Sister Lorraine Aspenleiter, born on July 13, 1924, in Milwaukee, was baptized Lorraine Ida, after her Aunt Ida. She had an older and younger brother. During the Depression days, the family depended on each other. Money from an aunt enabled her family to move to the north side of Milwaukee, closer to her grandparents. She loved having her own little zoo in the backyard.
As a preschooler, Lorraine already knew that she wanted to be a sister. She saw the School Sisters every Sunday at Holy Redeemer Church and thought they were so kind to everybody. “When I get big, I’m going to be a sister,” she said.
When Holy Redeemer School opened in 1930, Lorraine entered first grade. She can still recall her teachers and experiences from those days. Graduating in 1938, her family could not afford Catholic high school, but unexpectedly, her Aunt Clara offered to pay all expenses for her to attend Holy Angels Academy for girls. Lorraine preferred Messmer but her mother said, “Lorraine, you can’t say ‘no’!” But as a senior, Lorraine did transfer to Messmer, and worked at St. Joseph Hospital to pay her tuition. She admitted, “I wanted to go to the convent, and if I stayed at Holy Angels, people would say ‘You wanted the convent because you were at an all-girls school.’”
When she graduated, her parents consented to her going to the convent. She knew the Notre Dames and the BVMs from high school and investigated other orders, yet she always knew she would join the School Sisters.
Lorraine entered the postulancy during World War II in the fall of 1942. She began her college work at Alverno, located at the Motherhouse. The following June, she was received, becoming Sister Anselma.
In 1946, she went on her first mission, St. Mary’s School in Menomonee Falls as a second and third grade teacher with First Communion preparation. During summers, she worked to complete her bachelor’s degree in English and education, with minors in history and biology.
After four years, she was assigned to St. Benedict High School in Chicago, which had recently opened as the first Catholic co-ed secondary school in the archdiocese. The first day a boy shouted, “Hey Sister, what’s your name? “I lettered very nicely, Sister Anselma.” He responded, “I can read writing!” There were challenges like this and others along the way. Often she had to teach classes while mastering the content at the same time. Yet she stayed, and she loved it.
Her third mission, teaching sociology at Alverno, began in 1963. She was ready, having earned a master’s degree in sociology from Notre Dame in 1957. While at Alverno, she encountered the likes of Father Parr and Milwaukee Mayor Frank Zeidler, and other faith and civic leaders, and also had opportunities across the globe. Sister Martine Hundelt and Lorraine received Fulbright Scholarships and attended UCLA in the summer of 1968 learning Swahili, and then spent the next summer in Africa.
Resigning from Alverno in 1974, she embarked on the second large chapter of her life. She went to the Motherhouse and responded to needs. A turning point for her was when she accompanied Sister Roseanne Wagner to a weekend conference. She heard Father Paul Robb speak, and when she heard his message, she knew, “This is what I want to do.”
She attended his Institute of Spiritual Leadership in Chicago the following year, and this led her in 1977 to Baileys Harbor in Door County, Wisconsin, to a property owned by the Sacred Heart priests and brothers. Her retreat work grew and with the help of others, she developed the St. Joseph Retreat. She served as retreat leader and spiritual director for the next 28 years. She was influenced by the many people she met, especially the Sacred Heart men, the plants and animals of the farm, and all things, seeing the oneness of all.
When the center closed in 2005, she moved to Casco, Wisconsin, continuing her spiritual direction and also teaching English to immigrants. Her sudden stroke in 2018 caused her to move to Sacred Heart where she continues to live out her class motto, “Behold I come to do your will, O God. Teach me, lead me that I may be your Word.”
“My religious life has been a gift, living with the Spirit to which I must respond,” Sister Lorraine said. “Throughout my life, religion, races, and cultures have no separation. All become the Total Body of Christ.”
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