Sisters in the Spotlight

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Sister Marga Ernster and Sister Gladys Meindl
Sister Claudia Laliberte
Sister Joyce Stemper

Sister Marga Ernster and Sister Gladys Meindl

Marga and GladysSister Marga Ernster and Sister Gladys Meindl are two friends we see daily, walking, talking and praying rosaries together in the Inner Courtyard at Assisi Heights. What great witnesses of Rochester Franciscans!

Sister Gladys came from the little town of Cobden, six miles northeast of Springfield, Minnesota. She tells me how amazing it is that, from those humble beginnings, she traveled to Europe twice with Sister Larkin, (now Eileen Gallagher Haugh) and Eileen's parents, on the Assisi Tour. She is also amazed to think back on moving from Chicago to Ohio in teaching positions, where she says she loved every child and companion Sister she was blessed to meet in her ministry years. She admits it was not always easy--especially recognizing that Ohio accent--but teaching kids that were so ready to learn was a joy.

Sister Marga reminisces about the family farm, where she and her brother, Fr. Milo Ernster, shared life with their parents. When looking back on her ministry, Sister Marga says that she liked what she did - especially teaching little children. And she adds that, as a Franciscan, she believed "God's will was wherever I was sent." She doesn't recall choosing her place of ministry, but again, her memory isn't very helpful.

As Sister Gladys was responding to the interview questions, Sister Marga frequently would look at Sister Gladys and comment on what she'd just spoken with an abundant affirmation, i.e., "That was a great way to say that." Or "What a wise saying." Followed by, "My memory doesn't work as well anymore."

When asked about what was spiritually nourishing, both Sisters agreed that they feel gifted with yearly retreats and also the monthly Desert Days at Assisi Heights [those days reserved for silence]. They also said they benefit daily from praying Morning and Evening Prayer in Community.

Sisters Gladys and Marga definitely see life from "where they stand now." And they agree that a large part of where they are in their personal lives is precisely God's will--the road that leads to full participation in church and in society as Gospel witnesses, praying for and being peace for all the world.

Sister Gladys kept repeating, "I've had a wonderful life, and I ask God every night what did I ever do to deserve it?" At length, God has responded, "Gladdie, those 60 years in the classroom is why 'you deserve this.'" And Sister Marga offers an enthusiastic "YES!" to that... as do so many of us privileged to be your companions on the journey!
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Sister Claudia Laliberte - St. Marys Hospital, Rochester, MN

Sister Claudia Laliberte

Sister Claudia Laliberte was born in Crookston, Minnesota. She had brother, Ron, who was 11 years older, and a sister, Bona, 10 years older. Both are now deceased. She has a brother that is younger by 18 months, who now lives in Grand Forks. She was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Crookston when she attended Catholic schools. In 8th grade, and all through high school, she volunteered as a candy striper and went on to work for four years with the Benedictines in Crookston. After high school, she worked as a bank teller, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

In the back of her head, she thought of being a Sister someday. At that point in her life, she had never heard of the Franciscans. Then her older brother, a county engineer, was transferred to Rochester. She followed him and came to Rochester to be a godmother for her nephew. They lived near Saint Francis Church and school, where his children attended. She saw some of our Sisters in church and she was struck by how happy they looked. Her brother told her how much his children loved the Sisters. One day, they drove up to Assisi Heights where the novices were outside in their white veils, and they, too, seemed so happy. This was a turning point for her and she went home and wrote for information.

Mother Callista told her, "Come and see." She entered the Community in August, 1960, with a class of about 33 postulants. She was given the name Sister Anita when she became a novice. She finished her degrees in elementary education and social studies from the College of St. Teresa and then was assigned to teach 7th & 8th grade science. (This was not what she felt prepared to teach!) She taught for two years and then was missioned to teach in Norfolk, Nebraska. She later returned to St. Francis School in Rochester, where she taught for five years and followed by St. Mary's School in Winona. She almost always taught 6th grade during those years. When things changed and Sisters could determine their own ministry, Claudia chose to go to Oklahoma City. She was there for 25 years, teaching 5th and 6th grades. She lived with Sister Monica, who became her dear friend. After Sister Monica retired, Sister Claudia came with her to Rochester as she did not want to be in Oklahoma City alone. Although she did go to Bethesda, Maryland for a year, she finally came back to Minnesota.

Sister Claudia worked in the Assisi Community Center preparing for large retreats and other duties for seven years until it closed. She spent three months of a sabbatical at Tau Center where she loved being near the intercommunity novitiate. When she came back to Rochester, she substitute taught anywhere in the area that she was needed. She eventually was asked to be the receptionist for Childcare Resources and Referral, which she did for five years, until it, too, closed due to lack of funding. She finally came to Saint Marys where she has lived for the past nine years.

She remarked what a good experience that has been, since she never knew the nursing Sisters. She has learned so much about that community that she never would have known had she not lived there. She now also has a greater appreciation for Mayo Clinic and how our communities have worked together.

Sister Claudia traveled to Assisi, Italy, and went to Germany with the Winona Choir, where she attended the famous Passion Play. She was on the Rochester Franciscan Life Team for seven years when it was just starting up. She likes the name "Cojourners" because she thinks it a good descriptor of how we are walking together for a common purpose and spirit. She continues to tutor at St. Francis School (where she started!) and is a volunteer at the Saint Marys Welcome Desk.

Sister Claudia is so appreciative that she is part of our Community. "I don't need to worry about a nursing home and no matter what, I have my Sisters."
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Sister Joyce Stemper - St. Paul, MN - As shared with Mary Huettl

Sister Joyce Stemper

My dramatic entrance on this planet came amid an early spring blizzard. The country roads were closed, so my dad hitched a team of horses to a sleigh, bundled my mom in blankets and drove her to the hospital in the middle of the night. A few minutes later, I, Joyce Elaine Stemper, appeared and brought joy to their hearts.

The deep faith of my parents, along with the intimate life shared with my six siblings in a modest farm home, nurtured my spiritual journey. Whether in our work, prayer or all our fun together, God's love and compassion were often openly expressed. Our parents taught and modeled for us the importance of sharing what we had with others. Upon hearing of sickness, hardship or death in a family in the neighborhood, we were in the kitchen baking and preparing care packages for that family. It was easy to say "yes" when my first-grade teacher asked me to help Jerry, a special needs child, complete his projects. Initially I was repulsed by the guttural sounds he made and the constant drooling from his mouth. As time passed I grew to love being with Jerry; he would get so excited and happy with his craft projects, eating the paste as he made them. That experience left a lasting impression on me as I can still hear his giggle.  

As children, we were surrounded by nature and wildlife, ever conscious of the rhythm of the earth and the cycle of the seasons. While reading Elizabeth Johnson's book, Ask the Beasts, I recalled how my dad knew when to plant and when to harvest the grain from the movement of the animals and observing trees, plants and birds. Dad gifted me with patience and gratitude for the simple things in life. The earth and the process of life and death in nature enriched my life abundantly.

Highly influenced by the nudging of a friend, and through my mother's prayers, I entered the Rochester Franciscan Community after high school. The Franciscans deeply inspired me through twelve years of education under their guidance. I just celebrated 57 years as a Franciscan.

Growing up, as I assisted Mom in preparing healthful meals for our family of nine, she often shared stories about her years of teaching. She would rise early, pack a lunch and ride cross country on her horse to a one-room school house in the valley. She would build a fire, sweep the floor and prepare her lesson plans for the day before students of all ages would arrive. I found her stories exciting and adventurous; perhaps this is what sparked a desire in me to choose a career in the field of education. After college, I spent a few years teaching elementary and junior high students, as well as some administrative work in Catholic schools in rural Minnesota.

In graduate school, I pursued work in Pastoral Studies and Counseling at Loyola University in Chicago. I spent some years guiding and directing young women entering our community through their formation years, novitiate and early professed life. I studied CPE at Saint Marys Hospital and worked in their Pastoral Care Services. I was also trained in Spiritual Direction and spent summers in retreat work. These experiences were enriching, challenging and filled with many blessings through the people who shared the ongoing unfolding of God's love in their lives.

Feeling blessed and successful in my teaching career, I moved on to work as a school librarian for several years. After that, I began teaching men and women in Corrections. It was humbling to walk with men and women who shared life in its vulnerable, raw, abusive, lost and angry place, and yet have a desire to make some different choices. This forgotten segment of society has truly shown me the face of a loving, compassionate, forgiving God.

A walk in the park, sharing a meal and laughter with friends, a game of bridge or cribbage, a good mystery, a night at the Opera, the theatre, or a Yoga session all help to bring balance to my life and sooth my soul.

As Mary Oliver says, "Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-over and over announcing your place in the family of things."
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