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Sister Margaret Busscher (Sister Ambrose)
Born: December 12, 1919
Died: January 1, 2016
What is it like to be youngest in a family of seven children – four boys and three girls? We asked Sister Margaret Busscher that question. Her response was, “Great!,” and then she proceeded to tell us about her life. Her parents were George and Katherine Busscher who were both Catholics and of German and Bohemian descent. They lived in Skokie, Illinois, where her father worked in real estate and her mother was the loving homebody who took care of the children. Margaret was born on December 12, 1919, and is the last survivor of the family.
Sister Margaret had a very normal, happy childhood and was more than a little spoiled, being the baby of the family. The Busscher family lived near St. Peter’s Catholic School where all the children attended until eighth grade graduation. St. Peter’s was staffed by the School Sisters of St. Francis. After graduation, Margaret enrolled at Alvernia High School, Chicago, which was also taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. In order to get to school, Margaret took the El (elevated train) into Chicago and then two buses. She was always proud to say that in all the four years at Alvernia she missed only two days. She was an excellent student, loved school and, of course, loved the sisters.
It was at the senior class play that Margaret asked Sister Lois for a favor. “Please tell my mother that I want to be a sister.” As expected, her mother did not want her youngest child to leave home, but she would not stand in her way. Margaret entered St. Joseph Convent in time to register for the fall semester at Alverno. Reception into the School Sisters of St. Francis was the summer of 1938. She was given the name of Sister Ambrose.
After completing her college education, Sister Margaret was asked to go to Pius XI High School in Milwaukee to teach Latin and English with absolutely no methods courses or practice teaching experience. Being the determined person that she was, Margaret did a great job. When the secretary in the school office had to leave, Sister Margaret was asked to manage the School Office. Again with no special preparation, just a few words from her superior: “You can do it, and you will learn on the job.” Learn she did, and did it well for the next 26 years.
At the time the community organized provinces, Sister Margaret was asked to be the secretary for the Wisconsin Province and then later for the United States Provincial Offices. She gracefully served 10 different Provincial teams. Sister Margaret was always able to accept changes and re-organize after each new team took office and this was no small feat.
Many living groups and Provincial teams remember Margaret’s numerous creative stories, poems or spoofs on community life. Each time Sister Margaret was asked to another job, she smiled, wondered and said, “I am still waiting for a career for which I am prepared!” Through all these various jobs, she also said she would do it all over again.
Finally, in 2004 at the age of 85, Sister Margaret did retire, but did not really slow down. She continued cooking the evening meal for six sisters, once a week did the grocery shopping, helped with the cleaning, and whatever else needed to be done.
As her health declined and she needed more care, she decided to retire at Sacred Heart Convent. Here she kept her mind active by reading the daily paper, playing Scrabble and enjoying good conversation.
Sister Margaret, you were always so faithful in whatever and wherever you were during your long life. We are so very grateful and filled with love for you. Go now, Sister Margaret, and receive the rewards of your labors. You definitely prepared for your final career of eternal happiness. By:Sister M. Louette Guenther
Sister Lita Degentesh
Born: January 9, 1924
Died: February 13, 2016
Sister Lita Degentesh: dedicated, strong, faithful, reliable, caring, direct, loyal, steadfast, hard working. These are just some words that describe our dear Sister Lita, who was born here in Milwaukee on January 9, 1924. She was the seventh child of William and Victoria. Her two oldest brothers died in infancy, so there remained four girls and one boy in the family.
Seven days before Lita’s first birthday, her father died from a severe case of pneumonia. Growing up during the Great Depression was difficult for all, so imagine how difficult it was not having a father. Lita often talked about those years: how her family needed to save and be frugal, how she made her own clothes and how she had to have an after-school job to contribute to the family’s income. You can see why the words “strong” and “hardworking” can be used to describe her.
Lita and her siblings attended St. Anthony School and South Division High School just a few miles down the road from here. At St. Anthony School, she had the School Sisters of Notre Dame as her teachers and recalled that they were excellent teachers and very serious—maybe a little too serious for Lita, who was a tomboy and loved to be outside running free. She found that being inside and having to sit still in the classroom was a challenge. In spite of her urge to be on the go, she did well in school. In high school, following her mother’s advice, she took all the classes designated as college prep. She also took shorthand, typing, office practice and bookkeeping.
Thoughts of entering the convent were never really on Lita’s mind. One of her great aunts was a Felician sister, and Lita remembered that her aunt had a delightful personality and a good sense of humor; however, two of Lita’s sisters and her brother were married. That was her plan also—but we all know that our plans are not God’s plans!
After high school, Lita obtained an office job at the telephone company. Several years later, she learned that one of her friends was preparing to enter St. Joseph Convent. Lita attended her friend’s reception and visited the convent whenever she could. During her visits to the convent, the nuns were happy and good humored, and Lita found them inviting. Deep down inside, she felt drawn to become a religious sister. After much prayer and thought, she decided to enter the School Sisters of St. Francis. On September 8, 1949, she packed her suitcase, said goodbye to her family, and rode the city bus to St. Joseph Convent.
Lita had no set idea about what religious life would be like, nor had she given much thought to what she would be doing. To her surprise, she found that convent life moved quickly, with every moment being part of a schedule. She readily adjusted to the routine and found herself fitting in easily.
While she had not envisioned office duties as part of convent life, she learned otherwise. Her high school typing and shorthand classes, along with her prior job experience, equipped her to serve the congregation’s administration for 40 years. As a novice, she learned to operate the switchboard and helped type vocation mail while gradually assuming other responsibilities throughout the years which included: maintaining records on all sisters, printing materials, and sending out bulk mailings.
Lita worked for Mother Corona, Mother Clemens, Sister Francis Borgia Rothluebber, and Sister Lauretta Mather. In addition, when the seven provinces in the United States were merging into one province, Lita’s department was responsible to the Regional Team and later to the United States Province. Needless to say, these were changing times in religious life as well as in administration. Lita continually updated equipment and procedures to serve the needs of the administration and community members. Certainly, the words dedicated, steadfast and reliable are easily used to describe Lita during these years of her life.
It would be remiss not to mention in these words of remembrance that a special blessing that God gave to Lita during these many years of internal service to the community was working with Sister Madonna Ann Boyance, who became a very dear friend. The two of them together were a living example of selfless service, quality friendship, and collaboration with, and for, community. There is no question that caring and loyal are perfect words to describe Lita as she moved to Campbellsport in 1993 to serve as purchasing agent and to be able to be present to Madonna Ann in her time of need. Likewise, when Lita’s sister, LaVerne, became ill, she moved to Florida to help care for her; eventually moving her sister to Clement Manor, providing support for her until she died. In 1997, Lita returned to Campbellsport, volunteering services wherever she was needed. In 2001, she moved back to Milwaukee to live at St. Joseph Convent. She also did volunteer work at Sacred Heart. At the end of last year, she moved one more time, to live her final days at Our Lady of the Angels.
Sister Lita remembered that when she entered the convent, her mother wondered if her independent daughter would make it. “Either you or the convent will have to change,” said her mother. Looking back over the years, Lita said, “I changed but so did the convent. I am glad for what was and very happy for what is now. It is good to be flexible.”
Well, that’s our dear Lita having the last word—telling us that a list of words describing her must include “flexible.” God bless you, Sister Lita. May you rest in peace!
--by Toni Gradisnik
Sister Mary Irene Deger (Sister Gregorio)
Born: August 19, 1920
Died: February 25, 2016
When reflecting on the life of Sister Mary Irene Deger, the image of a flower bud comes to mind. A bud awaits its fulfillment as the elements of nature and time bring it to fruition and its true beauty.
On August 19, 1920, in Chicago, Illinois, the love between Nina and Leo Deger brought into being their first child and only daughter, Mary Irene. She was followed by four brothers, Bill, Tom, Bob and John.
Mary Irene received her early education from the Dominican Sisters. All through grade school her desire to become a sister grew stronger. She confided her desire to her parish pastor, who wanted her to learn about the School Sisters of St. Francis. It was his generosity that paid her tuition, allowing her to attend Alvernia High School. Here the bud, nurtured by her family and grade school teachers, was further nourished by the School Sisters of St. Francis at Alvernia and after graduation, Mary Irene entered the community. She was received on June 13, 1939, and received the name Sister Gregorio.
Upon completion of college courses in 1942, Mary Irene began her ministry at St. Peter’s School in Malone, Wisconsin, teaching grades 2 and 3. The ministry expanded to grades 1 through 4 in missions in Wisconsin and Nebraska.
At Pope Pius XII’s request, an international university, Regina Mundi, was established in Rome for sisters to study. It opened in 1954 and Sister Mary Irene, joined by Sister Nicole Goetz, left for three years of intense study in theology. This experience continued the formation and development of the blossoming of Mary Irene’s gifts and ministry.
After her return to the States, she assisted in the formation of young sisters along with teaching theology at Alverno College. Later Sister Mary Irene became involved in the health care ministries where she served on the Health Agency Council’s Provincial Team for six years. These experiences continued to bring her many gifts to fulfillment and touch many lives in the process.
Sister Mary Irene’s horizons expanded even more as she served as the Director of the International Mission Programs. In this capacity she visited Germany, Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala. Her ministry continued as sisters returned home and re-entered ministries in the United States.
In 2000 Clement Manor invited Sisters to live there. Sister Mary Irene and Sister Nicole accepted the invitation and continued to touch and gift the lives of the residents there.
As time passed and with declining health, it became necessary for her to move to Sacred Heart Convent, where she would embrace and share a life of prayer and presence with many other sisters.
Now, Sister Mary Irene, the flower bud has fully opened to reveal the beauty of a life touched by many people, nourished by events and circumstances of life—difficult and unexpected, as well as touching and memorable. Go now, for you have been hand-picked by the Almighty! by Sister M. Louette
Sister Rosalie King
Born: April 29, 1924
Died: October 28, 2015
Gererda Marie King was born in Davenport, Iowa, to Edna McCormick and William King. She and her brother, George, and her sister, Eleanor, attended Sacred Heart School and St. Joseph School. Her mother was the cathedral organist and for special occasions, she played for the Carmelites. When Gererda was small, she would be put on the turn and be taken into the Monastery where the Sisters would give her milk and cookies. Music and a contemplative spirit began to be part of her very early life.
Gererda entered the School Sisters of St. Francis in August 1938 and was received on June 13, 1941. She was given the name Sister Rosalie, which she kept for her entire religious life. She received training as a teacher organist, and her first mission was in Butte, Nebraska (population: 630, which increased by 3 each new school year, and decreased by 3 each summer). Sister taught four grade levels and led a mixed choir. Looking back, she’s not sure how she was able to do all of this at the same time.
Besides being an elementary teacher and organist, Sister also ministered through the years as a secondary school teacher, principal, office manager, pastoral minister, house coordinator, and provincial team member, both in Our Lady of the Angels Western Province and in the U.S. Province. She ministered and touched many lives in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois, and South Dakota.
She also spent two years at the House of Prayer in Sarita, Texas, where her contemplative spirit was nurtured. She loved fish and developed her cooking skills by asking friends to share their recipes for cooking fish.
While in the Milwaukee area, she researched in the Archives and wrote several short booklets about the spirituality of our foundresses and about our rule, Response in Faith.
In 2008, Sister Rosalie retired to St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport. She always enjoyed good conversation over coffee; she loved good music, crossword puzzles, and computer games.
In May 2011, she moved to Our Lady of the Angels as one of the pioneers in the new convent home. After four years of prayer and presence with the sisters there, Sister Rosalie was called home to receive her much deserved heavenly reward. We will miss you, Rosalie, pray for us.
Sister Jane McKenzie
Born: July 7, 1932
Died: July 4, 2015
Jane McKenzie was born on July 7, 1932, the second child of Ella and James McKenzie. She was baptized at St. James Parish in Decatur, Illinois. Her older sister, Marianne, and she were joined by their brother, Jim, in 1934. Jane and Marianne had their own ideas about how a baby brother should be raised and took it upon themselves to do so, especially in the area of discipline. Their father used to warn them, “Someday he is going to grow up!” He did and learned a lot of coping skills from his sisters.
As soon as Jane was able, she was out and about in the neighborhood. Her mother once remarked that she knew all about new neighbors because Jane shared all about them, even taking on their mannerisms.
She was not into hobbies, like arts and crafts, but was definitely a reader, not just of fiction or entertainment but also heavier, informative books. She seemed to thrive on planning and organizing, which provided a good avenue for having fun, too. She was an outdoor person in the sense of exploring and being out and about. Her sister remarked, “Jane was the center and heart of our trio. She is all I could ever want in a sister.”
Marianne often talked about her first grade teacher, Sister Prosper. When Jane was about two or three years old, and people asked her what she was going to be, she would answer, “Sister Prosper.” Jane never deviated from that choice. She attended all eight grades at St. James and was taught by our sisters. She also took piano lessons from them. Since her early years, Jane had exhibited a love for the poor. When a sister asked her mother for the money for her lessons because Jane had not given it, Jane simply said, “I gave that to help poor babies.”
After graduation, Jane entered St. Joseph Convent at age 14 in 1946. In 1949, Jane was received into the community and given the name, “Mary James,” after her father. Following her novitiate, her first mission was St. William’s School in Chicago from 1951 to 1958. There she joined 21 other sisters and had large classes of 50 or more primary grade children.
Sister Arlene Einwalter, her classmate and friend, remembers that Jane never liked to play cards. She found a solution by staying in the bathroom until there were enough sisters to make the group.
Sister Jane’s summers were busy at Alverno, and in 1960, she received her BA degree in Latin and education. She continued as an elementary teacher in three schools in Wisconsin and Illinois until 1965. Then for five years, she worked as principal and high school teacher in four other schools, one of which was Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford, Illinois. After getting her Master of Arts degree in administration in 1971 at Clark College, she worked in the Rockford Diocesan Office for Elementary Education and at Mount St. Francis as administration coordinator. Two more years were spent as a teacher in Peoria, Illinois, at an elementary gifted program.
From 1976 to 1982, Jane was high school teacher in Costa Rica at our own St. Clare College, which was taught by many of our sisters and had an excellent reputation. The students, grades 7 through 11, were typical teenagers. In religion class, when Sister Jane and her students discussed the play, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” she became seen as one who was accepted as an understanding teacher.
Upon returning home, she went on a prayer/study sabbatical. Perhaps it was all her summer enrichment experiences that changed the direction in her life. Her study and travel to complete her MA program took her to England, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland. She had taken courses in liberation theology by renowned teachers as Gutierres, Boff, and Sobrino.
From 1983 to 1987, Sister Jane was assistant administrator for a shelter in Washington, D.C., and worked for the Center for Communication in Cuernavaca, Mexico. As executive director of St. Elizabeth Shelter for the homeless in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she teamed up with a sister from another community. During these years, she also began to take courses in grief counseling and hospice care at the Elizabeth Kubler Ross Institute. In 1991, she applied to be a full-time student at Northern New Mexico Community College in El Rito, New Mexico. She felt her work with the homeless and street people would be good background for this change in ministry.
At age 61, Sister Jane wrote, “I’m still in very good health, am sensitive to the issues, and not afraid of AIDS or persons living with AIDS. My age may be a limitation in the near future. However, society’s attitude toward aging is also changing, so this may become a plus. I believe in being well prepared and knowledgeable about my ministry. It’s time for me to change ministries, and this is a whole new area for the future.”
In 1993, Sister Jane completed her degree in associate applied science with an emphasis on hospice and grief counseling. From 1992 to 1999, she worked as chaplain in bereavement and counseling in Texas. Then in 1999, she returned to Milwaukee to work as hospice chaplain with Covenant Health Care.
In Milwaukee, she and Sister Arlene Einwalter began Kyle’s Corner in the Alstadt Tyborski Funeral Home. This was a program for children who have experienced loss and grief because of a death. At this time, Sister Jane also became a mentor to Sister Connie Taylor, who later began “My Good Mourning Place,” a bereavement center designed to help children cope with grief; it continues to operate today. Sister Jane was back in Texas to work in a VA hospital as chaplain and thanatologist from 2003 to 2006.
In 2006, she returned to the St. Joseph Center motherhouse in Milwaukee to serve as pastoral minister to the sisters and continued her own private sessions as grief counselor. From 2007 to 2012, she continued to pursue her work as chaplain and thanatologist. Gradually over the last several years, her memory began to fail. In 2012, she moved into the Maria Linden Apartments and finally to Our Lady of the Angels for assisted care.
Sister Jane always loved animals, especially dogs, as her family had always had one. She had a dog in Texas, and when she came to Milwaukee, people often saw her in the neighborhood walking her dog.
Her life, with its many changes in ministry, shows her as an adventurous person, open to new opportunities and following Mother Alexia’s dream to respond to the needs of the time according to the will of God.
Sister Lauretta Ann Pint (Sister Nerius)
Born: February 20, 1919
Died: December 15, 2015
Sister Lauretta Ann’s life story began on February 20, 1919, in Union Hill—not far from New Prague—Minnesota. She was the youngest of eight children, four boys and four girls, who were the pride and joy of Matthias and Barbara Pint. Growing up in a small Catholic German farming community had much to offer. Living on a farm, she learned what it meant to depend on and trust God and neighbor. The entire Pint family helped plant the crops, God gave the rain and sunshine, and all the neighbors came together to gather the harvest.
Hers was a happy childhood, with lots of teasing from her siblings. She remembered walking to school with the neighbor kids, and to Catechism classes on Saturday, and to summer school. As a young child, her parents were examples of gentleness, kindness, generosity, and how to reach out to others.
At the young age of 15, she and her cousin, Alda, decided to join her sister, Sister Clement, at St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee. Another sister, Sister Agnes Rose, soon followed. Many years later, their cousins Sisters Jean and Eunice Becker also joined the community.
Sister Lauretta Ann was received into the community in 1935 and was given the name Sister Nerius. Already in 1936 and for the next 50 years, she kept many sisters healthy and happy in her life as a homemaker. She always seemed to find time for crocheting items for the sale, working in the garden, volunteering her services wherever needed, and playing Scrabble.
After retiring from homemaking, Sister Lauretta Ann generously offered her services at Maryhill Convent, and later at Sacred Heart Convent, especially as a companion for the sisters going to appointments. This was something she thoroughly loved, and was loved for in return. Her bag of crocheting thread and hooks always went with her. She was a very quiet person, always pleasant, and a very good listener. She took great pride in helping the sisters look neat as she ironed their clothes and did little extra things for them.
As her heart signaled that it was time for her to slow down, it was no surprise that she chose to live at Sacred Heart Convent and share her life with her sister, Sister Agnes Rose, and later with her cousin, Sister Jean Becker, and the other sisters she lovingly cared for. This also gave her a chance to sneak back into doing some ironing or helping the sisters out in small ways. Her fingers were always busy crocheting, and she never turned down an invitation to play a game of Scrabble. None of her opponents ever won a game! Without any pondering, she came up with words no one else thought of.
Sister Lauretta Ann, we could not always think of the right words during Scrabble games, but it is not difficult to come up with the words to describe your life: kindness, generosity, faithfulness, quietness, and availability. We thank you for the joy you brought to our lives. May God embrace you eternally in His love.
Sister Margaret Ann Polk
Born: October 20, 1930
Died: April 24, 2015
In her own words:
My parents, not knowing each other, emigrated from Germany around 1926, met in Chicago, Illinois, and were married. My sister, Elsie was born to Joseph and Ottilie Polk in Chicago, in 1928 and I followed two years later on October 20, 1930. I was baptized at St. Michael’s in Chicago, and when I was five, we moved into St. Benedict’s parish, where I attended grade school. From there, I went to Alvernia High School for four years, and then joined the School Sisters of St. Francis and began preparation to be a teacher at Alverno. Although I had an aunt in another order, I was drawn to the School Sisters of St. Francis.
After graduating from Alverno, I was sent to Lombard, Illinois, and taught first grade and intermediate for 12 years. St. Michael in Wheaton is where I taught junior high for seven years and was then promoted to be principal. From there I went to St. Raphael School in Naperville from 1971 to 1973.
A summer job in a hospital helped me realize there was another calling. I applied for a housekeeping position at Edward Hospital in Naperville. I took the position, thinking it would be short term. After a few months, I was offered the position of p.m. supervisor and was responsible for both the p.m. shift and NOC shift. I retired 26 years later! While working there, my crew was made up of immigrants from China, Jerusalem, Israel, Bosnia, Laos, Poland, Italy, Germany, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico, and of course, the United States. Some were former teachers and nurses who escaped Communism. We all got along very well (most of the time). Teaching was fun, but so was this. God knows me.
Along with my usual work, I enjoyed gardening early in the morning before going to work. I spent time in my 20' x 60' vegetable garden. Unusual items interested me, like growing peanuts (they didn't quite make maturity). What a surprise when I found a sign on my plot stating that I had won “The Garden of the Week.”
On three different occasions I was blessed to accompany my mother to Germany to visit my aunts, uncles and cousins. We also traveled to Austria, Italy, England and Switzerland. An unexpected surprise came when I won a Caribbean cruise for two, with all expenses paid. My sister companion and I enjoyed every minute of it.
When I was about ten years old, I was introduced to Cubs baseball by an “adopted grandfather.” (I had never met my biological grandparents, since they were in Germany and my parents could not afford to go to see them. Also, World War II was taking place.) Since I lived within walking distance of Wrigley Field, it was easy to take in a few games. My love for Cubs baseball remained with me all my life. Since as novices we did not have access to newspapers, I would crawl around on the bathroom floor looking for the sport pages which covered the freshly scrubbed floor. Sometime later in life, when I was able to understand football, the Chicago Bears also became my team of choice. Go Bears! My rule to live by is “Live and let live, and God will handle the rest.”
Now, all of us who accompanied Sister Margaret Ann during these last three weeks of her life witnessed how she lived this motto. She found it difficult to accept her illness, but as she prayed with us, she made the difficult decisions. When she was ready, she asked for the Anointing of the Sick and then accepted hospice care.
Yes, God did indeed “handle the rest.” Thank you, Sister Margaret Ann, for your 66 years of faithful Franciscan living
Sister Annelle Renner
Born: September 13, 1910
Died: July 1, 2015
Today a chapter of life, a record for being the oldest member of the School Sisters of St. Francis and an era that spans some 104 years is being celebrated, and we can probably hear Sister Annelle encouraging everyone to enjoy a strong cup of coffee while trading stories about her life! It was no secret that she loved to visit and have a cup or two of coffee.
As we listened to Sister Annelle’s life’s story we learned that her parents Joseph and Theresa (Neesen) Renner were farmers in Dodge, Nebraska. Long hours and hard work without the convenience of modern day technology were characteristic of the work ethic they passed on to their ten children – six boys and four girls. Being the third oldest in the Renner family meant that Elizabeth Theresa learned to care for her younger siblings; do housework; and help with the daily farm chores of milking the cows, pitching hay, feeding the livestock, and anything else that was necessary, including chasing the rabbits out of her mother’s garden.
Elizabeth received her elementary education in the small parish school in Aloys, Nebraska, taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. She recalled that Father Joseph Roth, the parish priest, often played word games with his students. One day he asked, “Who has a family name that is spelled the same backward and forward?” Of course, it was the Renner family!
Prior to eighth grade graduation, the desire to go to the convent grew, but her parents thought she was just too young to go so far away from home. She knew someday they would “come around” and let her go. In the meantime, in addition to helping care for her younger brothers and sisters, especially her seminarian brother who was never able to be ordained, she worked as a hired girl for relatives and friends. Later Elizabeth went to Omaha and worked at Creighton Hall. Finally in November 1940, Elizabeth answered the “still strong” call and end entered St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee.
When Sister Annelle related this part of her life’s story, her eyes would twinkle as she quipped, “I was an old girl by then, but God took me anyway!” Reception into the School Sisters of St. Francis was June 13, 1941, and she was given the name Sister Annelle. She spent a year in the Convent kitchen where she was known as Sister Elmerida’s right hand.
For 58 years Sister Annelle was a most efficient and kind homemaker in convents in Illinois: St. Martin, Chicago: St. Alphonsus, Lamont; Holy Cross, Stockton; Driscoll Catholic High School, Addison; and Ss. Peter & Paul, Naperville. Her happy spirit, kind smile, and words of love and appreciation endeared her to everyone wherever she was. At Ss. Peter and Paul, Sister Annelle was a homemaker to the priests, who dearly loved her and appreciated her “meals from scratch” and awesome desserts. She was concerned that the priests be lovingly fed so that they could be faithful pastors. It was no wonder that they were saddened when she announced to them that at the age of 90 she was going to try to retire at St. Joseph, Campbellsport.
Here again, she found herself in the kitchen helping as much as she could because she wanted to show her gratitude for all her fruitful, holy, and happy convent years. As her eyesight began to diminish and her bones continued aging, she spent her days in the ministry of prayer and presence among the sisters and staff. Again, she endeared herself to everyone she met.
In 2014, along with many of the sisters, she moved to Sacred Heart Convent where she continued to love and inspire everyone (as she said) “God puts in my way”.
Sister Annelle, you have spent many years as a School Sister of St. Francis being the face of the Gospel to countless people. What a happy and smiling face you have been! We love you. Go now and be with your parents and other family members and all the wonderful people you helped along the way.
Sister Mary Anna Stickelmaier
Born: August 28, 1919
Died: February 14, 2016
Over 20 years ago while I was under the spiritual direction of Father Jerry, I said, “I wonder what people will say about me at my funeral.” His reply was, “Why don’t you write your eulogy yourself?” That’s what I did. Here it is with a few additions recently.
What is the meaning of love? Love is a word that is used freely. It is a virtue which shows itself in human terms. It was the love of John and Rose Stickelmaier that brought a baby girl into life on August 28, 1919. Three days later at her Baptism, she received the name Mary Anna. She was the sixth of eight children—Martha, Albert, Cecelia, Odelia, Margaret, Mary, Herman and Agnes. All have preceded her in death. Her childhood was spent in the small town of Metamora, Illinois. She attended St. Mary’s Grade School and Metamora Township High School.
In her youth she was expected to help with the chores. Because of her love of the outdoors, she was more of a third boy than one of the girls. She worked outdoors in the garden, and helped cut firewood and butcher in the wintertime. The love of the outdoors continued through life so that she was happy when she could get to the garden in the spring and summer time.
She felt called to the religious life at the untimely death of a cousin when he was in eighth grade. He was to enter the Franciscan Seminary. She wanted to serve the church in his place. The spark burned deeply within her and she was delighted to become a School Sister of St. Francis. Her 21st birthday was her first day at St. Joseph Convent as a postulant. Reception came on June 13, 1941.
Since she had assisted children in the lower grades when they needed help to understand reading or arithmetic, she wanted to teach. Her first profession was August 21, 1943, and final profession on August 21,1949.
Her first assignment was teaching second and third grades at St. James School in Arlington Heights, Illinois. After six years she was transferred to St. Agatha High School in Howard, South Dakota. She taught there for 11 years.
When the Community broke into provinces, she requested to belong to the Rockford Province. She was transferred to the then Madonna High School in Aurora, Illinois. During the summer of these years, she attended Notre Dame University and received a Master’s Degree in Business Administration geared to religious communities. Just before graduation, she was appointed assistant to the treasurer of the Rockford Province. After serving for one year in this capacity, she was appointed treasurer of the Rockford Province. She held this position for three years.
There was an opening at Alverno College for assistant to the Director of Financial Aid. Mary was accepted to serve as assistant both in the financial aid and business office. During her 36 years at Alverno, she assisted students to complete forms for federal and state aid, find scholarship assistance, listened to their concerns and complaints, and counseled them in the wise use of their funds. After resigning, she continued assisting for another two-and-a-half years as needed in the Financial Aid Office. She then volunteered two days a week in the International Development Office, entering new clients into the system, checking the accuracy of those already entered, and serving in whatever capacity she could.
Mary’s love of the outdoors often took her for a walk to the garden or around the block. She may return with a bunch of asparagus or rhubarb, a box of raspberries or a picking of vegetables that were ready, or a bouquet of flowers. She knew that to have success in the garden, God needed to provide the rain and sunshine. She prayed that God would see fit to provide the rain and sunshine and when they did or did not come, she gave thanks for what was.
A yearly retreat was a must in her schedule. She looked forward to spending time whether it was at the Motherhouse or Monte Alverno Retreat Center or a personal private retreat alone with her God.
Another yearly event was the family reunion. She did not miss one since they began. Keeping in touch with family was important to both Mary and her family members as attested here today.
Her School Sister family was equally and more important than her biological family. She would more readily forego a visit to her family to celebrate with her sisters.
Sister Elizabeth Tellesen (Sister Chrysanthus)
Born: July 10, 1920
Died: July 31, 2015
Miracles: They do happen! One was witnessed by the staff at St. Joseph Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 10, 1920, at the birth of a baby whose tiny heart could barely pump. The baby, a daughter born to Charles and Elizabeth Warschartke Tellesen, was promptly baptized Elizabeth Lucy and immediately transferred to the neo-natal unit for intensive care and observation.
Even though Betty’s dad was a physician and her mom was a nurse, keeping vigil over their own delicate tiny baby demanded great faith and trust that God would pull them through this crisis. They had already lost a three-year-old daughter, Margaret, who died of diphtheria, and a premature son, Otto, who died at birth. Another toddler son, Clyde, was being cared for by relatives. After, what seemed to be an eternity, the parents were able to introduce Clyde to his baby sister. Shortly after the long hospital stay the Tellesen family moved to the edge the small rural town – Wynot, Nebraska – where Dr, Tellesen set up his practice. Two more sons, Bob and Dick, completed the family picture.
Betty was prone to health problems as a child and caught every childhood disease that came her way. However at the age of five she enrolled at Sacred Heart School in Wynot and made it through until eighth grade graduation. That summer she fell and sustained an injury that required a metal brace to support her back that had to be worn throughout her teenage growing years.
Thoughts of becoming a Sister surfaced as early as the first grade. She confided them to her dad, who simply said, “We’ll see.” At age ten she was advised to think about other things and to keep an open mind. Her eighth grade teacher told that she was not convent material. Betty quietly accepted this and enrolled in the town’s public high school.
One day as her dad was driving her, a teacher, and other friends to Lincoln for a music concert, a drunk driver ran a stop sign and crashed headlong into their car. Her dad was severely injured and died in the hospital. Betty was so shaken and filled with guilt, thinking that if she had gone to the convent this would not have happened. It took a long time before she was able to let go of the guilt feelings.
After graduating from high school, in 1937 Betty wanted to get a baby-sitting or cleaning job in Sioux City. An aunt in Minnesota discouraged this and offered her a job on her farm. After one summer of this, Betty refused to continue on because her aunt was far too fussy about how she should wear her curly red hair. Instead, she chose to go to the St. Joseph Convent, arriving in Milwaukee in time for entering the fall semester at Alverno College. After all, she was 18 and could make her own decisions. In June 1938, Betty was received into the School Sisters of St. Francis and received the name of Sister Chrysanthus.
With a bachelor’s degree in education, Betty was ready to launch her teaching career in the fall of 1941. Her first mission was Frankenstein, Missouri, then on to Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. During this time she attended Marquette University for summer school and took courses throughout the year, graduating with a master’s degree in 1950. Her next missions took her to Iowa, Nebraska, and Montana, where she taught and served as principal. Listening to her students and their parents was sacred time for her.
In 1967 Sister Betty was elected Provincial in the Omaha Province and served in that position for two terms. Then it was on to religious education coordinator in Tempe, Arizona while attending Arizona State University taking courses in psychotherapy. Upon completion of the psychotherapy program, Sister Betty returned to Omaha where she served as a counselor, consultant and therapist for several years. During these years she also travelled around in India, teaching psychology and conducting group sessions with the sisters. An invitation from the Eastern Counseling Center took her to Tucson where for three years she worked as a counselor-therapist. She was then prepared to spend the next ten years self-employed with individuals in psychotherapy. This was a challenge that was so very rewarding for her!
Because of macular degeneration, her eyesight became increasingly poor, and so it was that Sister Betty, at age 80, in 2000, moved back north to St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, where she volunteered her services in the fields she knew so well: counselor-therapist and teacher of psychology classes for La Farge.
Sometimes God slows us down in ways we don’t expect. A fall for Sister Betty resulted in a broken hip. Knowing Sister Betty, you knew that she would take it in stride. She told everyone that this was God’s way of arranging her schedule so that she could spent more time with Him in prayer besides allowing her time to explore the many library books that were on her “to be read” list. Betty moved to Sacred Heart Convent in June, 2013. By then she had significant memory loss, and lost the ability to function normally. However, her quick wit and happy face still enlivened her as she continued to share her life of prayer and presence with all at Sacred Heart.
Miracles! You are a miracle! Sister Betty, yours was an awesome life! You have been the face of the Gospel for countless people in many areas of the world, and you did everything in His name. Go now and receive the reward God has prepared for you!
Sister Mynette Tossing
Born: September 24, 1933
Died: July 11, 2015
It was a beautiful fall day, September 24, 1933, when Marilyn Tossing was born in Aurora, Illinois to Mary and Ralph Tossing. She was the first of three children. Her brothers Duane and Frank completed the family.
Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Aurora was the center of their family life. Marilyn entered first grade and began her long relationship with the School Sisters of St. Francis. After finishing grade school she went on to Madonna High School. She was proud to say that her mother was one of the early graduates of Madonna High School.
After high school, Marilyn entered the School Sisters of St. Francis. She was received in 1950 and was given the name Sister Mynette.
In the next years, Sister Mynette began her education at Alverno College preparing for her teaching ministry. That ministry of education was carried on in Illinois and Indiana. She served in many elementary schools as teacher and was also principal in Monroeville, Indiana, and at St. Theresa, Aurora, Illinois.
In later years Sister Mynette served as a reading specialist and ESL [English as a Second Language] teacher. She also was a teacher in the summer program for migrant workers in Indiana. Sister had an open heart and a helping hand for any struggling student, especially for those who came from other countries.
Regardless of her active lifestyle as a teacher or principal, Sister always kept a loving eye on members of her family, praying for them and showing great interest in their lives. She enjoyed family visits and was always interested in new experiences. She was a great communicator with family and friends. Sister was also very interested in all types of learning as well as in building her stamp collection.
A sudden bout with cancer changed her pace for some time, but her goal was to return to her cherished ministry as a reading specialist. Sister Mynette achieved that goal. She and Sister Marilyn Wolfram again supported each other in their varied ministries for another ten years.
Eventually, health problems led to both Sister Mynette and Sister Marilyn moving into a less strenuous schedule of daily living. They both came to Sacred Heart early in 2013. As all the sisters at Sacred Heart well know, change and renovation can be a challenge. However, Sister Mynette always was solid in her prayer life. She likewise kept abreast of her Chicago area news, avidly reading her Chicago Tribune newspaper. She always enjoyed the visits of family as well as occasional visits from former colleagues in the field of education.
As more health problems surfaced, Sister kept a positive attitude. Her last health challenge, her recent stroke, was still faced with a calm, pleasant smile and a positive attitude. God knew it was time and Sister Mynette was ready.
Sister Mynette, we are grateful for your presence among us. We are sure that former students and colleagues look back with appreciation upon the times when you gave help and words of encouragement. We thank God for your good example and now ask you to pray for all of us as you enjoy the presence of God for all eternity.
Sister Phyllis Vater
Born: April 4, 1955
Died: October 18, 2015
Dorothy Ann Vater was born on April 4, 1936, in Milwaukee to George and Phyllis (Winkowski) Vater. She is survived by her brother, Michael; her nephew, Jeremy; Aunt Shirley, cousins and friends, and her School Sisters of St. Francis community with whom she shared life for more than 60 years. She was received in 1955 and given the name, Phyllis, after her mother. Phyllis’ canonical novitiate was briefly interrupted as she went home to care for her ailing mother. Upon her return, she was placed with the next reception class to complete novitiate and made her First Profession with them in 1958.
Phyllis attended Alverno College, majoring in chemistry and minoring in physics and math. Her first assignment was at St. Joseph High School, Kenosha where she taught for ten years. During those years she attended summer school at the University of Notre Dame and earned a Master’s degree. After leaving St. Joe’s, she continued teaching, this time at her alma mater, Pius XI High School, Milwaukee. In the mid-1980s, while still teaching, Phyllis started working part-time in the U.S. Province Institutional Sponsorship Services office.
In 1987, Phyllis was elected to the U.S. Provincial Team and served two terms. This past week it was shared with me that she truly lived “the grace of office.” After a brief sabbatical, Phyllis was elected to the School Sisters of St. Francis Generalate Team as Vice President, serving one term. Phyllis also served on several boards, including Sacred Heart Southern Missions. She often referred to the sisters in Walls [Mississippi] as her second living group.
After her time in elected leadership, Phyllis continued ministry in varied ways. She served the sisters living at Marian Hall, eventually helping them transition to new places of residency when Marian Hall closed. She became Mission Director for St. Joseph Center - Milwaukee campus, and she worked as a spiritual director. In 2009 it was time for Phyllis to move from active ministry to one of prayer and presence as Alzheimer’s began to take her mind and body, but never her spirit.
Reflecting on her time in leadership Phyllis wrote: “I was a very happy high school chemistry teacher for 27 years before Sister Agnes Marie Henkel invited me to explore working with our sponsored institutions. ‘Just one day a week’ she said, ‘see how you like it.’ Agnes Marie had a reputation for being a good mentor, so I gingerly explored leadership in that area under her guidance for the next three years. She helped a serious introvert find her voice and use her gifts in new forms of service. I would have never been open to congregational leadership if she had not mentored me.”
Phyllis learned well the lessons Agnes Marie taught. In her own words she says: “I believe we need to call others forth. We need to support them, mentor them, and not give up when there are mistakes, or even failures. They need support and encouragement along with the wisdom and experience of others who have accepted the challenges of serving in community leadership. All of us can empower others to lead by recognizing their gifts for leadership.”
Dot adored her brother Mike, eight years her junior. Mike shares stories of Dot “hanging out” with him, and says she was his soul. And Dot had stories of adventures with Mike that would make any parent scream. She influenced Mike with her reading of Merton and Catholic Worker publications. Dot was Mike’s strongest supporter during his most difficult times. As they aged they became close friends and these last years, Mike was the one who “hung out” with Dot.
Dot was also the proud aunt of Mike’s son Jeremy. Every summer Jeremy came to town to visit, and spending time with “Auntie Dot” was a priority. They had a special bond and I found Jeremy’s birth announcement among Phyllis’ remaining treasures. Many years ago Jeremy gave Phyllis a stuffed Kermit the Frog. Anyone who was ever in her classroom or any of her offices saw Kermit. Phyllis’s province secretary even made Kermit seasonal clothes. It is only appropriate that Kermit joins Phyllis now; he will be buried with her.
I first knew of Phyllis when I was a student at Pius XI in the late 1970s. She was the chair of the science department and THE chemistry teacher. We called her “Darth Vater;” it was the time of the original Star Wars movie. I didn’t take chemistry because I was scared of her, something I reluctantly admitted to her many years later, and she would playfully remind me of from time to time.
Fast forward 20 years and I found myself in a living group with Phyllis and teaching in her former classroom. She teased she would haunt me, in the best sense of that word; ghost confetti, ghost note paper, ghost socks, etc., would appear from time to time. It is very appropriate she left us around the time of All Hallows’ Eve. As Agnes Marie did for her, Phyllis did for so many, including me. I was nudged and encouraged and challenged, I’ve met sisters from around the world, and have connections with people I’ve never met and places I’ve never been.
We all have stories of Phyllis. We all knew her in different and unique ways. Let her own words speak a final time: “I experienced local, provincial and international community in ways I will always cherish. It was profound to know the spirit and charism of my congregation through an aged sister tending a huge organic garden in Germany, through a young sister nurse in a remote village in India, through an agile teacher with street children in Nicaragua, and in my own province as I daily learn from the youngest and oldest that ‘the needs of the times are the will of God.’”
Phyllis, we come now to celebrate you and say good bye. Continue to mentor us. Phyllis, pray for us.
Sister Jane Marie Bradish
Sister Armella Weibel
Born: February 7, 1920
Died: December 31, 2015
According to a very old Farmers’ Almanac, the winter of 1919-1920 found its place in history as one of the coldest on record. During that winter, in Ewing, Nebraska, on February 7, 1920, Frances, the youngest of the 13 children of the Joseph and Rosa Weibel family, was born. This tiny baby girl always felt warm and loved as she grew up in a caring, hard-working family. Even though there was plenty of strenuous work to do on the farm Frances managed enough time for her favorite pass-time: playing school. Because she spent so many hours doing this, she mastered multiplication tables at the age of four. Also, at a very early age she learned the alphabet and could spell and even print her name.
Frances attended a rural, one-room school through seventh grade. Due to the small enrollment, she completed her eighth grade at Ewing Public High School, graduating at the age of 15. During the summers she attended Catechism class where the sisters were an inspiration to her. Praying, sharing and giving generously to God and neighbor were most important then and for her entire life.
One summer evening in 1936, a cousin shared a secret with her: She was going to enter a Convent in New York and wouldn’t Frances like to join her. That got her thinking. Yes, she would. Even though her parents had other plans for her, they agreed to let her go. However, she was encouraged by her family to explore different communities – maybe a little closer to home. After visiting the convent in Elgin, Nebraska, she immediately knew that this was the order to which God was calling her, and of course, it was the School Sisters of St. Francis. On August 28, 1936, she and Arlene Welding were accompanied to St. Joseph Convent, Milwaukee, by Arlene’s aunt, Sister Veremunda. For Frances, reception into the community was June 13, 1937. From that time on she would be known as Sister Armella
During the second year of her novitiate, Sister Armella began her teaching career in the second grade classroom at St. Clara School in Chicago. After ten years at St. Clara’s, she was invited to teach mathematics, science and physical education in Frankenstein Missouri. Two years later, Sister Armella enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Madison to prepare for teaching mathematics at Alverno College in Milwaukee. As the saying goes, the rest is history!
From 1952 until her retirement in 2002, she taught in the Mathematics Department at Alverno College. Countless women and men have had the honor to have their math skills challenged by this master mind! Sister Armella gained a reputation for helping students who feared mathematics. She was very active in the reform of teaching mathematics to the elementary level in using new methods incorporating the use of manipulatives to help clarify abstract mathematical thoughts. She was very active in the nationally funded Minnemast Program, being one of the regional directors implementing and assisting teachers to improve their math teaching.
Sister Armella held memberships in various professional associations. She was listed in the Who’s Who in Women of Mathematics. She received recognition for her many years of service at Alverno by being granted the title of Faculty Emerita. But her most cherished honor has been that of being named “A Distinguished Daughter of Ewing, Nebraska.”
In July, 2002, she moved to St. Joseph Convent where she volunteered for as long as she was able “to do whatever, wherever there was a need.” She spent much time in prayer in the Adoration Chapel. Sister Armella’s last years were lived at Sacred Heart Convent, where she kept herself busy making rosaries for many missionaries and also for our Assisi Province in India. And now, Sister Armella has been added to the Kingdom of Heaven and is multiplying her joys with all those who have gone before her. By: Sister M. Louette
Sister Patricia Michaelin Woeckner (Sister Michaelin)
Born: July 28, 1922
Died: October 23, 2015
Today we are celebrating the long life of an artist-Sister Patricia Michaelin Woeckner who was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 28, 1922, and was baptized Patricia Dolores. Growing up Patricia was exposed to music and the fine arts through her mother’s side of the family. Her father’s interest in medicine caused the curious little girl to be fascinated by his anatomy book, as she spent hours looking over its pages.
Patricia’s mother, Margaret Thelen-Woeckner, shared her own interest and enthusiasm for art with her daughters. From young on, Patricia remembered her mother taking oil painting lessons from a professional artist along with taking the girls regularly to view works of art at the Chicago Art Institute.
The stock market crash of 1929 changed things for many people, including the Woeckner family. At the age of seven, Patricia and her older sister were sent to Oshkosh to live with their aunts. In a household where she was the youngest and often the only child, Patricia observed the adults around her making art and so she did the same. Looking back at her childhood, Sister Patricia said she was more fortunate than most children. Art was so highly valued in her mother’s family that sacrifices were made that allowed her to experience many different mediums such as ceramics and word carving by way of private instructors while she was growing up.
Upon graduating from high school Patricia attended the teachers’ college in Oshkosh for her academic coursework. In 1941 she moved back to Chicago to attend the American Academy of Art. While at the academy she also worked part-time at several art studios doing commercial art. Upon graduation from the academy in 1947, her family made it possible for her to travel to Mexico for six months to paint and sketch in various parts of the country.
Returning to Chicago, Patricia resumed her work as a commercial artist as well as painting portraits. But the influence of her visit to Deserto de Leones, a former monastery in Mexico, awakened in Patricia a calling to religious life that she could not ignore. Patricia left her work and entered St. Joseph Convent in 1948. Reception into the School Sisters of St. Francis was June 13, 1949, and she was given the name of Sister Michaelin.
Art remained a central focus for Patricia during her formation years and beyond. Her prior art training was recognized and as a novice she did commercial art in the community’s printing department. After making her first vows she was appointed to the Art Department and remained there until it closed. In addition to her duties as an artist she also taught an art course in St. Joseph Convent High School for two years. In 1970 Sister Patricia began caring for her mother in Oshkosh. While living in her hometown, she was still a part of the Art Department and taught ceramics at the senior center. Sister Patricia also used this time to paint the exquisite garden of family friends and other scenery of the area.
Sister Patricia’s chosen medium was watercolor because of its beauty and practical qualities. But she was versatile and worked with many mediums. Among them were silkscreen, mono-printing, block printing, cloisonné, photography, ceramics, woodcarving and china painting.
Many of her works focused on religious subjects such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Maria de la Granada, the Sacred Heart, the Infant of Prague, the Christmas crèche, and other saints. Her favorite subject matter was sketching and painting portraits of adults and children.
One of her life’s highlights was a year of travel in Central America from 1969-1970. During this time she sketched and painted portraits, landscapes and still life in local areas across Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. Sister Patricia’s goal was to catch impressions, expressions and colors that were fleeting and sometimes instantly gone.
At every place she stayed and to everyone who befriended her, she left some of her art behind. She acknowledged that she brought much more than art back to Milwaukee. “I observed the people, how they lived, their daily routines and how they built their homes. This helped to bring authenticity to my work.” As she traveled by bus from country to country sketching other travelers, her art also became her meditation and prayer as she strove to capture a visual record of indigenous people’s simple lives while being touched by their receptivity to her presence.
Always aware of suffering individuals on the streets where she lived and in the world at large, Sister Patricia strove to use her artwork to spread beauty. She said, “My aim is to promote hope through art.” Sister shared her art through a variety of exhibitions in Wisconsin and Florida as well as in San Miguel, Mexico, and in Latin America.
Sister Patricia felt these lines from the Christian Prayer Book captured her desire to serve God as an artist: “May the talents of artists reflect Your splendor. May their works give the world hope and joy. May the arts and sciences advance Your glory and the happiness of all people.”
We are grateful for Sister Patricia’s mission to bring hope and beauty through art. She generously shared it with our community, with those she met in her travels, and with those who visited her exhibits.
Sister Patricia, may you now see God in full splendor and with joy!