Sister Carolita Greiner was born on January 5, 1924, on their family farm, six miles from Keota, Iowa. Named Caroline, she was the second of nine children, four boys and five girls. Her family knew loss early since three brothers died soon after birth due to a genetic lung defect affecting only boys. One brother, Joseph survived. Today Joseph’s wife, Carolyn, is 80 and is Carolita’s only living immediate family member.
Caroline started kindergarten at age four at Talleyrand School, a half mile from home. At age seven, ready to make her First Communion, she entered fourth grade at St. Peter and Paul School in Clear Creek, staffed by the School Sisters. She graduated eighth grade at age 12 and began attending Keota High School, boarding with her recently widowed Grandma Greiner in Keota.
Caroline was always two years younger than her classmates. Coping with this reality brought out her resourcefulness, adventure, and a positive wondering of what was next.
Soon after she graduated from high school at 16, and almost free to look to “what’s next?,” Caroline’s Uncle Ed asked her to help him. He and his five sons were alone after his wife’s illness took her from their home. Her “yes” challenged her to use all her gifts in caring for this family. Also, during these couple years, Caroline became an excellent seamstress, especially making clothes for the neighborhood’s children.
She was always fond of her School Sister aunts, Licinia and Marmenia. Although they never asked her directly, their lives inspired her to see herself one day living a life of service for others.
At 18, Caroline followed her call to serve, entering the community in Milwaukee as a postulant. As she stood looking up the steps of the convent’s main entrance, Sister Marmenia told her, “This is your home for the rest of your life.” Caroline was received in 1943, given the name Carolita.
She began college as a postulant, continued as a novice, completing her degree as a first year Junior sister. In 1950, just two years later, she began graduate work, earning an master’s degree in education at St. Louis University in a program specifically designed for home economics teachers. Over seven summers she enjoyed learning this unique curriculum, integrating liberal arts education with related topics for teaching.
Like her other classmates, this future secondary school and college instructor was appointed in 1946 to St. Rita School, West Allis, where she taught second grade. Four years later, she was called to teach high school home economics and math in Earling, Iowa.
In 1952 she moved to Madonna High School in Aurora, Illinois, to follow Sister Cuthbert as the home economics teacher. Two years later, she was assigned to be an instructor at Alverno College, where she again joined Sister Cuthbert for the next 12 years.
Ready for a change in 1966, she was sent to Pius XI High School as local coordinator for 54 sisters living in the convent there and working with Sister Colman Keeley, newly assigned principal.
Things were changing quickly during the 1966 Wisconsin Province Chapter. Sister Colman became the Provincial, following Sister Francella Geiger. Sisters Carolita and Agnes Marie Steiner were elected her counselors, with a mandate to develop team leadership. When recalling one of her greatest accomplishments, she said, “developing the team leadership concept with Sisters Colman and Agnes Marie.”
A sabbatical year at Fordham in Religious Studies followed, allowing her some wonderful spiritual renewal and time to pursue a master’s degree in religious studies.
Returning to Milwaukee in 1970, at age 46, Sister Carolita found herself in leadership roles both in parishes and schools for the next 35 years. Becoming the director of LaFarge Life-Long Learning Institute from 1981 to 1989 was “one of the most significant times in all of my ministry,” she said. Another significant 10 years for her was working with Fr. Rock in the Franciscan Pilgrimage Program. Here, her love for Franciscanism blossomed into full bloom.
All of us have experienced Sister Carolita’s infectious joy and ever-positive view of life and the future. We join her in this her 100th year of her life journey, embracing the future, and saying, “I can’t wait to find out what is next.” She said, “Being in my 100th year and reflecting on my lived religious life, I find my greatest satisfaction is being able to share my gifts and accept the gifts of others.”
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