Sister Margery Theiss (Margy) was influenced by members of two Franciscan communities, one more than the other. We already know which community won out.
The first was a German Franciscan, Sister Hilda Marie, who was her fifth and sixth grade teacher and who nourished her love of prayer by having the class stop every hour to pray. She also linked her class with a Divine Word missionary in Africa through prayer and letters. Though it did not entice Sister Margy to be a missionary, this connection did rouse in her a desire to be a teacher.
Generosity was fostered when Sister Hilda Marie, who had a family in Germany, invited the class to donate a loved toy to needy German children. Sister Margy gave her favorite doll with a newly sewn dress. She remembers that this gift was not easy to give. But that seeing a photo later of a girl holding the doll erased any regrets of her own generosity.
Sister Margy’s second influence on her vocation was even stronger and came from her older sister, Mary, who at her School Sisters of St. Francis Reception was called Sister Dolorosa. Sister Dolorosa and her visits were very special, and she introduced Sister Margy to the community and individuals. She brought Sister Margy to the convent and was a great influence on her early years in the community.
Sister Margey had to make a choice between two Franciscan congregations with two very influential women. She said she thought, “If one community doesn’t accept me, the other will.” There is no question, however, as to which community was preferred and which has been graced with her as a member for 70 years.
Sister Margy has had many experiences in her ministry; a few need special mention. The first is her years in Stockbridge, Wisconsin, a school that was new to School Sisters of St. Francis at that time. It was there that she said she learned to be a teacher with the excellent help of her principal, Sister Rosetta, and the fifth and sixth grade teacher, Sister Ronald. This was Sister Rosetta’s first year as principal, but she showed Sister Margy well how to begin her teaching and how to continue it with skill and grace. Sister Margy taught all levels – primary, middle, and upper grades, combined with being principal – and was high school reading teacher.
All through her years of teaching, she enjoyed the children, and teaching itself, very much. At one school, where she was principal for 11 years, a new pastor was sent who did not understand parish life and who did not want her to stay, so Sister Margy left. She began a new teaching experience then in the Milwaukee suburbs, substituting in kindergarten through twelfth grade in public schools. She found this a challenge, but a significant and rich time, with so many levels and such a variety of schools. She said, “I returned to Catholic schools in the Milwaukee area and felt really secure as a teacher with something more to offer the Milwaukee children.”
Other significant times in Sister Margy’s ministry, she relates, were the many summers and evenings she spent teaching religious education in rural areas and especially “teaching teachers to teach.” She also spent seven and a half years as a reading specialist in grades K-12. With all this, she managed to continue her own education, getting master’s degrees in reading and administration. She also managed to take part in workshops and observe others in their teaching, and to learn music from Sister Leonette.
One amusing incident she mentions is falling asleep in the library stacks at Alverno when she was a second-year novice and missing the bus back to the motherhouse. She managed to get a ride back with Father Klink and Mother Corona. That was quite an experience, but no one else even knew she had not come on the bus.
Sister Margy said that what was most life-giving about being a School Sisters of St. Francis was teaching religious education in day school and in other parishes during the evening and summer. “It was a privilege and a way of imitating St. Francis. I felt I was a missionary in my homeland like the ones I learned about in fifth grade as a child, and as out three foundresses of the School Sisters of St. Francis were.”
Sister Margy said it is life giving “to spend life with others doing God’s work of daily living and enriching others. Even in my aging disabilities, everyday sharing with others in my little way is life giving.”
As far as her vision of the future, she says, “The mission of the School Sisters of St. Francis will live on as long as there are people who are doing in the name of God the many ministries that carry our community’s mission to others, in any form.”
Asked what she would say to someone thinking about entering religious life, Sister Margy replied, “Come! You can share your health, prayer, and sharing of duties in whatever form that you find yourself, according to your personal gifts.” She added that this is one reason why we have Associate Relationship. There are so many different ways to do this sharing.
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