Sister Marjorie Ann Eisenmenger

Sister Marjorie Ann EisenmengerMEMO: Jubilee ‘70’
To: My families and friends
From: Sister Marjorie Ann Eisenmenger, formerly Sister M. Willita
Re: Profound gratitude

Psalm 121 - NIV A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

I recall a heartwarming memory as I reflect on the gift of 70 years of religious life: I am sitting on a bench at the edge of an ascending mountain path. I welcome the respite to catch my breath. I clearly see the mountaintop beckoning. I look back and down the path, overwhelmed by pristine beauty. A thousand emerald lakes appear like magic, tucked in layers of lush foliage. The lesson is profound! Only when I pause to look back do I hear the message. The upward climb demands focus; endless surprises wait in the wings.

During summer school in 1964 at the University of Colorado, Boulder, some parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center hosted a group of us sisters to climb Mount Caribou (12,310 feet) located near the town of Nederland situated in the picturesque Front Range. Even though the walking trek started at the 9,000 feet marker, the thinner air caused struggle the last 100 feet. We counted out loud together to move one foot in front of the other. Being in full habit had its own challenge.

Obvious metaphors speak through this mountain memory. The 1964 climb took me back to Sister Viola unlocking spiritual secrets found in The Franciscan Climb to God originally published in 1949. As a postulant in 1953, I perceived Sister Viola’s ‘climb' to be quite easy. At the age of 16, I could not imagine the wisdom of maturity or the reality of aging! I remain grateful for divine support!

Many “emerald lakes” grace the landscape of my religious-life pilgrimage. Every School Sister of St. Francis I met on the path invited me to new heights. I will forever treasure each companion sharing the journey: the warm love of my biological family; the faithfulness of friends; the gift of international friends; the affirmation of academic colleagues and students; the spirit of the Class of 1954; the witness of our Associates. Each person images God’s immense goodness, none of which is by accident.

My parents William and Isabelle settled in the rural community of Pesotum in central Illinois and were blessed with six children. They were lifetime parishioners of Immaculate Conception/St. Mary’s Church established in 1875, located in the country a mile and half from the Eisenmenger home place. In 1896, the pastor invited the School Sisters of St. Francis from Milwaukee to staff St. Mary School. The school closed in 1966, marking 70 years of ministry. St. Mary Church proudly remains an active parish to this day.

I was born on September 30, 1937, into a family of deep faith. Good example encircled me. Thrasilla (Tris), my next sibling, was already ten years old. My older siblings Peter, Eleanor, Thelma, Celestine (Cel), and Tris were all taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis between the years 1920-1940. They remembered favorites, namely, Sisters Berno, Thaddea, and Victricia, the organist who started sacred music traditions. Mother and Dad helped to support the sisters by providing transportation and sharing farm produce; the sisters lived on either no salary or a minimal stipend.

The remarkable concurrence of the presence of the School Sisters borders on miraculous. They moved in and out of my life like archangels standing guard. The pivotal moment that set the stage for God’s call on my behalf was my first day of school in 1943 when I met Sister Alvina Ruskamp. As my first-, second-, and third-grade teacher, she was extraordinary, a gifted 24-year-old teacher who made First Holy Communion Day the Heavenly Banquet on earth. Coincidently, my mother recalled that one day in second grade I came home with a prediction: “I’m going to be a sister someday like Sister Alvina.” Sister Alvina (Catherine) and I remained lifetime friends. She was inimitable!

As assistant pastor at St. Mary Parish 1946-1947, Father George Bubnick played a key role in nurturing my vocation. A retired Army chaplain, Father George brought drama, intrigue, and God’s omnipotence to Bible class. The story of Jesus came alive; the Holy Land was real. When I entered St. Joseph High School August 1951, Father George, who then served in Chebanse Illinois, drove Mother, Dad and me to Milwaukee.

I close with the mention of two more “emerald lakes.” The sisters at Alverno College helped transform me into a promising teacher, filled with passion for languages and cultures, specifically Spanish. My first teaching assignment in August 1958 took me to Pius XI High School in Milwaukee. An incredible surprise! I had assumed my teaching career would start in kindergarten and I would climb the ladder of experience. The Pius XI faculty of 60 sisters became my mentors for five years, preparing me for future high school and college ministries. Again, none of which is by accident!

Psalm 95:1-2, 4 NIV
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD. Let us come before GOD with thanksgiving
...and the mountain peaks belong to him.