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Sister Anne Abler
Born: February 22, 1928
Died: September 28, 2014
If you are neither from Wisconsin nor familiar with the references given to some of its localities and someone said to you, “Oh, I’m from the Holy Land,” you would give a look of surprise and probably reply, “Really? How come you are in Wisconsin? ”
This was the scenario Sister Anne enjoyed many times during her life. She was always proud of being born and raised in Wisconsin’s Holy Land, the Fond du Lac/Mount Calvary/Malone and surrounding area, and the home of many Catholic parishes.
Today we are here to celebrate Sister Anne Abler’s life, which began on February 22, 1928, in Malone, Wisconsin. Anne was the first child in the Alois and Alvina Abler family, followed by a younger sister, two brothers and three other siblings who died in infancy.
Anne grew up on a dairy farm during the Great Depression. Even though money was scarce, her family was always grateful for their homegrown meat and vegetables. German was the language spoken at home.
Anne, along with her sister and brothers, attended St Peter’s School, which was taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Even though she greatly admired the sisters, felt a call to religious life early, and saw her younger sister, Marie, join the community, Anne waited until August 28, 1948, to enter the convent. Reception into the School Sisters of St. Francis for Anne was June 13, 1949. She requested and received the name of Sister Lavina, a variation of her mother’s name.
To prepare for what she expected to be a lifetime career of teaching, Sister Anne attended Alverno College. In fall 1953, she received her first appointment as a teacher of grades one through four in Wheaton, Illinois. It didn’t take long for her to endear herself to her students and for the children to fall in love with their teacher. Being small in stature, and having big brown sparkling eyes and a quick smile, were all it took to win their attention in the classroom.
Sister Anne’s teaching career lasted 30 years in Illinois and in Wisconsin. When asked how she felt about teaching, her response was, “It was glorious!” She thoroughly enjoyed the children.
Sister Anne felt that there was more to life than teaching. It was probably the influence of her sister, Sister Marie, who was a registered nurse, that prompted her to ask herself, “How about patient home care?” In 1980, she began working for the Tau Home Health Care and stayed with the agency until it closed in 1983. As expected, the clients she served loved her and requested her kind and loving services. She had an inner peace and an excellent bedside manner so appreciated and needed by her patients.
Life still held a new challenge for Sister Anne. This time it was off to Arizona where she worked as a pastoral minister and liturgy coordinator for several years.
In 2004, Sister Anne returned to Milwaukee to volunteer her services wherever needed, especially as a substitute teacher and tutor. Sister Anne was always interested in the children and families she served.
As Sister Anne’s health failed, she moved to Sacred Heart Convent where she continued to be a loving inspiration to all. Shortly after Sister Anne was anointed, one of the sisters who was praying with her asked, “Do you think Jesus will come for you tonight?” Her quick response was, “Not tonight. We aren’t quite ready!”
Sister Anne will be fondly remembered and missed by all, especially her family whom she dearly loved, and who knew and felt her kind, loving, and understanding heart.
Sister Anne, you have spent many years as a School Sister of St. Francis being the face of the Gospel to countless people. We know you are ready to meet Jesus. We witnessed you being a religious in the truest sense of the word. Go now to the place prepared for you in Heaven!
Sister 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 Celesta Blackbird
Born: June 13, 1924
Died: November 28, 2014
Some people dream of raising a family living near a lake. This dream was a reality for Kathryn and Joseph Blackbird, whose home was in the country near Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin. They welcomed their first of seven children–three girls and four boys–on June 13, 1924. The baby was a girl, who was baptized Mary Kathryn. They were a very happy, fun-loving family who enjoyed each other, playing all sorts of games, swimming, hiking and climbing.
Mary was the climber and she always aimed high! Once she was dared to climb the roof of a building. First she climbed the tree next to the building, then swung herself on to the roof and proceeded to climb to the top, never looking back. Once she reached the peak she realized that she could never make it down without help. Her Dad was called. Needless to say, her climbing days ended then and there.
A one-room public school was the setting for the first six years of her education. She stayed at a boarding school in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to finish seventh and eighth grade at St. Mary’s Springs. During this time, her mother contracted tuberculosis and had to go for treatment at a sanitarium. Being the oldest, Mary tried to do her best to help at home, but the situation overwhelmed her Dad. He decided to divide the seven children among their three aunts. The distances between the three homes resulted in the loss of their former close bonds. The aunts were very kind toward these soon-to-be-motherless children. Their mother died at the age of 37, and Mary Kathryn lived with her Aunt Rose in Waupun, Wisconsin.
While at boarding school, Mary Kathryn admired an older student who was going to the convent. After Aunt Rose took her to the convent to visit her postulant friend, Mary Kathryn packed her suitcase in the summer of 1938 and asked her aunt to take her again – this time to stay. She completed her high school courses at St. Joseph High School in the Motherhouse. Reception into the School Sisters of St Francis was on June 13, 1941; her new name was Sister Celesta. Her Dad and three aunts came to the celebration. What a great day for the family! She shared with them her dream – to be a missionary!
Upon graduating from Alverno College in 1945, Sister Celesta was assigned to practice teach at St. Joseph School in Aurora, Illinois, for one year. During the year, she learned of a new school – Holy Angels in Chicago –which was to be staffed by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Now was her chance to be a missionary, to be among the African-American children. And so it was – she prayed fervently and begged Mother Corona to let her go there.
Her prayers were answered, and from 1946 to 1953 she felt like a real missionary as she taught the children to use all of their creative talents. They put on plays, musicals, and had a good sports program. She and the other sisters walked the streets and stopped to talk to youth gangs. Their friendliness averted many fights between opposing gangs. When cautioned about walking the streets, Sister Celesta would often refer to St. Francis and say, “We’re only teaching by example, and when that doesn’t work, we use words.” In the summers, they offered educational and recreational activities in Chicago’s CYO Parks program.
A new very difficult assignment was given her in 1953. She was sent to teach in Stuart, Nebraska. It was extremely difficult for her to leave her beloved African-American children, so she desperately prayed that God would change His mind, and He did. This time her assignment was to be in the Deep South – Yazoo City, Mississippi. A school was to open that would concentrate on the poverty-stricken African-American children. Sister Celesta spent 11 happy, rewarding years there before returning to Holy Angels in Chicago, where she joined three other sisters.
For her, life went smoothly until, in 1982, there was unrest in the school. The four sisters had to leave and find other jobs. They accepted short-term teachings positions at St. Kilian’s in Chicago, and next in Harvey, Illinois, at St. Suzanna’s. In 1985, they were overjoyed to be invited back to Holy Angels, at which time Sister Celesta’s teaching load was lightened and she did numerous other helpful tasks while continuing to enjoy her contacts with the students and staff.
Her health was beginning to fail due to Parkinson’s disease. She realized that she’d soon have to leave her beloved sisters, friends, children and the places she loved for so very long. It was in 1998 that the sisters with whom she lived brought her to St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, and have never forgotten her. Their visits and phone calls are full of memories, laughter and even songs. Life was so peaceful and wonderful for her there.
However, God was asking something else of her. Structural changes were developing for the convent in Campbellsport. In 2013, many of the sisters were requested to move to Sacred Heart Convent in Milwaukee, and Sister Celesta was among them. She transitioned into her new surroundings with the same beautiful smile and peaceful countenance that she had when she accepted every other change in her life.
In one of Sister’s last conversations, with eyes that were radiant, she said, “God has been so good to me!” Sister Celesta, we want you to know that the world is certainly brighter, happier, and more peaceful because you so were deeply rooted in justice as you modeled the Face of the Gospel. Go now, and enter your Father’s House.
Sister Dorothy Bongard
Born: May 2, 1925
Died: January 13, 2015
The Bongard family portrait is composed of the mother and father, Helen and George, two sons, Bud and Jerome, and one beautiful daughter who was baptized Dorothy, which means “gift of God.” This precious baby girl arrived on May 2, 1925. Anyone who knew Dorothy realized that she treasured her name and spent her whole life proving herself worthy of it as she brought much joy to her parents, her brothers, sisters-in-law, and many nieces and nephews.
St. Lawrence, across the street from St. Joseph Convent, was the family’s home parish where the children were baptized, confirmed, received their first Holy Communion, and attended elementary school. Dorothy and her best friend Anne Beitzinger graduated from St. Lawrence and enrolled at Mercy High School on 29th and Lapham Street, where the Mercy Sisters taught. Since Dorothy and Anne were classmates all through elementary and high school, it was only natural they both followed their dream and entered St. Joseph Convent together. Reception into the School Sisters of St. Francis was on June 13, 1944. Dorothy was given the name Sister Adelaide.
From childhood on, Sister Dorothy was instilled with a deep spirit of faith, fostered first by her parents and family and then by her School Sisters of St. Francis Community. It was this faith in God, her family and her community that, she often said, sustained her in both the good and difficult times she encountered over the years, and she manifested it in three very distinct ways. First, she tried to always smile. Second, she tried to think positively. Third, she kept busy.
Over the years, Sister Dorothy was a well-known and respected teacher in elementary schools in Wisconsin and Illinois. Her academic expertise and organizational skills were only surpassed by her genuine love for children, upon whom her warm and welcoming smile always rested.
Never one to keep her talents hidden under a bushel basket, she acquired bookkeeping and purchasing skills, and in a competent, positive and cheerful manner utilized them at St. Joseph Hospital in Beaver Dam and Goodwill Industries in Madison.
However, there were still other ways in which Sister Dorothy kept busy. Her enthusiasm for life overflowed in numerous volunteer and leisure time activities. Her tutorial work with children at St. Sebastian School in Milwaukee extended the warmth of her smile and presence to countless others. She enjoyed knitting, crocheting and other crafts, and literally made hundreds of baby blankets, caps and mittens—not only for family members and community , but for countless children sponsored by the Association of Interfaith in the South East Milwaukee area. She loved to express her innermost thoughts in poetry and then share it with others. For years, a nightly game of cards – any kind – was part of her evening routine. Above all, she was an avid Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers fan. A peek in her closet will attest to this – lots of appropriate tee shirts and caps. Could Dorothy secretly have a conflict of interest? A CUBS cap was also found!
Sister Dorothy, your life was truly a gift of God to all whose life you touched! Go now and enjoy your eternal gift from God!
Sister 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
Sister Loretta Jo Geigel (Agathella)
Born: May 1, 1910
Died: November 19, 2014
“What is so rare as a day in May when supposedly a baby girl is found in a May basket at the back door?” That is what my mother said. But the fact is, three months after I arrived, my mother became very sick, actually delirious for almost a week with typhoid fever, contracted by using water from a contaminated well. In her delirium, Mother lost all her memory of present events. She could never tell about the birth of this baby girl. But how wonderful to think I might have come in a May basket! At that time, I boosted the family to five girls and three boys. Soon after, two more boys arrived to even the family to five girls and five boys.
In a rural district with lots of fresh air and garden produce, I grew up fast and found myself in a Catholic school, learning the German alphabet by finding and circling the letters in a section of the German newspaper. This was fun, like looking for someone in a game of hide-and-seek . The saga was short lived, as I found myself in a one-room country school (all eight grades), and of all things, my oldest sister as the teacher, the principal, and everything else. Oh my, I just had to know my lessons.
The time came to do the big move to the city. All the family now lived in a one-flat, five-room house. What a change from what we were used to. City life had many attractions for us, especially the marvel of the streetcar. How did they work? Every time I heard a rumble of the streetcar, I would scoot out to the street to see down three blocks, but all too late, for by that time, the streetcar had passed the intersection. After some time, we learned to joyride the streetcar to the end of the line and back for only six cents, half price!
Next came the wonder of moving into a brand new house. We left our home on the south side of the city and moved to a two-story house on the north side. To us it was a castle. School also was a new adventure, only two grades in one room. With all the moving we experienced, I wasn’t up to the standards of the parish school staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Silver Lake. I had to repeat the second half of the third grade. I thought that was a shame to my family. Now I see it as a help to the rest of my school years, especially since I had begun school a year ahead of the standard age.
Our vacations were most enjoyable, real vacations for my sister and two brothers. We all had our several daily chores, but after those, many an afternoon was spent at the north side beach of Lake Michigan. We also went on hikes into the woods, putting into practice our Boy Scout and Girl Scout knowledge. There, in the swampy area, we caught frogs and crabs, built bonfires, roasted potatoes, and feasted on frog legs, now a delicacy in restaurants. We always brought home wildflowers for Mother, who was anxiously awaiting our safe return. Of course, we also enjoyed games with the kids on our block.
Throughout the last year of grade school, I was determined to follow my older sister, Sister Adjutora, into religious life. After the summer of 1924, I said goodbye to the family and, accompanied by my sister, I arrived at St. Joseph Convent in the late afternoon of August 14. Do you remember the old entrance on the boulevard and the steps leading up to the door? At the top of the stairs, my sister stopped, turned me around, and said, “I came up with you now, but I won’t go back down with you.” She added our Lord’s words: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is fit for the Kingdom.” Since then I have thought that over many, many times. After two years in the candidature, I was accepted into the Novitiate Class of 1926 and received the name of Sister Agathella. I was privileged to remain in the novitiate and finish high school.
My assignments took me to Minnesota, Illinois and, Wisconsin, teaching in the primary grades. Because of a permanent hearing deficiency problem that developed during the years, I was asked to help in some areas of work, to help as a homemaker on one of our bigger mission convents. Soon, I found myself as the homemaker for three sisters in Winfield, Illinois.
In 1951, a problem disturbed the quiet atmosphere at Winfield: It was urgent that a kindergarten class be opened at the school. With a classroom available in the school, the pastor encouraged its use for this purpose. Engaging a teacher posed a problem. Hearing the discussion between the pastor and principal, I offered my experience if that proved satisfactory. In a few weeks, a sister homemaker arrived from Milwaukee, and I was relieved of my double duty as teacher and homemaker.
It was in 1978, after 50 years of teaching the primary grades , that I retired and moved to Marian Hall where, for the next 23 years, I served as the sacristan and volunteered in the maintenance areas, cleaning rooms and stairways.
In autumn 2002, at the spry age of 92, I moved to Campbellsport to relax, spend extra time with the Lord, visit the sisters, listen to music, sew, and do needlepoint and other fancywork.
NOTE: Along with many of the other Sisters who lived at St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, Sister Loretta Jo, at the age of 104, moved to Sacred Heart Convent where she spent the last lap of her life in prayer and presence with the community she so loved and served. She wrote this autobiography when she was 93.
Sister Loretta Jo, thank you for living your life with us. You taught us so much as you put your hand to the plow and never looked back. You truly are fit for the Kingdom! --Sister M. Louette Guenther
Associate Robert L. Haeussler
Born: July 3, 1939
Died: November 16, 2014
Bob Haeussler was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He grew up in Pasadena California. In 1959 he married Tina de los Cobos. For the next 15 years he attended Pasadena City College and California State University in Los Angeles in the evening after working a full-time job. This enabled him to advance in his career with the City of Pasadena, and ultimately with the State of California Board of Equalization. His career spanned 44 years with the highlight being the opening of the Branch Office in Laguna Hill. He was promoted to manager of the office where he ran its operation for 10 years until his retirement in 2002.
As a husband and father, Bob was dedicated to the wants and needs of his family. At Tina and Bob’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, the children and grandchildren told wonderful stories of their childhood. Later, visits by them to Bob and Tina’s home were treasured experiences. Tina and Bob celebrated 55 years of marriage this past October. For years Bob’s brother lived with Tina and Bob. After his death, Bob invited his elderly uncle to live with them. The love and respect shown to his brother and later to his uncle was remarkable.
When he retired, Bob donated his services to St. Timothy Parish, where he joined Gary Carlson and Gene Griffith (now deceased) assisting in the pastoral outreach program. As a team, they worked effectively and provided much expertise to the parish family. Later, as first president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Timothy, he quietly listened to endless stories of persons experiencing financial problems, homelessness, and personal problems. He then would analyze the situation and would offer hope with possible solutions. Because Tina worked in the food bank at the parish, they spent endless hours developing programs and procedures to assist those in need.
About 20 years ago, Sister Bernice Petronaitis invited Bob and Tina to be School Sisters of St. Francis associates. For years the spring garage sale benefitting the School Sisters of the Southwest was held at the home of Bob and Tina, as were monthly meetings.
Throughout the years the associates have been involved in the Christmas Giving Tree project. This has been an extensive program involving the parishioners of St. Timothy Parish in which gift certificates are given to five different organizations benefitting the needy and in which new clothes are given to as many as 120 homeless persons. For years gift cards have been sent to the School Sisters living in the Southwest. Bob and Tina have been a vital part of this program.
Many of the sisters enjoyed the wonderful hospitality provided by Tina and Bob during their visits to Orange County. They loved to entertain and provided travel for visiting sisters. Tina and Bob’s generosity will be fondly remembered.
Bob was an excellent listener, a careful analyzer, and therefore was able to provide excellent advice and reflections. So now, we will remember this generous, kind, and wise man “who acted justly, loved tenderly, and walked humbly with his God.”
Written by Sister Agnes M. Steiner
Sister Martinus Kullowitsch
Born: February 4, 1928
Died: January 28, 2015
It was on September 15, 2013, that we celebrated the life of Sister Georganne Kullowitsch, and today we celebrate her younger sister Mary, who was not only her sibling, but was also her best friend, her confidant and shadow. As we listened to Sister Georganne’s life story, we learned that God blessed George and Anna Kullowitsch with eight children, of which five died as infants. A daughter, Anna, was the third child, followed by Therese—Sister Georganne. On February 4, 1928, their fifth baby, Mary, made her earthly debut.
Little Mary claimed she wasn’t spoiled, but always boasted about feeling very much loved, cared for, and wanted as she grew up with her two older sisters. They taught her how to read and write before she attended school. Her favorite toy was a child’s blackboard on which she played word games. Each of the girls was assigned certain daily chores around the house. Mary was responsible for dusting the table legs and cleaning the stairways—both chores she could work at while reading a book.
An incident in Mary’s childhood made such a strong impression on her future that she wrote it in her journal. “A child on our street could not go to school because she babbled constantly, but this child visited our mother daily, received something to eat and was happy. In return, her mother became our mother’s witness when our mom became a citizen. This kindness to a handicapped child impressed me and inspired me to always be kindest to the most neglected and shyest child in the classroom or on the playground. I played games with them where all could participate.”
Mary attended St Martin’s grade school where she shadowed her favorite teacher, Sister Patrice. One day Sister Patrice turned to her and said, “Mary, you are going to the convent!” Mary thought, “Great, I’ll tell this to Therese!” Upon hearing it, Therese responded, “You are not going without me.” So it was, on August 28, 1942 that Ma and Pa Kullowitsch brought Therese and Mary to St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee.
Reception into the School Sisters of St Francis was on June 13, 1945. Mary requested and received the name Sister Martinus, in honor of their home parish, St Martin’s. Upon enrollment at Alverno College, as a second year novice, Sister Martinus was asked to list the major and minor she would want to pursue. She requested a History major and a Science minor, but was given an English major and Math, Latin and Social Studies minors. In her good natured way she said, “Well, I’ve just learned my first lesson in college: how to give up my ideas!”
Sister Martinus was a born teacher. She loved it! After eight happy years teaching grades two and five, she was sent to St. Benedict’s High School in Chicago to teach English and other subjects she could capably teach. Given her bubbly personality, she could teach anything. Later she was sent to teach at Pius XI High School in Milwaukee. Because of her mother’s failing health, she only stayed two years at Pius and then returned to St. Ben’s in Chicago. She and Sister Georganne were able to assist their dad in caring for their mom.
After 25 years of teaching, Sister Martinus was ready for a new challenge – development work, specifically, the raising of funds for Catholic schools. She was hired by the Maryknoll Foreign Mission Society, which was opening churches and schools in Asia and Africa. She loved this work, especially the silence and solitude of a one-person office where she updated diocesan directories, prepared income and expense reports, and made weekly deposits.
The Kullowitschs were a very closely knit family. Some of the relatives had moved to Florida. According to Sister Martinus, at the advanced age of 60, she gathered her courage and asked Sister Georganne if she would join her and drive to Florida where they could share an apartment and each would work at their separate ministries as the bishop’s administrative assistant and in tutoring at Catholic institutions.
Being able to speak and understand German, and having a Europass were great assets for them. During the 1960s Sister Georganne and Sister Martinus had the opportunity to learn firsthand about their ancestry as they travelled throughout Austria, visiting relatives and seeing their parents’ homeland. Then it was on to Switzerland, Germany, and Rome. An unforgettable experience!
For both of them, 2007 was a year of transition. Both were experiencing health problems. Sister Martinus had to be hospitalized on three occasions. It was time to come back north. Sister Martinus convinced Sister Georgeann that retirement—a life of prayer and presence with the Sisters at St. Joseph Convent, Campbellsport—would be a good thing. It didn’t take long for either of them to adjust to their new life. In May 2013, both moved to Sacred Heart Convent where they continued to share a room together and a life of prayer and presence with the sisters. For Sister Georganne, it was a return to the place where she began her ministry. For Sister Martinus, it meant getting to know a new group of sisters with whom she could share her stories and the one-liners which came so quickly.
Sister Martinus, you have spent many years as a School Sister of St. Francis being the face the Gospel to countless people. What a happy and smiling face you have been! Go now and be with your parents and other family members and all the wonderful people you helped along the way.
Sister 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.