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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 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 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