March 6, 1922 – November 14, 2001
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me.” John 14
This favorite scriptural passage of Sister Sheila Wood illustrates her life. Born March 6, 1922 in Detroit, she was baptized Magdalene Theresa and called Madge for short. She had one sister, Mary Agnes, six years younger. Her father died when she was three. “Although I was not raised in a normal family environment, my formative years were deeply influenced by living with my extended family – loving mother, grandmother, aunt, and uncle. I have only happy memories of their Irish wit and humor, and deep religious values and faith.”
Madge’s schooling was at St. Benedict’s, Highland Park, where the Sisters of St. Joseph taught her for twelve years. She loved them dearly but was also attracted to Dominican relatives: her maternal aunt, Sr. Eugenia Connolly, OP, and cousins, Sisters Eugene Marie Forster and Thomas More Connelly. When Sister Eugenia came for visits, “I used to watch her intently as she prayed from her Office Book. When I was a senior in high school Sr. Eugenia invited me to Sr. Thomas More’s reception, and that truly impressed me.” Although she had received a scholarship to Nazareth College, she stayed at home, wrote to Mother Euphrasia, and on the following February 2 entered at Marywood. In August she was received as Sister Sheila of the Holy Cross.
After profession Sister Sheila began a long ministry in early elementary education in the dioceses of Grand Rapids and Saginaw. Studying meanwhile, she earned from Aquinas College a B.A. (l957) and M.A. in Religious Education (1964); and from Michigan State University, M.A. in Elementary Education (1971). Her teaching was in first grade and kindergarten at St. Stephen, Grand Rapids; St. Joseph, Grand Rapids; St. Michael, Maple Grove; Immaculate Heart of Mary, Grand Rapids; St. Mary, Saginaw; and St. Joseph, Wright. She was one of the successful teachers chosen to assist in Sister Bernetta Zeitz’s summer reading clinic at Aquinas College.
Most of Sister Sheila’s activities were related to teaching. She studied the Workshop Way program at Xavier University, New Orleans, and traveled to educational meetings, the most distant one an NCEA convention in California. Even her arts and crafts were restricted to making teaching materials. Her tastes in music included jazz, which she used in rhythm activities with the children. Her personal preference was the score of “Ebb Tide,” with sounds of waves and sea gulls. She loved Lake Michigan and the “Sound of the Sea.” When Canasta came on the scene, she was an avid player. Life in her last mission, Wright, was a new experience for a “city girl” who had always taught in larger city schools. She adapted to the new experiences, including a wagon trip around the countryside, which evoked her typical response: “Mercy!”
More notable trips for Sister Sheila were to Ireland along with the Conway sisters: Magdalena, Carmella, and William Mary, and her own sister Mary. The first was on the occasion of Magdalena’s Silver Jubilee. On the return trip some years later, she endured a rocky boat trip to the Aran Islands, to visit the home of her ancestors.
Always gentle, smiling and calm in the white habit, which she cherished, Sister Sheila reminded her pupils of an angel. They loved her and years later would track her down and come for a visit. Those who lived with her knew her as quiet, prayerful, kind and helpful. Her teaching ended abruptly on March 17, 1999. At the time she was teaching at St. Joseph, Wright, part-time in kindergarten and part-time in one of the lower grades. On St. Patrick’s Day she consulted a doctor about an illness and at his recommendation went directly to Aquinata Hall. Because of pulmonary fibrosis and occasional heart spells she remained there with a new ministry of prayer.
During her two and one half years at Aquinata Sister Sheila was a blessing to all. Her gentle presence and warm smile greeted everyone who visited her room. Her bulletin board was filled with pictures and good wishes from the children of St. Joseph, Wright. She enjoyed watching skating on television and the visits of her many good friends especially Sisters Carmella, William Mary and Margaret Kienstra. Sister Sheila was ever grateful for the care and concern showered upon her.
At the time of her golden jubilee, Sister Sheila wrote: “I truly cherish the privilege of having the Blessed Sacrament in our very home, and I have enjoyed living with many holy and dedicated sisters.”
Entered eternal life on November 14, 2001 at the age of 79 after 61 years of religious life
We commend Sister Sheila to your prayers.