Mary Alice was born June 20, 1924, in Racine, Wisconsin, to Joseph and Frances Simanek. She was their fifth child of 12 children: six boys and six girls.
They belonged to St. John Nepomuk Parish. All the children attended the parish school and were taught by the School Sisters of St Francis. The life of her sister-teachers attracted her, so in 1938, after graduating from eighth grade, Mary Alice entered the community’s Aspirancy in Milwaukee. Three years later, in 1941, she was received into the School Sisters of St. Francis, becoming Sister Leonina.
During the following year she began her college studies, aspiring to become a teacher. In 1946, she graduated from Alverno College and her mission life in teaching began. She taught for a few years in both Iowa and Nebraska, but the majority of her 60-year teaching career was in Wisconsin, half of which was in Milwaukee. Sister Leonina taught children in the primary grades. Her greatest joy was preparing them for their First Communion.
Sister Mary Alice was an outstanding teacher, joyful, kind, and compassionate. Each child was unique and special. Her classroom was welcoming and artistic. Her long career witnessed many changes in both education and Church that impacted her teaching significantly. Hence, over the years she attended many workshops and conventions, always looking for new ideas and experiences which she willingly shared with her colleagues and friends.
For the last 20 years of her teaching ministry, Sister Mary Alice was joined by her younger sister, Frances, who followed her into the School Sister community. Together they served at St. Mary’s in Menomonee Falls and St. Anthony’s on Mitchell Street, retiring from the latter in 2003.
In their retirement, the Simanek sisters lived in a north side apartment, continuing to be two examples of Franciscan community. One of their major contributions of that time was baking cookies for the Fall Festival. They baked and packaged several varieties. They were the only ones who made peach pecan quick bread, a favorite of many.
In 2017, Mary Alice and Frances knew it was time to move to Sacred Heart. There, they chose to share a double room, which they made into a beautiful, welcoming home. They were happy and content. Sister Mary Alice always radiated caring and kindness. Her gentleness and prayerfulness have inspired many of us throughout these years.
In 2021, Sister Mary Alice celebrated her 80th Jubilee as a School Sister. Her beautiful, 80-year life-dedication to Franciscan living has been her gift to all of us.
Sister Mary Alice only began to use a walker in the past year. At 98, she was uniquely blessed. In the past six weeks, her physical condition changed, leaving her weaker each day. After blood tests with abnormal results, she was admitted to the hospital. Shortly thereafter, her diagnosis was terminal cancer. She chose to return to Sacred Heart to live out her last days. For Sister Frances and all of us, her peaceful journey came very soon on Friday, December 23, 2022.
You are in heaven for Christmas, Mary Alice. May you sing with all the angels and saints forever.