Sr. Eileen Wendt: Keep Walking into the Next Moment

So many of our sisters were teachers in their active ministry. And those who taught in elementary school were challenged in some remarkable ways.

To begin with, until the mid-1960s, the young sisters were sent out to teach before they had their college degrees. To compensate, a new teacher was paired up with a ‘veteran’ teacher and received one-on-one coaching in every aspect that pertained to the classroom.

Sister Eileen Wendt spoke highly of her veteran teacher, Sister Annella Scheier (Ϯ1986), and how much she helped her to manage a classroom of 65 first graders. But Sister Annella was lucky to have a natural born teacher to guide. Sister Eileen went on to be a principal for over 30 years and then ministered in religious education.

Until I sat down to talk with Sister Eileen recently, I had never noticed the mischief in her eyes. And the more I listened to her tales of teaching and life, the more I recognized why she could connect with children and adults.

As a child she was fascinated by the sisters. Her family lived across the alley from St. Frederick Parish convent in Cudahy, Wisconsin, so she had the opportunity to observe the sisters and interact with them. She marveled at how they talked like ordinary people! When the weather was good, she saw the sisters pray together in the yard.

I am overwhelmed at the many ways God has shown His love for me in the past 50 years. God has given me countless graces, countless opportunities to serve Him in the Church, especially the children to whom I ministered for so many years.

Sr. Eileen’s Reflection on her 50th Jubilee, 2000

Of course, this was a catalyst to ‘play church and pray like the sisters.’ Sister Eileen and her close friend, Rita, would fashion makeshift veils, hold a book in their hands and mumble words to sound like the sisters praying in Latin.

Going to the store for the sisters was fun and Sister Remegia Schuh (Ϯ1974), the house sister, always had cookies as a reward. Standing and talking with her at the outside door, the aromas of whatever was cooking or baking inside could be smelled. It was wonderful!

Eileen had four sisters and one brother. An older sister entered the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi and received the name Sister Rita Clare. Many automatically thought Eileen would enter the convent, too. But it was not so certain to her. In response to a comment on going to the convent, Eileen said, “I love boys, fun, clothes and parties too much.” But eventually God’s call took root and, at reception into the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, she was given the name, Sister Jean Clare.

St. Sebastian School in Milwaukee was her first teaching assignment and her sister was assigned there, also. This was very unusual in those days, and Sister Eileen never expected that. One day while she was on playground duty, she was approached by some of the older boys. They were very sure of themselves and said to her, “You and Sister Rita Clare are sisters, aren’t you?” Well, as a young sister, Sister Eileen was very concerned because at that time no one knew the family names of the sisters. But she asked calmly, “And how do you know that?” “You both have the same last name!” Sister Eileen breathed a sigh of relief when she realized that they thought ‘Clare’ was their last name.

She and Sister Rita Clare were stationed together two more times in their teaching years. These occurred after Sister Rita Clare was treated for breast cancer and asked Sister Eileen if she could work in her school. Since Sister Rita Clare’s health was not the best, the support of a sibling would be helpful for her. She died in 1980 at the age of 56.

Sister Eileen on the occasion of her 70th Jubilee.

Today, 41 years later at age 91, Sister Eileen’s health is fragile. In May, she moved to the second floor of Clare Circle in our new convent and is settling in along with all of the other sisters. When she reflects on the hard times in life, the dark days, she shares that the key is to keep smiling and keep walking into the next moment, the next day.

Her novice director, Sister Romuald Nolz (Ϯ1995), used to say that joy was like the Fourth of July, it comes and it goes. Life is what you make it. Sister Eileen’s life is enriched with relationships. She and a sister in Indiana are the remaining members of her immediate family. A number of people she got to know in Lombard, Illinois, still stay in touch. And residents from Canticle and Juniper Courts, where Sister Eileen lived prior to moving to St. Francis Convent, our Motherhouse, still connect with her easily since the buildings are almost next door to each other.

People have always been important for Sister Eileen. She is gracious and hospitable and loves to interact. One of her happiest duties was to give new residents the orientation to living at the Courts. Connections with the sisters around her now are uppermost on her agenda.

by Sister Marcia Lunz, OSF