Catholic Herald staff
Three Ladysmith Servite sisters are celebrating the 75th anniversary of their profession in 2017.
On April 17, Easter Monday, Sr. Mary Lucy Daniels, 92; Sr. Geraldine Schulte, 91; and Sr. Mary John VanderLoop, 98, were recognized at a Jubilee Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, Ladysmith.
Fr. Tony VanderLoop, nephew of Sr. Mary John and a priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, presided at the Mass; Fr. Dave Oberts and Fr. Inna Reddy Pothireddy were concelebrants. Deacon Doug Sorenson assisted at the altar.
Sr. Mary McDermott also celebrated her 40th jubilee of religious profession.
Following the Mass, family and invited guests joined the jubilarians for dinner at JS Supper Club, Ladysmith.
All three diamond jubilarians grew up in the Diocese of Superior. Sr. Geraldine is from Cumberland; Sr. Lucy, from Weyerhaeuser; and Sr. Mary John, from Tony.
All three became novices during World War II, in August 1941, and took first vows in 1942.
“It’s rare enough to have one sister reach this milestone, let alone three in the same year,” said Sr. Theresa Sandok, president of the Servites.
The Servants of Mary started teaching in Weyerhaeuser in 1936, and that’s where Sr. Lucy first encountered them.
“That made a big impression on me,” she remembers.
Her mother also corresponded with a former teacher, a Benedictine nun distantly related to St. Therese of Lisieux, and Sr. Lucy was impressed by the nun’s epistolary skills.
She had plenty of time to interact with the Servites during a three-week hospital stay following a surgery – the hospital was staffed by sisters – and Sr. Lucy knew when she was very young that she wanted to join the community.
But, oldest of 14 children, Sr. Lucy was needed at home. She wanted to join at age 12, and her mother let her go when she was 15.
“I was the first one to leave home, and of course my mother wasn’t too happy about that,” she added.
But, in the end, Sr. Lucy was there for her mother. After retiring in 1995, she returned to Weyerhaeuser until her mother’s death.
“I left her with all those little children, and I came back to care for her in her old age,” she said.
In her 75 years of professed life, Sr. Lucy has embarked on many ministries – teaching in various capacities, serving as the Servites’ director of novices and postulants, and working as a licensed administrator of a nursing home in Illinois, to name a few.
“I’d always been interested in the sick and the dying,” she added. “Of course, my calling was really with the sick and dying, and not at a desk.”
So, she took classes in clinical pastoral education at St. Joseph Hospital, St. Paul, and ultimately worked in pastoral care.
“I was the first woman chaplain at Ladysmith since 1912,” she said. “I was so happy, because I could be with the sick and the dying.”
She worked in hospital chaplaincy from 1978 until her retirement in 1995. These days, Sr. Lucy greets parishioners at Our Lady of Sorrows, Ladysmith, and – in her words – “I talk a lot.”
“I really didn’t have a temptation to ever leave or go home,” she said of her vocation. “I felt like this was the right vocation for me, and I feel so grateful … I feel so, so blessed … to be a sister and a Servant of Mary.”
For Sr. Geraldine, interacting with Servite sisters inspired her vocation.
“When I was growing up, the sisters use to come to our town during the summer,” she said.
It was the way they acted, especially the younger sisters, that caught her attention. Sr. Geraldine also got to know a Notre Dame Sister who came home to visit family in the summer, and those visits also spurred interest in a religious vocation.
When she was old enough, she decided to join the Servants of Mary.
“I’ve always been attracted to prayer and silence and so on, and I think that’s one of the things that drew me to the sisters,” she added.
Sr. Geraldine graduated from Viterbo University, La Crosse, with a bachelor’s in biology and a minor in mathematics. She went on to earn a master’s degree in natural science from the University of Oklahoma.
Teaching was Sr. Geraldine’s ministry for much of her professed life.
“I used to like teaching,” she added. “I taught in many places. I taught in New Jersey and West Virginia and Illinois.”
She taught every grade from one through eight, as well as in a Catholic high school and at Mount Senario College, the Servites’ former college in Ladysmith.
“I had a lot of subjects to teach,” she said with a laugh.
In 75 years of being a professed Servant of Mary, Sr. Geraldine has had the opportunity to go places she wouldn’t have otherwise gone, and to enjoy experiences she wouldn’t have otherwise had.
“I’ve always been able to do things that I don’t think I would have thought of doing,” she said.
Sr. Mary John
Before and briefly after she joined the Servites, Sr. Mary John was a teacher.
“I wasn’t successful at that,” she said. “I wasn’t able to handle the children, so I quit that with tears.”
She switched careers, taking a nurse’s aide position at St. Mary’s Hospital, Ladysmith, and that’s where she encountered the Servites, who fostered her vocation.
She was also the first of three family members to profess a religious vocation; her sister, Servite Sr. Mary Bernice VanderLoop, joined her in the convent in 1947. Sr. Mary John credits Sr. Mary Bernice, who died in 2011, with inspiring their nephew’s vocation to the priesthood.
After entering the convent in 1941 and professing first vows in 1942, Sr. Mary John taught elementary school for a few more years before enrolling in St. Francis School of Nursing, La Crosse.
Her career in health care spanned three decades – after beginning in general nursing, Sr. Mary John helped open a hospital in Kewanee as an administrator, and then returned to Ladysmith to serve as director of nursing at St. Mary’s Hospital and St. Joseph on the Flambeau Nursing Home. She was later a staff nurse at Rusk County Memorial Hospital and served many years on the Servites’ leadership team.
After retirement, Sr. Mary John continued her ministry in peace and justice advocacy. Well into her 90s, she was sharing Gospel wisdom on the local radio station.
Today, age 98, she’s in an assisted living facility. Linda Reissner, who has been helping with the sister’s hair, nails and personal care for the past two years, was told Sr. Mary John was “one of the most meticulous nurses at one of the hospital they had here in town.”
“She is just one of the sweetest and most pleasant and absolutely kindest people I’ve ever met,” Reissner added.