Memories for a Lifetime
by Kathryn Minton a resident at St. Vincent’s
Christmases spent at St. Vincent’s Orphanage gave the children memories to last a lifetime. This was a ministry of the Sisters and holds many dear memories for them and for the children who were there.
The other day I was telling a friend about our Christmases at St. Vincent’s orphanage in Vincennes with Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg. Remembering the beauty and magical mystery brought tears to my eyes.
Every year was the same, yet all of us were filled with excitement as the festivities began about 10:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Except for the very small children, each child carried a candle as we walked the entire building – all three floors – in single file. Nothing could be heard except for our singing while we carried our glowing candles in the dark.
The procession ended in the main corridor of the orphanage at the manger scene. There, surrounded by what seemed like mountains of angel hair glistening in the dark, lay the Christ Child. What beauty! It was now close to midnight.
Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve always began in the dark. In the left corner of the altar was another beautiful sight. The stable was surrounded by Christmas trees with Christmas lights all aglow. There were shepherds, sheep, cattle, and the Three Wise Men, all coming to visit the King.
We had observed the scene for all of Advent. Yet tonight was special. Tonight was different. For right there in the middle, the manger was no longer empty. The Christ child was born and he was laying in the manger. It was Christmas.
I have many memories of Christmas at St. Vincent’s Orphanage. Every year, Vincennes University sponsored a Christmas dinner in their cafeteria for the children with a visit from Santa. We had Christmas plays flays for our families and the townspeople. Every child had a part in the play. Right down to the smallest 2year-old. There were many hours of practice with musical instruments and rehearsals for the children who would sing or dance.
We always had contests among the different dormitories to see which group could build the largest snowman. The older boys in D-1 would win because they were the tallest! But they deserved it.
How did the boys ever get that big head on the top of their giant snowman in front of the school?
And how did the nuns wrap all those presents for the children?
Thank you Sister Sharon, Sister Jean, Sister Clarissa, Sister Euphrasia, Sister Francis Xavier, Sister Johannes, Father Schroeder, and many others whose names I cannot remember today. You gave us the best Christmases ever with memories to last a lifetime.
A Holiday Memory of Oldenburg circa 1951
by Joe Adams from an newspaper article in the 50’s
Every once in a while we uncover a gem in the archives department. Here is one of them describing the town of Oldenburg, IN in 1951. Although Oldenburg has moved into the 21st century the exterior of the town and convent look much the same today. We thought you might enjoy this article from a newspaper in the fifties by Joe Adams.
With a simple flip of the wheel you leave Road 46 and virtually the world and all its clamor and cares. For in one magic moment you are on a winding road, rolling through snow-mantled, serene and silent hills that stand as eternal sentinels above the story-book town of Oldenburg.
The throb of your motor, hitherto lost in the roar of traffic on the main road, now offends the brooding silences of the peaceful countryside. A redbird flutters away in alarm, its scarlet cloak flashing against the patches of snow on the hillsides. You drive along in the eerie hush of twilight and you wonder if this planet, whereon men – good and evil – struggle for survival, has suddenly and unaccountably stood still.
Then as you make a final turn, you look down into a snug, little valley and behold the “village of spires.” The waning light of a relentlessly bitter December illumines the gilded spires of the churches, the convent of the Immaculate Conception and the Franciscan monastery. And the bells of Oldenburg, which seem always to be ringing, are now pealing forth a special message, and the words come spontaneously to the cadence of the chimes:
Ring out the old! Ring in the new!
For this is in truth a time for decision –
Time to be earnest and honest and true
As the world’s way of life cries aloud for revision!
Ring in the new! And let the bells sing
Of faith and of hope and of regeneration!
Hail to the new! And, oh, may it bring
To a fear-darkened world the light of salvation!
As you enter a community whose antiquity of 113 years is written in the fading bricks of many homes and institutions the bells, ancient and modern, fairly drench the place with melody. The triumphant tones gladden the heart and shut off the clamor and contentions of these troubled times from this Shrangri-La of the Old World simplicity.
Inevitably you come upon a walled-in brick building on the front of which is chiseled the legend: “Sisters of St. Francis. Immaculate Conception Convent. Founded 1851.” Now it is 1951 and though the world beyond might be in turmoil you find within these walls, as it has been down the hallowed years, peace unutterable. In the words of Sister Paschal, teacher, editor and librarian: “The convent is truly a happy place. For whoever has found God has found peace.”
Especially has it been happy since, on Christmas eve, the Sisters decorated the chapel, the dining hall and corridors and launched the yuletide program of services, carols and other events. And always some of the Sisters have kept vigil – as it is kept the clock around – in the beautiful Adoration Chapel. And you can be sure that on this night their supplications will be for world peace.
At this season of the year there is even a little gaiety at the convent, beginning with the Christmas tree ceremonies at which each Sister receives a small gift. And on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, as on all great feasts, the rule of silence is relaxed. But there is a full liturgical program with masses, Vespers and Compline, Matins and Lauds, the rosary and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. And during this period there are visits to the crib in chapel where some of the Nativity figures were fashioned by one of the Sisters, long since deceased.
You find no ornate Neon signs flashing on New Year’s eve here in Oldenburg and you hear no blaring horns as in the big cities, even though there were occasions in earlier days when the exuberance of the German settlers was fully expressed.
Notably there was the spectacular demonstration which marked the completion of the new brick steeple on the church. On the afternoon of July 4, 1892, villagers heard some eerie yodeling which seemed to be floating down from the heavens. Looking up, they saw one of the workmen standing on the right arm of the church cross, 187 feet above the ground, dancing a jig and yodeling.
There are two taverns in the little town now but you would scarcely know they were in operation. One even proclaims, through the lettering on the ancient stone above the portals, that it is a saloon.
Down the same street you come upon a sturdy stone building above the entrance of which is a slab bearing the date, 1845, and a crude carving of a sickle moon and a blazing sun. It probably is symbolic of something much more lofty but a facetious interpretation is that the moon represents a tired, thirsty traveler just arriving and the blazing sun stands for the same traveler as he departed, “all lit up.”
But on this New Year’s eve there is little hilarity in Oldenburg. You hear only the ever-vocal bells sending a message of peace and hope deep into the old and understanding hills.
First Installment of OUR JOURNEY TO THE PAST:
Travels of Sisters Wilhelmina Burkemper and Boniface Konrad, September 18 – October 1, 1994.
This journey covers 1681 miles.
We left Oldenburg Sunday, September 18 at 10:45 A.M. and met Maurice and Gertrude Irvin at the Hampton Inn. They were on their way home from attending the Family Fun Day. Both cars followed each other to Bloomington, Illinois, the first stop on our journey. We were overnight guests of the Irvins.
Monday, September 19
St. Mary, Bloomington, IL
(Sisters and students at St. Mary’s, Bloomington in 1936 is pictured top left.) Monday morning we attended Mass at St. Mary Church. The first person we met was Ann McEvoy, who is a niece of Sister Mary Lawrence. She is an associate member of our community and has Sister Laurencia as her contact Sister. After Mass we met Father Ric Schneider, the pastor. Then we toured the school, church and former convent. This latter building has a preschool and offices on the first floor and the upstairs is used as guest rooms.
Father Ric was busy helping with renovating the church basement to make it handicapped accessible.
The school was a bustle of activity. There are plans in the future for four additional rooms for computer, science labs, music, etc. We received a short history of the parish and school. Sister Pia Frumviller served as principal for 23 years. (We served there from 1888 – 1980.)
A point of interest is that there is a public school directly across the street.
Gertrude Irvin took us to lunch then directed us out of Bloomington to our next destination which was:
St. Boniface Parish, Peoria, IL
Our Sisters served this parish from 1919 – 1925. After finding the parish buildings about 1:00 p.m., the secretary gave us a tour of the church. Today the interior is quite modern. A beautiful mosaic of the Last Supper adorns the sanctuary wall. It is so inspirational. A statue of St. Boniface is in the rear of the church. It seems it was saved from the fire.
Sister Judith Ann, O.S.B., the principal, welcomed us graciously and warmly. She has been there sixteen years and is the life and backbone of the school. The religious atmosphere the teachers try to instill is evident by the catchy sayings posted in very visible places. This fact was noted at every school we visited.
Our presence in this parish was just long enough to bring Sisters Angeline Hageman and Elise Jacoby to our community.
St. Patrick, Minonk, IL (1885 – 1977)
We arrived at this quiet rural area at 3:50 P.M. At the rectory the very gracious welcoming pastor, Father Gillis, met us. We received a history book. He called Thomas and Elsa McNamara who come over for a short visit. This couple knew and were very fond of the sisters missioned at S. Patrick. The school closed in 1971 because the enrollment was down to 85 students. We toured the school now used for weekly religious studies, then the church and the convent. The gentleman who now owns the convent building showed us the first floor and upstairs what was the chapel. He was proud to be living there. The home contains beautiful woodwork.
Immaculate Conception, Kankakee, IL (1912 – 1918)
It was disappointing not to be able to go there. The parish had consolidated and we did not know which of the three it joined. It would have been dark when we got there and now knowing the city it was suggested we go on to Streator instead which was only thirty mils north.
St. Anthony, Streator, IL (1888 – )
(The Sisters at St. Anthony in 1966 are pictured top right. Left to right are Sisters: Gloria Kellerman, Alice Raymond, Joan Clare Lange, Rita Agnes Werner, and Rebecca Hoffmann) We made a call to Sister Carol Royston who gave us directions to a good motel. She had a meeting that evening and would not have been home to meet us. After we checked in at the Town and Country Motel, we went to dinner in their restaurant. The management had given us a ticket for a complimentary cocktail drink with the meal so we had a glass of wine.
Tuesday, September 20
At St. Anthony Church we assisted at Mass. After that Sister Carol and the secretary took us to breakfast. Then Sister took us to meet the new pastor of one week, Father Jerome Ham, a Vietnamese. Next we visited the whole school, kindergarten through 8th grade. Again a religious atmosphere was evident.
Since the convent is used for other purposes, Sister Carol lives in the rectory of St. Casimir Parish which is not in use, although the parish continues. It is within walking distance but Sister usually drives. We were given a history and we also took some photos. All statues are painted a gold color because when the parish renovated they did not have enough money, however the crucifixion group was done in color.
Leaving Streator about 10:00 A.M., we journeyed westward between corn and soybean fields. There was no need to hurry so we leisurely drove along enjoying the crops and seeing them harvested. When one sees nothing else in state after state, we realize there is plenty of food for all. The world hunger is due to unequal distribution and selfish politics and consumerism.
We crossed the Mississippi River at Davenport, IA about 1:00 P.M., drove up to a welcome center that overlooked the River and ate a lunch. There we spent some time just taking in the beauty.
Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, IA
Now our trip took us north along the river which could be seen now and then until we reached Clinton. A wrong turn several times let us get to the Sisters convent at 3:30 P.M. We were met by Sister Louisa and welcomed by everyone we met.
Their college and convent are connected. At the end of each floor of bedrooms in the convent is a lounge with a whole hillside of trees to view through plenty of windows to make the rooms bright and cheerful.
Wednesday, September 21
After Mass and breakfast we were given a tour of the building, farm and Mt. Alverna Retirement Home. The infirm sisters and other people live in this complex. One sister is 101 years old and is alert. She recites poetry and converses well.
A lady at the homes who was 105 years old was leaving as we came in. She was going to a relative’s home to take bread which she does every week. She did not need a walker. When she saw Sister Wilhelmina she gave her a big hug and said, “Isn’t she the cutest little thing you ever saw?”
In the archives we were given a copy of a photo of their convent at Gethsemani, KY. We were also given the names of the women who made their novitiate here at Oldenburg.
We also discovered that a novice from here, Hileodora (Rose Schneider), of her own choice, went to that community in 1885 and became Sister Carmel, a good artist and music teacher. We saw several of her paintings which were good.
Thursday, September 22
St. Boniface, New Vienna, IA (1861 – 1865?)
(St. Boniface convent is pictured top middle. It is now a museum.) Another step of our journey commenced about 9:00 A.M. Rain had begun during the night but it was no threat because it was soft and gentle. It was moving eastward and so became less and less but also was getting colder.
New Vienna, IA was our next stop about 11:00 A.M. We went wondering what reception we would get because it was so long ago and our sisters left because of trying circumstances. It is a beautiful rural parish, very spacious and manicured. Father Rosanke was occupied but told us church and school were open and to make ourselves at home. The church is a large true gothic style edifice and the furnishings were just as true to that style. The altar was hand carved of soft gold toned mahogany. The interior of the church had just been cleaned and repainted for their 150 year celebration.
Grades kindergarten through three are enrolled here and the other grades at St. Peter and Paul, Petersburg, IA.
The old building which was the former school, convent and boarding facilities was in danger of being destroyed but the Historical Society of New Vienna, after lengthy negotiations purchased it in 1990. A side door was opened so we ventured in. Four members of the Society happened to be there and after introducing ourselves we received a most gracious and warm welcome. Shortly before someone of the society had discovered that Sisters had been teaching there prior to the Franciscans from La Crosse, WI who came in 1871. These people were overwhelmed with joy to see us. The next hour was spent in touring this museum. We were asked to send a sister doll dressed in the traditional habit. The museum contains many manikins for displaying their clothing heritage. A Sears store was going out of business and these were already on the truck to be thrown away. The historians salvaged them. There were at least 25 of them salvaged. Other visiting historians are amazed when they see the number. You can imagine how realistically everything is displayed.
We left this town with lifted and grateful hearts at about 1:00 P.M.
To be continued next month…