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S. Audrey Affholder – A Life of Giving:
(July 1, 1928 - June 24, 2013)
Read obituary by S. Suzanne Noffke

 

Fulfilling a Mother’s Dream

A couple years after little Audrey Affholder’s mother died when the child was just six years old, her father thought she should “have religion” and sent her to live with relatives so she could attend St. Bernard School in Madison, WI. There she met the Racine Dominicans, discovering their “joyful spirit” as she helped her teachers clean the church during her lunch time and clap the erasers after school. At age 18, she left Madison to join the community of these teachers she greatly admired.

“My own mother wanted to be a religious, but due to health problems, was denied,” Sister Audrey recalled. “I feel I received the call due to her prayers.” Throughout her 65 years as a vowed religious, she says her priorities have been “attending daily Mass, teaching, and praying for the needs of the world.”

For 47 years she “had the privilege of teaching God’s little ones” in various schools around Wisconsin. “I wanted to lay a good foundation in the Three R’s – religion, reading and ‘rithmetic,” she reflected. And she did exactly that for hundreds of first and second graders. Just this summer Sister Audrey received a letter from a first grader she taught in the early 1960s at St. Mary School in Tomah. Fifty years post-first grade, the grown-up Mary wrote appreciatively to her teacher: “I remember you as being so kind and my having no fear in first grade, all thanks to you. You gave us a wonderful start in education.” 

Mary’s assessment, and that of countless other children taught by Sister Audrey, was affirmed in 1992 when she received the Vatican II “Service in Education” Award from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for her excellent teaching.

A Second “Career”

Though Sister Audrey “retired” from teaching in 1996, she has remained every bit as active and dedicated to serving others. For the past 16 years she has ministered in the Senior Companion Program, helping to enhance the lives of seniors in Racine County by visiting and befriending them. “It’s such a worthwhile ministry,” Sister Audrey noted. “It gives the people a chance to express themselves, to share their lives, and I so enjoy visiting them.”

“She is very dedicated to the program and cares deeply about the people,” said Sister Joyce Ballweg, Senior Companion Program Administrator. “Her kindness, patience and gentle spirit mean a great deal to those she visits.”

For 10 years, Sister Audrey visited 40 people each month, sometimes helping them with tasks they couldn’t do on their own. As she came to know the people, she would prepare “treat bags” to take on visits, filling them with cookies or soft candy, magazines, holy cards and inspirational books. Every morning and afternoon she would head out to visit her people in their homes and in five different care facilities. On each trip, she would drop off other Sisters to visit their “companions” and pick them up on her way home. She made it possible for many Sisters to continue volunteering in the Senior Companion Program.

Strength of Spirit

Then, in 2006, a fall dramatically changed Sister Audrey’s life. In the chapel of Siena Center, the Racine Dominican motherhouse, a slight misstep caused her to fall, breaking her hip. After surgery, months of painful physical therapy and recuperation, at age 79, she was determined to return to her ministry.

“I used to visit people twice a day; now I can only go out twice a week,” she said. Confined to a motorized chair and in chronic arthritic pain, she can no longer drive a car. Though she has not returned to the mobility she’d hoped for, the kind and cheerful spirit she brings to her 16 senior companions each month is a strong message of hope for them. In addition to visiting, she writes letters regularly to two former companions who have moved in with family members in distant cities. She lets them know she still cares about what is happening in their lives.

Though she visits fewer people, Sister Audrey does not idle her days away. “Now I have more time to pray for the problems of the world,” she explained. “The hunger, the violence, homelessness, the environment… There are so many needs out there. Every day I spend time praying for people in need and for healing the troubles in our world.” 

“Sister Audrey is a gem!” Sister Joyce said of her program’s consummate volunteer. “It’s not easy for her to get around, yet she never complains. Her spirit and determination to keep serving others is the most powerful witness of hope anyone could bring to these seniors.

“Our program mission states: ‘With respect and recognition of the dignity and value of each human being, the Senior Companion Program enhances the quality of life for older adults through friendship, socialization and advocacy.’

“Sister Audrey epitomizes that mission every time she visits someone.”