Marie June Skender was born on November 16th 1936, in what is now known as West Allis, Wisconsin, to Steven Michael Skender and Mary Frances Hrlevich. Her mother was born in Painsedale, Michigan, and her father came from Croatia. Their first baby had died, so Marie June became the oldest of the three siblings, with Shirley and Steven, Jr., following.
They settled near St. Augustine Church, which was built by the people themselves, many of whom were from Croatia. The Skender family had a very strong Catholic faith and Croatian nationality. Her father played the tamburitza (a type of Spanish guitar) in a Croatian band called the “Villa Boys.” They played in every hotel in Milwaukee at the time and went on to play for 50 years.
The family lived above a tavern call Del Rio Tavern that her parents had managed and there were always many people visiting. Marie June remembers her mother and grandmother, both excellent cooks, selling beef sandwiches and chili to Allis Chalmers workers every day, and her mother would get up early to make soup with homemade noodles.
Marie June's mother also enjoyed music and she shared that gift with Marie June. They had a player piano which Marie June enjoyed very much. Life was very exciting there, going to movies on Sundays and joining with all the neighborhood children in fun games. Marie June attended McKinley public school in West Allis for kindergarten and first grade, and then Holy Assumption for second and third grades, where she received her First Holy Communion.
When her parents sold the tavern, the family moved to a small, two-acre farm where her father, who loved farming, raised many vegetables and chickens, as that was what he had done as a boy in Croatia. The new home came with a grass tennis court which became a place for many baseball games for Marie June and her neighborhood friends. In the winter, her father flooded the chicken yard where all her friends came to skate.
Christmas was very special in their home. For Christmas eve, her father would get a whole pig and have it roasted. They would share and eat it after Midnight Mass. Her mother would make her famous potato salad with many other of her special favorite foods.
In fourth grade, Marie June went to St. Matthias School and this is where she graduated from eighth grade and was confirmed. She went on to Pius XI High School for her freshman year and then entered the convent of the School Sisters of St. Francis. On June 13, 1953, Marie June was received into the Order and given the name Sister Maristeva, a combination of her parents’ names.
Her first mission was in Skokie, Illinois, as a musician and teacher organist from 1955-1961. Then she continued for two years as a teacher organist in Fletcher, Minnesota. For nine years she ministered in the Chilton, Wisconsin area, not only as a teacher organist, but also as a principal and music coordinator with consolidated parish elementary schools. She carried on their music traditions and was excellent in interpreting choral music and leading many choirs.
After graduating from Alverno College in 1968, Sister continued her search for knowledge by attending many theological and pastoral courses during the summers at St. Norbert's College in DePere, Wisconsin. From 1972-1982, Sister Marie June began working in Niagara, Wisconsin, in religious education and pastoral ministry. She loved to interact with the many people who appreciated her idealistic spirit and optimism, along with her deep spirituality. Marie June continued her work as pastoral associate and director of religious education at Seymour, Wisconsin, and in 1987 she served as a director of pastoral care at Maryhill Manor in Niagara, Wisconsin.
An opportunity arose to help in pastoral care at Campbellsport with our sisters in 1990. She was a good listener and was intrigued with the many stories that the sisters shared. As a team member, she was always available whether it was music or just being present to the sisters’ needs.
In 1996, Marie June’s aged father became sick and needed help. She was allowed to live and care for him until he died in 2001. When asked what she would like to do after his death, Marie June responded with, “I’d like to be the pastoral care minister in West Allis.” So, until 2015, Marie June shared her many talents of music, Christian formation, choral directing, and pastoral care with the people of three churches in the area. She also introduced many people to her Croatian culture, sharing her love of music and dance. Even though her family had visited her when she was on missions, she could now be closer to her sister and brother.
During Marie June's years of mission work, she showed herself as being very competent, versatile, and caring while serving in various capacities. Whether it was teaching, pastoral care, directing religious education, or interpreting music, it was always done in a beautiful manner. In 2015, Marie June was invited to live at Our Lady of the Angels. She was always a person of prayer and reflection and now she had the opportunity to spend more time in prayer and being a “presence” in the whole world today.
The community at Our Lady of the Angels will certainly miss the bright eyes and beautiful smile of Sister Marie June. May she rest in peace and enjoy the eternal reward she so greatly deserves.