Sr. Marianna Ableidinger, FSPA, far right, and Fr. Vijay Kumar Madani are pictured with religious education students at St. John Church in Sheldon after Mass as the children celebrate All Saints Day by dressing up as a chosen saint. Parish volunteers Sr. Marianna and Nan Burmeister assist each student with their costume. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

For Sr. Marianna Ableidinger, FSPA, a member of the parish of St. John’s, Sheldon, All Saints Day is a solemnity she looks forward to every year.

“I felt it was the perfect time to involve the children and parents in their religious education,” she shared with the Catholic Herald, “by preparing them to dress up for All Saints Day just as they had dressed up for Halloween. It was the perfect time to teach the meaning of Halloween as All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day.”

By honoring the saints, she said, “We urge the children to imitate them in their love of God and all people. The saints opened their hearts in prayer to listen to the voice of God. Through their quiet prayer, they were inspired to obey God and do the good that was needed in the world. They were inspired through the power of the Holy Spirit to act on their inspirations. They wanted to follow the example of Jesus in teaching and preaching, in helping the sick, in serving the poor. In this way, the saints led people to God even when some of them suffered for Jesus.”

One of the ways Sr. Marianna has encouraged children learning about the saints is through an annual All Saints Day dress-up event. Religious education teachers display books of lives of the saints that the children can choose from during their classes. Students are also allowed to choose a saint they already know and like. Information about whichever saint they choose is sent home for the children to share with their parents.

Students are then invited during subsequent classes, one by one, to meet with Sr. Marianna and her co-costume designer, Nan Burmeister. They work with each child to choose robes, sashes, veils, etc. to decide on how to portray their saint at the All Saints Day Mass. Symbols also make up an important part of the costume such as a lamb, cross or Bible, and Sr. Marianna also helps write a brief summary of the meaning of the chosen saint’s life.

Burmeister and her husband, Bruce, have five children, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandsons. Sr. Marianna complimented Burmeister’s talent and said she is an excellent seamstress who can make a piece of cloth into a lovely costume for any saint.

Sr. Marianna expressed her gratitude for her friend’s eagerness to volunteer and help in the church where she is needed. The two also decorate the church for liturgical seasons.

On All Saints Day, the children process into church at the start of Mass in their saints’ costumes. Sacramental minister Fr. Vijay Kumar Madani then calls them forward to state the name of the saint they are dressed as and the coordinator, Sarah Ceglar, reads the life summary.

The day provides a teaching opportunity as well as a social aspect focused on learning and sharing examples of faith.

Similar preparations and celebrations are held at another parish of the cluster – Sts. Peter and Paul in Gilman, coordinated by Georgianna Whelan and Monica Johnson.

When asked about her favorite saints, Sr. Marianna shared that Burmeister’s patron saint is St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin, has been a powerful patron for the sister.

“My grandmother’s name is Mary and my mother’s name is Anne (Annabell),” she explained. “So my mother and grandmother would have had a devotion to Anne and Mary, also.”

“St. Anne became my patron saint long before I became Sr. Marianna,” she added. She believes it was St. Anne who guided her to religious life.

As a girl, she always loved the catechism lessons and made sure the weekly assignments were completed in the catechism before going to Saturday morning class taught by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Mondovi. She also showed interest in reading the Catholic paper that came in the mail with information about the various religious communities – Franciscans, Servites, Dominicans, Passionists and others.

“Each time I cut out the classes of Sisters and made a scrapbook of them with their different habits,” Sr. Marianna recalled.

Aware of this interest in religious life, her mother took her to interview with the Benedictines in Eau Claire and the Servites in Ladysmith.

“Then one day Sr. Margaret and Sr. Thelma showed up at our farm wanting to talk to me about becoming a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration,” Sr. Marianna said.

Sr. Thelma was related through her mother’s sister and a neighbor girl had also just joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Her parents then took her to La Crosse for an interview.

“I was inspired by the beauty of the place, the adoration chapel and the friendly sisters,” she shared. “I entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration on Sept. 4, 1952, feast of St. Rose of Viterbo, clothed immediately as an aspirant in the community.”

Sr. Marianna’s new name was received when she took her first vows as a religious sister.

She explained what she described as a breathtaking commitment, “This symbolized being called by God to the Franciscan way of following Christ as his spouse through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Franciscan community forever. I received the ring and the Franciscan Medal as signs of my consecration.”

“The spirit must have inspired the leaders of the FSPA Community who chose our names, to propose Marianna for me,” she added. There had been another Sr. Marianna who had recently died.

“I was very happy to have Mother Mary and St. Anne in my name as a sister to continue my devotion to my patron saints in honor of my mother and grandmother. I was baptized Shirley Ann; consecrated as a religious, Sr. Marianna.”

As Sr. Marianna has walked her life with these two saintly friends as examples and guides, she hopes the children will develop similar lifelong friendships with their chosen saints.

There is a life-size statue of St. Anne and Mother Mary in the vestibule of St. John’s Church in Sheldon, a fact not coincidental for the sister whose life has been under their patronage. As she passes them by she prays, “Good St. Anne, mother of her who is our life, our sweetness and our hope. Pray to her (Mary) for us that we receive the graces we may request.”