Eulogy for Sister Francis Joseph Hoover: Dec. 16, 1912-Dec. 17, 2009
Eulogist: Sister Lucy Schneider
Vigil: Dec. 20, 2009, at the Motherhouse in Concordia
In the wisdom of God, Sister Francis Joseph Hoover made her way to the next life from Mount Joseph Senior Village Dec. 17, 2009, the day after her 97th birthday. Interestingly, providentially, Dec. 17 was the first day of the Church’s O Antiphons. The day’s antiphon? “O Sapientia, O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God”! As Christmas approaches, these seven O Antiphons — prayers invoking the God-beyond-all-names with titles to be found for God, nevertheless, in the Old Testament — these O Antiphons bring intensity to our Advent longing. And they capture very well Sister Francis Joseph’s lifelong desire for union with God, her Savior. Now, we trust, on the other side of death, she sings in wonder and great joy, “O Sapientia, O Wisdom O Holy Word of God!”
With presumed permission from Sister and from all of you here, I propose to use liturgical and literary license to weave, loosely — very loosely — the other O Antiphons into this account of the life of a very simple, yet complex and prayerful person, Sister Francis Joseph Hoover. The Antiphons correspond to phases of her life and of our own at a deep level, if not a surface one. Obvious connection or not, we can make the Antiphons spiritual “station breaks” in this account of Sister Francis Joseph’s life.
Born in Greenleaf, Kan., to John Anthony and Anna Burke Hoover, she was born again in baptism, Eucharist and confirmation at St. Michael’s Church, Kimeo, just 3½ miles from the Hoover family farm.
“O Adonai, O Lord and Leader, come and redeem us with outstretched arm, for you are the giver of all life, human and divine!”
Speaking metaphorically, something Sister was well attuned to, she, Helen Louise Hoover, was the filling in the sandwich of seven siblings in the Hoover family. As No. 4, Helen followed Marie, Francis and Leo and preceded Margaret, Ed and Joseph.
She claimed a holy parentage, both earthly and heavenly. “O Radix Jesse, O Flower of Jesse’s stem, come to deliver us and do not delay.” In later years she had a passion for preserving the genealogy of her family. The impressive family genealogical book was dedicated to her.
In a life review written in 1983, she demonstrates her way with words. The Hoover children grew up in a time of dust, drought and depression. And she also remembers the “cold climb up the long sloping hill facing northeast in the wintertime, going to country school;” the “kindly and good relative,” a great-aunt who shared the Hoover home and who, Helen sensed, had “a personal contact with God;” the “early desire to be a sister, though I knew little about sisters. Home life often involved singing around the piano; Dad playing the violin.” Who played the piano?
Like so many other good parents of Helen Hoover’s era, John and Anna Hoover were determined their children would have the opportunity for a Catholic education. Knowing they couldn’t afford to send all their children to boarding school — they had done this for the eldest, Marie, at Nazareth Academy and Marymount — they moved when Catholic education was to be found: First to Junction City and then to Manhattan.
“O Clavis David — O Key of David, break down all walls of ignorance, intellectual death and open us to knowledge, understanding and wisdom.”
So. St. Xavier’s, Junction City, and Sacred Heart Academy, Manhattan, became Helen’s keys to knowledge and wisdom from the seventh through 12th grades. She found her teachers to be excellent in the classroom and down-to-earth besides. They included Sisters Crescentia, Nicholas, Aquinas, Stanislaus, Domitilla and Joseph Marie. Learnings? What did Helen gain? A love of Shakespeare and other classical authors; Crescentia-inspired acquaintance with the birds native to Manhattan, thanks to tramps through old cemeteries and woods; shared laughter with Sister Stanislaus, when her parrot mimicked her perfectly.
“O Oriens, O Radiant Dawn — shine on those who enter — even the then-dark halls of Nazareth as a postulant!” (Pardon the revision.)
In February 1937, Helen came to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. Her band was made up of herself and those who would become Sister Concepta, Rachel, Francis Ellen, Consuela (who left the community) and Lucienne, now the survivor. Helen became Sister Francis Joseph — and stayed Sister Francis Joseph until her death. Of course, she later welcomed being called Frannie Jo, and called Frannie Jo she was. The band’s first vows were pronounced on Aug. 15, 1938, and perpetual vows on Aug. 15, 1941.
Leoville, Silver City, New Almelo, Collyer, Chicago, Salina, Abilene, Leawood, Grand Island: Thus reads the litany of school missions where Sister Francis Joseph taught. In Abilene she was also principal. She had unique and honest things to say about each of those missions. An example: The school building in New Almelo was “a bit primitive. We had a pot-bellied stove and it wasn’t unusual for a snake to slither out of the walls. The new school had not yet been built.”
Donna Otter was a pupil of hers in New Almelo and Mary Fran Simons in Silver City. Chicago brought the cultural advantages of a city plus the challenge of both CSJ Concordia missions there. She says, “My classroom size was never less than 50 and usually came closer to 60 — one year it was 63.”
Ever one to profit from new experiences, Frannie Jo loved whatever opportunities for travel came along as well as educational degrees — first at Marymount College (by way of the multiple summer school route) and later at the University of Detroit. At those places she earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree respectively. In Detroit, Sister Francis Joseph was especially moved by the racial unrest and injustices of the time.
“O Rex Gentium — O King of all the Nations, come and save the creatures you fashioned from the dust.”
Very much aware of human beings’ inhumanity to one another, she was even more aware of her Lord, the King of all Nations, all the races, all the divisions and camps that separated one person, one class from another. She writes of a major change in her spiritual life when she was teaching in Grand Island. That change, she explains, was from faithfulness to rules and prayers according to the culture of whatever time, being a responsible teacher, to the experience of the charismatic movement. She says, “Prayer, scripture reading, etc., were a constant joy to me. I did not have to work at it.” The next year she made an Ignatian 30-day retreat, which integrated her various spiritual experiences, as her life’s unfolding shows.
Four years of service at the newly established Manna House of Prayer — first in Clyde and then in Concordia — followed. These years she described as “blessed” as well as “sometimes difficult,” words that could describe many a ministry, yes? Moving back to Grand Island in 1979, Frannie Jo gradually found out how to live in retirement and gave herself to a variety of volunteer ministries from 1979 to 1993, at which time she moved to the Motherhouse. A pleasant community presence during her residence here, she did develop what could be called a psychological allergy to bathing. And I ask myself, what will my quirks be, should I live to her age?
Sister’s life at Mount Joseph from 2004 until her death was marked by a friendly smile and regular attendance at daily Mass in the chapel. Sisters and staff alike enjoyed greeting, and being greeted by, Frannie Jo. Her life was a perpetual invitation for the Lord to come. She said the same in her life review, which begins, “Loving Father, I thank you for the gift of life!” and ends with the words, “Yes, I am ready to go whenever the Lord calls.”
The final O Antiphon of the seven is the oft repeated, “O Emmanuel, God with us. Come and save us Lord our God.” We sing in this celebration of your life, Frannie Joe, for you, for us, for all of God’s creations. “O come, o come, Emmanuel,” the gift that keeps on giving — forever! Thanks be to God!
One thought on “Eulogy for Sister Francis Joseph Hoover: Dec. 16, 1912-Dec. 17, 2009”
What a beautiful tribute to Sister Francis Joseph. It catches her deep seeking for God in a poetic and prayerful way. I will miss her.