Eulogy for Sister Francis Margaret Otter: July 22, 1932 — March 3, 2018

March 5, 2018 by

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VIGIL: March 5, 2018, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST:  Sister Jean Rosemarynoski

Sister Francis Margaret left directions for her eulogy. It was to be “short, simple and to the point.” In fact, she said that on seven or eight separate sheets of paper, so I think she meant it. While I will try to honor her request, she lived a full and vibrant life and we want to do her justice.

Sister Francis Margaret was born at home on July 22, 1932, at 4 a.m. She was baptized the same day she was born. She was the second of eight children born to Frank and Margaret Otter and was given name Virginia Ann.

She often said she was welcomed into the family by her parents, older brother Alvin and his pet dog, Daboo.

A little over a year later, Sister Mary Esther was born. She was followed by her brother Marion, then Sister Donna and JoAnn. Francis Margaret was six years old when Donna was born. She shared how she felt that Donna was “her baby doll” and how she delighted in helping their Mother care for her. On her eleventh birthday, her youngest sister, JoAnn, was born. She felt like JoAnn was a special gift to her from God. Two other siblings, Rita and Emory, had died at birth.

Her ancestry on both sides was German and Irish so her parents were good practicing Catholics. She remembers that they attended two masses every Sunday morning and vespers in the afternoon.

They lived on a farm north of New Almelo, Kan., during the Depression years. Because of the drought, the crops were not productive and times were hard; but her parents had deep faith and trust in God. Young Virginia watched her parents during these years and, from their example, learned a deep faith. Yet when the family suffered the loss of the infant children Francis Margaret recalls questioning why a loving God would do this to their family. She began her quest for deeper intimacy with God at a very young age. She continued to be a spiritual seeker throughout her life.

As a child, even though times were lean, Sister Francis Margaret said the cellar was always full of canned vegetables and meat. They were well cared for and felt security in their family. Her parents took time to play with the children and she remembers playing softball on Sunday afternoons with her father.

Francis Margaret enjoyed sports especially playing softball and basketball. She was the pitcher on Father Sanders’ softball team.

One light-hearted story she told was walking home from school every afternoon. Alvin and Marion would always beat them home. The girls would take their time. Her mother would remind the girls to keep up with the boys. Francis Margaret remarked that trying to keep up with the boys was like “asking the unthinkable.”

She entered the convent just after completing high school. She wrote to Mother Chrysostom on her father’s stationary — it says Frank Otter, Clayton, Kansas, at the top. In her own handwriting she writes:

Dear mother,

I wish to tell you that I want to become one of your daughters. I have attended the retreat given at Marymount College and I believe I have received the wonderful inspiration of that vocation. It makes me happy to think that I want to join the Sisters of St. Joseph. I would like to enter in February. Yours sincerely, Virginia Otter, Clayton, Kansas.

She got her wish and entered on Feb. 1, 1951, a day with a huge blizzard. Her pastor at Saint Joseph’s Church in New Almelo, Father Sanders, brought her to Concordia. In his recommendation to Mother Chrysostom for her entrance, he wrote:

Virginia is one of those rare, ideal young ladies, which are rather hard to find these days. She will be a credit to any community. Virginia has never been away from home for any length of time and will probably become very homesick.

When she requested to make final vows, the letters of recommendation from community members said things such as, “she has a generosity and spirit of cooperation,” was commended for her teaching ability and Sister Mary Corona said she “has the distinctive marks of a good religious.”

She was naturally quiet and Sister Germaine said, “She is very, very shy. It surely would be to her advantage if she could overcome this timidity to some extent.”

She professed temporary vows on Aug. 15, 1952, and perpetual vows on Aug. 15, 1955. Her living band member is Sister Gerri Milke.

Francis Margaret earned a bachelor degree in social studies from Marymount College in 1965. Over the next several years she took specialized courses in math, reading and the Montessori Method of Education. She took classes from Dayton University in Ohio and San Francisco College in California. Her Montessori training was done in Kansas City, Mo.

Her first teaching assignment was at St. Joseph and Anne’s School in Chicago. Her parents had come to Concordia to hear the mission assignments read and they were in Francis Margaret’s word “aghast” when they heard where she was going … here was a very young girl from a very small town leaving for the very large city of Chicago.

For her Jubilee in 2011, Francis Margaret recounted that story adding, “I traveled to Chicago on the Rock Island from Belleville. When I arrived I was shown to my room, unpacked and was then assigned to my classroom. I was a first-year, inexperienced teacher and would be responsible for 55 first graders. When I learned that I would have 55 I said, “Oh, yes, God, I wanted to teach but we forgot to talk about the number.”

She was blessed that two more experienced sisters, Sisters Franny Jo Hoover and Margaret Jilka,  sat down with her every Sunday afternoon to review plans and strategies. She stayed there three years and enjoyed the experience, but never did get used to big city smog and noise.

From 1953 to 1995, she taught first grade and primary grades in Chicago; Concordia, Manhattan, Junction City, Herndon, Oakley and Plainville, Kan.; and El Paso, Texas; and was responsible for starting Montessori kindergartens in Leawood and Salina, Kan.

Francis Margaret was a marvelous teacher. It is unbelievable how many certificates she earned in courses with titles such as “Motivating the Unmotivated” and “Teacher as Poet.” She had a passion for teaching and kept striving for the more, always wanting to better her skills so that she could reach even the hardest to reach child.

As the school superintendent said of her when recommending re-certification, “Through her life-long pursuit of professional growth, Sister Francis Margaret has kept herself aware of the dynamics of our ever-changing society and its impact on education.” She also noted that Sister had “exceptional strength in classroom management and engages the children in profitable learning experiences.”

Francis Margaret won a grant from McDonald’s for a hands-on math lab. She wanted children to be able to understand abstract math concepts and was innovative in creating ways to do that.

Her students, in turn, loved her. On her 25th Jubilee, her school set aside a special day to celebrate with her. A first grader wrote her a congratulations card. She printed it in block letters on the lined paper children used when learning to print. It read, “I hope you have a good 25th year day. Twenty-five years is a long time and I have missed quite a few of your anniversaries but I sure hope that this one is just wonderful.”  — signed Diane G.

Another time a first-grade student made her a certificate. It read: “This certificate is awarded to Sr. Francis Margaret for: the holiest teacher, the kindest teacher and the neatest hair.”

After 43 years she moved from teaching and became the religious education coordinator at Sacred Heart Parish in Plainville. She remained in that position for nine years before retiring from active ministry in June 2005.

Francis Margaret had a zest for life. During these years, she also spent one summer as a staff assistant at a L’Arche Home for special needs adults in Winnipeg, Canada, went to Brazil to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the mission there, and became certified in Facilitative Family Ministry. That was a ministry to mobilize and educate people on how to find needs of parishioners and be responsive to them.

When she came to the Motherhouse, she continuing to serve in a wide variety of ways: giving tours, leading the Rosary and Litany, distributing mail, preparing food trays for sisters, helping with recycling and handcrafting items for the Nazareth Gift Shop. Each year we give a tour to local fourth graders as part of a class project. Sister Francis Margaret was a tour guide par excellence with that age group. She delighted in doing that.

She had a heart for vocations and offered to be on the vocation committee and would give talks and accompany the vocation directors to Vocation Day Events. So, in her honor — I’m sure she would want me to do this — I’m going to put a plug in here for any single, Catholic women who are here to consider becoming a Sister of St. Joseph.

Francis Margaret had an awareness of what needed to be done. She did not need someone to point it out or tell her. For example, around the Motherhouse Sister Mary Leo was legally blind so she read the “Connections” to her, which is our internal newsletter. She did sewing for others, made gifts for our gift shop and even gave Sister Mary Esther an Ogilvy home perm every three months.

She could be found in prayer at various times of the day or night, in various locations in the house. She prayed the rosary, prayed in the office, meditated on Bible verses and more.

Francis Margaret also enjoyed life and made sure she had time for recreation. In addition to reading and working puzzles, she liked to play pinochle and pitch. Her pitch partners shared that they enjoyed her quick wit and they also knew she would never bid over five.

From young adulthood she began suffering from seizures. That was a cross she bore admirably. She said that it limited her freedom of activities but she adjusted well and compensated for it when she could.

Her life was filled with gratitude. In her file there are several notes that she sent to past councils and various committees graciously thanking them for their work. She wrote one to Sister Polly Kukula responding to a story about Sister Polly on our webpage which had a photo of Polly in the classroom.

Francis Margaret wrote: “Congratulations, Polly. I love your pose — a real teacher style! I wish that every junior high student in the diocese could experience two years with you in their religion courses. How fortunate they would be.”

 That was Francis Margaret. She wanted to spread joy and encouragement wherever she was. It was important to her to be able to laugh and to show appreciation.

Each year we write our mission statement for the upcoming year and ask the congregation to commission us. Her last mission statement 2017-2018 was written with the assistance of Sister Janet LeDuc. It expresses the desires of her heart. It reads:

“I asked the congregation to accept my commitment to live out my life at Mount Joseph Senior Village desiring to be where and how God wants me to be through my presence and graciousness of manner each day with a deep consciousness of God united with the sisters at Mount Joseph and those who share in my life.”

 I don’t know if Francis Margaret would think this is short. It is simple. And here’s the point:

Sister Francis Margaret had an unquenchable thirst for God. Like a true Sister of St. Joseph she was always yearning for “the more” and unreservedly gave herself in service to others. As we heard in the Scripture reading, “Yes,” said the Spirit, “let her find her rest from her labors for her works accompany her.” We have all been enriched by Francis Margaret’s life among us. For that, we give thanks to God.

Memorials for Sister Francis Margaret Otter may be given to the Sisters of St. Joseph Health Care/Retirement Fund or the Apostolic Works of the Sisters; P.O. Box 279, Concordia KS 66901. To make an online donation in Sister Francis Margaret’s memory, click on the button below:



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