Sister Loretta Schirmer, OSB

December 5, 1921 - May 26, 2013

Sister Loretta Schirmer, OSB, 91, a Benedictine Sister of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kans., died at the monastery on May 26, 2013. The vigil service will be at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29, in the monastery chapel, and the Mass of Resurrection will be there at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 30.

Sister Loretta SchirmerSister Loretta was born in Newark, N.J., to August H. and Mary Mager Schirmer. After graduating from Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth, N.J., she came to Mount St. Scholastica for college and entered the community in 1940. After a few years as an elementary teacher, she pursued the study of home economics. She received her master's degree in food and nutrition, with an emphasis in institutional management, from Kansas State Universtiy, and worked in food service at the monastery and at Mount St. Scholastica College. She served as a teacher, principal and librarian at numerous schools in the Kansas City area (Lillis High School, St. Pius X-Mission, St. Benedict and Sacred Heart Schools - Kansas City, Kansas), in Maryville and St. Joseph, Missouri, in Atchison, and in Baileyville, Kansas, as well as supervisor of the residence hall for Mount St. Scholastica Academy.

She was predeceased by her parents; her brother William, and her sisters Sister Mary Austin Schirmer, Catherine Schirmer, Mary Agnes Schoenberger,  and Elizabeth Burke. She is survived by her sisters Margaret Conlin, Teresa Piccoli, and Anne Marie Cuff, by nieces and nephews and by her monastic family. Memorials may be sent to Mount St. Scholastica or online at the Mount’s web site.

S. Loretta's memorial card

Rejoice in the Lord always;
Again, I say, rejoice!
Phil 4:4 

Sister Loretta’s choice of Scripture passage is indicative of her approach o life and to other people. She was a happy and generous person, strict with herself and compassionate toward others. She had a great love of her religious family and her family of birth. She and her brother and seven sisters were taught early in life to share with one another and with those in need.

Sister Loretta brought to her ministries zest, organization, and tolerance. Her example suggested to others the joy of learning and of trying something new. From Kansas State University, she earned a master’s degree in food and nutrition with emphasis on institutional management. She used the knowledge well in monastery food service and supervision, and did the same when Riccardi Center opened to serve college students. Sister Loretta was teacher, letter writer, principal, librarian, audio-visual and printing instructor, dorm director, seamstress, member of the liturgy team, formation team and senate, student of scripture, friend, and thankful monastic. Let us remember her gratefully in our prayer.

Reflection given at the Vigil Service 
by Eleanor Suther, OSB

May 29, 2013

Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6;  2 Timothy 1:3-7;  John 15:9-17

In the name of the community of Mount St. Scholastica,  may I extend our sympathy and prayers to Sister Loretta’s friends and family;  to her sisters,  Margy Conlin, Terese Picoli and  Anne Marie Cuff (whom we all know as “Clocky”); to her neice Joan;  to  her niece- in- law Kim; her grandnephew Stephen;  to her dear friends, Olive and Mike Burns,  and Amy, her god-daughte;, to her sisters in community;  to her friends who have joined us tonight;  and to all the other friends and family members who were not able to join us.

As we at Mount St. Scholastica celebrate our sesquicentennial with grateful hearts, we remember the women through whom wisdom has built this house.  These are the women who have responded to Wisdom’s invitation to come to this house and seek her ways.

In this house we have shared the gifts we have been given with one another and with those we have served.  This past weekend we celebrated with friends who shared wisdom with us for a time.  Our house was alive with love and laughter, memories shared with gratitude for the women whose gifts of themselves have helped to shape us as individuals and as community.   As part of our celebration, we visited the cemetery and remembered our sisters, friends and mentors who have been so much a part of our community and our lives.   One of those was Sister Mary Austin Schirmer, who with love and wisdom lead us through the years of renewal.

Many of our guests stopped to see Sister Loretta as she lay near death and acknowledged her love and support in many powerful and personal ways through her long life in community.  Today we gather to give thanks for a holy woman of wisdom whose quiet strength and loving generosity have helped to build our house.

One of Sister Loretta’s gifts which she shared generously with community was her creativity and delight in setting a beautiful table.  Her creativity reached to preparing delicious food, to designing beautiful decorations, to loving attention to her guests.  She shared those gifts with her home economics students, her work with our German Sisters in food service at Riccardi and in the monastery kitchen, setting a festive table for her sisters on mission or for the faculty and volunteers where she was principal.  Even up to this last Christmas, she was making fudge and other goodies to bring joy to others.

Loretta often shared her wisdom in the form of stories of her family.    She was grateful for the love and wisdom of her parents and delighted in her loving sisters and brother, her nieces and nephews.  She was lovingly supportive of Sister Mary Austin who gave so much of herself to lead us through the renewal after Vatican II.  Somehow, through her stories, she passed on to us the love and wisdom that had formed her in her loving family.  And when her sisters came to visit, we delighted in their presence with us and with her. 

Sister Loretta was a steady, strong, respectful and supportive mentor for me and for many of our sisters through the years of renewal. She was a mentor who was always encouraging us to discover and use the gifts we had been given. She simply expected us to do so, and her confidence in us made us think that it might be true.

Sister Loretta loved to read and was always interested in what was going on in the world.  She was faithful to lectio divina and read widely.  She participated fully in community life, its renewal, its committee meetings, in chapter, in conversation with community members. She loved the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist, faithfully attending them in the Choir Chapel as long as she was able and later in daily prayer in St. Lucy Chapel.  

And this was the secret of her fruitfulness.  She chose tonight’s Gospel reading.  “My relationship with Christ has been as friend and we enjoyed each other,” she explained.  

Sister Loretta went to God on the feast of the Holy Trinity.  We are grateful that Christ the wisdom of God was formed in her and bore fruit for each of us, our community and our world.

So tonight we join in praising our God who has done great things in her and through her.


Homily at the Mass of Resurrection
by Father Meinrad Miller, O.S.B.

First, I offer my prayers to Sr. Anne and to the Sisters whom Sr. Loretta loved these past 73 years as a Benedictine Sister. I also offer my prayers to Sr. Loretta’s sisters who are with us: Margaret Conlin, Teresa Piccoli, and Anne Marie Cuff. There are other family members and friends here as well. I am sure right now she is having a reunion with her parents, and brother William, and sisters Sister Mary Austin, Catherine, Mary Agnes, and Elizabeth. 

It is interesting to note that with her 73 years in the monastery, Sr. Loretta was a mere two years shy of living here ½ of the 150 years the sisters have been in Atchison. Perhaps her passing from us on Trinity Sunday is a reminder to us all that God’s ways are not our ways. We celebrated that day that while Sr. Loretta has gone from our midst, yet still she remains through that great mystery of the Trinity.

The day that she began the novitiate was special for her. In the notes that she wrote for this liturgy she said: I received the Holy Habit on Gaudate Sunday 1940.  I loved the “Rejoice, again I say rejoice" of that day.  I have rejoiced in my monastic life most of my years.  Surely there were a few times when I did not feel like rejoicing, but over all, I rejoiced.

As we heard last night she was able to rejoice in so many different circumstances. She used the freedom God had given her and the friendship she found in Jesus to be a minister for Christ amid the changing times. She wrote in regard to the Gospel she chose for this liturgy: - My relationship with Christ has been as friend and we enjoyed each other so I chose this Gospel, "I call you friend."

My own experience of Sr. Loretta was that she was so confident in her friendship with Jesus that she would joyfully and with ease share that with others. I will always remember a number of occasions in recent years as we would be going from Eucharist to the dining room, that she would stop me and make some comment about the Mass or the homily. She was always appreciative of being able to take part in the liturgy.

I was also able to visit with her a few times in recent years about a trip I took to Newark, and how I had gone to see the Benedictine Monastery and school in Elizabeth where the Schirmer girls and so many other members of the Mount had been educated. 

An interesting twist to that story that we talked about was how Father Henry Lemke, who was the first Benedictine to come to Kansas, also had a large hand in the founding of the Benedictine Sisters in Elizabeth. She laughed when I recalled that Archabbot Boniface Wimmer had said that only he could start Benedictine Monasteries. However Lemke had the full support of Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, a nephew of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and a cousin of Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt who was the Bishop of Newark at the time.  In 1865, Bishop Bayley wrote:

 In 1854 there was no religious community. Now we have a monastery of Benedictines, another of  Passionists, a mother-house of Sisters of Charity, conducting seventeen different establishments; two convents of Benedictine nuns, two others of German Sisters of Notre Dame and two others of the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis. In 1854 there was no institution of learning; today we have a flourishing college (which is now Seton Hall University) and a diocesan seminary, an academy for young ladies, a boarding school for boys, and parish schools attached to almost all the parishes.

I quote this to show that it was from the fertile soil of Newark and Elizabeth that these young women came prepared for the education they would receive both at Mount St. Scholastica College and, more importantly, in the monastery.

I am sure that the road was not always easy. Often as we are on a  journey,  we ask ourselves what we got ourselves into. But we believe, we believe that God still calls us to a friendship and a trust. We can learn from Sr. Loretta even as we pray for her. We can learn to go with the flow, to adapt, to encourage,  to try new things while retaining sacred traditions, like fudge recipes. 

A key to her life was that Sr. Loretta’s heart was filled with gratitude. Often fears and doubts can crowd out our gratitude. St. Benedict reminds us that our humility overcomes fear with love. I leave you with the words Sr. Loretta chose for the first reading from Isaiah 43. 

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.”