"Sister Angela [Heegeman] opened me to the piano, to music and myself. Her keen eye saw the gifts I possessed, deleloping them beyond the music lessons she taught."
Read more of Brian Gunn's story below .
"Their presence, a constant throughout my life, has made all the difference.
It started with my aunts, Sr. Michelle and Sr. Betty Olley. Betty loved baseball and she and my uncle, Fr. Edmund Olley, would take me to Wrigley Field as a young boy to watch the hapless Cubs. Sr. Michelle introduced me to civic engagement, taught me to love what St. Catherine’s stood for and to have the courage to be an agent of change if necessary..."
Read more of Christopher Olley's story below.
Your Racine Dominican Sister Stories…
In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week, stories were collected about Racine Dominican Sisters and their impact on individuals. Here are those stories worthy of featuring again in honor of National Catholic Sister's Week.
who taught at
St. Francis Catholic
in Ottawa, Illinois
I was born and raised on the west side of Ottawa, Illinois, a small community some 90 west of Chicago. When I started 1st grade at St. Francis Catholic parish school in the fall of 1947, few, if any, Catholic schools had kindergarten classes. So for my first year of school I went to Lincoln Elementary School.
Our St. Francis Parish Church was located three blocks from my home. Started back in 1858 to serve the needs of the German-speaking members of the community, St. Francis was staffed during my growing up years by Benedictine Priests from St. Bede Academy in Peru, Illinois, and Dominican Sisters from Racine, Wisconsin. I so dearly loved our Dominican Sisters and had a special affection for my 1st-grade teacher. Sister was not only new at teaching but she also had a very pretty face. I can remember once when some of the kids in my class were giving her a hard time and she started to cry. It broke my heart to see her in tears. The black and white habit of the Order of Preachers often had us young girls wondering if our nuns, as we called them, really had hair behind the black and white headpiece that only revealed their delicate facial features.
Our daily routine as students at St. Francis started when I entered 1st grade and held true up to my last day in 8th grade: Every school day, we went to Mass in the morning. Pre-Vatican II rules were simple: no eating after midnight if you wanted to receive communion that day. So for those of us wishing to receive communion before the start of class, our mothers would fix us a small breakfast consisting of maybe a Hostess Twinkie along with an orange or an apple in a small paper bag and off to school we went with our breakfast in one hand and our school books in the other. Then, after Mass, we’d go to our respective classrooms, open our bag and have breakfast.
I also have fond memories of the Benedictine Priests who served our community while I was a member of the parish. One priest, in particular, Father Michael, come St. Patrick day, would treat all of us St. Francis kids with a Dixie cup filled with vanilla ice cream with a deep green ice cream shamrock in the center. A real treat!
After school, many of us would ride our bicycles around the neighborhood and sometimes we’d even make our way down to St. Francis to play on the school playground and even talk with some of the Dominican Sisters. In those days it wasn’t uncommon for the Sisters to be walking around the school grounds praying their large bead 15-decade rosary. Quite often the Sisters would interrupt their prayers to answer our questions or simply have small talk with us.
As I look over some of the end-of-year class pictures that have stayed with me over the years, I was quickly reminded that many of my classes were in fact made up of two grades. Case in point, when I was in 4th grade our teacher, Sister Myron, also taught 3rd grade with a combined class attendance of 35 students. The same held true when I was in 7th grade and our school principal, Sister Gabriel, taught our class as well as the 8th grade.
And to my surprise, I noticed that my 8th-grade graduation picture had a total of 21 students: 3 boys and 18 girls. Oh, my, what a problem for us girls!
Gazing over the front cover of some of my end-of-the-year class pictures, I smile at the whimsical jingle I see before me:
School days, dear old golden rule days
Reading, and writing and ‘rihmetic
Taught to the tune of a hickory stick
I was your bashful, barefoot beau.
You were my queen in calico.
You wrote on your slate,
When we were a couple kids,
“I love you so”
I was so blessed to have been raised with and taught by the Dominican Sisters and the Benedictine Priests. I have always said then as I’m saying now, “I would not want to live without my religion because my religion was and has always been my beacon of hope.” And as we walk through the annals of my years at St. Francis Grade School, I am happy to be able to share the many joyful and happy days of growing up in the loving environment of my family, my relatives and my neighbors, an environment that was strongly supported and reinforced by the teachings of Dominican Sisters and Benedictine Priests of our parish.
To all the Sisters
Twenty years ago it was my great privilege to be hired as the first lay administrator of the Siena Center complex. What an honor and inspiration it was and is to share the up's and down's of life with the wonderful Racine Dominicans! For thirteen years in this position I was blessed to walk with them. Sisters Evelyn, Mary Ann and Ann...thank you for hiring me. Sisters Marian, Agnes, Maryann, Germaine, Joyce, Pat, and Dorothy Ann...thank you for being a team with me. To every sister who shared prayers, support, challenges, dreams, hard work, love and joy...thank you beyond words. To Sister Lois, who invited me to consider working for the Dominicans and who taught me so very much about finance, management and human resources...thank you! You will forever be my model and trusted friend. As a Racine Dominican Associate, I have a special relationship with these awesome women. What a gift in my life. I have been richly blessed by the Racine Dominicans!
Sisters mentioned by name:
Fellow Angels and Friends,
Their presence, a constant throughout my life, has made all the difference.
It started with my aunts, Sr. Michelle and Sr. Betty Olley. Betty loved baseball and she and my uncle, Fr. Edmund Olley, would take me to Wrigley Field as a young boy to watch the hapless Cubs. Sr. Michelle introduced me to civic engagement, taught me to love what St. Catherine’s stood for and to have the courage to be an agent of change if necessary.
As a product of St. Rita’s on Racine’s north side, some of the greatest people I know can be traced to my years there. My principal, Sr. Jeanne Burg, wrote in my 8th-grade yearbook – Dare to be different – almost as if she knew, simply because I was voted Patrol Captain and wore that special red badge, that one day I’d have a leadership role in education.
Sr. Karen Rogawski, my math teacher in 7th and 8th grade, taught me not to judge a book by its cover. Sr. Karen was a firm, focused taskmaster, warning talking students by saying, “There is trouble in River City.” The room would immediately go silent. She was a tough one, but when you pleased her she’d reward you with a smile so warm it could melt ice.
I am blessed that St. Rita’s gave me lifelong friends, people I can count on when things get tough.
As a student at SCHS, I had Sr. Jane Weiss for German. She was an excellent educator, always on point, and ironically taught me more about English – things I recall today – than any other teacher. Sr. Jane connected things in a way an average student like me could understand. I was blessed to have her as a teacher, and 35 years later as an Assistant Principal.
Sr. Jean Ferstl taught Physics here in the 70s and 80s so, needless to say, we didn’t exactly orbit in the same educational universe. Nonetheless, Sr. Jean and I connected when I was voted Senior Class President and she was our class advisor. Together we made a formidable team. After my commencement address, Sr. Jean sent me a handwritten card not only congratulating me on my successes but saying she expected me to continue leading with integrity. I keep that card in a safe place to this day. Who could’ve guessed that, in 2007, Sr. Jean would be on the school’s Corporate Board when I became President?
As you can see, throughout my life I have been blessed to feel the guiding influences of Dominican nuns.
Sometimes God asks us to wait…
Way back in the day – the later part of the 1960’s – I was living in a small Wisconsin town just outside of Racine. I was attending public school and being raised by one of the strictest of all Baptist mothers. It so happened that our pastor and his family lived right across the street from our school and next door to them was the house where the local nuns lived. Behind these two houses were two vacant lots which butted up next to the playground for St. Sebastian’s elementary School where the nuns taught. This was a time when little Baptist kids were taught that they could be struck by lightning should they step foot in a Catholic Church or even have any dealings with a Catholic. The fact that nuns lived next door to our pastor was challenging in our young minds.
One day the pastor’s kids and several others of us from our church gathered in the vacant lot behind his house to play softball. The game went on until someone hit a ball and - Lord help us – it went flying into the lot behind the nun’s house! And to make things even more daunting, out of the house came two nuns – and they were headed right to where our ball landed! We froze for a moment, and then took off the other direction into the line of apple trees to hide! We’d never get that ball back now!
Well, lo and behold, one of the sisters scooped up that ball, looked over in our direction, smiled the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen (especially coming from a Catholic of all people!) and she threw that ball back over to us and they kept walking on the path over to their school. I came out of my fear-filled stupor and felt nothing but love. That sister showed real love in her smile. She wasn’t at all what I’d been taught about Catholics.
I never forgot that smile. I never knew her name. Until last week…
I went up home to attend the funeral of an aunt and it worked out that I stayed at the Siena Retreat Center which is connected to Siena Center Chapel and is home to the Racine Dominican. I have prayed for years to be able to find that baseball throwing nun to thank her for her smile. In fact, it was her smile that made me want to become a nun. That, of course, didn’t happen, but I definitely converted! There was no way to track her down over almost 50 years, but as I prayed, God Said, “Just wait, I know you want to see her” and so I did. And now it has happened! As it turns out, Sister Agnes Ballweg is a resident at the Siena Center and God brought us together. She still has that wonderful smile and it was such a blessing to share some time with her there. God does answer our prayers. Sometimes it’s immediate, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s “yes,” sometimes “no” – and sometimes it’s “be patient.” Sometimes, He just sends a very special SMILE!
In January of 1999, my mother suffered a very major stroke from which she never recovered. Sister Imelda came to visit every day at the old St. Catherine's Hospital in Kenosha and was very supportive to our family, especially me. I lived in California, and still, live in California. In 2004 a very close life-long friend, who was like a father to me, was stricken with cancer and passed on. I left my work prior to his passing and was a full-time caregiver. When he passed, I called the Siena Center and had the privilege to speak with Sister Imelda and she filled me with words of love and comfort. She later wrote me a letter of comfort and ended it with, "What a blessing your friend had a loving person to walk him to the gates of heaven." I shared that sentence with so many people and there is always a silent gasp at the beauty of it. Even the doctor who attended to my friend was so touched and expressed how lucky I was to receive such an expression of joy, in a time of sorrow. I will never forget that sentence.
S. Jean Burg
S. Eugenia Kaster
In recognition of Catholic Sister Week, I am writing in honor of two wonderful Dominican Sisters, Sister Eugenia Kaster and Sister Jeanne Berg.
As a shy first grader entering St. Rita School here in Racine in 1965, Sister Eugenia made me (and I'm sure all my classmates) feel so welcome and loved. I always felt she truly cared about all of us and brought out the best in us at such a young age. I think we could even pick up on her wonderful sense of humor, which she still has today! Our class was very blessed to have Sister Eugenia again two years later when she changed to teaching third grade instead of first. I like to believe it was because she enjoyed OUR class as much as we enjoyed HER!
During this same time at St. Rita's, we were just as blessed to have Sister Jeanne Berg as our principal for the entire eight years. Even though she ran a "tight ship," Sister Jeanne was always so kind and caring, and she took the time to know all of us students in the school! She made each and every one of us feel special and important.
A few of us St. Rita classmates from 1965 to 1973 have reconnected with Sisters Eugenia and Jeanne in recent years. Laura (Raymond) Sanders and I still see them occasionally. Sister Eugenia is still funny, witty, charming, and loves to tell stories of her teaching experiences from years past! Sister Jeanne is still soft spoken and will read us her beautiful poems she has written. Both of them have taught us what it means to live faith-filled lives. Laura and I feel so fortunate to have had such wonderful mentors in Sister Eugenia and Sister Jeanne so many years ago and appreciate the time we have been able to spend with them since then.
So THANK YOU Sister Eugenia Kaster and Sister Jeanne Berg for having such a great impact on our lives! May the Lord continue to bless you both!
I remember Sister Bartholomew as a young nun. She is my aunt, and I was named after her. Although her visits were infrequent, she came at least every three years to see her family. But those in-between years were what sustained us. She wrote letters. When they were delivered to our home, my mother devoured them and then allowed us to read them … and I did.
Sister Bartholomew never realized that our home was in turmoil, that we lived in fear and were physically, mentally and emotionally battered and bruised. Those letters were filled with hope and humor and many interesting topics that helped me get through an unstable home life.
I cannot remember one specific thing she said, nor do I have any of those letters today, but the tone of each one was always encouraging and filled with joy and humor. We always … always knew she was praying for us, and I believed her prayers went directly to God. For me, then and even today, she was kind of the “spirit-filled” head of the family. She always evoked God’s goodness without preaching or giving morality lessons. Above all, we knew we were in God’s hands and he was looking out for us, even if we couldn’t. Isn’t that miraculous?!
After Vatican II, we saw more of her and realized she was a “person,” too. She now used her baptismal name, Sister Marie. She still had a very quick wit, an infectious laugh, and a smile accentuated with dimples. We also were coming to know her as adults and could talk with her about issues of the day.
Sister Marie was involved in social work and outreach programs and seemed to enjoy her ministries. She lived closer to us, and we had more contact with her. I knew she had taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but now I saw how she lived those vows, especially poverty. She never had more than she absolutely needed. She never asked for anything and was grateful for everything. Above all, I learned we were not her only family. Her community, the Racine Dominicans, were truly her sisters, her home, and her love. She was proud of them and all their endeavors (globally and nationally), as well as their ability to plan for the future. What an example to live by!
Countless others have encountered Sister Marie. I have no doubt they were changed by her presence in their lives. I know I have been blessed to know and love, touch and hug this wonderful woman. Sister Marie, may God continue to hold you lovingly in the palm of his hand.
S. Virginia Doheny
S. Davida Finn
Sister Virginia lived until 99 years old. She was the spiritual leader of our family. She prayed for us all in school. We are a family of 7 in St. Louis. She was an inspiration to us. My brother had trouble speaking early in life. In two weeks, Sister Virginia had him talking. She had a great ministry to African Americans in Parochial Schools in Wisconsin. She came from a family in Merrill Wisconsin. Her Dad died in a logging accident when she was very young and left a family of 8 with their mother. She always was positive with us and we treasured her letters of inspiration. In my family, we have two lawyers, three engineers, one interior architect and one architect. We all know without Sister Virginia we could not have accomplished our educational goals. God Bless her and the Dominican Sisters. Also, Sister Davida who helped Sister Virginia in her later years was special to us.
Sister Adeline made an impact on me as a small child. I sensed Sister Adeline's commitment to teaching even as she became older. She was so patient with me and assisted me with my studies. She never gave up on me. One very memorable day was during a snowstorm in Detroit. Assumption Grotto School was closed, but I told my Mother that I needed to go to school anyway because I new Sister Adeline was going to be there. I tried the door to school, and it was indeed locked. I proceeded to the back door of the convent and asked if Sister Adeline was going to be going to her classroom. Sister was close by and already had her black coat on. We held hands going through the deep snow and headed over to the school. We spent a good part of the day together. Sister helped me with my studies and she also talked about God. I had a lot of questions about God, and she was always ready to provide responses. I always remember when Sister described what it was like when she went on an airplane and she described what the clouds looked like. She said it was what she thought it would be like going to Heaven. Well, it was not much longer before I saw an ambulance pull up near the back of the convent and I was told Sister Adeline was very sick. Sister passed away soon after that. My Mother took me to the convent to see a Sister Adeline laid out in the Chapel. I can still see that sweet holy face. I still pray to Sister Adeline and ask for her intercessory prayers. I also think of Sister every time I look up at the clouds in the sky. I am so thankful for the Racine Dominicans as you all continue to have an influence in my spiritual journey.
I must say that Dolores Enderle had a profound impact on my career in education. As an English major, it was she who recommended me for an internship at Gifford Jr. HS in Racine in 1973. That led to a 38-year career with Racine Unified School District - 16 as an English teacher and 22 as a principal. I was truly blessed!
S. Dolores (Andre) Enderle
S. Dorothy Ann Greiber
|After 8 years of Catholic education at St. Rose in Racine and 4 years at St. Catherine's, the Racine Dominicans have had a huge influence on my life. My teacher in 2nd grade was Sr. Andre (now Dolores) and her kindness will always be remembered. As a child, I just loved her and never forgot her. In 4th and 5th grade, I was taught by Sr. Dorothy Ann Greiber (then Sr. Myron). I just felt she was an angel. She never raised her voice, always put little compliments on our work when it deserved it, and made it fun to come to school. Those two sisters always stood out in my mind because as little children we appreciate adults that are loving and fair. Then Sr. Dorothy Ann became principal of St. Joseph's here in Racine and we felt so fortunate that I could meet up with her again after about 25 years. Our four children graduated from St. Joe's and they also benefited from Sr. Dorothy Ann's hard work ethic and efficiency. She made running a school look easy because she had everything under control. All the Sisters at St. Joseph's worked hard at all the parish activities and festivals and gave us all such a good example. I cannot imagine how different my life would have been without these devoted Sisters who have given up their lives to serve the Catholic Community.
THANK YOU !!!!!
S. Angelea Heegeman
To My Friends, The Racine Dominican Sisters,
Sixty years ago, a small boy crossed the street, rand the door bell of the convent at Holy Angels Parish Milwaukee, entered to begin his first piano lesson. Greeted by Sister Angela Heegeman, ushered into the music room, I began to learn the piano and much much more. As I have noted in the past, S. Angela opened me to the piano, to music and myself. Herkeen eye saw the gifts I possessed , developed them beyond the music lessons she taught.
I have always treasured what she did for me at a very formative stage in my life.
Her nurturing of my musical talents has given me a lifetime of enjoyment. Even today when I play or practice, her voice and spirit both encourages and disciplines me.
My first lesson October, 1957, sixty years ago, remembered this October as I tried to play 60 minutes each day. Please accept this small gift in her memory of a lifetime of music, joyous sound and songs that she initiated and fostered. My prayers and thoughts for her, an past and present members of the Dominican community
Sister Marie is my aunt, my mother’s sister. My husband and I attended Nativity of Our Lord High School from 1963-1967. During that time she taught English and French. (I signed up for Latin so I wouldn’t have to have my Aunt as my teacher!!) She was kind and compassionate and always made a great effort not to embarrass me, recognizing that as a teenager, I was awkward and easily embarrassed. I met my husband in school there and married him 5 years later after I completed nursing school and he graduated from college. In the years that followed, I saw her compassion and love for family many times. She helped me and many other family members with child care and caring for the sick. I will never forget her faithful care of my mom for almost a year after her brain tumor was diagnosed. Sister Marie came for a whole day every week while my mom was being cared for by my dad, my siblings and I and Hospice to help with my mom’s care and to give my dad a break - a little time away from the house and all his responsibilities there with my mom. My mom was unable to speak most of that time and we weren’t really sure how much she understood since she couldn’t respond. Sister Marie taught by her actions, lessons of love and compassion and what it means to be family. Those lessons remained with me throughout my 45-year nursing career, the last 29 in Oncology. We love her dearly, she truly is “Amazing Grace” to me.
- Christine Zech (niece)
Sister Grace Marie served her biological family while in Michigan attending to the sick and dying - never judgmental - only gracious, kind and loving.
The happiest and latest memory we have of her is seeing her enjoy homemade apple pie - scraping her plate clean.
She now awaits her eternal reward but, as she said recently, "He hasn't called me yet".
She has "graced" us with her presence in our lives, and that is the reason she is our "Amazing Grace".
Her baby brother, Ken, and I are so lucky to have had her in our life.
Anna Kraft (sister-in-law)
Sister Grace Marie Kraft entered eternal life on March 10, 2015.
A Mass of Resurrection was celebrated on March 13.
S. Mary Patricia (Coronada) Mason
S. Mary (Stanislaus) Michna
Like most young girls is the 1950s and 60s, I was inspired by the wonderful sisters that taught me.They were kind, they were calm and they were so well educated. The love of learning was just part of their DNA. During grade school summers, I would appear at St. Edwards School and "help" the sisters prepare the classrooms. They seemed always happy to see me, it never entered my mind that I might be in the way. While "assisting" Sister Coronada, she would share with me titles of books she thought I might like to read. Because of Sister Coronada, my love of reading has continued to this day. Sister Stanislaus was my role model in High School. She was also kind and one of the most intelligent woman I knew. Over the years, I have held onto the memory of her as I sent my own daughter off to Notre Dame. The love of learning, the love of caring are gifts that the Sister of St. Dominic gave to so many of us. Thank you!
S. Mary Philomene exemplified the meaning of kindness, thoughtfulness and was so honored to be a member of God’s family. Sister was so very proud of every kitchen she worked in and served her fellow friends. God chose her for the best vocation and career. Sister so loved her calling. She was always so thankful for anything she received. I was very blessed to have my mom and dad name me after Sister as my middle name is the same. I did hear “Philomene” when I was in trouble – but that is another story!
I so miss Sister’s summer visits at Mom and Dad’s. I know S. Mary Philomene is cooking and baking up a storm in heaven.
God rest you, Sister.
When I left the for-profit world of accounting to work for the Racine Dominicans, I really did not know how different my work would be. It was the friendship and mentoring of Sister Lois Vanderbeke that made my transition as smooth as possible. Sister Lois taught me how the work of the finance office supported the mission and ministries of the congregation. She taught me how to use the many tools and financial projection models available and how to analyze the results.
I soon came to know that many of these tools, projections, and practices were designed and implemented by Sister Lois, and that many, many congregations around the country use them too. I learned that Sister Lois spearheaded efforts to have sisters paid a lay equivalent salary and advocated for changes so that religious congregations could participate in government programs like Social Security and Medicare to help religious communities care for their aging members.
Sister Lois was part of a team that outlined the need for a National Religious Retirement Office. The more I worked with and got to know Sister Lois, the more I appreciated her kindness, experience, and wisdom. I admire her ability to look at the reality, discern options, work hard, and more forward. Sister Lois’ compassion and generosity to share and teach others what she has learned is awesome. She continues to inspire me in so many ways.
When I came to work with the Racine Dominicans, Sister Lois directed the Mission Fund and Sponsorship for the congregation. She had a picture hanging in her office of a quiet and beautiful pond that a stone has just been thrown into with the ripples in the water spreading from the center out toward the edges. Sister Lois told me that she saw this picture as what she hoped the Racine Dominican Mission Fund does in our world. I came to see this picture a representation of Sister Lois herself. The stone thrown in representing her sharing of knowledge, her wisdom, and her ability to create the needed tools and options to help all religious communities prepare for the retirement years. The ripples Sister Lois started many years ago continue today. I am blessed to have Sister Lois as my mentor.
Having converted to Catholicism in high school, my experiences with nuns in the classroom was strictly vicarious until Dominican College. I was raised in Chicago during the turbulent late ‘50’s & ‘60’s where my high school graduating class numbered 1,005 students. My parents were liberal democrats who felt very strongly about public education and equality in all matters. Dominican College on Lake Michigan was small and peaceful and all things opposite of Chicago. Enter Sister Regina Williams.
Regina, as she wished to be called, was my advisor and from our first meeting, our relationship had challenges. Regina was a “queen,” a benevolent dictator and the most cherished friend I’ve had in my 60+ years. At one point in my life, I thought about leaving teaching, and when I told Regina she simply stated, “You need to stay in the Central City; they need good teachers like you.” It was the first time Regina had ever told me I was good at anything. She always ended our conversations with, “I’ll be talking to God about you,” which I took to mean that I seriously needed guidance from a power higher than “herself.”
She asked hard questions in the classroom and didn’t stop asking them; she demanded the best from everyone. In our college days, per Regina, we stopped eating lettuce and grapes because of injustices to migrant workers; per Regina, we took part in the sit-in when Earnest Lacy was killed by the Milwaukee police, and she sent us reminders that Proctor and Gamble was (again) practicing unchristian-like behaviors. She was the kind of guidance that stayed in the wings until her “kids” needed her…and we always did and we always came back to her, our touchstone. The yearly class reunions were really just a party to reunite with Regina.
Regina is reigning from heaven now, but she is as much a part of my life today as she was in my college days. Her indelible mark of excellence is etched on my efforts, and her benevolent guidance still helps me make my way each day. There really are no words that can adequately describe the kind of teacher, role model, and friend that Regina was. She was simply one of God’s quintessential works.