After 60 years, this is still the home and life I desire.
As I write this reflection celebrating the 60 years of my life as a Grand Rapids Dominican Sister, we are in the midst of moving from our 100-year-old Marywood Motherhouse into our New Marywood.
Sixty years ago, with a small trunk holding my possessions, I entered the east wing entrance to be greeted by Mother Victor. My new space in the New Marywood has the same view of the Old Marywood as I had coming up that drive on September 8, 1961. As I gaze out my window this morning, I am reminded of the many emotions I experienced that day when I saw the building that was to be my home.
I was excited. I knew this was the beginning of an adventure into the unknown. I was nervous. I was not certain I was ready for all the challenges this life would bring. I was committed. I had a desire to face my fears and doubts with courage. I was determined to give my all for a chance to live as a part of this marvelous group of women. I was completely aware of my utter dependence on the Goodness of God to accompany me on the journey.
As I gaze up the hill this morning and see the old Marywood, I find these same emotions surface. After 60 years, this is still the home and life I desire.
I recall the third day of my life at Marywood. I was so homesick I left mass during Father Wilson’s homily to tell Sister Patricia Clare I wanted to go home. How grateful I am today that wiser minds than my own prevailed and I was urged to give it a few more days. Years later I remain grateful. Amid all the changes that have taken place in the Church and in religious life, I have always treasured the call to Dominican Life within this congregation.
Looking back not only over the years I have lived as a Grand Rapids Dominican, but also on the 18 years I spent amid my family, I have so much for which I am grateful. I enjoyed a happy and secure childhood. I was the ninth born in a family of 11 children. I was one of only 3 girls amid 8 boys so I am often reminded I was a bit spoiled. That means I did not have to do the field work or milk the cows. I enjoyed such things as cleaning, laundry and some of my favorite activities – cooking and baking.
The first 30 years of my life in community were focused a great deal on education – both my own and in teaching elementary students. During those years I also experienced the many changes taking place in the Catholic Church and in religious life. I will always be grateful for having experienced both the pre Vatican and the post Vatican Church.
Two vacations from those earlier years stand out in my memory. One was a Greyhound trip that Sister Jean Marie Birkman and I took. We boarded the Greyhound in Duluth MN and took a northern route to California. Coming back east we used the southern route. What a remarkable experience to see so much of our country as we celebrated the country’s bicentennial. The second trip was the summer after my silver jubilee. I visited S Margaret Mary in Chimbote, Peru. For weeks after returning I could not take a shower or drink a glass of water without recalling my time there.
The summer of 1989 was a turning point for me. During that summer I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Since severe fatigue was one of many symptoms I was experiencing I found it necessary to resign from teaching and find other forms of ministry. Since then I have found a variety of positions that were less stressful but still very rewarding.
At present I am living at Marywood. I still enjoy cooking and baking and love to share the fruits of these labors with the Sisters here at Marywood. God has indeed blessed me with a loving family and community. What more could one want?
2022 – 60 Years a Sister
Pray for the upcoming Chapter of Election
During her earliest teaching years, Sr. Josephine Birchmeier taught in classrooms of 45 to 50 students which amounted to about 350 students in and out of her classroom every day. Thankfully the class sizes eventually became smaller. Today, this retired teacher contributes homemaking skills to the sense of home and comfort that Sisters enjoy at Marywood.
Recently, she chopped a bushel of apples to make apple sauce, no easy task for a women whose hands can be painfully uncooperative due to Lupus. Sisters who live on the memory loss floor of Aquinata Hall respond positively to the apple sauce, home-baked bread and jam, and pies Sr. Josephine makes to share. “The nurses and other care-providers say that these foods must conjure up joyful and comforting memories.”
Her creative skills also support several non-profit organizations in providing for people in need. Sister Josephine makes sure the yarn cupboard is full for Sisters to use to make hats for children throughout the year. At Christmas, the Santa Claus Girls distribute the hats as gifts to more than 11,000 children in Kent County.