Preaching with Roses
Interviewed by Associate Carol Wesley
“A rose, too, is a sermon – it preaches to our hearts and minds – it speaks to us loudly and powerfully of the tender love of our and its creator...” (Rosa 1848, edited). My friend, S. Mary Vosters, is a preacher of the Gospel through her life – and through her roses.
She was born Dolores Ann Vosters to a family of eleven children in Little Chute, WI, a child so little that her family was worried the wind would blow her over! Her family was supportive and loving and taught her the strength of prayer and faith in God.
During her grade school years, she became devoted to the Blessed Mother. She remembers honoring Mary during the month of May with the May Altar, and attending weekly Our Lady of Perpetual Help Devotions. (It is easy to understand her devotion to Mary since she understood this motherly love through her own mother who taught her to pray.) She asked for the name of Mary as her religious name because of her devotion to Mary. Today the rosary is special in her devotion to the Blessed Mother, and she prays it every day.
From first grade on, she was attracted to the Racine Dominicans, because her teacher, S. Stanislaus (Mary Michna) was “so happy, kind, and helpful.” She hoped to enter the convent right after high school, but she stayed home for a year to care for her mother who was paralyzed from a stroke. (These caregiving skills would lay a foundation for future ministry in her career.) She prayed that her mother would improve so she could join her beloved sisters in Racine. Her prayers were answered. She entered the Racine Dominicans in 1950 and made her final profession in 1959.
During her ministry, S. Mary served as teacher, religious educator, pastoral minister, nursing assistant, and even did podiatry and reflexology! She told me she liked to teach the little ones. She taught at various locations in Wisconsin, including SS. Peter & Paul, St. Benedict the Moor, St. Edward, and St. John. She was a religious educator at St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis (KY), and Holy Rosary. S. Mary says she has remained in the Racine Dominican community all these years because it is for her a place of love and peace where the sisters reach out in various ministries. Today, she enjoys painting in watercolors, playing her guitar with the Siena Music Makers, and working in Saint Catherine’s flower garden where she ministers to others through her roses. She told me that the rose is her favorite flower because of its beauty – and its thorns! (There is something spiritually significant in this statement, I am sure!) She gives her roses to sisters on their birthdays and if they are sick, and to staff members who help her in any way. The roses say, “I love you!”
In the early 1900s, Gertrude Stein wrote “a rose is a rose is a rose,” meaning that using the name of a thing invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it. Lately, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote: “We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger; we rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer. And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” S. Mary’s roses are a sign of that love, the love of God that is eternal, unconditional and all encompassing. S. Mary preaches God’s love through her roses!
Rosa (1848). My flowers. Quoted in Billinghurst, J. The Armchair Book of Gardens. (2011), Lyons Press: Guilford, CN
A Farmer Daughter’s Journey
Interviewed by Associate Gail Jacobsen
On October 12, 1927, she was born on a farm near Roxbury, Wisconsin, on the 20th wedding anniversary of her parents, John and Amanda. Sister Dorothy Ann was the 10th of 11 children. It was a happy home filled with music and dancing. She remembers a pillow her mother had; it was embroidered in German that said, “With music and song we will live our life long.”
As a little girl, Dorothy Ann had piano lessons; however, she taught herself how to play the organ, violin, guitar and saxophone. One of her favorite memories involved Friday nights when the family packed into their Model T and drove to a dance hall four or five miles from the farm. How they enjoyed those evenings! Dorothy Ann also remembers visiting with family at her brother’s cottage near Green Bay. There they would go row boating at night, playing musical instruments and serenading people vacationing on Little Lake Newton. To this day, Sister continues to enjoy music. She plays the organ at Siena on Mondays and Tuesdays and the violin with the Music Makers, 10 members who, until COVID hit, played four times a month at various nursing homes. She hopes to return soon to this rewarding volunteer activity.
Being raised on a farm with a big family taught Dorothy Ann many fine values, such as hard work, sharing, caring for others, never wasting, and enjoying a good weekly bath in the old wooden tub in the kitchen. Her folks had a large garden and orchard, and they shared their harvest with neighbors in need along with the Dominican Sisters who taught at St. Norbert’s School in Roxbury. (Food was payment for the Greiber childrens’ books.) Her father, John, delivered wood for the sisters’ cooking and heating needs (like the Racine farmer who, in the middle of the night, threw wood over the fence for the original Racine Dominicans). No clothes went to waste; hand-me-downs were viewed as a new wardrobe, especially when they came from their cousins. Dorothy Ann remembers making lunches and walking through the fields delivering food to family members for their noon break. Scrubbing wood floors and cleaning the big farm house, weeding the huge garden, canning ... there was always work to do on the farm.
Dorothy Ann spoke German until first grade when only English was spoken in the school (with the sisters shushing any students who slipped and spoke German). At an early age, Sister Dorothy Ann knew she wanted to be a nun and a teacher and “to do the best for everybody. I loved little children.” In her sophomore year, her favorite teacher and spiritual guide, Sister Michaeline Brechtl, took her to meet the Racine Dominicans. By 1944, the second semester of her sophomore year, she became an aspirant and postulant in the order. Following high school graduation, she began a varied career, starting with teaching in Merrill, Wisconsin. She taught all grades for over 25 years all over Wisconsin, followed by more than 10 years as a principal, then as a coordinator of parish programs, a parish secretary, and a social worker. She also spent 15 years as an ESL tutor, teaching 34 students who came from nine different countries. “I loved and enjoyed every mission I was assigned,” she said. Dorothy Ann made her final profession in August 15, 1952. She received her teaching degree from Dominican College in 1960 and a masters in guidance and counseling from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1972
Other memories Sister Dorothy Ann shared were her enjoyable travels with family throughout the US. She also treasures a trip she made to Rome, staying with the Salvatorian Sisters who lived not far from the Vatican. One day, while at the Vatican, she saw Pope John Paul II. “He brushed past me as he walked down the aisle. I saw him face-to-face!”
In 1971 it was off to Bavaria where she and family toured a castle where her father’s relatives had lived. Not too long ago, she and Sister Bernadette Weinburger toured Egypt. For a time, she traveled while performing in “Seven Nuns at Las Vegas.” When they began touring, they still were in habit; however, seven years later, they performed again but in secular clothes. “We practiced so hard and had such fun.”
Sister Dorothy Ann is my associate sponsor. So what have I learned about her over these past six years? That she’s always upbeat, positive and hopeful. Her life story is one of adaptability and resiliency. She loves all of her experiences, her calling, and especially her teaching. She has a gift for listening and making people feel good about themselves after they’ve met her and walked with her a spell. Thank you, Sister Dorothy Ann, for all the children you taught, the immigrants you helped, and for all the people you continue to touch and influence today.
Interviewed by: Martie Washburn
I had the privilege of interviewing S. Carmen Agbuis. Her life has been so full. So many ministries, so much dedication. What follows is just a snippet of what I learned.
S. Carmen’s ministries came out of her childhood experience. She grew up in Milwaukee in what she calls a “United Nations Family." Her mother was Sicilian, her father Filipino. Besides her six siblings, she had 10 foster siblings of all races, creeds and abilities, so multi-culturalism was part of her lived experience from a very early age. Due to her diverse family structure, she also experienced discrimination. S. Carmen attended Holy Angels School and, after wrestling with where to live out her call to religious life (she thought she was being called to become a Maryknoll Missionary) she entered our aspirancy at age 13 because she experienced “joy, generosity in loving others and love of parties" with the Racine Dominicans.
After graduating from St. Catherine's High School and Dominican College, S. Carmen taught in multi-cultural schools throughout Wisconsin. She also worked with Mexican migrants in summer school programs. Realizing that the children she taught and their families had many needs beyond education, she began her educational path toward social work and psychotherapy, which eventually culminated in a PhD in Clinical Social Work from Loyola, Chicago. Along the way, she earned master's degrees in pastoral counseling and social work.
During her career, S. Carmen has specialized in multi-cultural education and counseling. She has worked with Laotians, African Americans and Native Americans in areas of clinical counseling and alcohol, drug, and domestic abuse. As a social worker with the Indian Health Board, she established the psychotherapy department there. It grew and flourished and is now part of the Ignace Indian Health Center. She translated a leading treatment and prevention model for survivors of sexual abuse.
Early in her career, S. Carmen met S. Mary Vaculik and they lived together intermittently over the next 40 years. When S. Mary's health needs necessitated a move to Siena Center, S. Carmen came with her and continued to share the joys and sorrows of life with her until S. Mary's death in 2019. During that time she also worked in the Sponsorship Office, accompanying our sponsored ministries as they began to plan for sustainability.
For the last year, S. Carmen has immersed herself in the liturgical life of Siena Center in ways too numerous to mention. When asked what's next, she says that in retirement her joy is prayer, contemplation, and Gospel living in a deeper way.
I'd say that's a career well lived and a life still receiving gifts from the Spirit and giving them back to us in so many ways.
- Interviewed by Gail Jacobsen, Associate
The third oldest of 10 children, Sister Alice Rademacher was born November 13, 1936, in a farm house near Fowler, Michigan. She attended a one-room schoolhouse until 3rd grade, transferring to a Catholic school so she could prepare for First Communion. However, she resented attending religion classes with the second graders, so she frequently hid in the bathroom until she was discovered. S. Alice cherished a favorite teacher in fourth grade, S. Vitalis, who read to the children and made each one a plaster of paris Winnie the Pooh. S. Alice wanted to excel in school and loved farm life, so she combined them. When milking the cows, she studied her spelling words (and kept meticulously clean so she wouldn’t smell like the cows!) Besides milking cows, she baked breads, gathered eggs, cleaned the chicken house, and helped with the planting and harvesting. A favorite “swing tree” in her front yard became a treasured place for S. Alice, enjoying it until she entered the convent. There on the swing she read and studied, enjoyed nature, rocked baby brothers or sisters, exercised her imagination, greeted neighbors as they walked by, and even prepared for her confessions. She states: “My time on the swing provided me with the quiet to find a balance in my life.
”Following graduation from high school and breaking off with a boyfriend, S. Alice entered the convent in 1954. She continued educational endeavors, graduating from Dominican College with a Bachelor of Education and completing an MS in Communication Arts from Racine College in 1971. S. Alice taught grades 1-6 for over 32 years, traversing the country teaching in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Michigan. In 1990 she came to Siena, training for a new career as a Certified Nursing Assistant and then obtaining a Practical Nursing degree at Gateway along with a Certificate in Gerontology from UW-Parkside. After retiring from nursing in 2005, S. Alice joined various community social action programs, like the Racine Interfaith Coalition, Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice, and VOCES. She also traveled to Washington D.C. to protest the Iraq war, and she helped create and carry the great white peace dove in the Racine July 4th parade. She stated: “I think I have influenced the lives of many people, children, teachers, and nurses.” She definitely touched many lives, for her former 6th grade class from St. Mary’s school in Belgium, WI, came to Siena to share in celebrating her 80thbirthday.
S. Alice has many avocational interests. Traveling was enjoyable, especially her three-week trip to Kisumu, Kenya in 1998 where she evaluated the possibility of using her nursing skills at the Kisumu hospital. (However, S. Alice discerned that God was not calling her there.) Other interests she relishes are reading, sewing, playing cards, Rummikub, Mexican Train and dancing. (She loved Friday night dances in high school. Leaving that behind, I think, was the hardest part of entering the convent!) Now praying the Psalms is especially meaningful to her, and she’s currently listening to the whole Bible on CDs.
What’s delightful is her wonderful sense of humor. I wish I could have seen her as Florita the Clown –the character and costume she created. What an accomplished seamstress she became!
Racine Dominican Community Connections May 20205I’m amazed at S. Alice’s resilience. She experienced normal trepidation before taking on new assignments and making career changes, but always took the plunge, loved the experience or learned from it. S. Alice freely shares her ups and downs, yet she maintains a solid faith – always seeing the hand of God guiding her along the way. However, she admits that her recent stroke and lung cancer diagnosis have “turned my world upside down.” During this major challenge she enjoys prayer, reminiscing and discussing her wonderful book (which many of you have read), Alice’s Trees: A Forest of Memories. There she tells from her heart her life story.
S. Alice, you are a joy to know. I thank you for sharing your story-telling talents and two powerful gifts of teaching and caregiving with so many. As we walk with you on this journey, teach us, tell us what you need and how we can support you.
- Interviewed by S. Carla Mae Streeter
Racine Dominican Associate Mary Kay McVey was born into a Catholic Irish St. Louis family on September 25, 1956. Originally from the “Dogtown” section of St. Louis (so named because legend has it that Aboriginal natives living in St. Louis for the 1904 World’s Fair lived there and captured neighborhood dogs to cook for supper), the family had moved out to the “burbs,” a sign that the family had “made it” when Mary Kay entered the world.
Mary Kay is a true product of Catholic education: the Sisters of Providence in grade school, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart at Cor Jesu Academy for high school, and the Sisters of St. Joseph at Fontbonne, where she graduated with a degree in Music Education. Her piano and organ lessons had equipped her to pay her own way through college through her music ministry in Dutchtown at Resurrection Parish’s grade school and choirs. Resurrection is now a Vietnamese parish.
Marriage soon brought her first child, and two years later her second. The family had moved to Colorado Springs, due to her husband’s work as an architect. There she continued her music ministry, working at a Catholic high school and eventually at the Cathedral Parish as liturgist under the bishop. This three year period was where she learned to work as an equal alongside her clergy male colleagues, a most significant awakening for her.
Then came the difficult move back to St. Louis, and soon the birth of her third child. The blessing was closeness to the dear grandparents once again. After spending time with her newborn, she was lured for a time into the corporate world, hoping it would bring needed support for her family. This introduced her to health insurance, and its dysfunctional reality, which would serve her well as her future unfolded.
A music conference at Notre Dame lured her back to music ministry, her first love, and she again taught music at St. Pius Parish, K-8. When Jack, her youngest, was three or four, the call to graduate work in theology led her to Aquinas Institute. During this time, unfaithfulness on the part of her husband led to the pain of the failure of their marriage. With scholarship funds helping her to finish at Aquinas, she worked, and continued raising her family. She was a parish liturgist, liturgist for the Sisters of St. Joseph, and liturgist for Aquinas Institute of Theology.
In 2000 she attended the Catherine Retreat at Siena, offered by Suzanne Noffke, OP. The call to association and the support of a wider community led her to explore this option. It led her once more to reclaim the sense of dignity she knew through her music ministry in the Church. As part of the St. Louis group she completed her initial associate formation and made her Enduring Commitment.
As her children launched out on their own and her work at Aquinas ended, she moved on to serve in Chicago, and then accepted a position in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she now serves at Ascension Health as a Mission Formator for present and new employees. This is the gifted woman we know as “Mary Kay!”
Interviewed by Associate Joe Grauwels.
Jane Weiss was born on March 18, 1940 on her parents’ farm in Sauk City, WI. She and her four brothers faced much hard work with their chores on the farm, but she remembers having fun too.
Racine Dominican Sisters taught her at St. Aloysius School. Already in second grade she spoke about becoming a sister some day. S. Agnes Rose, her seventh and eighth grade teacher, fostered Jane’s vocation, and upon graduation she moved to Racine as an aspirant. After high school she received her Bachelor’s degree in history from Dominican College and spent several years teaching in elementary schools in Mineral Point and Racine. A master’s degree in German was S. Jane’s next goal at UW-Madison. After one semester her studies were put on hold, because she was needed to teach at St. Bernard's in Madison for a year and a half.
She went on to earn her M.A. in German and 1966 she began her 46-year ministry at St. Catherine’s High School (SCHS) teaching German, history, and geography. Three years later, I began my 41 year ministry at St. Cat’s, and a life-long friendship with my future sponsor. By this time she taught German full-time while I taught German and religion classes.
Throughout the years I learned so much about her. She always knew where everything was and could have it in her hand (or even in my hand) in a minute or less. She had 12 “bosses” in 46 years, and each one of them received her best work. She never threw any of them under the bus, even if they might deserve it! She was never rash. Often she would answer my questions with, “Joe, let me think about it. Let me pray about it. Get back to me tomorrow.” Because of her professionalism coupled with a hint of shyness, her great warmth was not immediately apparent to someone first meeting her. To get to know her is to get to enjoy this warmth.
In 1982, S. Jane became a part-time administrator and part-time teacher. She earned her M.A. in Educational Administration from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul and became assistant principal, the position she remained in until retiring in 2012. I asked her if she could share what she found especially rewarding and what she found challenging in her long SCHS ministry. She answered, “I really enjoyed being with, working with students and their parents when kids got into trouble, and I learned about the challenges both faced.” S. Jane had the reputation of being tough but very fair in matters of discipline.S. Jane also said that she found working with teachers in a supervisory capacity to be both challenging and rewarding. She said, “It was very rewarding when teachers told me that they appreciated my classroom visitations and my support.”
I also asked S. Jane what helped her to flourish as she approaches her 60 year jubilee as a Racine Dominican. She said being grounded in a prayer life based on Scripture, keeping up-to-date professionally, and reading to broaden her understanding of the world and of life keep her flourishing. For fun she likes old movies and word puzzles and sudokos.
Finally, what does her present ministry entail? She chairs the Society Focus Group. She also is a coordinator for sponsored ministries and liaison to the Senior Companion Program and the Eco-Justice Center. She also shares her gifts in the Schola Choir, the Bell Choir, and the Orchestra.When sisters or other associates ask me who my sponsor is, I tell them S Jane Weiss. Their universal response is, “Joe, you have an excellent one. I reply, “Thanks. I know.”
Interviewed by S. Kathy Slesar
The Dominican influence in Laura’s life began the day of her birth. First, she was born on August 8, the feast of St. Dominic. Secondly, her parents, who lived with Laura’s Grandpa and Uncle Dick, were busy on that day preparing lunch for two of Grandpa’s sisters, S. Mary Frances and S. Genevieve Weber, both Adrian Dominican Sisters. The two were making their once-every-three-years visit, then the norm in religious life. When Laura's mom went into labor, Uncle Dick took care of making lunch, and the sisters and Laura arrived later that day.
The Dominican influence grew as Laura started school at St. John the Baptist School in Ypsilanti, Michigan, staffed by the Adrian Dominicans. She had Adrian Dominicans all through high school and was impressed with their dedication to their students, the parish and to teaching. Laura was even considering Siena Heights College. However, her mother wanted Laura to expand her world beyond the Adrian Dominicans. Laura went to Marquette University and was taught by the Jesuits.
However, the Dominican influence continued. At age 30, her Uncle Dick entered the Dominican novitiate and eventually became a priest. Along the way, he was asked to complete the Ph.D. in history he had begun before entering the Dominicans. Laura, who by then was in high school, helped him review his dissertation to be sure the superscript numbers and footnotes matched. This experience fostered Laura’s own interest in history, and she too eventually received her Ph.D. in history. The experience with her uncle taught Laura that there need not be a conflict between faith and scholarship or between a spiritual and an intellectual life.
Following graduate school, Laura obtained an academic position at UW-Parkside in Kenosha and moved to Racine. That led her, with a little encouragement from friends and some “coincidental” events, into the Racine Dominican path. The first sister she met was S. Jean Verber. The Racine Journal Times did a story on Jean’s 1983 visit to the women’s encampment at Greenham Common in England, where women were protesting the installation of a new generation of nuclear missiles in Western Europe. Laura was teaching women’s history and since the class was studying women and social activism, she contacted S. Jean to speak at UW-Parkside. Jean presented an evening lecture which was very well attended. Laura’s first contact with us was thus linked from the start with our charism: committed to Truth, compelled to Justice.
Later, through her student S. Melissa Butts, Laura met Ss. Rosaire Lucassen, Lois Vanderbeke, Karen Frederickson, Suzanne Noffke and Rita M. Martin, a most impressive group. Not long after that, we formalized our associate program, and it was a natural thing for Laura to join. S. Rosaire was her sponsor, and Laura made her initial commitment in July 1989.
Laura is a very active associate. She has developed many relationships and has participated in liturgies, retreats, and worked with our sponsored ministries, especially the HOPES Center, in various capacities. She also chaired the 100th anniversary celebration at St. Edward Parish and worked diligently to highlight the contributions of the Racine Dominicans. She has taken to heart our search for truth. During her academic career, Laura published a book and a number of articles on Austrian history and women’s history. Her current project is the writing of a book about Helen Perry Curtis. In 1937, Curtis wrote a book about a mother and her two daughters and their travels through Europe. When Laura was ten years old, her mom gave her a book she'd had as a young girl, saying: “Here, you’ll like this, it’s about a girl who goes to Europe.” Laura did like it, so much so that her Ph.D. is in European history! Laura always wondered if the book was fact or fiction. After many internet searches, she finally located one of Helen’s granddaughters and learned that the book is based on actual experiences. She has connected with the family and been thrilled to learn so much about Helen. Watch for Laura’s new book and how the Dominican influence continues in the next chapter of Laura’s life!
In March 1941, Jean Ferstl, the oldest of Walter and Margaret Ferstl's four children, was born at home on the family farm in Plain, WI. She attended St. Luke's Catholic School, where she was taught by Racine Dominican Sisters. From an early age, she "felt" a call to church life. At the age of 15, with the support of her family, she was accepted as an aspirant in the Racine Dominican Community, following in the footsteps of her cousin, S. Jane Weiss, and several other relatives (think Dischlers and Bindls).
Upon graduating from St. Catherine's High School, S. Jean received a bachelor's degree in Chemistry from Dominican College and a master's degree in physics from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. For the next 18 years, she taught chemistry and physics at St. Catherine's High School. At the end of her active teaching days, she took a year of study in St. Louis and subsequently embarked on a different ministry – pastoral associate at St. Rose Parish in Racine.
After a few years there, she answered a call to Lexington, KY, and became the pastoral associate for St. Peter and Paul Parish. It was here that she stated she experienced "a great deal of not only personal growth, but also growth in my abilities to deal with the day to day responsibilities of parish management, due to the ill health of the parish priest." She also honed her homiletic skills and became adept at filling in at the last minute for the ailing priest.
It was with some reluctance that after nine years in Kentucky, she returned to Racine after accepting the community's invitation to become the house coordinator at Siena Center for a couple of years. In 1998 she was elected to the leadership team and served in that capacity for four years. It was during this time that she was able to travel to Germany and visit the foundress' community of Heilig Kreuz and her own family roots. After her leadership term, she again answered a call to parish ministry, accepting a position in her home parish, St. Luke's. Shortly after arriving, she learned that she and Fr. Mike would have not only St. Luke's, but also St. John's Parish in Spring Green. It would be a busy three-four years for Jean between the two parishes, until her health became an issue and she returned to Racine.
Upon her "retirement," Jean became involved with several focus groups and was often enlightening the community with her reflections at prayer and Word services. She was instrumental in shepherding her cluster group for many years. Since her stroke in 2018, Jean has resided at Lakeshore. She is most grateful for the opportunities that were opened to her because of the Community. One of her most treasured legacies is that of the Eco-Justice Center. It was Jean’s idea at the Gathering of the Dreamers that planted the seed for the center, and she has had the pleasure of watching it come to fruition and thrive.
– S. Alice Pittz
Sitting across the room with his sister at a CYO dance, Don stated, “That’s the girl I’m gonna marry.” Today, daughter Lorilyn, adopted daughter Ann Marie, and the little Saint from stillbirth Marie, all call her “Mom.” To Sarah (20) and Amy (16) she is Grandma who makes their favorite banana bread. We know her as our Associate Gail Jacobsen.Native to Milwaukee, Gail attended parochial schools, receiving her diploma from Pius High School. The following fall, as a scholarship student, Gail enrolled in Racine Dominican Community Connections December 20195Mount St. Clare College, Clinton, Iowa. Very early on, her sense of values and service involved her in an interfaith, interracial group, only to realize later, “holding hands while singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ didn’t resolve racism issues. However, that experience was rich and has had a major impact on me to this day.”After graduation, marriage and children, Gail’s itinerant spirit of seeking and searching provided employment for more than 20 years at U.W-Milwaukee. Simultaneously, she returned to being a student “working on a communications degree with a minor in gerontology, a new and growing field at that time." Gail’s efforts led to a Masters in Social Work. It was also during this time that she volunteered as a home communion minister to Dan, a history professor with both lung and brain cancer. “This was a very emotional involvement – the trust Dan had in me was key,” she stated. This was also the period when Gail discovered the power of journaling, birthing her own book: Write Grief: How to Transform Loss with Writing. Presently Gail ministers as a Washington County interfaith caregiver, similar to the Senior Companion Program. She first met the Racine Dominicans when she attended a “Women Mystics” retreat given by S. Mary Michna. In a different setting “Sweet S. Mary Vaculik was always very kind to me.” Gail’s desire to minister involved in a community “with strong minded woman” finds her facilitating your retreat registration, guiding you through the Siena Retreat Center Bookstore, or deliberating with other Mission Fund Committee members about the most helpful distribution of the monies you saved, or being a creative, efficient thinker on the Associate Advisory Committee.But the end is not yet! “I feel I definitely need to do something unique to me before I die. I want to feel I have finished whatever God asks me to do. Dominican involvement will lead me to it,” Gail affirms. Thank you, Beautiful Lady, for adding to the richness of our 21st Century understanding of itinerant mendicancy. We walk together, believing the vision still has its time. (Habakkuk 2:2-3)
– Connie Roybal
“Let me cogitate uponst it.” A phrase common to my friend, Sister Adele Karwacki, and one that always made me smile while bringing me great comfort, since I knew she would come up with a good solution! She “cogitated uponst” many things, but most important to me were the retreats she arranged at Manresa, a Jesuit Retreat House, in Bloomfield Hills, MI. They were life-giving and fun! “I was born 81 years ago...in Detroit, MI, and lived with my parents [Arthur and Adele] and my sister until after high school when I entered the Racine Dominican Community,” says Adele. She remembers walking to St. Jude Grade School, staffed by the Adrian Dominicans. “I also remember the stiff, starched white linen of their veils and the tight headband that held the sisters' veils up. And, I suspect, that was one reason why I decided to join the soft-veiled Racine Dominicans.” The other reason was that her cousin, Sister Melanie Chateau, close to her in age, had preceded her. She entered the community in 1956, sharing many “growing-up” experiences with her classmates —“one-of-a-kind-memories,” S. Adele called them. They still reminisce about these when they get together. Initially, S. Adele either taught or was a principal in several Racine Catholic schools. In 1970, she was hired at Assumption Grotto Grade School in Detroit as school counselor. I was a teacher in the school. This began her career as a school counselor and our friendship. She became a high school counselor in 1975 when she was hired at Our Lady Star of the Sea, in Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit. She remained there until the school closed in 1993. I volunteered there as a CCD teacher. At that time, Adele also worked with the Foreign Study League (FSL), accompanying students and chaperones in the study of a number of European countries – Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Her tasks included recruiting both students and chaperones for the FSL and helping to keep them safe and on schedule. My friend, associate Susan Walczak, served as a chaperone on one of those trips, and to this day, greatly values the experience! Adele was at Star of the Sea when I left the Detroit area in 1980. After that, we saw each other from time to time. She always asked how things went in my life. I was happily in the dark about what a busy lady she was, as she continued to work as a high school counselor while remaining an active participant in community activities. She was a high school counselor at Dominican High School, her alma mater, and at Regina High School. Later, she was hired as an evening counselor to students in an alternative study program and as a teacher of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) in St. Clare Shores. During this time, she served her community as secretary of the Stewardship Study Committee, which looked at changes in the sisters’ future needs. This study eventually led to the building of Siena Center. She also served as chair of the Assembly Coordinating Committee and Chapter Planning Committee with the tasks of planning for elections and community business agendas. “These were good experiences. I enjoyed travelling to Racine and reconnecting with the community,” says S. Adele. Actually, she used her talents and personality to build community wherever she found herself, always enjoying life and making life enjoyable for others. “During my Michigan years, I connected with my family, also with S. Melanie’s mother, and over time I helped my aging mother,” she recalls. “After my mother died, I moved to Toledo, Ohio, and began volunteering for ESOL, teaching until 2015 when my illness brought me back to Racine.” Today, as a Racine Dominican associate, I am a member of a group consisting of four sisters and two associates who play cards once a month, initially arranged by none other than S. Adele, and of course, we play Michigan Rummy! Thank you, God, for my good friend!
– Ruth Mixdorf
S. Therese Van Thull was the tenth child born to Marie and Anton Van Thull in Kimberly WI. Her mother died the following year, giving birth to her 11th child, who did not survive. When Therese was five years old, her father remarried and had three more children. S. Therese remembers many happy hours working in the family bakery: frying, filling, glazing doughnuts, baking and frosting cakes, rolling out pie dough and making thousands of loaves of bread. As a teenager, she continued working in the bakery, taking over as manager when her father and two brothers died. Those were long days back then, as she got up at 4:30 a.m. to make the dough, then headed off to high school, and came back after school to finish working in the bakery. After graduating high school, Therese met S. Regina Williams and learned of the need for lay teachers. She said yes and went to Michigan to live and teach with the Racine Dominicans. She entered community and eventually earned bachelor's and masters degrees in education. She was drawn to Milwaukee to be a more active participant in working for justice for the poor and especially the African-American community. She lived and worked with S. Regina, becoming very active in protests advocating for those being treated unfairly by their employers. The two women felt the lack of strong education was one of the primary reasons for the continuing poverty in Milwaukee. So they established the Mary Bethune Reading Academy, along with the help of the Racine Dominicans, tutoring women to get their GEDs. She has spent her life as a teacher, principal and mentor.In 2002, S. Therese along with S. Regina, came to Siena Center. S. Therese chose to tutor ESL (English as a second language) and assist in gardening. She has been taking care of all the plants in the Siena Retreat Center plus Siena, for several years now. Only recently she has passed the responsibility of the Retreat Center plants to someone else. You will still find her working in the raised beds to the east of the Sisters’ Residence and caring for the plants at Siena. She loves snapdragons and has a gift for bringing plants back to life. Plants are more than just decorations, she says, they add so much to the environment. She has a quiet strength and loves reaching out to others. S. Therese is very grateful for all the care and love she’s received from the Racine Dominican community. We are grateful, S. Therese, for your love and care for all of God’s people, and for the care of the environment and the beauty of the plants that we all enjoy at Siena.
– Mare Wheeler
This month I interviewed S. Gertrude (“Gert”) Geigle as part of our ongoing Legacy Project. Some of the following information was also taken from Gert’s article titled “My Life Journey.” Now age 99, Gert was born on June 20, 1920, in Kaukauna, WI, the third of eight children. She remembers living on Canal Street, where there was a cistern in the front yard where her mother kept vegetables cool. When she was four years old, Gert met “pretty ladies” from Holy Cross school, who were Racine Dominican Sisters. At Holy Cross School, there were 96 children in her first grade class, sitting three abreast in a double seat. She had large classes all the way through grade school in Kaukauna. After eighth grade, Gert entered the Racine Dominican Postulate in Racine, attending St. Catherine’s High School. She finished high school in two years and also took the County exams, equivalent to Normal School training exams. She entered the novitiate at age 16, and was sent to St. Patrick’s in Racine during her second year of novitiate, where she remained teaching primary grades for four years. During World War II, Gert was transferred to St. John’s in Little Chute. Her brother Jack, an Army officer, with whom Gert was very close, died while leading his men through a mine field in France in 1944, two days after Gert had made final vows. She says that if she hadn’t made final vows that day, she might not be with us now.Gert went on to teach in various schools in Wisconsin and Michigan for 34 years. She recounts that on one July 16, she received not one, but four school assignments, which finally resulted in her teaching in Caledonia! While a principal at St. Louis in Caledonia and then another year at Nativity School in Detroit, Gert says that she had no secretary at either school, but also managed an eighth grade home room in both schools with no less than 43 students in each!Gert’s last teaching days were at Fowler, MI, in 1971. After that time, Gert became a religious educator/catechist trainer, serving in DeWitt and LaCrosse for 31 years, from 1971-2002. In LaCrosse, she went out to train in many rural parishes. She would pack up her car for two weeks, see her scheduled parishes, and then return to LaCrosse to get ready for the next “lap.” She also realized her missionary dream by working variously with the LAMP program in Mexico, with the Agnesian sisters in Harlem, NY, with S. Thomasina Zajac with Hmong people in Eau Claire, and with S. Susan Klein in LaJoya, TX. Gert moved to Siena Center in 2002, and served as a driver for the community. She handed in the car keys in 2015. Gert says that now she is a “free agent,” with time for “Silence, Solitude and Simplicity.” She deems the changes in religious life after Vatican II a “glorious welcome,” as the community is asked to make responsible choices and to be personally responsible for actions. Gert believes there will always be religious life in some form. She says that it will differ with the differing needs of the time. She closes the interview quoting her father’s admonition when she left home before the postulate, "Remember that the habit does not make the monk, and if you are not happy, get out before you make hell for the rest of them.” God bless Sister Gertrude Geigle!
– Associate David Lauer
Evelyn Lins, the third of fourteen children born to John and Rose Lins from Plain, Wisconsin, entered the Racine Dominican community in 1944, just weeks shy of her 15th birthday. As time passed, she tried to be mischievous enough to get sent home. Thankfully, her efforts failed. She told her postulant directress she wanted to be a cook. “We’ll see,” was the response. Evelyn graduated from St. Catherine’s High School and earned a bachelors degree from Dominican College – and the legacy of Sister Evelyn Lins OP began.After teaching second grade for 7 years at Sacred Heart School and two years at Holy Name School in Racine, Sr. Evelyn was sent to found a new school in Verona where she served as principal, superior and teacher of 55 first and second graders. While it was a huge challenge, Sr. Evelyn says those years were the happiest of her years in the community. During the summers while assigned to Verona, she earned her M.A, in Administration at St. Xavier University in Chicago. Evelyn took her knowledge and skills to Green Bay to teach math, music and language arts for 7 years at SS. Peter and Paul Junior High. She finished her teaching career at St. Edward in Racine, serving 6 years as principal.After 11 years as House Coordinator, she took on the challenge of caring for women victims of domestic abuse. Bethany Apartments accepted its first family in November 1990 and continues today as a respite allowing women and their children up to two years of a secure environment to get their lives back together. In 1994, Sr. Evelyn was elected to leadership for 4 years after which she served on several boards and committees, sharing her experience and expertise. She now finds her English as a Second Language teaching particularly rewarding, and enjoys volunteering at the Retreat Center.My personal thanks to Sr. Madeline for not letting young Evelyn Lins go back home, or become a cook. I’m the little boy who sat in the front desk in second grade at Sacred Heart School 65 years ago who grew up to become a CPA.
– S. Lisa Kane
The past few months Community Connections has had a feature article by an associate who interviewed a Racine Dominican Sister. When I suggested that sisters could also be the interviewer and an associate the subject, I was invited to be the first! I was then urged to interview Mare Wheeler, an extraordinary Racine Dominican Associate. An excerpt of our interview is included here. If you would like to know more, please contact Mare directly! She is very open to the conversation.
An interview with Mare Wheeler
What Racine Dominican do you know – vowed or associate – who is a member of the Mission Fund Steering Committee and Allocation Committee, SRI and SRI ad hoc Committee, Integrative Wellness Task Force, Preaching Committee, Justice and Rights Commission, Siena Handbell Choir, and in her free time conducts Goose Patrol for the campus with her rescue dog Stella, writes for Global Sisters Report, presents wellness seminars for the sisters at Siena, (oh!) and is active on the HOPES Center Board of Directors! Let me share a bit more with you about Mare Wheeler.As we talked, I quickly learned that Mare has always been an adventurer. It began in her youth, growing up in a military (USAF) family, where she attended eight different schools by the time she graduated high school. Years later, she would follow in her father’s footsteps as she, too, joined the Air Force where she learned to repair fighter jets and pilot a plane. She reflected how her father bragged, "she knew how to change the oil in a fighter jet before she learned to do that on her VW Bug." Mare is a Vietnam veteran, having served in Texas, Illinois, and southeast Asia.Mare has also been a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, where she acquired degrees in Theology and English Education, taught the children of prostitutes and drug dealers in a red-light district in Albany, NY, and worked with students who had been expelled from the public school system – most often for violent behavior. After leaving the CSJs, Mare taught emotionally-disturbed youth. Mare is “at home” ministering with those whom society would cast off.Mare chose to become a physician assistant when her daughter died due to inadequate medical care. Mare decided to specialize in mental health, and the multitude of co-occurring health issues that are common with this too-often-homeless and underserved population. Mare the Adventurer has served medical missions in six countries – Haiti, China, Madagascar, Nepal, Belize, and here at home in the US (Appalachia). Most recently, Mare went for a one-month mission trip to the Dominican Republic, where she worked with our Adrian Dominican Sisters. Please know that Mare loves to travel – and travels for fun and adventure far more often than for missions!Now it might seem from these few paragraphs that Mare has lived a number of careers – and for many people, that would be true. Not for Mare! She continues to live life "to the full" with courage, gusto, and wonderful sense of Irish wit as well as a ton of wisdom! Please take the time to chat with Mare the next time you see her. You might get an invite to her new home where she shows off her catering expertise and serves the tasty morsels on treasured dishes from around the world. It is great to count you, Mare, among our many committed Racine Dominican Associates!
– Kathie Solie, Associate
Early in 1995, I arrived at Siena Center as the first lay administrator. I knew that I had the support and acceptance of the Dominican leadership team. They, after all, had hired me. Other sisters and staff were not so certain about this newcomer. The position of Administrator had always been held by one of the Dominicans.While making my way into the tunnels, the storage rooms and the back hallways of Siena Center, I came across a small room behind the kitchen. In a circle of comfortable chairs, I met a small group of sisters. I soon learned that these were the women who kept the complex going. Sister Bernadette Weinberger was the original Head of Maintenance when the Center opened and was among the first women to hold a boiler license. Sister Marlene Hetzel was the house baker and a tremendous support to the kitchen crew. Sister Imelda Kaltenbach had managed the Siena laundry from the time the doors opened and shared hilarious stories of the laundry in the "old motherhouse." Another member of this hard working and joyful group was a woman I came to admire greatly. Sister Donna Marie Koeningsknecht was Sister Imelda’s partner in service in the laundry. The list of other responsibilities she had was long.When interviewed for an article at the time of one of her Jubilee Celebrations, Sister Donna Mariewas quoted, “I prefer to be in the background.” That is the woman I came to know and love. "Background?"...no way. Her life of service was more of a "foundation" than that. I watched her for my 13 years at Siena, doing so much more than laundry. If something needed to be done, DonnaMarie was able and willing. If someone needed a gentle ear, she was there. For the hardest and nastiest jobs, she was always first in line to help.As much as she loved and served Siena Center, Sister Donna Marie’s heart will always be at the former Our Lady of the Oaks in Pewaukee. In this rural, beautiful place she worked in the garden, the orchard and kept the complex going. She lived and worked side by side with Sister Bernadette. All I had to do was ask about the years there. She would smile and positively glow. While so many Racine Dominicans have enriched my life and taught me so much, Sister Donna Marie stands out. My respect for her is endless. This quiet woman is religious life personified.
– Mare Wheeler, Associate
What a pleasure to interview S. Judene Walsh! Born the third of seven children outside Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, on an 150 acre dairy farm, Judene describes her growing up as “very wholesome.” She says that she learned early that the many kinds of work done around the farm, were “all done as family.” Judene was a very lively and intelligent student. She had a couple great aunts who were in religious life. At the end of her junior year in high school, she entered the Racine Dominican community on September 8, 1946, as a postulant, after her oldest sister Pauline. She also entered with Sr. Mary Ellen Paulson. She remembers going to chemistry class at St. Catherine’s with Sr. Yvonne Renner. She eventually attended, graduated from and taught at the Dominican College School of Music. At that time, she says, music was a very high priority with the community. She had a career of great variety. In about 1959, she was sent to Madison to teach sixth grade and music. She then taught in South Milwaukee, Verona, Racine, Pewaukee, Milwaukee, Kansasville, and Burlington. She went on to be a school principal, an executive secretary, and Siena Center administrator. She eventually became a secretary for Justice and Rights Commission and for Mission Fund. She says, “Everything I did, I had to find out on my own. I was always the neophyte.” However, she says that she thoroughly enjoyed how many different jobs she’s had. She concludes, “We are all living our lives is faithfully as we can. Spirit draws us all together.” Blessings on Sr. Judene!
– Marilyn Lauer, Associate
Legacy is about sharing the richness of life, living in the present, learning from the past, and building for the future. Recently, I had the honor of interviewing S. Eugenia Kaster for the Racine Dominican Legacy project, as she delightfully shared her life and experiences with me.Gardina Mary Kaster was born August 31, 1927, on a farm in Freedom, Wisconsin, located between Appleton and Green Bay in Outagamie County. She was the eighth child in her family and had Dominican blood and religious service in her genes. From her mother’s side of the family, three aunts were Racine Dominicans – S. Cornelia, S. Esther and S. Arnold Vander Loop. Additionally, uncles Steve and Ted became Norbertine priests. She and S. Celia Evers are first cousins. S. Celia’s mother and Gardina’s mother were sisters.Nicknamed “Dean,” by siblings, she had eleven brothers and two sisters. At age nineteen, while reciting nightly prayers, she said, “I had a thought enter my mind to go to the convent.” A short time later in 1946, she entered the Racine Dominican Community postulate. At the time of professing final vows in 1950, Gardina was given the name of Sister Eugenia, an early Christian Roman martyr.On July 13, 1965, S. Eugenia received a Dominican College degree and taught children for twenty years. After LPN training, she worked for twelve years at St. Luke in Racine. Later, she become a healthcare board-certified chaplain. She worked in this profession for twenty years at that same hospital before retiring in 1989. Today, S. Eugenia enjoys prayer and contemplation, participating in community activities, writing, drawing and corresponding with family and friends. During her lifetime, S. Eugenia courageously endured uterine and colon cancers and two brain surgeries. Faith, family, the Racine Dominican Community, and a sense of humor inherited from family, have provided S. Eugenia with joy, gratification and an abundant life of service to further the Kingdom of God.
– Stacey Walsh, Associate
Recently I sat down for lunch with S. Rita Martin. I delighted in her story of a life full of faith and love. Rita was the fifth child born to Louis and Louisa Martin of Fowler, a small farming community in central Michigan. When Rita was a little girl, her father purchased a dairy farm. She described her dad as a keen businessman who upgraded the equipment and ultimately bottled and sold milk under the Martin Dairy label. The girls did not milk cows, but Rita did put the caps on the bottles. After eighth grade, Rita stayed home to help her mom, who wasn’t in the best of health. But as long as she could remember, she wanted to be a teacher. Rita watched as her older sister Frances joined the Dominicans and became Sister Geraldine, a welcomed name change. At the age of 19, having dated a few nice boys in Fowler, Rita too decided to join the Dominicans. She became S. Louis Mary. She continued her schooling and became a teacher. The close faithful community of Fowler fostered many vocations. Or, maybe there was something in the water!Today, Rita enjoys a spectacular view of Lake Michigan from her room at the Racine Dominican Residence. She feels so blessed to have a view that inspires her to paint; she absolutely loves to paint nature and birds. However, as a youngster she didn’t want to ask her parents for painting supplies. Recently she asked herself, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” The answer came clearly and simply: "I want to paint and play the piano." Although she has more aches and pains than she did even a year ago, she accepts them with joy and gratitude, knowing that it is what God wants, and she is at peace. Sitting with S. Rita, I couldn’t help but feel happy and thankful.