In loving memory…

In loving memory of Sister M. Mercia (Scherer), CSC
Sister M. Mercia (Scherer), CSC

Sister M. Mercia (Scherer)
Donna Louise Scherer
Birth: May 1, 1924
Profession: February 2, 1946
Death: September 10, 2017

It is very humbling for me as an archivist to review a sister’s personal file soon after receiving word of her death. Most of the time I do not know the sister or only have a vague memory of who she was, once upon a time. In this case, I did not know Sister M. Mercia at all. It is comforting to know that a group gathers in Saint Mary’s Convent and shares memories of the sister who has recently died and to know that your community wants everyone to remember you.

The upside of living a very long life is that you can look back and give thanks to God for your family, for so many blessings in community, and for so many friends.

The downside of living a very long life is that you have outlived your family and many of those friends. Sister Mercia’s friends were Sisters: Jeanne Finske, Jeanette Lester, Lauretta Kearney, and Alma Eugene. Those dear sisters have already gone home to God’s embrace. Sister Jeanne Finske was supposed to do this memento but she died in June this year. It was Sister Mercia’s living bandmates who gathered Monday to remember Sister and plan for the wake and memorial Mass.

Let it be known that her bandmates have testified that “Sister Mercia was even-keeled, supportive and welcoming.” They also said she was a good teacher and enjoyed festive meals. Those are slender threads of memory which are left to honor a woman who lived so long.

In day’s past, we did not know much about each other. The spirituality of the time was that we had left the world and family behind. Table conversation was about that which mattered. One’s personal life stayed personal. Family ties could be a hindrance, especially in the novitiate. Donna Louise Scherer probably did not say much about her parents after entering the Sisters of the Holy Cross from the South Side of Chicago on August 1, 1943.

Maybe such self-discipline about our primal relationships with mother, father, a sister, a brother and grandparents made sense at the time. Sister Mercia and her bandmates entered the convent during the Second World War expecting sacrifice, heroism and service.

Some of the harshness of life carried over into the novitiate and formation here at Saint Mary’s. As one of her age group said to me the other day, “Honey, those were tough times but we got through them because we all stuck together. We stuck together.” Sounds to me like an early version of feminist solidarity.

There is another description of Sister Mercia from someone who knew her only professionally, while she was still relatively young in Holy Cross. “Sister Mercia has a meek and quiet personality. She is personable. She is exact and consistent. She likes uniformity.” My own understanding is that Sister Mercia “was anxious about many things” throughout her life, so conscientious about being the proverbial “good sister,” schooled in high expectations by family, church and society. She was not unlike many other women, whether in the convent or not.

Sister Mercia’s generation was not coddled and protected. Perhaps they deserved more positive reinforcement as young women, more encouragement. Yet Sister Mercia and other women of her time prevailed. They were strong—are strong. Their stories deserve to be told. That is why we are here today. To make sure that behind that smile we see in the picture of Sister Mercia on her memorial card, we know that she was a caring woman of substance. The smile was genuine but there was probably a narrative about her life that went unwritten. Her family could say more. I have included some excerpts and a summary from the narrative written my Sister Mercia herself circa 1995 when she was applying for a sabbatical in anticipation of celebrating her Golden Jubilee in 1997.

I was born in Peoria, Illinois, May 1, 1924, of Irish and German descent, and baptized Donna Louise Scherer. I was the oldest child of Nellie Kurtenbach and Julius Scherer. My sister, Roberta, was born two years later, and my brother, Bill, was born twelve years later. A year or so after my sister was born, we moved to the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, and five years later my maternal grandparents also moved to Chicago. By pooling finances with my parents, we were all able to live together in a nice three-bedroom brick home on the far South Side of Chicago called Avalon Park. It was a predominantly Irish community, which delighted my Shaughnessy grandmother who lived with us. 

I grew up in a happy, close-knit family in the Depression years (1929 through World War II). I learned early how to share, and to make do with what we had. We were a religious family. I enjoyed accompanying my Dad to the weekly Novena services at Saint Felicitas Church. My father had never considered a religious vocation for himself, but his three sisters were Religious—one a Carmelite. He was a watchmaker and jeweler. My mother was out-going and cheerful, planning frequent picnics and inexpensive excursions for the family. I often thought my mother and father made a nice balance. My mother’s only sister was a Sister of the Holy Cross, Sister Marie Anastasia (died 1982), who spent her August vacations with our family. I remember her as great fun. Though the Dean of Studies at Saint Mary’s College, she knew how to entertain young nieces and nephews, with various crafts and games. ……

I was fond of the IHM and the Mercy Sisters who taught me, but my aunt, Sister Marie Anastasia, while she never pressured me to become a Sister of the Holy Cross, I knew that I wanted to enter Holy Cross. [After] a three-month intensive secretarial course after high school, I began work as a secretary in downtown Chicago. I began saving money for my trunk, entrance fees or dowry, and was eventually accepted for the August 1943 band.

My father was understanding about my desire to get closer to God and to do His will, but my mother was most displeased at my decision. She continued to bring along my so called “worldly clothes” every time they visited me at Saint Mary’s that first year. In time, everything worked out, and both were happy with my decision when they saw how happy I was.

In the days of old, women would proudly wear pearls around their necks or charm bracelets representing the gift of anniversaries, children, and grandchildren. Or in our case, a Sister of the Holy Cross might finger her rosary or dolor beads, each bead ticking off a place and memory of where she was assigned. Listen to this litany by which Sister Mercia measured her years of service as a teacher or a principal from 1946 to 1974:

St. Joseph School, South Bend, Indiana
Holy Redeemer School, Flint, Michigan
Queen of All Saints School, Michigan City, Indiana
Marquette High School, Michigan City, Indiana
Schlarman High School, Danville, Illinois (twice)
Bishop Knoll High School, Hammond, Indiana (twice)

After 28 years of teaching, I took my doctor’s advice to turn to another less demanding ministry. Pastoral care appealed to me and I spent a year taking classes and getting “hands on” experiences in hospitals and nursing homes.

I began pastoral ministry at St. Mary’s, Michigan City, and remained there five years until health problems necessitated another change. When I began working in pastoral ministry, I found it much easier, even though I had loved the teaching at the time. My biggest frustration in education was that there never seemed enough time to get everything done…. At most, I could handle things only adequately.

The hardest part of pastoral ministry is losing dear, elderly friends to sickness and death. I enjoyed being a Eucharistic Minister, taking Holy Communion to those confined at home, in nursing homes, or in the local hospitals. I began an organization for senior citizens and we met monthly to plan activities…. It was a very rewarding ministry.

In 1982, I began working at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, South Bend. This was my last ministry before “retirement” to Saint Mary’s and my ministry of prayer. I started as a volunteer, moved to being support staff, and then moved back to volunteering. I liked it so well that I stayed there fifteen years.

It is hard to say which ministry was my favorite, since I have enjoyed all of them at the time. I have rejoiced in many of the changes brought about by Vatican II. I especially appreciate having mass in English, with the emphasis on congregational singing of good quality. The change in the habit pleased me, as well as the emphasis on personal responsibility. But most of all, I am happy about the increasing emphasis on the Bible and the opportunities for scripture study. I have never had a sabbatical and I will welcome the opportunity to step apart a bit and ponder the new road my life has taken in retirement. Hopefully I will deepen my prayer life and get re-charged for the future.

We don’t know how the sabbatical turned out because she never turned in the evaluation afterwards, even after a reminder from the president’s office! We can be sure she has now rejoined her family and those she loved in life. And we can be very certain that her future is not only “re-charged,” as she put it, but one of everlasting life in the Triune God. Sister Mercia, enjoy your sabbatical, rest in God’s peace, no longer worried about the quality of your service and devotion. May Sister Mercia rest in peace.

Written by Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC 

Memorial contributions may be made to the Sisters of the Holy Cross Ministry With the Poor Fund, Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, IN 46556

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