December 16, 1915 – December 20, 2000
Jesus, who loved both Martha and Mary, called Sister Eleanore home to her eternal reward. “I have called you by your name,” -- (and why not) “My Ellie, my Martha, my Mary.”
She was one of the “lovely girls” (the postulant class of 1933), and lovely she stayed – to live with, grow with, work with and to remember. In her golden years, her own memories were more likely the funny ones from childhood. These stayed with her when the other memories faded. One was fortunate then to hear her bring them back. The listener shared her playful delight, and began to appreciate the interplay of joy and sorrow, the achievements and disappointments, the bright colors and the quieter ones that her Master Weaver was blending into a finished work. All these threads were equally important.
Sister Eleanore was born into her family December 16, 1915 the third of four children, to John and Clara Foley VanDyke, a happy mix of Irish and Dutch heritage, in Muskegon, Michigan. On Christmas Day she was reborn into the family of God at St. Joseph Church and christened Eleanore Gertrude. Happily on her way, she attended St. Joseph Grade and High School, where she daily met our Sisters in whose family she would later find fulfillment. With particular fondness she remembered Sister Honorata Evan, OP and Sister Lorraine Gibson, OP. Of still greater influence in her choice of vocation was the example and counseling of her pastor, Father William Hasenberg. Deeper than all of these was a stable bedrock of wholesome Catholic home life.
Graduation found her ready to take the initial step. On September 8, 1933, Eleanore joined a group of prospective Dominicans. Mother Eveline Mackey casually described them in a community letter as “lovely girls,” an appellation the girls discovered and gleefully appropriated. When they received the habit on August 21, 1934, Eleanore retained her baptismal name with the title “of the Immaculate Conception.” Two years later, she professed her First Vows, and on August 24, 1936, made her Final Profession.
From the beginning, her Hummel-like gift of relating to children was recognized and marked her professional training and service. Her early pairing with classmate, Sister Dolores Wendling, lasted throughout life, though their paths diverged along the way. Sister Dolores’ reminiscences add particular weight to the quality and uniqueness of her friend’s personality. “She was not the kind of scholar,” she recalled, “in the sense of academic pursuit toward personal achievement– theory was good or better as it translated into useful classroom techniques.” And, so she traveled on within her world of classrooms from St. Andrew’s, Grand Rapids to Our Lady of Fatima, Albuquerque, New Mexico, a veritable literary Johnny Appleseed planting the excitement of learning. In the footsteps of Sister Ceslaus Pentenreider at St. Boniface, Bay City, the critical eye of Father Wyss elicited, “You are a gut successor to Schwester Cheslaus.” That she relished. Sister Dolores remembers her special giftedness in composing stories and activities for children. Her childlike manner had instant appeal for her small charges. They kept on loving her as they learned – at St. Stephen’s, Grand Rapids, Marywood Academy and throughout her final roundup of a dozen years in New Mexico. During six of those years she was Superior and Administrator of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Alameda. At Our Lady of Fatima she inaugurated the non-graded primary. But, it was that personal touch that endeared her to children, and prompted a letter from Chris Bradley after twenty-five years: “I am writing to thank you for your tremendous patience and encouragement, when I was in your first-grade Class. You gave me (and all your students) a great beginning. I remember writing stories on the blackboard with accompanying drawings. You would always tell me how good they were and encourage me to do more. I couldn’t wait to do more. You set my creativity in motion, and it’s still in motion today. I’m an actor now. Thank you.”
There were sadnesses along with joys in Sister’s family life. An older little brother, Vincent, whom she never knew, was the tragic victim of a scalding accident in their home. Eleanore’s coming then had been a healing for both parents and an older sister. They bonded closely. When later in life, they lost their younger brother, Maynard, to death from brain cancer and surgery, a more mature Sister Eleanore still grieved deeply. Left alone with the death of their parents, she and her sister, Marcella, grew closer. It was at Marcella’s home that Sister Eleanore spent her vacations.
When a hearing problem signaled the end of her teaching, Sister looked homeward for new direction, and found it in seventeen years as Executive Housekeeper and Sacristan at Aquinata Hall. From early morning until the close of evening prayer, she circulated with her crew, attacking the incursions of dust and flying ants with a merciless vengeance. “Dutch Cleanser” personified! Of particular joy to her was the care of the chapel and the chaplain’s quarters. Well known was her devotion to the well-being of her friend, Father Thomas Kaufman, OP. It was mutual! His retirement preceded hers, but their friendship grew in faithful correspondence. “My Ellie — my Martha — my Mary,” he wrote of her.
In 1992, Sister Eleanore sensed it was time again to refocus her direction. She chose to be more completely “Mary” and retired to Aquinata Hall. In her own earlier words, “…so, I have shared my life and service with both the very young of God’s family and the senior members, and I have learned much from both.”
Sister Eleanore is survived by her sister-in-law Rose VanDyke and her nephew Greg VanDyke of San Juan Capistrano, California, many friends and a loving community.
Entered eternal life on December 20, 2000 at the age of 85 after 66 years of religious life
We commend Sister Eleanore to your prayers.