“The family table in the kitchen was the center of our family gatherings. It was there that we shared not only food, but our stories and lives. Lots of laughs could be heard. Arguments were settled by looking it up in the encyclopedias mama had saved from her teaching days. Many rosaries were prayed kneeling at the chairs during Lent and times of special need. After supper daddy and the older boys did the milking while we cleaned up and had play time. Then the table became a school room. Lessons were done, some with mama’s help as she mended the endless pile of overalls. Daddy read the paper, had time for loving the younger ones before they were trudged off to bed. What a loving family we had. “
Sr. Mary Jane Mertens, OSF
The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity taught at St. Peter and Paul School in Kiel. No one Sister stands out in my mind. I just remember that, though I had no real idea of what it meant, I always wanted to be a Sister. In eighth grade we made a career booklet. Mine was on being a Sister. So one beautiful May day when I was in eighth grade, mama said to me, “If you want to be a Sister, we had better go to see what it’s like.” So we went, were shown around, met with Mother Generose and I came home with my application. Of course, my brothers said I’d be back in two weeks. That was in 1939 and I’m still here!
In 1941 I was received as a Novice, with the name Sister Mary Clement after my father Clemens and my mother Marie. When we had the choice to keep our reception name or return to our Baptismal name, I returned to Sister Mary Jane since that is what the family called me.
My apostolic ministry began in primary grades teaching the little ones at Holy Innocents, Manitowoc and in St. John’s School in Menominee, Michigan. God threw me a curve and though I had no desire to teach high school, that is what happened when I went to Lindsay, Nebraska, then to Catholic Memorial in Waukesha, Wisconsin and St. John’s Indian Boarding School in Komatke, Arizona—where I fell in love with high school. Those nine years were the best in my life: praying, working, teaching, counseling, just being there for the boarders. From there it was off to public high in Sells, Arizona and then back to St. Mary’s school in Waukesha and Francis Creek in Wisconsin.
Another curve from the Lord and, I was off to serving sixteen years as a Pastoral Associate in Menominee, Michigan, Honolulu and Kekaha, Hawaii—the place of my dreams. I was ready to spend the rest of my mission days there but God said “no” and I was off to experience another culture at St. Francis Assisi School in Greenwood, Mississippi. Then back to the West in Arizona to teach math, meeting some of my former students from St. John’s days, mentoring and tutoring.
As I come to celebrate my 75th Jubilee, I realize how I moved from the kitchen table at home to the tables of each mission and to the altar table to receive the Eucharist which sustained me in each of my mission experiences as I moved through the ministries the Lord called me to.
What advice would I give to a young woman seeking the Lord in our religious way of life? To learn to live the vows, to live in union with the many you live with in Community and those lives you touch with your ministry, and that God always gives the graces.
As I said at my 60th Jubilee, I have been to the mountain, struggled through the valleys, and arrived at this time in my life. As I “go the table” of life, I continue to share at the daily table of the Eucharist, the table of Community and the table of ministry and say: Deo Gratias.