One of my questions to Roseann during her last days with us was this: How do you anticipate it will be to meet God face to face?
Her immediate response was “Easy!” Easy! – wow, that said a lot. To me it meant, she was HOME!
I told her that as I write the Words of Remembrance I’m using her lifetime role of being a TEACHER as my frame of reference. Her response to that idea was, “Mary Jane, don’t make too much of me.” My response to her was this: I will simply tell the truth, and let those words speak for themselves.
Already as a young child, Roseann, being the eldest daughter of our family of five children, assumed the role of teacher. She was my first piano teacher, and continued to be, until I was in fifth grade.
Teacher – what are some adjectives that describe the essence of being a good teacher? If we use the WORD “Teacher” as an acronym, we could begin with T for trustworthy. If you know Roseann, you know you can trust her word. She did not shrink from naming a spade, a spade. If something was outstanding, she would give praise and credit to the thought, the event, the performance, or whatever she was critiquing. She was honest and forthcoming. Roseann was a trusted friend to many.
E is for exceptional. Most of us are aware that throughout much of her adult life, Roseann suffered a spectrum of health issues. What may be unknown to many, is how she managed to maintain a wholesome attitude to handle her various illnesses. When she was just 30, her doctors suspected she had multiple sclerosis. They gave her a diagnostic test that used iodine, to which, the doctors discovered too late, Roseann was allergic. That was the first major setback of her life. She was already well-established in her ministry of teaching music. This turn of events led her to consider another field of lifelong interest: philosophy and then, psychology. During her months of recovery, she thought she might become a counselor. So she began reading, listening to tapes, attending presentations, taking classes, especially in psychology, to get background for this work.
Then, two years later, the doctors discovered Roseann had hypoglycemia. So, when she recovered from her setback, she resumed her ministry of teaching music in the aspirancy and novitiate as well as the St. Joseph Convent Conservatory.
Roseann was exceptional as she learned how to transform this and subsequent suffering into what theologians call “redemptive suffering.” Identifying with the suffering Christ, and with the suffering of another, makes the pain more bearable. Many times in the past year especially, when Roseann acknowledged her pain, she would refer to the children separated from their parents, and say, “O my, how can I even begin to complain or to compare what I’m suffering with these children, separated from their parents and families?”
A is for attentive. I found so many appropriate adjectives that begin with “a.” “Available, analytical, accountable, but finally settled on “attentive” because that is how I know Roseann best: as a remarkably attentive listener.
One of the hallmarks of a good teacher is to perceive beneath the surface. Being formation director and part of the team for the Wisconsin-based-formation-program in the 1970’s was a challenge, to say the least. Roseann not only attended to the women in the program, she was accountable to the leadership teams, to the living groups, to her teammates in the U.S. provinces, and to the sisters at large, some of whom did not hesitate to express their thoughts about what a “real formation program” would look like. Roseann would gather together all perspectives, and, in collaboration, would create what best served the new members and the community.
C is for creative. While Roseann rarely, if ever, considered herself creative, I found her to be so especially when she was analyzing a situation. She found “stuff” beneath the surface of an event or of a conversation that was enlightening.
In teaching at Sacred Heart School of Theology she approached her introductory course in music and liturgy –required for all incoming students—with awareness and acumen. Seminarians at Sacred Heart in the 1980’s and ‘90’s came from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds, from five continents. Utilizing this diversity took imagination, creativity, humility, assertiveness and plain old “savvy” about the human condition. She thrived on this challenge.
H is for hopeful. Born during the depression years of the 1930’s, Roseann learned from early on that working hard and giving a task your best efforts really matter. She knew how to conserve and make the most of what she had to work with. Roseann had a thirst for life that was inspiring. I believe it was the source of her hopefulness. Her enthusiasm for religious life was sparked from childhood when frequently on a Sunday afternoon our priest uncles and/or cousins would visit. Roseann attended Alverno College, commuting from Sheboygan, two or three times a week to earn her Bachelor of Music degree before entering the community. She was inspired and motivated by the sisters at Alverno, whom she grew to love. Their energy, talent, and commitment drew forth these very gifts in Roseann. She was dedicated to the renewal of Vatican II. She could find hope in many situations and in the midst of chaos and confusion.
E is for energetic. What was the fire, the sustaining power that energized Roseann? I believe it was her ability and energy to love unconditionally. Roseann was transparent in the way she showed many of us how to love. It was her consistency, fidelity, steadfastness and deep inner peace and joy that gave meaning to her life. Roseann had a calm and steady energy that built confidence and competence.
R is for resilient. Throughout her life, Roseann had illnesses that externally “set her back.” She met each one of these “so-called setbacks” with a spirit of resiliency. When I wrote to a cousin a short time ago, I referred to Roseann’s ability to “heal again” as an example of her resilient spirit. My cousin responded, “That’s not surprising. She has spent a lifetime of being resilient!” And so, now she is enjoying her conversations with God.
I conclude these words of remembrance with a quote [by Erma Bombeck] that, I believe, sums up what has been Roseann’s journey from LIFE to NEW LIFE.
“When I stand before God
at the end of my life
I would hope that I would have
not a single bit of talent left,
and could say:
‘I used everything You gave me.’ ”
Written by Sister Mary Jane Wagner