Sister Anna Marie was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on January 16, 1928 and grew up in Davenport, Iowa. Her baptismal name was Geraldine. She was the second of four children and the oldest daughter of Carl and Jeanette Noth. The children learned by word and example how to live the Christian faith.
As a child Geraldine had a vivid imagination and curiosity. She had limited contact with her grade school classmates because of their distance from school. Her home friends were nature and animals; she always had a puppy friend. She attended first grade in a Catholic school and recalls that the Sister who taught her was so special she wanted to be just like her.
Although she continued her primary grades in public school she often felt the call to religious life and after 8th grade convinced her parents that she was ready to enter the aspirancy of the School Sisters of St. Francis. But far from her closely knit family, she became very lonesome. Unexpectedly her mother appeared in October and asked her if she wanted to come home. She immediately changed from her aspirant dress. Her directress accompanied her to see Mother Corona who said she should not take her trunk home since she would be back. While Geraldine thought she would never come back, God had other plans for her.
Geraldine finished her education in a Catholic high school and lived a normal adolescent life: study, sports and friends. But her vocational leanings grew and after graduation she returned to the SSSF to continue her religious formation. On June 13, 1947 she was received and received the name Sister Anna Marie. After profession in 1949, she studied nursing and worked in our health care institutions: at St. Mary’s Hill, Beaver Dam, Waupun and Sacred Heart School of Practical Nursing.
As a postulant she had hoped to be a missionary in China. When our Chinese missions closed because of the Communist invasion, she asked to go to Central America. Some years later, in 1965, Mother Clemens sent her to the mission in La Libertad, Honduras to serve as a nurse. There she began to learn Spanish, serving the poor mountain people for four years.
After Vatican II the sisters in ULAF wanted to put into practice the renewal ideas of the Council. They were inspired by Pope Paul VI’s call to evangelize: “the great gift of God is the liberation from all that oppresses humankind.” After evaluating several options, in 1969, they decided to respond to the invitation of the Claretians working in Santo Tomas de Castillo, a mission on the eastern coast of Guatemala in the diocese of Izabal. Sisters Anna Marie and Margaret Mary Neirinckx went to Guatemala. They collaborated in planning, organizing and developing the women’s programs and participated in the catechist programs. They worked with marginalized campesino Latino and indigenous women, making them aware of their dignity, rights and responsibilities and promoting their development.
In the following years, the bishop of Izabal, Gerardo Flores, approached the sisters of ULAF and the SSSF international leadership team about his desire to respond to young women in his rural vicariate who were interested in religious life, but lacked the education to enter existing communities in Guatemala. In 1974, Sister Anna Marie went alone to Los Amates, Izabal, a parish that included two towns, 72 rural villages and 10 banana plantations to begin the formation program there. She lived behind a store, signed contracts, bought needed furniture and home supplies. Her US friends, Lauro and Peggy Muro who were living in the capital city supported and helped. When the first candidates Albertina Paz and Josefina Sandres arrived she had to rent a small house. The Franciscan Fathers advised her regarding decisions she had to make about the convent that was being built. Shortly after moving into the convent, they experienced the frightening tremors of the 1976 earthquake, the results of which made travel to the capital city, seven hours away, very difficult.
More young women entered. They finished their education by radio school, helped in the local parish, provided for their needs by gardening and raising hens, planted orange trees and pineapples. In the following months and years, other US sisters came to help: Sisters Ritaclare Johnson, Maureen McCarthy, Darlene Nicgorski, and Marietta Hanus. They assisted in the education, formation and pastoral work experiences of the young women. It was an experience of faith, of listening and discerning in community. They were guided by our new Rule, Response in Faith. They accompanied the rural families, challenged by the reality of Guatemala in the throes of the 36-year Civil War.
Seven years later all came to an abrupt ending in Los Amates, when the Franciscan pastor, Tulio Maruzzo, was murdered on July 1, 1981. The lives of the four US sisters and the 21 women in various stages of formation were in danger. Sisters Anna Marie and Darlene Nicgorski accompanied most of the group to safety with our sisters in Honduras, while two sisters accompanied the group in professional studies in Guatemala City. A few months later, Sister Anna Marie accompanied the Guatemalan refugee community to San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico where they were welcomed by Bishop Samuel Ruiz in a diocese that already had many Guatemalan refugees.
A year later, in the summer of 1982, it was possible to return to Guatemala, but not to Izabal. The community came to the capital, Guatemala City, sharing the fear and experiences of many returning Guatemalan refugees. They lived in several rented homes. Finally, they were united when the Generalate purchased a large home for them which they named Monte Alverno. Later it became the Latin American novitiate; young women from Costa Rica, Honduras, Peru and Mexico came. Sister Anna Marie was the formation director. New missions were opened in Guatemala. It was then that our sisters, returned and displaced refugees themselves, realized their dream to help the many orphans of the war. With Sister Anna Marie’s help they opened Guadalupe Homes Orphanage in 1985.
During her years in Guatemala, Sister Anna Marie also served as a member of the leadership team in ULAF. In her reflection of those years of beginning the community in Guatemala, Sister Anna Marie said: “I am grateful to God, Father and Mother, and to Christ, the center who fills my life.”
As the young community began assuming responsibility for their life in Guatemala, Sister Anna Marie started another needed ministry for the victims of the 36-year Civil War that had finally ended. She led a small group of sisters who founded Rieti Healing Center in San Marcos in western Guatemala – a healing center for the survivors of the war who had experienced personal and family trauma.
It was with a mixture of deep gratitude and sorrow that the Guatemalan sisters and people bade farewell to Sister Anna Maria in 2012 when she returned to Milwaukee and began her new ministry as a retired volunteer, living in historic Maria Linden. But they stayed connected by letter, phone and e-mail. Her apartment in Maria Linden was a reflection of her love for Guatemala with many varieties of plants and marimba music recordings. She lived as a missionary in Central America for 47 years. She continued her commitment to the Spanish speaking from the neighboring parishes in Milwaukee and invited them to the Adoration Chapel twice a month.
We thank God for Sister Anna Marie’s life as a School Sister of St Francis.