March 19, 1932 – July 31, 2023
Mary Agnes Schafer, born March 19, 1932, in Weidman, Michigan, was the first child of William and Blanche (Mead) Schafer. One sister and four brothers completed the family. They were members of St. Philomena parish, Beal City, which is now St. Joseph the Worker parish. “My childhood was made up of going to school and working out in the fields with my dad and the rest of the family.”
She describes her childhood as a happy one working, milking cows, helping her father who taught her to drive the tractor for planting and combining. Her father loved to joke and tease, making the work fun, she recalls. Her mother taught her to cook and clean. She was grateful for her family, and in her parents’ elder years she spent many weekends and summers assisting them in cleaning and gardening at the homestead.
After first grade in the public school, Mary Agnes attended St. Philomena School in Beal City, where the Grand Rapids Dominicans were her teachers. From the first time she met the Sisters she wanted to be like them. Dissatisfied by the offerings in the public high school, she applied for and received acceptance into the Aspirancy at Marywood Academy.
After graduating, Mary Agnes entered the congregation as a postulant, June 17, 1951. At reception she was given the name Sister Josine of Our Lady of Sorrows, which she kept for the rest of her life.
Her profession, February 1953, was followed by her first assignment, to teach third and fourth grades at St. Anthony School, Grand Rapids. Next, she taught the elementary grades at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Chesaning; St. Joseph, Wright; St. Mary, Lake Leelanau; St. Mary, Gaylord; and St. Mary, Charlevoix. In both Lake Leelanau and Charlevoix, Sr. Josine served as principal. Her last thirty years as a teacher were at Sacred Heart Academy in Mt. Pleasant, where she became something of a legend for her steadfast kindness and quiet ways.
Sister Josine earned a BA from Aquinas College in 1964, a certificate in Theology from the Aquinas College Institute of Theology, Saginaw in 1967 and an MA in School Administration from Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant in 1974. Certificates for Continuing Education, workshops, and recognitions of gratitude are too numerous to mention.
Quiet and unassuming, Sister Josine was an efficient and well-loved primary teacher. “I have enjoyed my teaching of the little ones. Working with the slow learner is as much of a challenge as working with the genius.” She was an excellent teacher, with unlimited patience. She liked to try new things. When her young students were responsible for planning the school liturgy, she taught them to recite the first reading from memory. The class left their seats, walked to the front of the church, stood on the steps, and recited their piece, returning to their seats quietly. Years later, those same students recalled the event with pride. Numerous letters and notes by former students tell of the wonderful difference she made in young lives. “You made me feel capable and confident. . . you built up my self-esteem.”
In 2002, Sisters Josine, Josephine Mary Birchmeier, and Thaddeus Kowalinski were honorary hosts at a Gala in which Sacred Heart Academy in Mt. Pleasant honored the hundreds of Dominican Sisters who had served there for 113 years. Sister Josine wrote that what she liked most about her work was “the idea that we are helping other people. Sometimes we are not even conscious of how we are helping, and it may seem insignificant, but we are doing more good than we realize.” Her observation was verified when she was awarded a certificate by Central Michigan University in 2003 “for outstanding service and tireless efforts to enhance the education and lives of students.” One of the recommendations named her as the teacher who had the greatest influence on her education. A less prestigious but also significant recognition of her positivity was the “Rider of the Quarter,” award granted to exemplary public transport patrons.
Sister Josine, reserved in manner, was loving and kind, with a lilting smile and a “shy” sense of humor. Soft-spoken, she claimed her biggest “cross” was her timidity in speech. She said she would rather sit and listen than express herself. Nevertheless, she grew in confidence over the years, and her close friends claim she was talkative in a one-to-one situation. She was known for her sense of responsibility, quiet sense of humor and a contagious laugh.
After retiring from full-time teaching, Sister Josine continued to serve as a substitute teacher and tutor. She enjoyed reading, sewing, knitting, needlecraft, crocheting, gardening, and cooking. She was always up for a board game; Rummikub was one of her favorites which she enjoyed playing each evening with her Sister friends.
Sister Josine said she never did anything special, “just got up, went to work and tried to do what I could.” What she could do was make a quiet, lasting influence on many people who will miss her smile and kindness every day. May she now be experiencing the “object of every hunger, the Source of all Being” whom she served well and for whom she longed all her days.
Sister Josine is survived by her brothers Herman Schafer and Carl Schafer; and her sister-in-law Rose Schafer of Weidman, MI; nieces, nephews, many friends and members of her Dominican Community.
“In Him we live and move and have our being.” ~ Acts 17:28
Entered eternal life on July 31, 2023 at the age of 91 after 71 years of religious life
We commend Sister Josine to your prayers.
Sister Josine with a Homework Assistance Skill Development student, a program of the WORD Ministry.
Sister Josine was a hospitality coordinator for the Word ESL program, a ministry of the Dominican Sisters~Grand Rapids.
Srs. Josine Schafer and Adrienne help maintain the gardens at Marywood. “As children, my siblings and I planted a lot of seeds in the garden. We always wondered how that tiny carrot seed knew it was to be a big orange carrot. What a mystery!”
Sister Josine with one of her Word~ESL students.