congregation. She lived each of these fully, with complete commitment, energy, a rare sense of humor, and with appreciation from those she served.
I believe a fourth aspect could be added to her life experience: that of a learner. Whenever she spoke of her ministry, her concluding comment was always "It was such a rich learning experience for me!" This was the Mary Angela we knew: full of appreciation for everything, fun-loving, and with a zest for life.
These traits were finely honed in her closely knit family life in Cross Plains, Wisconsin. She was the fifth of six children, four girls and two boys. She remembers the entire small town of Cross Plains being their playground. Her parents, Katie and Charles Saeman, were involved in many aspects of life there, a trait that also marked Mary wherever she was. She said her parents “modeled deep faith, true family life, the spirit of giving, and deep involvement in family, Church, and community life.” This happy, wholesome family life prepared her well for her 81years of Community life which followed.
The School Sisters Mary Angela knew as her teachers inspired her to become a sister. Before she entered the convent, however, unbeknown to her, her mother and father drove to Milwaukee to visit St. Joseph Convent to be sure this was a place that could be good for their 13-year-old daughter. She entered the Community after eighth grade in 1930.
Her first teaching assignment began four years later at St. Philomena parish in Chicago in 1934. As was the practice, sisters continued working on their bachelor’s degrees at Alverno weekends during the year and summers and Mary Angela earned her BSE this way in 1944. Mary Angela loved teaching and tried to make learning fun for her students. Among her students at St. Philomena's was astronaut Jim McDivitt, with whom she has stayed in contact all these years. Jim had a little sister whom the family named Charleen, after Sister Mary Angela.
After St. Philomena's, six years at St. Monica School in New York City enabled her to also earn a master’s degree at Fordham University. This was followed by 45 years in Milwaukee again, first at St. Monica School, Whitefish Bay, for seven years, then at Our Lady Queen of Peace for 11 years, and St. Albert for one year. Several of these included being principal. Sister Mary also taught summer courses at Alverno College
In 1969, after 30 years of teaching, Sister Mary Angela was asked to assume a new position that was being proposed: director of retirement for the Wisconsin Province. She described the ministry as "providing new avenues of adventure and more enriching experiences." The 11 years she spent in this ministry were during the very difficult years of major changes in Community living which flowed from Vatican II. Forming smaller residences for retired sisters was also a new experience for them. But Sister Sandra Smithson complimented Mary Angela saying the she “raised retirement work to an art form.” She served in the retirement ministry until
Along with these ministerial involvements, coming from a closely knit family, especially when you are one of the younger members, ensures that you learn how to lose your older siblings and parents. Death is difficult to experience, especially when several come in rapid succession as they did with Sister Mary Angela’s family.
One would think that perhaps 50 years of such varied, intense ministry would suggest that a person retire. Sister Mary Angela was still in full form and continued to share herself and her gifts. Beginning in 1980, she spent 15 years as pastoral associate where she visited the elderly in St. James Parish in Franklin, Wisconsin. Then after eight years at St. Mary Parish in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, she decided to finally retire to Janesville, Wisconsin, where she volunteered and organized a faith sharing group. She has delighted in the realization that “this group is still going strong!”
It was 2008 when Sister Mary Angela made the decision to retire to the motherhouse. Hearing of all the practice she had trying to retire, it is no wonder that she has found ways to be useful on this campus, working some hours each week in the Congregation's Archives. She has been living most recently at Sacred Heart Convent. Sister Mary Angela has been a gift to us and so many thousands of others whose lives she has touched. On this occasion we reflect on her life and say “thank you” to her for her many wonder-filled years among us.
She recently wrote her own Magnificat, her “litany of thanksgiving for her many years of life.” Her closing line is:
“I now embrace the next step in my Franciscan journey
and I know that the last turn in the road will be the best!”
Sister Celia Schulte
Born: June 13, 1929
Died: December 12, 2013
Anna, Sister Celia, the eleventh of 13 children, seven girls and six boys, joined the family of Joseph and Clara Schulte on June 13, 1929, in Jefferson City, Missouri. The family owned a large farm in central Missouri and raised cattle, pigs and chickens and sometimes sheep and geese. During the summers, much canning and preserving took place to supply food for the winter months. Growing up during the Great Depression, Celia recalled that they did not go hungry, but that sometimes the menu was limited. When cattle or pigs were slaughtered most of the meat was taken to be sold in order to have money to buy those items that could not be grown on the farm.
Anna’s mother had two requirements for her daughters: They had to learn to cook and to sew. Being able to sew came in handy often. During her early years, most of her dresses were made of printed flour sack material. Flour was always purchased three bags at a time so that there would be enough material of the same print for a dress. During her own novitiate, Celia was appointed to help in the novitiate sewing room. She became very efficient in repairing and sewing habits. Sometimes, she also made dresses for children to be sold in the gift shop. In addition, Sister also became efficient in crocheting, which she enjoyed doing during leisure times.
During elementary school, Anna was taught by School Sisters of Notre Dame. By sixth grade Anna was certain she wanted to be a sister. The question was, which School Sisters? The School Sisters of St. Francis based in Milwaukee or the School Sisters of Notre Dame in St. Louis (much closer to home). Her seventh and eighth grade teacher often suggested to her that she consider becoming a sister. On her own, Anna was considering becoming a sister but the question remained Notre Dames in St. Louis or School Sisters in Milwaukee. In the end, she chose to join her aunt and four older sisters in Milwaukee. In August 1944, her four sisters went home for a family visit and 15-year-old Anna returned with them to Milwaukee.
On her eighteenth birthday, Anna was given the name Sister Celia as she was received into the School Sisters. She always treasured her name because her father was very pleased that one of his daughters now carried the name of another daughter who had died at the age of 12.
After first profession two years later, she felt privileged to remain in Milwaukee for one year to attend college rather than being sent on mission. She graduated from Alverno in 1952 with majors in Biology and Education and minors in English and Mathematics. Over time, during summers and semesters, she completed additional course work in Education and Science, graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 1964 with her masters in Science with a focus on Biology.
Much of Sister’s professional life was spent teaching at the secondary level. She often said that during her first few years teaching, she was growing up with her students. All of her teaching was in Wisconsin: at St. Therese/Little Flower in Milwaukee, at Pius High School in Milwaukee, St. Joseph’s in Kenosha, Queen of Apostles in Madison, and St. Mary’s in Burlington. She thoroughly enjoyed teaching. However, in every conversation about her teaching experience, she would always make certain that everyone knew that her most enjoyable years teaching were at LaFarge Lifelong Learning. Celia spent 22 years teaching and administering at LaFarge. When it closed and the programming moved to Clement Manor, she began working at the U. S. Province office to do electronic archiving of medical records, retiring in Spring 2009.
As I came to know Celia, I was always impressed with so many of her wonderful qualities. As you can infer from listening to her ministries, she loved learning and kept learning all her life. She recently told me that when she moved to Milwaukee with her lifelong friend Sister Brenda Ellis, Sister Augustine Scheele called her and asked her to visit her. When they met, Sister Augustine asked her to come work at LaFarge as the accountant. She told Augustine that she had no training in accounting, but she was willing to learn. And she did learn accounting and ultimately became the finance director as well as LaFarge’s informal development director. When LaFarge closed, she moved to the Province offices and learned the programming needed to do the archiving of medical records.
On a personal level, she seriously worked at creating a more extensive Schulte family tree using a computer program. Perhaps some of you received cards she made from her Hallmark computer programs. And, how many 84 year olds do you know who have Gmail accounts?
Celia was a determined person who was fiercely independent but also gracious in her interdependence. She had so much pleasure in planning for and moving into her Maria Linden apartment. The July day that we shopped for her Biltrite recliner and dishes, toaster, etc., she was such a trooper and just delighted to be selecting things for her own place.
She was a generous person – with her time, with her acceptance of others, with her willingness to serve the community. As her physical health declined and Celia had to retire, she tried to be as active as possible volunteering. In fact, during the past month as she struggled to accept the fact that her health required her to stay at Sacred Heart, she finally concluded “there is work to do here, too.”
Celia, we will miss you. We will miss your firm opinions that were carefully voiced. We will miss your interest in everything around you, even in the Packers on Sunday before you died on Monday. We will miss your delight in everything salad, be it fruit or vegetable. We will miss your patience, especially that patience you showed in these last years. We will miss your love of family and your efforts to connect. We will miss your humility; we will miss your kindness. We will miss you, Celia. Go with our love.
Sister Charlotte Smits
Born: April 15, 1942
Died: October 1, 2013
Sister Charlotte was born in 1942 in Rockford, Illinois, as the third of four children of George and Julia Smits. All members of her immediate family are now deceased. Char had an older brother, George, a sister, Judy, who was a member of the Sisters of St. Agnes, and a younger sister, Patty. The family moved to Two Rivers, Wisconsin, when Char was about third grade. There she spent time outdoors whether watching her father build their home or in nature—running in the woods or building fires or looking at the night sky.
In the 1960s, after high school, Charlotte joined the Army and was always proud of her military service. After the Army, Charlotte joined the Sisters of St. Agnes and in the mid-1970s she transferred to the School Sisters of St. Francis. No doubt she told her grade school children of the Army years, so at the time of the first Gulf War in the ’90s, they asked her if she was going to be called up. (Maybe they would get out of a religion test.)
Char did a marathon for her fortieth birthday and prepared by running from 24th and Forest Home to St. Mary’s at about 92nd and Forest Home. She inspired Sister Grace Golata and me to cross-country ski, but while we sat in snow ditches, she whizzed past us. Charlotte also had us canoeing and camping, but she always remained the invincible expert. Barb Eichenseer, a close friend, accompanied her on many weekends at the beach, hiking in the woods, or watching the Green Bay Packers. Char bicycled to Minnesota with her sister and managed to do it with relative ease. More recently, when she needed an added oxygen supply, Char still cut the lawn with the tank on her back. Why slow down indoors when your heart is strong and you love being outside?
Over the years she taught at St. Mary’s, Menominee Falls and Hales Corners, St. Anthony’s and St. Rafael’s. Even after retiring to a few hours per week, she still volunteered to do more hours where needed.
The Italian poet, Dante, said that nature is the art of God and that is where Charlotte most found the divine presence. She loved traveling to every river and woods in Wisconsin or Illinois, especially the Kettle Moraine area. The loons in northern Wisconsin had a special significance. At home, early in the morning, you would find her in the backyard drinking coffee and reading the paper or watering flowers. She kept all the plants in our house alive—thank God because it adds so much to living. Her love for dogs was somewhat curtailed but she found other people’s animals to attend to and they seem to love her back.
Char would agree with Helen Keller, who said: “A lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”
But most of all, Char would probably understand what Anne Frank said, “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.”
Sister Bernardus Volpp
Born: September 3, 1918
Died: February 8, 2014
“Sister B” was born to Elizabeth and Christian Volpp on September 3, 1918, into a family of eight children. The first child, a girl, died shortly after birth in 1897. The last, a premature birth, was a surprise in that there were two: B and her twin brother! They both received much tender loving care, not only from family but from neighbors as well. After all, according to Sister B’s writing, they were the first twins born in Bloomfield, Nebraska. They were baptized at home by the Lutheran minister on September 17. As they grew up, they were faithful in attending St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and Sunday School.
B’s father and his brother had a meat market in Bloomfield. When her father was no longer able to work there, he sold his share to a Catholic man who, in later years, became B’s godfather when she joined the Catholic Church.
Their father died when B and her brother were nine years old, and their mother died when they were 15. Ten months later her brother moved to Scribner, Nebraska, to live with an older brother, and B moved to Oregon with another brother. She lived there until graduating from high school.
After graduation, B returned to Bloomfield, worked and went to college for two years, and received a teaching certificate for rural schools. As she said, “I dated, partied, and had fun. In all of this, in 1939, Jesus called me to do more with my life, and in a struggling search, I chose to investigate the Catholic faith.”
On November 11, 1939, she entered the Catholic Church, and the following August she was on her way to Milwaukee to inquire about becoming a sister. She was told that she may have to be a convert two or more years before she would be accepted in the convent. Her response was, “Then tell whomever you correspond with to take me now or the gentleman out in the car will get me.” She was accepted as a candidate!
Needless to say, as a neophyte Catholic of nine months and one who knew nothing of the life of sisters, she had much to learn. However, she firmly believed that she was where God wanted her to be and so she persevered.
She was received into our community in 1941 and served in the field of education for 52 years as teacher, principal, education consultant, school supervisor, catechist, CCD coordinator, and executive member of the National Catholic Educational Association. Her ministry in education took her to Wisconsin, Illinois, Nevada, and ended where she began, in Nebraska.
Sister said she would not trade her 52 years in education for anything. She loved them all and thrived on the challenges.
As to her life as a Catholic and a School Sister of St. Francis, she was once asked by a Seventh-Day Adventist doctor, “Would you do it over again?” Her firm response was, “You betcha!”
At the end of her autobiography she has these beautiful lines: “Thank you Father, Son, and Spirit. Thanks to Father Bernard Westermann, my convert instructor, for the long hours of discussion. Thank you School Sisters of St. Francis Community for your patience and encouragement.”
Sister B, you will be missed by this School Sister community and we say thank you to you for responding to God’s call to our Catholic faith and to religious life. You have given of yourself in so many ways. Now may you rest in peace.
Sister Maristella Wagner
Born: September 1, 1916
Died: December 30, 2013
Very early on September 1, 1916, a little girl was born in Creighton, Nebraska. Her parents, Clara and Mathias, took her to St. Ludger’s Church on September 3 to be baptized Gertrude Helen Wagner. This little girl later became Sister Maristella.
Gertrude grew up in Creighton, Nebraska, with four brothers and one sister. When she was about four years old, her mother and Grandmother made her a sister’s habit out of an old black petticoat. On the day it was completed, her father took her to the sisters and asked if they had room for another sister! You can imagine the smiles at the convent that day.
At the end of that summer, the Wagner’s boarder, Mary Welch, was to leave and enter our convent in Milwaukee. Mary requested that Gertrude come along and then return with the sister who was coming back to Creighton. Although little Gertrude was not quite five years old, her parents allowed her to make the trip. Once there, they dressed her in her “habit” and introduced her to Mother Alfons. In later years, as Sister Maristella reminisced about this, she declared that she “entered the convent” before she was five years old! However, she did have to return home and start first grade.
Gertrude attended grade and high school at St. Ludger’s Academy, right across from her home. She was a very good student and an avid reader.
After much prayer about her future and inspired by her teachers, she decided to become a School Sister of St. Francis. Her mother helped with some of the necessary sewing. Her friend, Mary Welch, was now Sister Justin. She also offered some good advice about needed preparations. So on September 2, the day after her 17th birthday, she left home again to enter St. Joseph Convent.
Taking classes and getting accustomed to convent life went well and soon, on June 13, 1934, Gertrude was received as a novice and given the name Sister Maristella.
She began her teaching career at Holy Ghost School in Milwaukee. From 1936 to 1942 she taught at St. Benedict in Chicago, and then for two years at St. Clara in Chicago. In 1944 she was assigned to teach at Alvernia High School and spent the next 25 years teaching Religion, English, and Latin. During her last seven years at Alvernia, she was part of the Administrative team.
Following her service at Alvernia High School, Sister was called by community to be retirement director in Holy Name Province and then coordinator of the retired sisters living at St. William Convent. From 1986 to 1996 she served at Maria Linden in pastoral and support services. When Maria Linden became Cor Mariae, she continued volunteering her services in the Pastoral Care department.
Sister moved to the Motherhouse in 2000. However, after many falls, spinal surgery, and months of therapy, Sister Maristella made the decision to move to St. Joseph Convent, Campbellsport. So it was that on June 17, 2002, Sister arrived at Campbellsport, her final convent home.
Here Sister participated in activities as she was able. For many years she appreciated the motorized scooter which helped her to get around. In her words, she made “the best possible use of all opportunities for growth.” She especially appreciated times of prayer and spent many hours in our chapel. Mass, sacraments, and times of spiritual direction were very important to her.
Sister Maristella’s presence will be missed but we can feel confident that her prayers will continue as she enjoys her new life with God in this new year and on into eternity.
Associate Helen Wirth
Died: March 18, 2014
The Lord wrapped his arms around Helen Wirth on March 18, 2014. This was post-St. Patrick and pre-St. Joseph feast days. Helen loved St. Patrick because she was Irish. She loved St. Joseph because he was the protector and patron of the Holy Family.
I began to know Helen Wirth in August 1984 when I came to live and minister in Des Moines, Iowa. I made the women’s Christ Renew His Parish retreat when Sister Joelle asked me to lead one year so she would have a break. This was when Helen made the retreat and I saw her deep spiritual manner. Helen became an Associate on October 6, 1990. This commitment with the School Sisters of St. Francis was very special to Helen in her spiritual life. She was an associate for 24 years.
Helen was a woman whose faith in God, family, church, and the School Sisters of St. Francis was deep, reverent, and individualized. Helen has been there for her children and stepchildren in times of joy, sorrow, pain, and laughter. Her connections with people were individual because she concerned herself with those in need, especially with St. Ambrose and later those in her retirement home.
Helen has hosted the Heart of Peace, formerly Heartland Area, at her place each month, so she wouldn’t have to go out into the elements. Her two daughters, Kathy and Carol, assisted each month we met.
Helen’s spirituality was very deep because of her innate wisdom and common sense to life’s everyday joys and sorrows. Helen brought a great gift of laughter and humor because she learned to see beauty and positivity in each day, not ugliness or negativity. Helen helped all of us in the Heart of Peace cluster to enjoy one another more and life itself.
I thank God for Helen Wirth being part of my life as an associate and with the School Sisters of St. Francis community.
In June 2013, I retired from elementary education due to eye problems, more computer education, and further credits needed for English Language Learners teaching. From August 2013 through March 2014, I shared the Eucharist with Helen on Friday mornings. The only times I missed were icy or snowstorm days. I treasure these times of prayer, sharing, love, and friendship. I miss Helen and these special times. I would always sing the Blessing of St. Francis from all the Heart of Peace members. Then I would sign her with the sign of the cross. This Helen loved and would sing along if she could.
I rewrote this memory of Helen Wirth because I needed to say more now than I had written two years ago for her associate emeritus. I’m sorry this took longer, but it was good for me to recall Helen’s life now.
Helen, Kathy, Carol, you will always be part of my life and the School Sisters of St. Francis community.
Commentary provided by By Sister Bernice Gall