Sister Ramona Schmidtknecht

TSister Ramona Ann Schmidtknechthe oldest of eight children, Ramona grew up on a farm in the small, rural town of Waumandee, Wisconsin.  Ramona was taught by our sisters in grade school and by fifth grade, she wanted to be a sister.

Sister recalled the tragedy when, while she was in eighth grade, their large family farmhouse caught on fire. She and three of her siblings were at school; the month-old baby and three other siblings were at home with her mom. Her dad came out of the barn and saw the smoke. Everyone escaped unharmed, but it was a hard time because the family was separated for a short while until they found a house to rent and later rebuilt their home.

After eighth grade, Ramona was ready to enter the convent. Her mother hoped she would go to the Franciscan Sisters in La Crosse because it was only 50 miles from their home, but Ramona wanted to enter the School Sisters of St. Francis. So that summer she and Sister Sophronia, her eighth-grade teacher, boarded the train for Milwaukee. After two years as an aspirant, Ramona became a postulant. She recalls the joy she felt when she was able to carry the Infant of Prague statue through the convent halls in procession with all the community as they prayed for vocations.

Sister Ramona’s mission life can be divided into two parts: before Mississippi and Mississippi. Her first four years were in Nebraska, followed by one year in Chicago at St. Benedict High School.

Then came Holly Springs, Mississippi. “Where in the world is Holly Springs, Mississippi?” she wondered. Sister Lois at St. Benedict said to her, “Don’t worry, you will learn to love it.” Little did Sister Ramona know that she would live most of her life there and yes, she would love it.

Her ministry in Mississippi was hands-on ministry, responding to the needs of the people. Sister Ramona’s varied tasks included teaching high school; making peanut butter sandwiches for the students who didn’t have breakfast; catechizing on weekends; setting up food pantries, clothes closets, and a childcare center; and even making corsages for the prom!

Ministry in Holly Springs meant being part of the lives of the people. Sister Ramona recalled that when Barbara Redford (now an associate) received permission from her father to marry her fiancé James, her father could not afford to pay for her wedding dress or cake for the reception. Sister Ramona found a wedding dress amidst boxes of clothes sent from Milwaukee, made the alterations so the dress would fit Barbara, made her veil, and baked the wedding cake!

Sister Ramona’s dream of a childcare center materialized, but not the way she had hoped. Her hoped that high school students would learn child care skills while assisting the young children in the proposed center, but the high school closed before the center became a reality. The center was created nonetheless and grew from serving 24 three- to five-year-olds to accommodating more than 100 youngsters in just a few years.

Participating in the lives of the people meant being there in hard times, too. Sister Ramona remembers the death of a baby.  She and Sister Donatilda built a coffin for the baby and lined it with material. The father carried the coffin to the church and then to the cemetery. The young servers covered up the grave.

Being in community also has meant many wonderful experiences. She recalls her opportunity to visit Sister Helen Pisors in Bogata, Colombia, while on sabbatical for three months. She and Sister Helen visited the other sisters in Peru, then Sister Ramona went on to see the missions in Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. It was an enriching experience.

Sister Ramona’s life in Mississippi continues as she reaches out to answer the needs of the people she so loves. You can find her serving meals at the Garden Café, decorating the church, taking Communion to the homeless, visiting at the nursing home, helping out at school (especially with school Masses), and gathering, guiding, and supporting our associates in Holly Springs.

You have been a blessing to the people of Holly Springs, and to us. May you always know God’s love. Happy Anniversary, Sister Ramona!