In her 85th year of consecrated life, School Sister of St. Francis Rose Mack exudes youthful energy and has an erect posture as she strides down the long corridors of St. Joseph Center at age 101!
Rose grew up with five brothers and two sisters in Saskatchewan, Canada. Life was simple then: no TV, smart phones or social media. She recalls, “We had a lot of fun playing outdoors. Most of the games we played we made up ourselves. We also had chores to do every day. My job was to take care of the chickens and collect the eggs.”
When Rose was six years old, her mother died. She lived with her uncle until she got to the fourth grade, when she moved to Dane, Wisconsin, to live with her aunt. Rose attended St. Michael Catholic School, and she says that “once I met Sister Zita, I was sure I wanted to become a School Sister of St. Francis. She showed such a caring attitude toward us, and I wanted to do the same. I always thought about being a sister because my aunt had a sister in religious life and my uncle, who had two sisters in the convent, often said to me, ‘Someday you’ll be a sister.’”
Rose remembers that the summer of 1932, when she entered the community, was very hot. “To escape the heat, we aspirants were fixated on one of the German-speaking sisters who made homemade ice cream,” she said. “Because I could speak German, I was chosen to be the spokesperson for the group, so I asked sister if we could have an ice cream treat. She happily complied!”
From the time she entered the convent, Rose wanted to be a nurse. “But during my first year as a novice, Mother Corona spoke about the need for homemakers,” she recalls. “Several of us were assigned to begin our ministry as homemakers during our novitiate. I was missioned at St. Martin Convent in Chicago where we had 18 sisters, and I had no idea how to cook for 18 people! Things improved after a second housekeeper was assigned.”
Sister Rose continued to serve as a homemaker for 33 years. Her happiest years as such were at St. Joseph Convent in Wilmette, Illinois, where Sister Mirabella served as superior. She remembers Sister Mirabella as a fun-loving, spirited individual who liked to celebrate holidays in high style, like having the sisters dress up for Halloween parties.
During her ministry at Wilmette, the government authorities discovered that Rose had never applied for U.S. Citizenship. Because she had lived in the United States as a Canadian citizen for so many years, the community had to pay a $500 bond (which was later forgiven).
In the early 1970s, Rose finally got her wish to transition into health care. She attended Broadmoor Academy in Chicago, where she received her certification as a nurse’s aide and as a home care and hospice care worker. Although the work was hard, she was happy to finally get into the nursing field. “My favorite part of the job was caring for small children,” she said. “I really enjoyed holding the babies and rocking them to sleep.”
“My favorite part of the job was caring for small children,” she said. “I really enjoyed holding the babies and rocking them to sleep.”
When Rose retired from her nursing career, she wasn’t sure what she would do next. Then she saw an ad in her parish bulletin requesting a caretaker for a six-month-old baby. She inquired about the job and learned that the baby, Kristen Stein, was born a month premature and her mother was dying of cancer. Sister recalled Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (19:14).
Kristen’s mother died when she was only five years old, leaving Rose totally responsible, at age 75, to continue raising this little girl. Her experience caring for children as a nurse’s aide was the perfect school of heart for parenting little Kristen, and the experience of losing her own mother at age six helped Rose to nurture this small child with understanding, kindness and sensitivity.
Rose says Kristen’s arrival in her life was truly a blessing. “I learned to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of my own. I could think of no better way to carry out our mission as a School Sister of St. Francis than ‘to be a source of new life, new meaning and new hope’ in Kristen’s life.” By the time Kristen left for college, their bond had blossomed into a parent-child relationship.
Kristen is a paralegal public service worker in Carbondale, Ill., and she and Rose have continued their close relationship. “She calls me every evening, and visits me on my birthday and on holidays,” Rose said. “Sometimes I go to visit her on holidays like Christmas and the Fourth of July.”
“Looking back, I have experienced extraordinary surprises during my 85 years as a School Sister of St. Francis,” Rose said. “It’s obvious that God’s providential care was with me all along the way. And now, in my retirement, I am especially grateful for my good health and the companionship of my sisters at our Maria Linden senior apartments, where I live.
“We enjoy each other’s company at meals and at a multitude of activities,” she said. “And I can still look forward to my annual fishing trips to Eagle River and Merrill, Wisconsin, several times each summer!”
Her retirement years have also given Sister Rose ample opportunity to nurture her spiritual life through daily Eucharist, weekly Bible study, spirituality conferences, retreats, and book discussions.
“I am most grateful to be a School Sister of St. Francis,” she said. “Our needs for community and independence are well served, and our spiritual welfare and physical needs are well taken care of. I feel I can count on my sisters when needed. Their response is always generous because they truly love God and they will prove it every time.”
— Sister Ruth Hoerig, SSSF
Photo Above: Christmas 2017—Sister Rose celebrated her 100th birthday by posing for a Christmas photo with family members, including Kristin Stein (third from right), whom she raised from infancy. (Khala Sampson photo)