Franciscan Sister Reflects on Her Calling from God

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

October 20, 2014

Franciscan Sister Leonette Kochan sums up the blessings of her life.

Franciscan Sister Leonette's Mother and Father and Mother's Father“Pleasant places were measured out for me; fair to me indeed is my inheritance…” (Psalm 16)

These words sum up the blessings of my life, gratitude for all that has been given to me. I tell my story with pictures and words.

My parents, Loretta Gasink and Leo Kochan, were married on Nov. 5, 1940 in New Ulm, MN. My dad (Daddy, as we grew up affectionately calling him) was a Wisconsin farmer who inherited the family farm near Francis Creek, WI. He met my mother while traveling to Sleepy Eye, MN with his baseball team. Mom’s past history was quite significant. She was abandoned as a new-born infant, found in a ferry boat station in New York City, taken to the New York Foundling Hospital in NY, and subsequently became an Orphan Train Baby, adopted by Louise & Henry Gasink in New Ulm, MN. The only personal history she could trace was the note attached to her when she was found on Jan. 7: her name was Loretta Armstrong, she was Catholic, and was two weeks old. It was determined her birthday was Christmas Day. Moving to a small Wisconsin farm with her new husband must have been quite an adjustment for her, but her resilience from the time of her birth and her happy childhood stood her in good stead.

Franciscan Sister Leonette with Grandfather and brothers and sistersMy two brothers and two sisters and I enjoyed a happy and secure childhood, grounded in our Catholic faith, as our family shared our farm home with our paternal grandparents.

Even though life on the farm required its share of hard work, there was still time for childhood fantasy.

Sister Leonilla Kochan, my aunt, Dad’s sister, suggested I take the name Leonette at reception, to include a combination of Mom & Dad’s names. My dad proudly knew me as Sister Leonette for just 10 months, when he died of cancer in April, 1964, 2 months before first profession. Our parents’ heritage grew to include 17 grandchildren and 16 (and still growing) great grandchildren.

Franciscan Sister Leonette and parentsI was taught by our Manitowoc Franciscan Sisters in St. Ann’s School, Francis Creek, Wisconsin and recall happy memories of those years. The desire to become a sister began around 6th grade and I entered our aspirancy as a high school freshman in 1958. Little did I know then of the “fullness of life” that is the heritage and blessing of being a member of a religious congregation that follows in the footsteps of St. Francis. The “fair inheritance” of my loving and supportive family has continued in my life in community with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.

My “tennis blood” comes naturally from my mother who enjoyed the sport as she grew up. A healthy blend of work and play was a part of our growing up also.

Life brings both blessings and sorrow, faith is tested and family bonds grow stronger as we share heartache together. Our niece Sarah died at age 33, having brought to our family her gentle, determined spirit, and the first of numerous international and multi-racial family members.

Franciscan Sister Leonette and Santa Cruz studentsAmong the greatest blessings in my life, in addition to family and my Franciscan Community, are the children and adults who have become a part of who I am. I believe we receive a taste of the hundredfold we have been promised through the people who come into our lives during our journey on earth. Over my years in schools and parishes, from Wisconsin to Ohio to Arizona, the children and adults who have accompanied me have deepened my faith in ways beyond expression. They have taught me that we are equal partners in building the Lord’s kingdom, with no one having a privileged position in service in the Church. I continue to be inspired by and learn from those among whom I work at the Pastoral Center in the Diocese of Tucson.

At the end of our lives, all that matters is how we served our God and others, faithful to our call, and how well we respond generously to the inheritance that has been given to us.

Grounded by my wonderful family, good friends, faith, and religious community, I pray that I am worthy of the blessings that have been measured out to me.


Article Comments:

05/11/2020 @ 11:53 pm

Dear Sister Leonette, My name is Colleen Van Handel-Vandehey. I taught with you at St. Mary’ School, Kaukauna thirty-one years ago. I am still teaching today in Appleton. I would like to thank you for being one of the best principals I ever worked for. I remember your kindness, patience, care, and ice cream on a really hot August day of school prep, all of us in the office enjoying a treat. Thank you for your part in making me the teacher I am today.


05/13/2020 @ 9:00 am

Colleen, thank you for your very kind note. I do remember our days at St. Mary’s with great fondness. Good for you for continuing your teaching ministry! The ice cream treat that day was probably a bit selfish, given my love for ice cream! God bless you each day, and stay well these days.
Sister Leonette


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