March 21, 2020 – Melbourne Beach, Florida
Written by Jim
In September of 1980, my phone rang in my college dorm room at Western Michigan University. It was my mom calling from Ohio to let me know about something that had happened to her and my sister. My grandpa had died a few days before in Indiana. He had been the only male resident of the Catherine Kasper Home for aging Catholic sisters at my Aunt Marge’s order’s motherhouse in Donaldson, Indiana. He had broken his hip while visiting and was granted permission to stay. I would visit him there, as it was a short drive from Kalamazoo. When I asked him how he liked it, he replied “Too many queens and not enough kings.” Truth be told, the only queen that mattered to him was his dear Minnie who had passed six years prior. This iron-willed homebuilder from Detroit sobbed that fact to me on more than one occasion.
Back to that phone call. My parents were returning from a trip and stopped for the service the sisters had for him. I was going to meet the family for the main funeral in Detroit a few days later. My sister went to Indiana and drove Mom back to Ohio, as my dad had some loose business dealings to take care of before the funeral. As Mom and Judy were heading east, a rainbow appeared before them. The phone call had to do with that, as a rainbow is what my Aunt Marge requested when my grandpa asked her what sign she wanted when he got to Heaven. As I talked to Mom, I was looking out my dorm room window at a dazzling rainbow. While it was sad that Grandpa K had died, it brought a quizzical wonder at the coincidence of those color filled arches across the sky. Oddly enough, my aunt…the most spiritual one among us… never saw her rainbow. I’ll expound on why I think that is later in this post.
Over the years since, Diana and I have been treated to rainbows soon after a family member passes, almost without fail. Each time a gentle reminder that there is a God and a Heaven. This past Sunday, the requestor of that original rainbow passed away. My Aunt Marge, known to the sisters as Sister Mary Conrad Kirchhoff, was 95 years old.
As a child, she looked up to her older sister, my mom. Blackie and Blondie were their nicknames. She also looked up to her brothers Fritz and John and was protective of her little brother Ed.
After high school, she held a couple of secretarial jobs in Detroit before she heard the call from God to become a nun. She chose the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, an order that originated in Germany and had an American group of sisters in Donaldson, Indiana.
As a novice, her ‘little’ brother Ed came to see her. He would soon be off to war in the U.S. Navy, along with his older brothers who were serving in the Army.
Once she took her vows, she hit the floor running. She earned a Bachelors Degree from Loyola in Chicago and masters degree from St Francis College in Ft Wayne. She was a teacher and principal in Chicago, Director of Novices in Donaldson, the head of the order in the U.S. from 1973-1979, and then returned to teaching.
From 1983-1989, she was the first non-German sister on the worldwide board in Germany. Over the years, she travelled the world to places from Germany to India and Italy.
She even was able to meet Pope Paul VI. She was even fortunate to witness the day that same pope became a saint; the same day the foundress of her order did (Sr. Mary Catherine Kasper). She spoke with Diana and I about how she thought my mom would have been able to see more of the world than her. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would be so blessed to have experienced so much. She finished her career as the Vice President of Mission Effectiveness at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Wayne. Throughout her life, she opened doors to opportunities for her sisters to follow. When she didn’t know the path to take, she trusted God to show her the way.
And that is my belief on why she never saw that rainbow. Of all of our family members, she was the only one that didn’t need to. She had faith that her dad made it to Heaven…no rainbow required. God bless you, Aunt Marge. You were our moral compass. The world is better for you having been a part of it.
Below is a link to a YouTube video where she speaks of her years in Detroit and how she was called to become a sister. It’s a nice way to spend 5 minutes, if you have the time.