These words were written by Sister Marionita herself:
“Marie and William Gergen attended the Ascension Day Mass with their two children on May 13, 1920. Later that day, I (Gladys Marie) was born in the same home that birthed my father 30 years earlier in Shickley, Nebraska. This humble farm home was within a mile of St. Mary’s Church.
My four sisters and five brothers and I were blessed with both a rich, sacramental parish life and a happy family life. Growing up in a large family has its happy moments and also its challenges. Two years after my birth, a son, Charles Leo, was born, and the two of us bonded together early in life.
I received my elementary education in Rural District School #48. In early childhood I was taught the value of work. During summer months, Charles and I had our regular job of herding cattle along the roadside. It was during these long hours we dreamed together of our future – Charles a priest, Gladys a sister. Our jug of drinking water and our butter sandwich served as the elements for the Eucharist we celebrated along the roadside.
For three years before I started high school at St. Ursula’s Academy in York, Nebraska, I helped at home. My desire to become a religious became stronger after I graduated. During the summer that followed, my kindly pastor acquainted me with five different orders of religious Sisters. None attracted me.
Finally, in late August, I met the motherly and holy Sister – Sister Callista Schiferl, a School Sister of St. Francis, and immediately my choice was decided. Within ten days, Sisters Callista and Maria Augustine had me at St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee.
However, my first train ride to the Motherhouse in Milwaukee with Sister Charity was apprehensive. She instructed me to pray hundreds of ejaculations while enjoying the beautiful scenery. The trip was a challenge and losing Sister Charity in the same coach was almost a disaster. Yet, we arrived at St. Joseph Convent on September 19, 1940. New place and new people! However, I was encouraged by the fact that Charles was beginning his seminary studies at St. Francis Seminary at the same time. He and Seminarians came to the convent frequently, not only to visit with me, but to enjoy a big plate of those delicious convent cookies.
The large convent soon became home, and I was received in June 1941 and given the name Sister Marionita, which Sister Maria Augustine chose for me. Both Sisters Maria and Callista remained loyal, trusted, and holy mentors.
I began my studies at Alverno College in Milwaukee to prepare for my teaching ministry. After teaching second grade for five years, I was moved to high school where I ministered and administered for the next 45 years. My teaching ministry took me to schools in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska.
In February 1983, I was diagnosed as having a spot on my right lung, which could develop, deteriorate, or remain dormant there. So I undertook a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, and Fatima, Portugal. On my return, the diagnosis was a clear x-ray. Since then I accepted my life as a special gift from God and labored with renewed ardor, fervor, and gratitude. Always more, always better!
When Ryan High School in Omaha, where I had been teaching, closed in 1983, I accepted the position of parish minister and rectory manager at St. Stanislaus Parish in Omaha. My work in the rectory with RCIA and scripture groups was most gratifying and fulfilling. After 18 years in this ministry, I retired.
After much prayer and discernment and at the age of 80, I began my present ministry of prayer and presence at St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, on June 1, 2000. The move was difficult. I was leaving Nebraska and my ailing and loving brother, Father Charles, who was confined at Mount Carmel Home in Kearney, Nebraska. Yet, I knew that St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport was where I needed to be – and wanted to be.
God called Father Charles to Himself in April 2001. His rather sudden and unexpected death was a tragic experience. Sisters and friends helped me in the process of giving Father Charles back to God. I found joy and fulfillment in the friendship I shared with sisters, family, and friends – mainly with my Best Friend, who is my constant companion and confidant.
On October 11, 2006, Holy Family High School in Winsted, Minnesota, was celebrating its 50th anniversary. Sisters Rita Gaul, Lucia Bayerl, Beth Lyman, and I planned to attend the celebration. God had other plans. Near Hudson, Wisconsin, we were involved in a car accident which took the lives of Sisters Rita and Lucia. Sister Beth and I suffered from shock, so we were taken to the trauma hospital in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.
After two weeks of special care, I informed the staff that, since I was a resident of a nursing care facility, I could receive the same care at St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport, so I returned on November 11. By January 6, 2007, I was able to walk with the support of a cane. In a short time, I was able to resume my same lifestyle I had enjoyed before the accident. I continued teaching classes in knitting and crocheting and helped with clothing needs in the sewing room. I shared life with my family through frequent telephone visits. As my health diminishes, I realize that a religious vocation is very special. I have enjoyed life to the full. Each day has been a gift from God.”
This wonderful life went on for another 13 years. Sister Marionita was a welcoming, fun-loving, and joyful person. At any event she was ready to tell a joke, recite a poem, or dramatize a funny story. Her laugh was contagious. She was also a sharp card player.
Walking became more difficult and Sister Marionita began to drive around in an electric scooter. Sometimes the speed limit was a problem. “Just a warning. No ticket issued.”
In 2015, Campbellsport closed and Sister Marionita moved to Sacred Heart in Milwaukee. There she was so faithful to her ministry of prayer and presence. Daily she made the extra visits to chapel after dinner. She prayed the Stations or at other times just visited with the Lord. It was often said, “She is a holy woman.”
From 2015 to 2020 her days continued to be filled with crocheting, visiting, and prayer. Then came May 13, 2020, and Sister Marionita celebrated her 100th birthday. What a celebration and she could still say “There is too little time to get to know, to love, to serve our timeless God.”
During her whole life she prayed with St. Augustine, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient. O Beauty ever new. Late have I loved you…You have touched me and I long for Your peace.”
Now you are at peace. Thank you for sharing your faithful Franciscan life with all of us.