Retired sisters, both nearly 100, grateful for opportunity to serve

By Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass | December 10, 2014

Special collection for retired religious, diocesan priests Dec. 13 and 14

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]MANITOWOC — Sr. Mary Zigo and Sr. Magdalen Sipple both arrived by train at the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity motherhouse in the 1930s.

But they took different routes — literally and figuratively.

Sr. Magdalen Sipple, 99, left, and Sr. Mary Zigo, 98, are members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc. Both arrived by train at the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity motherhouse in the 1930s. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)
Sr. Magdalen Sipple, 99, left, and Sr. Mary Zigo, 98, are members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc. Both arrived by train at the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity motherhouse in the 1930s. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

Sr. Mary was born in Pittsburgh and spent most of her years as a teacher, whereas Sr. Magdalen came from Omro and worked as a homemaker and baker for the sisters.

Now, both are approaching their 100th birthdays, ranking among the oldest members of the community.

“I’ve had a happy life,” said Sr. Mary, who’s 98. “I’ve enjoyed all the sisters. Now that I’m in the infirmary, they treat us like queens. They’re always so good to us.”

Added Sr. Magdalen, who’s 99: “I feel privileged that the Lord gave me all these years, as unworthy as I am, in his service. I think it is a beautiful life.”

Sr. Mary Zigo

Sr. Mary was born in Pittsburgh to Stephen and Katherine Zigo, natives of Austria-Hungary, and spent her early years in West Virginia.

But when she was 2, her mother and baby brother died during the 1918 flu pandemic. A few years later, her family moved to Ohio, about 13 miles from the city of Zanesville, home to a group of Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.

Sr. Mary said that although her farm family was poor, she took great joy in the little things in life, like caring for flowers and watching birds, especially cardinals.

In 1930, shortly after graduating eighth grade from a one-room schoolhouse, Sr. Mary began working as a maid for a nearby Catholic family. That environment helped ignite her desire to serve God. On Sunday afternoons, she would accompany the family’s children to games in the gym in Zanesville — and that’s where she first met members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.

“They were so nice and friendly to us,” Sr. Mary said. “I knew I wanted to become a sister, too.”

Msgr. Linus Leininger and Fr. Bender, priests at St. Nicholas Parish, suggested she contact Holy Family Convent. In 1932, at the age of 15, she arrived in Wisconsin via train to begin her postulant year. Her final profession was celebrated in August 1938 — at that time she went home for a five-day visit, her first trip home since entering the convent six years earlier.

Sr. Mary went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from St. Norbert College, and then completed post-graduate work at various locations, including Silver Lake College in Manitowoc.

She served as an elementary school teacher, principal and tutor in Wisconsin, Ohio and West Virginia until retiring in 2002.

One humorous recollection was when Sr. Mary taught in West Virginia. She said people there had a very different dialect, so “one of my eighth-grade girls told me, ‘Sr. Mary, if you talked so we could understand you better, then we’d know what to do.’”

Over the years, Sr. Mary has enjoyed reading, playing cards, cooking, sewing and doing embroidery. She also likes traveling and looking at antiques.

The key to her longevity, she said, is her faith in God and “I’ve been blessed with good health for a long time.”

Sr. Magdalen Sipple

Sr. Magdalen grew up on a 40-acre dairy farm in Omro, where her parents were devout Catholics who “trained us well in the faith,” she said.

Her family often prayed the rosary together and regularly attended activities at St. Mary Parish.

Although she didn’t attend a Catholic school growing up, Sr. Magdalen had catechism in the summer that was taught by a group of sisters from a different order.

After graduating from Omro High School, Sr. Magdalen went on to do housework in Oshkosh. It was there that one day she walked past Sacred Heart Convent and saw members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity enjoying themselves while playing piano and singing.

“My mother prayed that I would be a sister and I felt it was a good thing, too,” said Sr. Magdalen, whose name comes from her grandmother.

She ended up speaking with Msgr. Schmitt, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, and he arranged for her to meet with the sisters. The same day, “I decided the Franciscan life was for me,” she said.

Like Sr. Mary, Sr. Magdalen journeyed to Wisconsin via train and joined the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity at a young age. She went on to spend many years as a homemaker alongside sisters in Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Washington, D.C.

But her favorite vocation was working in the bakery at the motherhouse.

“I really enjoyed that,” said Sr. Magdalen, proudly noting that her mother first taught her how to bake. “I was a little afraid, though, because there were so many sisters to bake for.”

Back then, bakers had to grind their own whole wheat flour by hand. One of the highlights of her time in the motherhouse bakery, she said, was when a new mixer was brought in.

“The Lord saw to it that everything worked out every day,” Sr. Magdalen said of her baking duties. “The sisters would get the smell coming from the bakery and come running for the food. I loved it.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info” style=”rounded”]Special collection for retired religious, diocesan priests Dec. 13 and 14

GREEN BAY — Catholics in the Diocese of Green Bay will have an opportunity to support the retirement needs of sisters, brothers and priests through the annual Retirement Collection the weekend of Dec. 13 and 14. The appeal includes the Diocesan Priests’ Retirement and the National Retirement Fund for Religious.

“Through the years, so many of us have been touched by the faithful witness of many sisters, brothers and priests through our Catholic schools, hospitals and parishes,” said Fr. Tom Long, vicar for ministers for the diocese. “So many served with great devotion and dedication, but received little financial compensation in return. Now, in recent years, we have the opportunity to thank them for their great service.”

The retirement needs are significant.

Today, there are more than 34,000 members of religious orders in the United States over the age of 70, with about 16,700 under the age of 70 able to support them. Since the inception of the national collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious in 1988, Catholics around the country have been most generous, donating $726 million over nearly 30 years. The Diocese of Green Bay has been a national leader in contributions.

The majority of Green Bay diocesan priests are over 70. Those who are able, continue to serve sacramentally in parishes. This collection will also benefit them.

Last year, $185,000 was donated to the National Retirement Fund for Religious and $182,000 was donated to our Diocesan Priests’ Retirement.

Parishioners are able to donate to one or both causes. A collection will be taken at local parishes or a gift may be made through the Catholic Foundation online at www.catholicfoundation gb.org/give.[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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