Sister Frances Cabrini Wahlmeier: April 4, 1930-Sept. 18, 2011

September 20, 2011 by

VIGIL: 7 p.m., Sept. 19, 2011, at the Nazareth Motherhouse

EULOGIST: Sister Pat McLennon

“The strange paradox of the Gospel is that the first effect of God’s love is our own self, and our transformed self is God’s love made present to all whom we encounter.”

— Francis Bauer, OSF

While reflecting on the life and spirit of Sister Frances Cabrini it was clear to me, and to so many of us, that her journey with God was never half-hearted. In her quiet and unassuming way she was attentive to God’s love and it was this selfless love and presence that she brought to all of us and to all whom she encountered.

Sister Frances Cabrini didn’t write a life-review and we only have a few articles about her life and years of service during the 63 years she lived as a member of our community. Tonight we simply want to remember and celebrate her life among us and how she touched so many of us throughout the years with her gentle, compassionate, and loving heart.

Mae Catherine Wahlmeier was the sixth child of 15 children born to Aloysius and Ruth Sphorer Wahlmeier, April 4, 1930 in Jennings, Kansas. She was preceded in death by her parents, her brothers Norbert, Paul, and Robert and her sister Virginia.  She is survived by her sisters Loretta, Rita, Elaine, and Jane, and her brothers Vincent, Hugh, Galen, John, Louis, and Carl. She is also survived by her sister-in-laws Francia, Catherine, Kay, Janet, and Linda and her brother-in-law John as well as, nieces and nephews. This large family has been a wonderful support to Sister Frances Cabrini and she often expressed her love and appreciation for them. The family also counted on her prayerful support and enjoyed her visits.

Mae grew up on a farm in Jennings. Being a middle child in a large family she and her brothers and sisters helped milk the cows by hand every day, helped with the younger children and some of the house chores. Mae attended the Jennings Consolidated Grade and High School. She loved music and taught herself how to read music and play the piano.  Later she had some music lessons and played other instruments in the school band. She was a good student, popular, and enjoyed going to dances and other school events.  Mae graduated from high school June, 1948 and enrolled at the St. John’s School of Nursing in Salina, Kansas.

Mae was only in the nursing program a short time when she felt called to religious life. She wrote a letter to Mother M. Chrysostom December 2, 1948 indicating that while she was home during Thanksgiving vacation she secured permission from her parents become a Sister of St. Joseph. She requested an application to enter with the class in February. She was 18 years old and felt that she could better serve God by following this vocation and expressed her belief that she could really be happy. She was accepted and Mae entered the postulancy February 2, 1949 with Sister Maureen Kelley, Sister Mary Agnes Drees, and Sister Francine LaGesse.  She was received as a novice August 15, 1949 and was given the name Sister Frances Cabrini.  She professed First Vows August 15, 1950 and Perpetual Vows August 15, 1953.

After she completed the novitiate, Sister Frances Cabrini returned to St. John’s Hospital to complete her studies and she received an R.N., degree from Marymount College in 1953. Her first mission was at the hospital in Sabetha, Kansas where she worked for nine years.  She was then sent to Rawlins County Hospital in Atwood, Kansas, where she served for six years as the hospital administrator, as well as a lab and x-ray technician– a skill she had learned out of necessity in Sabetha.  She reflected about this in an interview saying, “We were almost frontier people. We were finding our way and trusting God.”  In 1968 she was sent to St. Mary’s Hospital in Manhattan as assistant Administrator.

During the many years she ministered in the hospitals there were a few times when she sacrificed the work she was doing in order to fill a needed position in the hospital. One example of this was when an Administrator at the Manhattan hospital was fired and she was asked to be the interim-Administrator.  The hospital was going under financially and employee morale was low.  In her usual way she responded to these challenges wholeheartedly and her calm and kind presence brought a sense of well-being to the situation. With her leadership the hospital got out of the red and the employees felt secure in their job.  Sister Frances Cabrini is highly respected by the Manhattan people.

After 20 years of service at St. Mary’s Hospital in Manhattan she was asked to serve as administrator of St. Mary’s Convent, the retirement center for our community in Concordia. Ten years later, St. Mary’s was closed and the Sisters moved to the newly remodeled Stafford Hall at the Motherhouse. Sister Frances Cabrini was asked to serve as coordinator of health-care services at the Motherhouse and in 2004 her position was expanded to include our Sisters residing at Mt. Joseph until her retirement in June 2008.

During the years that I served on the Council and worked closely with Sister Frances Cabrini, I was struck by the gentle and quiet way she went about the care of our Sisters at St. Mary’s, the Motherhouse, and Mt. Joseph.  She was totally self-giving and attentive to God’s presence in the ordinary and extraordinary life experiences of the Sisters in her care. We can’t begin to count the times she was called during the day or in the middle of the night to accompany a Sister to the hospital or to be with a dying Sister. The next day she would be up doing her daily visits with each Sister at Mt. Joseph and Stafford Hall. She brought them their mail, news of the day, and checked to see how they were feeling and if they had any other needs.  She never complained of being tired or over-worked.

In addition to the on-site care Sister Frances Cabrini gave to the Sisters she spent many hours accompanying Sisters to doctor appointments, visits to their families, shopping, and just out for an enjoyable ride to see the autumn leaves, Christmas decorations, or the wheat fields.  She was especially sensitive to Sisters suffering from memory loss.  It was not unusual to see them sitting in her office, taking them for a walk, assuring them that they were in the right place. She gave each one a sense of security and peace.

Her life was not all work and no play.  She thoroughly enjoyed traveling.  In 1990 she and Sister Rose Alma Newell went on a two week American Heritage Tour. She kept a journal of all the places they visited and she was very interested in learning American History.  Later, she accompanied Sister Myra Joseph to Ireland to visit her family.  It was Sister Myra Joseph’s last trip home.  They stayed with one of her nephews and he took them all around.  Sister Frances Cabrini kept a very detailed journal of their trip.  It was obvious that she enjoyed every minute of it.

Her yearly mission statements reflected her commitment to being available to those in her care and provide spiritual, medical, and nursing care for them as well as, to help create a home-like atmosphere for the Sisters at the Motherhouse and Mt. Joseph. She was also sensitive to our employees. She saw to it that they were respected for their contributions and provided resources for their work. Sister Frances Cabrini knew that to love with the love of God required the will to be attentive and self-giving. These qualities formed and shaped Sister Frances Cabrini’s life in mission.

In 2008 Sister Frances Cabrini visited with the members of the Executive Council and asked to retire after 20 years of service to our retired Sisters at St. Mary’s, the Motherhouse, and Mt. Joseph.  She told us that she was experiencing extreme fatigue and wanted to move to the Motherhouse and rest. During the past three years her health has consistently declined. She died early Sunday morning, September 18, 2011.  May she now be at peace in the fullness of God’s love.








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