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Faith

Three Joliet Franciscan centenarians reflect on their ministry and relationships to God

JOLIET – Three centenarians. Three lifelong commitments to God. Three approaches to ministry.

On March 3, Sister Marie Schramko, Sister Mariarthur Hamann and Sister Mary Franz gathered in a parlor at Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home in Joliet, where all three live.

There, these sisters shared their paths to the convent, their lives of ministry and, in video, a message of spirituality for people today.

CALLED

Schramko, the quietest of the three who said she served by actions, not words, said she found her calling while growing up in a mining town in Johnston, Pennsylvania.

“I had the sisters in the fourth grade and I loved the sisters,” Schramko said. “They were so kind.”

Like Schramko, Hamann knew from childhood that she wanted to serve God as a sister.

“On my First Communion day, I talked to God: ‘Don’t forget. I want to be a sister,’ ” Hamann said.

Hamann said she longed to attend a special high school for girls who wanted to be sisters. However, Hamann’s father, who was not Catholic, refused, adding that she must wait until age 18 to pursue her vocation.

“I remember one time I said, ‘But you married Mom when she was 17,’ ” Hamann said. “I thought he’d take the roof off. My mom told me then, ‘You’d better be quiet about that and just wait until you are 18.’ ”

Hamann said a nun friend suggested the two of them pray a novena together. A novena is a series of special prayers recited for nine consecutive days and focused on a special intention.

So they did. Soon afterward, Hamann’s mother said the happy words: “Daddy said you can go to the convent.” Hamann was 15.

Franz’s road to the convent was more poignant. She was just 10 when her mother died from appendicitis. She recalled how her mother had summoned all eight living children (two died in infancy) – ages 4 to 19 – to her bedside.

She remembered her mother’s final words to her: “Be a good girl, Mary.” She remembered the moment she realized her mother had died.

“I just stood there like stone, not knowing where to turn and trying to unravel what happened,” Franz said.

As was custom at the time, Franz’s mother’s wake was in the family home amid lily of the valleys a neighbor had brought. Franz felt thankful her father, somehow, kept the family together. One of Franz’s dearest memories is attending Mass with her father.

“I felt so proud to sit next to my father,” Franz said. “It made me feel so good.”

Growing up, Franz read about sisters who did missionary work. Franz wanted to be like them.

“I would think, ‘I would like to be helping people,’ ” Franz said. “When I asked my father, he said, ‘If this is what you want to do, you have my blessing.’ ”

SERVICE

Two particular teaching assignments stand out in Schramko’s memory. One was at Marybrook Academy in Ohio, which was for “girls that had run away from home.” Schramko said she worked there “for five years and five summers.”

The second was Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the school was literally built around them as they taught. One construction worker quipped to Schramko how he brushed up on his algebra as he worked.

“There was nothing there,” Schramko said. “All we had was sand.”

At the school, Schramko said she taught the girls and a priest from Cuba taught the boys, in theory, anyway.

“I used to go over to the boys side and teach because they could not understand the priest,” Schramko said. “I would teach Latin or whatever needed to be taught.”

Through the years, Schramko served as principal and then assistant principal, her last role when she retired at age 98. 

“I’d been so busy, I never noticed,” Schramko said.

Hamann, the first principal at St. Jude Catholic School in Joliet, spent many years on the administrative side in education. Like Schramko, she never noticed the passing years.

“I just kept on living and never thought about it until my body started falling apart,” Hamann said. “I began to think, ‘Gee, I’m getting close to 100. Maybe that happens.’ ”

The combination of Franz’s early experiences with the freedom post-Vatican II brought the Catholic church led her away from education and into pastoral care – working with the sick and dying.

“I visited people in nursing homes and at the time of death,” Franz, who will turn 101 in May, said. “I helped them prepare for funerals and visitations. I was at peace with God during that time, and I feel bad I can’t do it anymore.”

GOD

Did their vocations bring them closer God?

“I know that I’m a religious,” Schramko said. “And I feel I should do what a religious is supposed to do. How much closer can you get than that?”

Hamann said the sisters’ lifestyle is designed to bring them close to God.

“We gave up being married. We gave up having children. We gave up much of doing our own will,” Hamann said. “For many years, we lived by the vow of obedience. I think God blessed us because we were doing someone else’s will and we were doing it willingly.”

Franz said she met God every day.

“I see God in a child. I see God in a student. I see God in an older person,” Franz said. “And I try – I don’t say, ‘I do’ because sometimes that’s very difficult – I try to do what I can do each day and offer that day up to God.”

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KNOW MORE

Years ago, teaching was a primary ministry for many sisters and Sister Marie Schramko, Sister Mariarthur Hamann, and Sister Mary Franz were no exception. In fact, sisters were often moved to different schools every few years.

According to Hamann, congregations often made assignment decisions with the help of a large “checkerboard.” The board included the sisters’ names and the state, city and parish of possible locations.

In Hamann’s case, she was an organist as well as a teacher, so that made her skills doubly attractive on a parish level, she said.

“You might be in a place you loved very much, but we did what we told whether we liked it or not,” Hamann said. “Somebody had to be moved and so you had to be moved.”

The boards were last arranged for use in the 1968-1969 school year. Below is a summary Schramko, Hamann and Franz ministry through the years.

Sister Marie Schramko

• 1937 to 1938: College of St. Francis, Joliet – Student

• 1938 to 1946: St. Mary, Columbus, Ohio – Latin, history, math, religion, biology

• 1946 to 1953: St. Francis de Sales, Chicago – Religion, biology, math

• 1950 to 1952: St. Francis Academy, Joliet – Latin, biology

• 1952 to 1957: Marybrook Academy, Ohio – Math, religion, biology

• 1957 to 1961: St. Procopius, Chicago – Religion, math, biology

• 1961 to 2016: Cardinal Gibbons Catholic High School, Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Assistant principal, math, science, Latin

• 2016 – Our Lady of Angel Retirement Home, Joliet – Community service    

Sister Mariarthur Hamann

• 1935 to 1936: College of St. Francis, Joliet – Student

• 1936 to 1943: Immaculate Conception, Columbus, Ohio – Grades four to seven

• 1943 to 1948    Immaculate Conception, Toledo, Ohio –  Grade seven

• 1948 to 1949    St. Francis de Sales, Chicago – Grade eight

• 1949 to 1951    St. Francis de Sales, Toledo, Ohio – Grade seven

• 1951 to 1953    St. Clement, Chicago – Grade eight

• 1953 to 1960    St. Jude, Joliet – Grades three to eight, organist, Superior and principal

• 1960 to 1961: St. Pascal, Chicago – Grade eight

• 1961 to 1962: St. John, Loveland, Colorado – Grades five and six, organist

• 1962 to 1963: St. Stephen, Streator – Grade seven, organist

• 1963 to 1964: St. Ann, Lansing – Grade eight

• 1964 to 1965: Divine Savior, Chicago – Grade eight, organist

• 1965 to 1969: St. Francis de Sales, Chicago – Grade eight, organist

• 1969 to  1975: Superior, Wisconsin – Diocesan Educational consultant

• 1976 to 1980: Diocese of Joliet – Director of teacher personnel

• 1980 to 1982: St. Mary, Plainfield – Administrative assistant

• 1982 to 1984: St. John the Baptist, Joliet – Principal

• 1984 to 1986: St. Raymond, Joliet – Assistant to the principal

• 1986 to 1990: Will County Multiple Sclerosis Office, Joliet – Patient coordinator, office manager

• 1990 to 1993: Various locations in Bolingbrook – Adult education teacher

• 1993 to 1994: Various locations in Romeoville – Education consultant

• 1994 to 2017: Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home, Joliet – Volunteer

Sister Mary Franz

• 1935 to 1937: St. Bernard Joliet – Grades six and seven

• 1937 to 1939: College of St. Francis, Joliet – Student

• 1939 to 1942: St. Francis Academy, Joliet – Physics and math

• 1942 to 1949: St. Clement, Chicago – Math, biology, religion

• 1949 to 1950: Sacred Heart, Englewood – Math, biology, religion

• 1950 to 1957: College of St. Francis, Joliet – Math and biology

• 1957 to 1959: Sacred Heart, Englewood – Math, biology, religion

• 1959 to 1960: St. Mary, Columbus, Ohio – Math, biology

• 1960 to 1967: St. Francis Convent, Joliet – Director of postulants

• 1967 to 1969: Bishop Ready High School, Columbus, Ohio – Superior, math and biology

• 1969 to 1971: St Mary, Columbus, Ohio – Principal of grade school

• 1971 to 1975: St. Francis Convent, Joliet – Business office

• 1975 to 1976: St. John, Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Parish ministry

• 1976 to 1977: Clinical pastoral education training

• 1977 – 1985: St. Mary, Marion, Ohio – Associate pastor

• 1985 – 1995: St Christopher, Columbus, Ohio – Pastoral associate

• 1995 – 1996: St. John , Logan, Ohio – Pastoral ministry

• 1996 – 2004: St. Elizabeth, Columbus, Ohio – Pastoral ministry

• 2004: Retired, community service in Ohio

• 2010: Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home, Joliet

This article has been updated to correct the name of the sister who will turn 101 in May to Sister Mary Franz. The Herald-News regrets the error.

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