In Burlington, Wisconsin, on June 5, 1931, the third child of Henry and Anna Yanny’s four children was born, their only daughter. Mary joined the household of Mom and Dad, grandpa, an uncle, and three brothers. Mary says of herself, “I was a tomboy.” But she loved playing with her brothers.
All the children went to St. Mary’s Grade School and High School, taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Mary wanted to be a teacher from the day she started school!
After graduation from St. Mary’s High School, Mary enrolled in Alverno College to begin her dream of being a teacher. Mary was full of stories about life in DePadua Hall Dorm. She relates that, “We ate our meals, which Sister Trudberta served family style, in the former Visitors’ Department dining room. There was no complaining about ‘cafeteria food’ because it was prepared by Sister Almerida and her staff. After supper it was ‘to your room’ for an hour and a half of silent study hall. Then Sister Honorata, our house mother, rang a bell and all came down to the living room where we prayed the rosary. Afterwards we enjoyed a snack, then back to our rooms for another hour or two of study until ‘lights out’ at 10:30 p.m.”
After her freshman year at Alverno, Mary entered the School Sisters of St. Francis in 1950. She continued her studies at Alverno, along with religious studies. After postulancy, Reception Day was June 13, 1951, and she received the name Sister Henriann after her mother and father. Novitiate was a combination of work, religious classes, and study. On June 21, 1953, Sister Henriann made her vows and mission life began at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Franklin, Wisconsin, teaching second, third, and fourth grades. She said, “With the help of a wonderful principal, I progressed.”
She completed her Bachelor of Science Degree at Alverno College and began to work on her Masters in English at Marquette.
Soon it was on to high school for several years in Randolph and Creighton, Nebraska; in Chicago at Alvernia; and at Pius Xl in Milwaukee. All of these were wonderful experiences. She realized her gifts and skills and was grateful. Just think: This was the little girl who wanted to be a teacher the day she started school.
In 1966, she returned to elementary education as a principal of St. Alphonsus in Greendale. Then, in 1969, she was asked to serve the Province as Education Director. Sister Mary said, “All my previous teaching and administrative experiences, as well as my education, served me well in this position.”
God continues to call us, and eight years later, it was to serve on the newly elected Wisconsin Provincial Team from 1976 – 1983. During this time, Sister Mary’s responsibilities encompassed the ministry choices in sisters’ lives. She commented, “These years were rich in terms of broadening experiences, vision, and insight into human nature.”
In 1983, after the United States Provinces became one, Sister Mary became the principal of St. Joseph High School in Kenosha. The challenges of those years were great. She declared: “My goal at that time was to focus on the development of people; however, it seemed like I was engaged in a management of decline.” Today St. Joseph’s continues as St. Joseph Catholic Academy, offering Kenosha students elementary and secondary education.
In 1993 Sister Mary went back to Alverno College as assistant professor for ten years, a teaching role she cherished. Then Sister Mary began her volunteer ministry as an assessor at Alverno College and a tutor at Milwaukee Achiever Literacy Services, which continued for some 13 years. Special students working to make English their second language received many hours of Sister Mary’s support. She’s known to have tutored a student from Brazil seeking “perfect English” who today is a professor at Marquette. He has written a book acknowledging Sister Mary as his teacher.
Sister Mary’s big brown eyes and smiling, welcoming face endeared her to many people. She was a storyteller, a writer, and just a joyful person to be around. She enjoyed various types of physical exercise, especially outdoor walking. In fact, twice she had serious falls and was found by neighbors who called 911. The first one, in 2006, found her recovering in Campbellsport from multiple injuries.
In her retirement, Sister Mary played the alto recorder in the Wilson Park Senior Ensemble which entertains residents in area nursing homes. Sister Mary also sang in the SSSF Chapel Singers from the beginning.
Sister Mary had a way of getting around. None of us will forget her “hockey sticks.” Finally, at Sacred Heart, she used a walker.
Sister Mary’s last days came unexpectedly. She didn’t feel well Sunday afternoon. From then on, hospice directed her care. She was peaceful, comfortable, and pain-free. She breathed her last breath on Thursday, October 13, 2022.
Sister Mary, may you be welcomed into the loving arms of your God.