Sister Mary Julia leaves long legacy of loving care

April 21, 2010 by

EULOGIST: Sister Virginia Pearl, csj

VIGIL: April 20, 2010, at the Nazareth Motherhouse, Concordia

One day several years ago when we had been called because the signs seemed to indicate that Sister Mary Julia would die very soon, Alfreda Maley, one of our nurses, asked her if it was time to put out a sign-up sheet so the sisters could come and sit with her each hour.  Sister Mary Julia responded, “Oh not yet, because Jesus is sitting here visiting with me now.”

My gift to us tonight is to unfold for all of you glimpses of this valiant woman whom Jesus would come to visit, perhaps on a regular basis; glimpses of our own Sister to whom we are saying goodbye for now; for whom we are mourning.  But in the same breath, we are rejoicing over our beloved Sister Mary Julia’s death and resurrection calling us to live ever more deeply.

Maxim 24:  “To be utterly given to God by a holy self-surrender; Utterly for God by a love pure and completely unselfish; Utterly in God by a continuing effort to be more conscious of God’s presence; Utterly according to God by a will, a life, and everything conformed to God.”

Sister Mary Julia modeled this for us ever so deeply.  This eulogy tonight is a collaborative work of Sister Mary Esther Otter and me.

Several years back in the 1980s, Sister Mary Julia cornered me and asked if I would do her eulogy.  One day I read it back to Sister Mary Julia.  I have used almost verbatim what Sister wrote in her life story.  Sister responded to it, “Did I write that?  It is all so accurate.”

What I saw in Sister Mary Julia Stegeman was that she was utterly given to her God.  She was a valiant, strong woman, a woman unto herself.

I first met her when I was a student at Marymount College.  I was out walking one day, and Sister was pushing a cart full of laundry back to the Administration Building.  She was having a struggle because she was pushing the cart uphill and the wind was blowing.  I ran up to her and asked if I could help her push.  So together we pushed the cart of clean sheets through the hallway past the kitchen.  The aroma of freshly baked cookies was upon us.  The cook offered us some cookies.  The next day several of my friends joined Sister Mary Julia and me to help; they had heard about the cookies at the end of the trail.  Since then — for more than 50 years — I have loved those dark, sparkling eyes that were one of her trademarks.

Anna Magdalena was the second daughter of Cecelia Mumm from Gelena, Ill., and John Stegeman from Belleville, Iowa.  She was born Sept. 6, 1910.  Anna was baptized on Sept. 8, our Blessed Mother’s birthday.  She was welcomed by older sibling Theresa, who would become our Sister Rose Cecelia.  Other children were Mary Elizabeth, who would become our Sister Louis Marie, Helen, who would become Sister Ermenilda, a Benedictine in Clyde, Mo., and Edward Paul, born in 1915.  He died several days after birth.  They always knew Edward Paul was a saint.

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They were raised in Selden and Leoville, Kan. Sister Mary Julia would often say, “We had a good upbringing.  Both our parents were very spiritual and each had been in a religious order for a while.  We prayed the Litany of the Blessed Virgin before we went to school.  Mother knew it by heart.  We did a lot for the sisters and the church.  Sister Callista used to take us under her big cloak when it was cold.  She would go to the nearby church and teach us how to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament.  Visiting Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is still a great blessing for me.  Things went well in our family until I was 12 years old.”

The church in Leoville was only 8 years old.  One night there was combustion in the coal bin and the church burned down.  “Our papa was a carpenter and a blacksmith.  He had helped build the original church.  So Papa and we kids cleaned the bricks that had been burned, getting them ready to be used in the new church.  It was a cold, damp fall and winter that year.  Papa contracted pneumonia.  The doctor was a long way off.  Papa died nine days later.”

Sister Mary Julia went on to say, “This began a new chapter in our lives.  Our cousins, the Brueggmans, lived only a mile away, and they became a strong support for Mama and our family.  Mama took in washing and did the laundry for the church.  We girls took music lessons from the sisters and gave them milk in return.”

Anna Magdalene always wanted to be a sister.  So five years later on Valentine’s Day at the age of 17, she and her aunt, Mary Karls, came to Concordia to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph.  The trip took two days, so they stayed the night at Marymount.  Sister Mary Julia recalled, “Sister Renilda made all the clothes I needed to enter.  I was so thankful to have all I needed because we were poor.  The sisters were so good to us. Sister Clarice and Sister Rose Estelle joined my Aunt Mary (who became Sister Rose Ann) and me.  We were called “The Depression Band.”  The sisters in Leoville were my mentors. Sister De Pazzi made us learn our lessons, believe me.  But, I am most grateful for her faithfulness to duty.”

Sister Mary Julia’s first mission was in St. Peter where she cooked for six sisters.  The Abilene orphanage, St. Joseph Home, was her second mission for eight years.  She taught the girls how to iron their dresses and also helped the boys in the milk house with Sister Xavier and Sister Celeste.  Sister Xavier was gentle with the boys. Sister Marie Coleman’s brothers were there at this time.  They helped with the milking.

Next, Sister was missioned to the St. John’s Hospital in Salina to run the laundry.  She especially liked St. John’s because she could visit the new babies and other patients.  Atwood was Sister Mary Julia’s next mission.  She remembers the “dust bowl” storms during these years. Sister made a lot of friends, many of whom she still wrote to.

“Then I was called to Marymount for 29 years,” Sister said.  These were wonderful years. Sister cared for the “sunken garden” and worked in the laundry.  “The greatest joy of my life was the awesome privilege of becoming a Eucharistic minister at Marymount,” she recalled. “I was in charge of the chapel.  It kept me close to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”  Students continue to remember how much Sister Mary Julia helped them when they were struggling spiritually or with their studies.

One remarked, “You did not need to get an appointment and wait for help.  Sister was always in the sunken garden or the chapel.  She was a special friend who always had time to visit with us.”

Sister’s profound faith in God was reflected to everyone at Marymount.

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Recently, at Melvin Hammeke’s funeral, Kay Schulte Hammeke from Hays asked me how Sister Mary Julia and Sister Redempta were.  Kay remarked that both of these women had made a beautiful mark on her life.

Sister Mary Julia was profoundly intelligent.  She was drawn to the library.  She read writings of Hildegard, Theresa and other mystics. This sustained her contemplative prayer.  Wherever the Stegeman sisters were, they helped begin and sustain a charismatic prayer group.

Sister’s next mission following Marymount was Grand Island, Neb.  She assisted the prayer groups, visited the nursing homes and hospital, and engaged in other pastoral work.  She assisted in the garden and helped can and prepare food for the winter.

“My last move was to our beloved Motherhouse.  I have cared for our greenhouse with Sister Mary Esther’s wonderful help.  I was her sight at times, and she was my hands and knees, tending the plants. Sister Francis Margaret Otter has taken loving care of my volumes of correspondence, for which I am most appreciative.  Both sisters have been angels of mercy for me.  Both will tell everyone how much my mother, Cecelia, was an angel of mercy for their family.”

Franz Gruber, who wrote the music to “Silent Night,” was Cecelia Mumm Stegeman’s great uncle who lived in Bavaria.  Sister Mary Julia was visiting with me one day about her funeral.  She said, “Even though Franz Gruber is my relative, if I die in July, don’t let them play ‘Silent Night’ for my funeral.”

The Stegeman and Otter families have been closely connected since childhood.  Sister Mary Esther has written a reflection that includes how their families helped each other:

“Sister is a jewel of a person, as you know.  I have enjoyed living near her here at the Motherhouse and working with her in the greenhouse.  She is so close to creation, to the people, and to the creatures great and small.  She is close to the sounds of nature, the changing seasons and everything associated with them.  She is in love with her God.

“I had learned of Sister in 1952 when I entered the convent.  My older brother had stayed with her mother, Cecelia, in Leoville for two years while attending high school.  My sister, Sister Francis Margaret, had stayed with her one year while attending her freshman year.  Mrs. Stegeman was a prayer-filled woman and had passed this gift onto her four daughters who had also joined the convent.  My brother spoke of their mother as being silhouetted by the window praying every day.  Prayer was just part of the family routine.  Sister Mary Julia was, to me, an image of that same prayerful woman whose small and dark joy filled eyes were quite similar to her mother’s.

“I began working with Sister Mary Julia when I came to the Motherhouse in 2001.  She worked in the greenhouse caring for plants that had been culled from the Motherhouse décor as well as starting fresh plants as slips or from seeds.  No plant was too sick or fragile to be given to compost.  Each plant was given ‘a chance.’  She would say, ‘God is that way with us. We have another chance … and another.’  On certain occasions, I would tease and say, ‘I think this one has tried very hard.  Her eyes twinkled and she’d say, ‘Isn’t it beautiful?  I knew this was a renewed reminder to place it in another area of the room.

“Her joyful spirit was renewed daily.  As we left the Motherhouse, she would often sing, ‘Oh what a beautiful morning, Everything’s going God’s way.’  It took us a longer time to arrive at the greenhouse than another might proceed.  Her 96-year-old body did demand a slower pace, but her young spirit noticed everything and everyone.  The moon that had not fully left vision’s view, the changing season, the temperature, dew, the sound of a train (until about two years ago when her hearing lessened), or a greeting to an employee who was also in the yard.  Sister Mary Julia knew no strangers.

“She had no nieces or nephews.  Her brother and sisters were deceased after 2001 when Sister Louis Marie died.  Sister was the only living member of her family.  Cousins were well known to her and often sought her striking memory for genealogy assistance.  She loved to be with her relatives and often attended special gatherings. She had an immense list of addresses and kept in touch with her own relatives and friends and those of her two sisters. She was mentor of a candidate who will begin the Agrégée formation soon.

“Yes, I treasure knowing Sister Mary Julia.  Having lost my central vision, I could assist with many areas of the greenhouse ministry of placing and replacing plants as well as misting, watering and filling buckets with water, etc., but it was Sister Mary Julia who often first noticed the plant pests or knew what type of illness a particular plant had when it was brought to the greenhouse for nursing.

“Sister loved God’s people as she loved her God.  As she de-cluttered her already frugal possessions, except the pictures and letters from her correspondence ministry, I knew she was in her continued joyful spirit, awaiting her cherished Rabboni.  How glad she would be to die with the thought of a welcome from thee.

“The greenhouse is full of plants given to her and us from friends, and a haven for those kept over the winter and many small starts from plants that had been invited for restart or considered for compost.  Sister Eileen Farley also worked with Sister Mary Julia and enjoyed the changing seasons and the new blossoms.  Sister Eileen kept the floors swept as well, and assisted with the annual thorough cleaning.  Both of us wanted Sister Mary Julia to continue her ministry to the plants as long as she could.  We will often remember Sister Mary Julia with her flowerpots and watering cans, especially the one that was her favorite, given to her for her 70th Jubilee by Sister Virginia Pearl.  It had a longer spout, allowing her to reach the plants with greater ease.

“Yes, her Lord in Heaven has surely greeted her, along with cherished friends and no doubt new acquaintances in whom her Lord is present.”

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We all know that Sister Generosa Walker and Sister Mary Julia were twins — both born on Sept. 6, 1910.  Sister Generosa, we will be with you 100-fold this coming Sept. 6, God willing.

Sister Mary Julia had said, “I have tried during my life to be the kind of Sister I had experienced in Leoville when I was a child.”  What a wonderful tribute to all of those sisters!

As we move into deeper refounding, Sister Mary Julia’s comments about “hope” come from Romans 5:5 “And this hope will not leave us disappointed because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  After Sister Louis Marie’s funeral, Sister Mary Julia was feeling like an orphan, and she told me that Jesus came to her and assured her she was not alone.

There is a quotation that says, “If the only prayer you ever say is, ‘Thank you, I am grateful,’ that will be enough.”

Sister Mary Julia had “grateful” engraved in her heart.  On every page of her memoires she said, “I am so grateful for my vocation, my community, my faith, my mission, my sisters and on and on.”

One of her favorite passages was Isaiah: 40:31 “They that wait upon The Lord shall renew their strength.”  Surely, dear Mary Julia, you have waited and waited and waited so patiently (most of the time).

This last week one night, Sister Ann Glatter and I were with Mary Julia and we were praying the rosary.  We were on the third mystery, The Descent of The Holy Spirit.  Sister had not been speaking for many hours. She rose up her arms and said, “At last, at last, at last” three times.  We both knew someone from heaven was letting her know that her waiting was almost over.  What strength are you now going to send all of us (who love you so deeply) as we move into deeper union and communion with each other and our Jesus?  Our hearts are open!

Another one of Sister Mary Julia’s favorite scriptures was Ephesians 2:10 “We are God’s work of art.”  Yes, Mary Julia, and you were a masterpiece glowing with love that just seemed to ooze out of your beautiful eyes, collecting any unrest, any need of peace, any hurt or injustice, and any need for condolence.  Your loving heart and arms had a way of holding the negative, and shining love and compassion into any given situation.

We all know that we are just getting glimpses of 100 years (well, almost) of loving, living and living lovingly.  I feel Sister Mary Julia’s life is like a gorgeous flower garden.  Her faith is the bedrock center.  The petals of her favorite flowers are:

  • Her prayer
  • Her poetry
  • Her family
  • Her friends
  • Her sisters
  • Her cousins
  • The needy
  • Her flowers
  • Her prayer groups

Thank you for your love and the bouquet of gifts. I love you.

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7 Responses to “Sister Mary Julia leaves long legacy of loving care”

  1. Elizabeth (Betsy) Gasperich-Miller on February 15th, 2014 8:54 am

    Sister Julia was always wonderful to the “newbies”…..helpful, prayerful and lovingly would welcome us. I remember her well. Thank you, dear Sister Julia for your modeling of the true Christian way…….the true Sisterly way!
    I honor, respect, salute you and love you! Betsy/Sister Joseph Bernice

  2. William Stegeman on May 9th, 2010 3:32 pm

    Sister Mary Julia was a wonderful, kind and gentle person. The eulogy does a great job of conveying that. She will be missed by many. Her life touched so many. The Stegeman Family has many wonderful memories of her.

  3. norma schneweis on April 28th, 2010 7:39 am

    Donna sent me this eulogy and after reading it I feel I missed out on knowing a special person. God had allowed her to touch many people and hopefully they realize what a blessing it was to know her. God grant her a special place in Heaven.

  4. Linda Locke M.S.W. on April 27th, 2010 2:18 pm

    I grew up in Concordia, Kansas and worked at my father’s Drug Store from the age of six until I entered college. While my fayher, Orval Locke, was between wives, he hired a Catholic house keeper to take care of the house and me. Her name was Clara Racette. She almost converted me to Catholicisim. When my parents found out, they fired her and involved with the Methodist Church. I was a singer and worked as a professional musician in collge and for years afterword. I becam an Episcopalean. I am retrning to Concordia at the end if May for a class reunion. Is there a way I could take a tour of the Sister’s of St. Joseph Mother House? I have always wanted to do so.

    I have worked all of my adult life as a social worker and Public Defender
    Linda Locke

    Linda Locke 2000 Glenwood Drive
    Antioch, Ca 94509 (925)754-2161

  5. Pat (Joleen Stegeman) Hall on April 26th, 2010 12:20 pm

    This article about Sister was an incredible story. I guess when you live with, and near someone as close as all you Sisters of St Joseph have become, you share each others life. What a beautiful thing all of you do in your lifetime, it is to be greatly admired!!! The services for Sister Mary Julia were so nice, and what a beautiful Chapel, Grotto and Cemetery you have in Concordia. I could just imagine seeing Sister Mary Julia in the greenhouse. I attended Leoville grade school and went to Mass every morning. The catholic religion in that part of KS has always been strong. My first grade teacher was Sister Thomasine. My Father Mike Stegeman had 9 cousins who became Sisters from Leoville. Sister Mary Julia was one of them.
    My husband and I will always remember our visit to your beautiful Motherhouse. Keep up the Great Work of God.

  6. Mary Fran Simons on April 23rd, 2010 10:48 pm

    What a beautiful Eulogy. It touches my heart and calls me to want to be. What a gift to us is Sister Julia’s life and death. Thanks to dear Julia and to those who reflected her life and spirit so beautifully.

  7. Anne M. Reinertcsj on April 22nd, 2010 7:04 pm

    This eulogy, does reflect S.Mary Julia quite well, and it is an honor to carry it to the sisters at Mt. Joseph, to read, thanks to Sarah for increasing the size of the print and providing me with the hard copy. Thanks so much. S.Anne

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