Sister Jesse Marie Mortimer

Sister Jesse Marie MortimerSister Jesse Marie (called Betsy) was born in Chilton, Wisconsin, the second of four children. Thinking back to her childhood, she says, “I was a tomboy in the truest sense. I loved it!” She said that when reviewing her life, the characteristics of empathy, spirituality, and a sense of humor repeatedly come to the fore.

While Betsy was a pupil at St. Mary School, served by our sisters, a local newspaper published a story reporting that “a 14-year-old girl has proven again that it isn’t altogether a man’s world. Pigtails flying, ‘Smokey Valley Special’ with wood, wheels from the barn, and help from younger brother, Gene, won the town’s first ‘homemade’ car race.”

“I won over all the boys going down that hill,” Sister Jesse said. “It was fun!”

Because her mother was an invalid, Betsy attended the local public high school and helped care for her younger siblings. She focused on business courses and by graduation, she was well prepared to join the work force at a local grain elevator business as secretary to the company president. Her boss wrote that she was “reliable, efficient, pleasant, eager to learn, and accommodating to customers and other workers.”

After leaving St. Mary School, Betsy’s involvement in the parish continued and she maintained contact with the sisters by serving as the Young Woman’s Sodality prefect, leading devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary and often praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Her early inkling to enter the convent never really left her. “I was always close to Mary and after two years, the Blessed Mother kept after me,” she recalled. “I prayed that if my sister friend was reappointed to the parish for another assignment, I would take it as a sign that I should enter religious life. She was, and I did!”

Betsy was given the religious name of Jesse after her beloved father. After early formation and a brief time teaching elementary school, Jesse was reassigned to Ryan High School in Omaha, Nebraska, where she could apply her business interests, training, and experience. She taught business courses (“I called it monkey business sometimes!”) and eventually became department chair.

She loved helping the students develop into the best they might become. She especially enjoyed teaching typing to the boys because “it was active, and they liked that.” For Sister Jesse, though, just teaching the students skills wasn’t enough. She knew that to be a well-rounded person “they had to be spiritually and socially aware,” so she developed a Sodality to Mary, moderated the student council, and inspired her students to participate in local town activities, especially helping and visiting the elderly.

Jesse taught her students how important it was to “help others and do good in life” by forming clubs in which introduced students to a wider world. She wanted students to “have fun, grow up, joke, visit people, and pray.”

Sister Jesse was frequently commended for always stretching to find better ways to have students learn. Colleagues said of her, “She is organized, precise, prepared, punctual, caring for all students, and has a ready wit.” Jesse’s concern for others – born in helping her mother and developed with her students – grew to include singing for 11 years in a choir serving the Lincoln Penitentiary for Men. “I felt a spirit of freedom in that prayer,” she said.

After 31 years in education in four different states, Jesse experienced a life-changing health issue that she said helped her to more fully empathize with others. The experience deepened her understanding of “person over performance,” the blessing of time, gratitude, and the significance of other people as gifts.

Sister moved to Campbellsport, Wisconsin, where she enjoyed being of service to the retired sisters at St. Joseph Convent. She helped by driving them to appointments and ministering as switchboard operator and office secretary. She was also grateful for extended time to pray.

After the Campbellsport convent closed, Jesse has continued her retirement in Milwaukee. “I enjoy pondering the Psalms, the New Testament, the Way of the Cross, images of the Good Shepherd, and especially the Rosary. Mary is still after me! I’m grateful for her and for God’s steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness.”

Sister also continues to enjoy common activities, helping where she can, and still enjoying that ready wit. “If you don’t laugh, you crack,” she asserts. She said that when she is asked, “How are you doing?,” she often responds, “As I please!” Friends say she has a heart as big as the world, sometimes breaking out in shouts of “Alleluia! And again, Alleluia!”

Congratulations on 70 years of wonderful community living, Jesse!