Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi celebrate milestone anniversaries
Photos and information courtesy of Jean (Wagner) Merry, ’84, and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi
Fifteen Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi celebrated their milestones of vowed commitment of religious profession at a Jubilarian Mass in July 2019. As foundresses of Cardinal Stritch University, all Sisters hold a special connection to the University. Among the 15 honored in 2019, 13 have studied and/or worked at Stritch (indicated with an * and a graduation year and/or notations about their relationship with the University).
Sister Lenore Steilen, ’53, ’70, marking 75 years as a Sister of St. Francis of Assisi, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Stritch, the latter as a reading specialist. For 56 years, she worked as an educator in elementary schools in Wisconsin and Iowa, and as a director of religious education in Granger, Iowa. After retiring from active ministry in 2000, she served as the sacristan at the Clare Hall residence for Sisters until May 2019, when the Sisters moved into their new convent.
The other 75-year celebrant was Sister Leander Liu, who came to the U.S. from China in 1948 and studied at Stritch for a year before leaving for Taiwan to become a teacher’s assistant there. She ministered in special education and domestic work before retiring to the U.S. in 1983. Both Sisters now reside at the new St. Francis Convent.
Two 70-year Jubilarians, Sisters Bernadette Grabrian, ’56, and Cynthia Marek, ’65, ’72, earned degrees at Stritch and spent the majority of their ministry years as teachers. Sister Bernadette used her degree in music to teach in Catholic parishes, mostly in Wisconsin, for more than 50 years. In 2007, she became a Sunday choir director, and in 2009 began her music-related volunteer work. Sister Cynthia, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, taught elementary grades in Wisconsin, Illinois and Colorado, before specializing as a reading specialist and on students with learning disabilities in 1977. Ten years later, she moved on to pastoral ministry and served as a house coordinator for the Franciscan Sisters in Baltimore for two years before she retired in 2001.
Another 70-year celebrant, Sister Maria Regina Rodriguez, who holds a certification in gerontology from Stritch, as well as certifications in religious education and early childhood from other institutions, ministered in a variety of domestic, day care and administrative positions in Wisconsin, Wyoming, Illinois, Colorado, California and Oklahoma. She retired to volunteer work, which included Hispanic pastoral ministry, in 2000. She fully retired in 2014.
Sister Margaret Ann Recker, who ministered in domestic work, food service and child and adult care, also marked her 70-year Jubilee.
Five of the six sisters who commemorated 60 years ministered as teachers, and four of those five earned degrees at Stritch.
Sister Evelyn Brokish, ’68, taught music in parishes in Wisconsin and Illinois until 1974. She then continued her music ministry in a variety of capacities and places, including as a parish organist, vocal and organ instructor, liturgist, and music coordinator and specialist for parishes in Illinois, Tennessee, South Carolina and Indiana. In 2006, she established her Poverello Delights chocolate business in Gary, Indiana, and, while there, also served as a church musician, until her retirement to volunteer work at the Motherhouse in 2015.
Sister Rose Marie Dielen, ’69, taught grades 5 through junior high and also served as a school principal from 1959 until 1977, at which time she transitioned to librarian and media center work until her retirement to volunteer work in 2014.
As primary grade teacher, 60-year Jubilarian Sister Barbara Kenney, ’67, ’77, taught in parishes in Wisconsin and Illinois before earning her master’s degree in learning disabilities. She then added life skills clinician and reading specialist to her ministry work. Since retiring from full-time ministry, she has been a volunteer reading teacher and tutor.
The fourth 60-year Jubilarian with a Stritch degree, Sister JoAnn Schmitz, ’70, was a grade school teacher for more than 30 years in Wisconsin, Wyoming and Colorado. In 1992, she became a pastoral associate and then coordinator for OSF Sister residents until 1995. She next served as co-director of associate relationship for the Congregation until retiring to volunteer work in 2016.
The fifth 60-year celebrant, Sister Helene Mertes, who initially did domestic work for more than 20 years, ministered in food service at Stritch from 1962-64. She later became the manager of grounds, gardens, production and the greenhouse at St. Coletta of Jefferson, Wisconsin, for the next 10 years. From 1993 until 2009, she served as the director of food service and vocational services at St. John Villa in Ohio. She then retired to volunteer work with the gardens on the convent property, and is the supervisor of the Congregation’s CornerStone Gift Shop.
The final 60-year Jubilarian, Sister Patricia McAlpin, joined the Congregation when the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore merged with the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi in 2001. After earning degrees at Notre Dame and Manhattan College, she spent her ministry years teaching in Virginia, New York and Maryland before becoming director of Francis House in Baltimore from 1991 to 2003. After doing volunteer work in her early retirement, she fully retired to the new convent in May of this year.
Both 50-year Jubilarians earned degrees from Stritch, initially were teachers and remain in active ministry.
Sister Margaret Kruse, ’71, taught grades 1 through 5 in Milwaukee for four years before becoming a child care worker for two years. She then began to serve in pastoral ministry in Iowa for nearly 30 years and earned a certification in spiritual direction. In 2007, she was elected to the Administrative Team as associate director of the congregation. After completing her second term in 2015, she returned to pastoral ministry for two years before being named the director of Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat Center in Wheatland, Iowa, in 2018.
With a degree in biology, Sister Judith Placzkowski, ’71, taught for one year before becoming a nursing assistant and student. In 1977, she transitioned to office work. During that time she also earned a degree in photographic serigraphy and, as a photographer, developed the Poverello Prints greeting card business at the Motherhouse. She continues to work with that enterprise today, which is now known as Poverello Creations and includes many of the Sisters’ craft items. She also has ministered in the congregation’s fund development and computer services departments, and currently is the manager of centralized banking for the Sisters.
The 25-year celebrant, Sister Sylvia Ann Sheldon, ’94, ’04, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stritch and also was the director of technology services at the University from 2004 to 2006. She then served as the school finance director for Blessed Savior School in Milwaukee until being elected to the Administrative Team of the Congregation as associate director from 2015-19.
* * *
Photos from the Jubilee celebration event are available on the Congregation Facebook page. The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi have 163 professed members in the United States and Taiwan.