The Miraculous Women from St. Libory Catholic Church and School


Legends and Landmarks

The Miraculous Women from Saint Libory

By Ron W. Sack

When Americans needed healthcare, the nuns stepped up and opened hospitals. When children needed a proper education, the nuns opened schools to make sure a good education was available to all. When the homeless weren’t being properly fed, the nuns opened food and homeless shelters. When the elderly needed care, the nuns cared for them. America is better off because these valiant women took a stand and made sure that everyone in this country had all of the opportunities they were entitled to.

They took vows of poverty. The worked hard. They sacrificed. Sixteen women from Saint Libory’s Catholic Church in Saint Libory, Nebraska answered the call. For a small parish like Saint Libory, sixteen is quite a large number.

The first to answer the call was Mary Ann Boyle who became Sister Mary Mathia. She entered the Franciscan Order in May, 1889. Three other women also entered the Franciscan Order, they included Martha Kuiper (Sister Mary Martha), who entered in January, 1894; Johanna Kuiper (Sister Mary Florentia ), who entered in September, 1894; and Annie Greenwalt (Sister Mary Lucinda), who entered in September, 1909.

Nine women would enter the Order of School Sisters of Saint Francis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they included Annie Buhrman (Sister Mary Guido), who entered in August, 1913; Mary Graczyk (Sister Mary Rosata), who entered in September, 1926; Mary Rock (Sister Mary Geralda), who entered in August, 1927; Lucy Wilson (Sister Mary Leonita), who entered in September, 1927; Gertrude Buhrman (Sister Mary Secunda), who entered in August, 1928; Clara Hundelt (Sister Mary Martine), who entered in August, 1931; Mary Wissing (Sister Mary Roderick), who entered in January, 1934; Leona Evers (Sister Mary Olivett), who entered in August, 1935; and Maude Turk (Sister Mary Cataldo), who entered in November, 1937.

Two women entered the Order of Saint Joseph in Concordia, Kansas. They included
Mary Burghardt (Sister Mary Emmerencia), who entered in December, 1917, and Rosa Lee Rose (Sister Mary Madeleine), who entered in November, 1949.

The last one to enter the convent from the Saint Libory Parish was Joyce M. Janovec (Sister Mary Jacinta), who entered the Order of the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1961.

Of the sixteen who who entered the convent and are still with their respective orders, only two are still living: Sister Mary Martine (Clara Hundelt) of Milwaukee and Sister Mary Olivett (Leona Evers) of Omaha. Four other women with Saint Libory connections also entered the convent, but they either moved away from the town or entered through another parish.

One included Sister Francis Borgia Reutliver. Francis Borgia, a former resident of St. Libory, spent her early years in Howard County, entered the convent from Fordyce, Nebraska, and eventually was the head of her religious order—the School Sisters of Saint Francis. During her leadership, this order boasted a total of 4,000+ worldwide. Its Motherhouse is located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1965, the congregation’s four provinces in North America, including the Central American mission region, together with the European province, conducted 202 elementary schools, 31 high schools, 10 professional schools, 124 kindergartens, 9 hospitals, 2 clinics, 13 homes for the aged, 6 homes for dependent children, 8 sanitariums, and Alverno College for women in Milwaukee. She received her Masters in English from DePaul University and was also a supervisor-consultant of high school religion for the Archdiocese of Chicago. She was also on the staff at the Institute of Pastoral Studies, Loyola University, Chicago. Her connections put her in the national spotlight. She was interviewed on such television talk shows as the Phil Donahue Show. She wrote the book entitled “He Sent Two.” The book was a historical account about the founding of the School Sisters of Saint Francis. As of 2003, she lives in California and was working on another book.

Our family had a special bond with one of these women—Sister Mary Ann Wissing. Sister Mary Ann was my mother’s aunt. After Sister Mary Ann entered the convent, she became one of the head cooks for the Order. My mother, Jan Schwenk Sack, and my aunt, Kay Schwenk Scarborough, fondly remember visits made by Sister Mary Ann each year. “She added so much depth to our family,” explained Jan Sack. “Our family is deeper in our faith because of Sister Mary Ann.”

“We always felt honored to have a nun in our family,” concluded Kay Scarborough. When I traveled to see Sister Mary Ann before she died in 1999, I came into contact with one of her dear friends…Sister Martine Hundelt. Sister Martine earned her Doctorate, and became the second woman in the United States to ever to teach at a seminary. Sister Martine resides in Milwaukee and has been honored as Professor Emeritus in History of the Church from Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wisconsin.Both Sister Mary Ann and Sister Martine had a presence about them. You always felt welcomed and loved when you were around them.

The Parish hasn’t forgotten these great women either. Their photographs are displayed in the church hall. It is hard to think of America without these women of faith. They sacrificed. They taught. They healed. The led. They made our lives better. And for that I say, “Well done, Sisters. Well done.”

Ron W. Sack grew up in Saint Paul, Nebraska and currently resides in Omaha. He has done much volunteer work to promote the history of Howard County, including helping write the book, “Entering Howard County.” His great-great-grandparents helped settle and establish the town and Catholic church in Saint Libory.

Biographies of the Women

Biographies of the Women

Mary Ann Boyle, who became Sister Mary Mathia, entered the Franciscan Order in May, 1889. She was one of the first women to enter the convent from Howard County, Nebraska. Photograph courtesy of Saint Libory’s Catholic Church.

Mary Burghardt (Sister Mary Emmerencia), who entered the Order of Saint Joseph, made her final vows on her deathbed in December, 1917. Therefore, no photograph exists of her in her habit. Photograph courtesy of Eileen Dingwerth.

Sister Martine Hundelt (Clara Hundelt) entered the Order of School Sisters of Saint Francis, earned a Doctorate, and became the second woman in the United States to ever to teach at a seminary. Sister Martine currently resides in Milwaukee and has been honored as Professor Emeritus in History of the Church from Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. Photograph courtesy of Sister Martine Hundelt.

Maude Turk (Sister Mary Cataldo), who entered the Order of School Sisters of Saint Francis in November, 1937, came to Saint Libory via the Orphan Train. She was adopted by Joe and Rose Evers Turk. Photograph courtesy of Leola Hansen.

The altar of the second wooden Catholic church in Saint Libory. Most of the nuns who entered the convent from Saint Libory were either baptized or received their first communion in this church. Photograph courtesy of Albert and Clara Wissing Schwenk. Most of the Sisters with Saint Libory roots (upper left-hand corner) came back for the dedication of the new church which was blessed and dedicated by Bishop Paschang on May 31, 1954. The parish celebrated the diamond jubilee the same day. Photograph courtesy of Albert and Clara Wissing Schwenk.