Eulogy for Sister Mary Jean Assell, April 13, 1932-Sept. 8, 2016

September 13, 2016 by

WEB-Assell,MaryJean-2013VIGIL: Sept. 13, 2016, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Sylvia Winterscheidt

Good evening and welcome to all of you who have come to help us celebrate the life of Sister Mary Jean Assell. We are especially happy that you, Pat, were able to make the trip, along with other family members.    One of the greatest treasures in Mary Jean’s life was her family! She loved telling stories of her family growing up, and how much fun they had. Our joy was in listening. She was a very proud aunt! We also want to welcome you, her friends, CSJ companions and caretakers who have come to be with us this evening.

Sister Mary Jean was born April 13, 1932, in the then-new St. Charles Hospital in Aurora, Ill., to Carl and Jeannette Assell. Besides her parents, she was welcomed into new life by her two older sisters, Joan and Pat. Mary Jean loved her family and knew they loved her. She looked forward to her home visits and your time spent with her wherever her ministry took her. And just a couple weeks ago, she expressed to me her gratitude for your recent visit, Pat, and her trip to Salina with you to shop and enjoy meals together.

Mary Jean entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia on Sept.7, 1949. She first met the sisters while in elementary school in Aurora. She and Sister Alice Marie Stalker lived just a block apart and walked the eight blocks to school daily. Mary Jean said they enjoyed chatting as they walked along. Then in high school with the Franciscan Sisters, she would stop on the way home to visit with the Sisters of St. Joseph. Finally, God led both of them to Kansas. Carl and Jeannette Assell brought both Mary Jean and Alice Marie to Concordia in September 1949.

On March 18, 1950, Mary Jean received the habit of the Sisters of St. Joseph and also a new name, Sister Charles Marie Assell. Fifteen young women entered the novitiate that day. Of them, only three remain: Sister Alice Marie Stalker, Sister Therese Richstatter and Sister Rita Ann Mazanac. We want to extend our sympathy to the three of you this evening.

Sister Charles Marie pronounced her final vows on March 19, 1954. Then, later in life, when given the option, she chose to return to her baptismal name, Sister Mary Jean.

Sister Mary Jean received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Marymount College in 1962. She was a very dedicated elementary teacher for many years, serving in schools in Kansas and New Mexico. Then in 1972 she received a master’s in Religious Education from Seattle University. Sister Mary Jean looked forward to her summers in Seattle; being in that school brought her much joy.

After spending nine years as Religious Education Director at St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish in Grand Island, Neb., Mary Jean moved to Burlington, Iowa, where she continued ministering in Religious Education another 25 years. She loved her students and they loved her! She seemed to understand Paul’s words to the Ephesians when he said, “Be imitators of God and live in love as Christ loved us.”

Having lived and ministered with Sister Mary Jean in Grand Island, the scripture quote I saw lived on a daily basis was, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah: 8:10).

Apparently, I’m not the only one who noticed Mary Jean’s joy. While preparing this eulogy, I visited with many Sisters both at the Motherhouse and at Mount Joseph. When I asked them their remembrances of her, I frequently heard words like happy, enjoys life and people, her smile, laughter, comfort, jovial and kind. Even the nursing staff told me how much she enjoyed watching comedy on TV, playing dominoes and just watching the birds in the aviary of on the second floor of Stafford Hall. Her joy of life was so evident. While serving in Religious Education in Grand Island, she was also coordinator of activities in St. Mary’s Convent. I remember Mary Jean as very caring of our elderly Sisters living among us. She brought them much comfort and joy.

But her favorite ministry, at one point, was clowning. As Sister Missy Ljungdahl said of her, “Mary Jean delighted in joy sooooo much she signed up to go to “Clown School.” Then, “Tibby,” her clowning name, would go to festivals at the parish/school, to visit the elderly, and always had a “trick” in her bag that brought happiness to others. Perhaps some of you Sisters remember when Mary Jean and several other clown sisters entertained us here at the Motherhouse while Barbra Streisand sang in the background, “Bring in the Clowns.” Joy was the gift entrusted to Mary Jean. And she used effectively her many soft, cuddly animals to bring comfort to others and renew her own joy. You may want to take a second look at the pictures displayed on the table by the elevator. Her joy is so evident.

As Mary Jean shared her joy with others, she also built up strong relationships. Whenever she would talk of her places of ministry, whether it be Western Kansas, West Burlington, Silver City, Grand Island or Mount Joseph, among many others, she talked about how she “just loved the people.” She built very close relationships, loving both God and the dear neighbor. When sharing her experiences, she’d often end by saying, “God was there.” And she would remember those “neighbors” by promising to pray for them. Even while she was living alone as a CSJ in West Burlington, Iowa, she became very close to the Sisters of Notre Dame from St. Louis who taught in the local Catholic school. They shared many activities together. She seemed to keep in mind the saying, “You can only relate to God as deeply as you relate to people.” Mary Jean must have had a deep and delightful relationship with God.

As in all of our lives, Mary Jean also learned the painful lessons of letting go. She tells of her time of saying goodbye to her parents as they returned to Illinois and she began new life in Concordia. It seems that “new life” didn’t bring her the joy she expected as she cried for days. Many of us would own that as “homesickness.” Finally, Sister Macrina, her Postulant Director, told her the door is always open for her. Then, she says she stopped crying when she realized she had the freedom to go if she chose.

Painful lessons seem to be spread throughout our lives, don’t they? Must be God’s teaching tool. I recall Mary Jean’ reaction when Medaille Center in Salina was closing because the building was sold to Salina Regional Hospital. All of the sisters needed to make a move, and Mary Jean’s health was such that a move to the Motherhouse was immanent. If I’m not mistaken, I think Mary Jean was the last, or next to the last, to leave Medaille Center. Oh my, another “letting go! And then there was also the letting go of her little red car that she loved. It was needed for one of the Sisters ministering in the Southwest.

Even the move from the Motherhouse to Mount Joseph in recent years was a challenge. Her failing health necessitated the move. Knowing weakness and dependence, she was still happy and trusted the presence of God in those around her. Maybe, Mary Jean, all these times of letting go really did prepare you for your final letting go last Thursday; you moved swiftly from life here with us to your final resting place with the God who had brought you so much joy throughout your life. In case you haven’t heard of her speedy entry into eternity last week, Mary Jean was put on hospice the morning of Sept. 8, 2016, got her hair permed later that day, and died that afternoon, a speedy entry into eternal life!

Our founder, Jean Pierre Medaille, SJ, left us 100 maxims as principles to live by. I’m reminded that Mary Jean had her 84th birthday this spring. For her birthday, she received from our CSJ community not only a lovely birthday card but also a reminder of Maxim 84. I think this maxim pretty well sums up Mary Jean’s life as I knew her.

Never go ahead of grace by an imprudent eagerness,
But quietly await its movements, and when it comes to you,
Go along with it with great gentleness, humility, fidelity, and courage.  

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Memorials for Sister Mary Jean Assell 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 Mary Jean’s memory, click on the button below:



One Response to “Eulogy for Sister Mary Jean Assell, April 13, 1932-Sept. 8, 2016”

  1. mary fran simons on September 17th, 2016 11:13 am

    Sylvia’s Eulogy so beautifully sums up our dear Mary Jean and her life. Thank you, Sylvia. We will miss
    you, dear Mary Jean.

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