MY FIRST EXPOSURE TO RELIGIOUS LIFE: Sister Mary Michael Celebrates Sixty Years!

Born in Elk River, Minnesota, Sister Mary Michael Smits grew up in the Wausau and Athens, Wisconsin area. Sister attended Our Lady of the Holy Cross High School in Merrill, WI. She lived in close proximity with the sisters and she was inspired by their prayerfulness, family atmosphere and their care and concern for all of the students. "I wanted to be like them and share their spirit of Jesus with others," Sister Mary Michael said.

As a Holy Cross Sister, she points to a number of people that had a major influence on her. First and foremost, the love of Christ and prayerfulness of her parents, Lloyd and Clara Smits. Others were her pastor Father Norman Thomas, Fr. Rallencatter, a retreat director. Sister Jeanne d'Arc Kilwein and Sister Margaret Roberts.

Sister points to two ministries that stand out as unique: St. Clement's School in Haymarsh, North Dakota, and St. Mary's in Antigo, WI. St. Clement's School was a boarding school and consisted of two classrooms, a chapel, a kitchen, dining room and three dorms; one for the girls, the boys and the sisters. "We had Mass in my classroom, multiple grades, we were one happy family," Sister said. Besides teaching, she loved the freedom, openness, the peace and joy that came with having the wind on her face and large open fields all around. The school was ten miles from anywhere and there were no phones, no car and no TV.

At St. Mary's in Antigo, Sister Mary Michael spent 37 years as a teacher. She pointed to the special relationship the teachers had with the pastors, each other and the students. "It seemed like we were all in sync with one another. Our unified care and love for each other truly helped our students grow both educationally and spiritually."

Sister said she enjoyed her 47 years of teaching, especially the little ones. "I thank God not only for my vocation but also for all the experiences I've had over the years," she said.

Today Sister Mary Michael lives in Wausau where she cares for her sister and is a "Helping Hands" volunteer at St. Michael's. She also keeps in touch with the sick and elderly in the Antigo area and takes individuals to doctor's appointments.

JTB: The odds of getting to Wausau this summer are much greater than a quick venture out to Colorado Springs! I'll try to hunt Sister Mary Michael down to take her out for lunch in celebration of her 60 years. While I suspect we'll maintain our roles as first grade teacher and first grade student so many years later, I'd love to converse with her about the ins and outs of St. Mary School and Convent -- back door edition! What really went on behind the scenes, I wonder? As a religious myself now, I can imagine some of the nuances of [religious] life back then, even though it seemed so magical, mystical and sacred from an outsider's, first grade perspective.

While I was only taught by two of the Holy Cross Sisters, S. Mary Michael in first grade and S. Peggy in second, I can remember some of the other Sisters who ministered in various capacities at the school including S. Mary Albert (a true gem), S. Margaret, S. Mary Lauda and S. Celine (a pretty good musician, but not to be confused with Celine Dion, ....I think!).

I remember distinctly when Sister Mary Michael asked us early on in first grade to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up; the pictures whould be posted on the bulletin board. The majority of the class chose austronauts and movie stars -- yes, even you, Ann Brehm, if I remember correctly! Antigo -> Hollywood??? Not so much! Three of us drew pictures of priests; given the good example given by the priests and sisters, that seemed to be an obvious first choice.

Dan VanderLeest, Mike Seis and I drew pictures of guys sporting the collar -- back then in flashy colored clerical shirts instead of black (it was the 70's after all!). Today, I think Dan is doing something in the world of science (he was always so smart), Mike serves as a priest of the Green Bay Diocese serving in the Dominican Republic, and you know what happened to the third guy! You see what Sister Mary Michael looks like today (top picture), the middle picture shows her two years after she had me in class. The picture below shows what she looked like upon Profession. Through the years, she has always represented her community extraordinarily well. So until we meet in Wausau, Ad Multos Annos, Sister Mary Michael. Keep kicking butt for Jesus!

POSTSCRIPT: Just in case you're wondering what one of her first graders looked like back in 1972, take a look! .....Sal, now THAT'S Hollywood hair!!! I know, 'hair today, gone tomorrow!'

PICTURES: "Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, Ingenbohl -- (of Merrill)"
BIOGRAPHY: "Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, Ingenbohl -- (of Merrill)"


Anonymous said...

OHHH....loved the picture of the "first grader" ... you still have that impish grin and a gleam in your eyes - just looking for some mischief to create ... hang on to that!!!

One of your "flock".

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the memories! Sister Mary Michael is now retired and living in Wausau. Sister Celine is now the Provincial for the Holy Cross Sisters USA Province. Sister Mary Albert lives at Bell Tower Residence in Merrill, WI. Bell Tower is an assisted living center which was the former Holy Cross Convent. The administator is your second grade teacher Sister Peggy.

Russ Mancl
Director of Communications
Holy Cross Sisters

Anonymous said...

It's always nice to take a trip down memory lane via your blog! But, alas, I must correct you and say I believe I had the much loftier goal of being a singer... we weren't "best friends" until 3rd grade, though, so it's okay you didn't remember that. :)
If you do track down Sister Mary Michael this Summer, wish her congratulations from me, too!

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