Sister Marcian Swanson

Sister Marcian Swanson


Born to Life
August 22, 1935
Chicago, Illinois

June 13, 1954

Born to Eternal Life
June 20, 2022
St. Luke's Hospital
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Mt. Olivet Cemetery
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


In Chicago, Illinois, on August 22, 1935, the first of five children was born to Margaret and Lawrence Swanson.  This child was baptized Barbara Ann at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish on Ashland Avenue.

When Barbara was one year old, her parents moved to St. Pascal’s Parish. She attended St. Pascal’s School, taught by the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, the Joliet Franciscans.  Even though her father was a Lutheran, he insisted she go to Alvernia High School and pay her own way because she would value that in which she had a part.

To earn money for tuition, Barbara had already gotten a job as a paper carrier in the seventh grade. She also worked as a server at a pharmacy’s lunch counter, as a proofreader and errand girl for her father’s linotype business, and for two summers at the Schwinn Bicycle Company. Barbara developed a strong work ethic early in life. Her childhood, she said, was blessed with the best of both worlds: she had a loving family and because academics came easy for her, she found time for swimming, fishing, bicycling, and playing sports when she wasn’t caring for her younger siblings.

In eighth grade, Barbara had already expressed a desire to become a sister, only knowing the Joliet Franciscans. After her junior year at Alvernia, being involved in Third Order Franciscan activities and seeing the joy of the School Sisters of St. Francis and their freedom to work with the people, her focus changed. Barbara then approached her principal, asking her advice. Sister Hyacinth spoke with her at length and agreed to assist her.

In September 1953, Barbara entered St. Joseph Convent as a postulant and immediately began her freshman year at Alverno College, which opened their new campus on Milwaukee’s south side. Remembering those days, Barbara said, “That story is a book in itself.”

On June 13, 1954, Barbara was received into the School Sisters of St. Francis and received the name: Sister Marcian. Novitiate days passed with studies of the Rule and Franciscan living, plus assisting in kitchen, laundry, dining room and other tasks. The second year of Novitiate, it was back to studies at Alverno and preparation for First Vows.

June 21, 1956, was Profession day and soon mission life began. Sister Marcian taught in elementary schools in the Rockford Province for 15 years.  Returning to Alverno each summer, she completed her B.A. in Mathematics and English. Math was her favorite subject – not always the favorite of her students – yet she had a reputation for being a tough but fair teacher. Even after becoming a principal, she always tried to teach one math class. Sister Marcian received her Master’s in Educational Administration and Supervision from the University of Illinois in Urbana.

Sister Marcian joined the Chicago Province and continued for 32 years as principal at St. Matthias. During years of working with excellent teachers, she used every opportunity for professional growth for herself and others. Her school soon won the U.S. Blue Ribbon Award. In recognition of her leadership, she was named Chicago’s Principal of the Year.  She was also selected as a member of the NCEA Principals’ Academy.

During her many years in Chicago, she stayed very close to her family and they stayed very close to her, often helping her with projects and enjoying travel with her both at home and abroad.

As the Catholic school system changed and parishes were combined, Sister Marcian accepted the call to serve in community and moved to Milwaukee. In 

2005 she became facility director of Sacred Heart, Medicare/Medicaid bills processor at the health care office, and coordinator at Maryhill Convent. As Sacred Heart evolved, Sister Marcian said, “Being responsible for budgets, hiring and evaluating employees just got moved to different stages.” She was very involved in the 2015 renovation of Sacred Heart, even requesting an apartment in the independent section, Alexia Tower. Then, she lived where she worked.  Always a highly productive worker who handled many project, Sister Marcian continued her work with the tenants as well as with health care.

In 2019, Sister Marcian’s health began to change as arthritis affected her mobility, but nothing stopped her or slowed her down until her lungs were affected. Soon 24/7 oxygen was required. Finally in 2022, more serious breathing problems occurred. In mid-June all things changed quickly. Sister Marcian was rushed to St. Luke’s Hospital and within hours breathed her last there, just the way she wanted to slip into heaven.

Sister Marcian, you are loved by all your School Sisters of St. Francis, your family, and friends. We thank you for your 68 years of faithful Franciscan living. As you said, “Each of us has gifts to bring, and I have offered my ordinary gifts and have been blessed. There were a few bumps on the journey which were challenging, but also most rewarding. Thank you to all who accompanied me on the

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Sister Marcian

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