In Rumer Godden’s classic novel, In This House of Brede, two nuns are waiting at the door for a new arrival to their Benedictine monastery, while also keeping watch over a dying Abbess. “It is strange,” one nun muses, “Strange how often an entrance coincides with a death in the house. One comes, in faith and hope, to make her vows, as the other reaches her culmination…”
MISHAWAKA, INDIANA: Sister Marita Stoffel, age 102, a Sister of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration for 86 years, greets Miss Alexis, on the day she and two other young women enter the community as postulants to discern their vocations.
Sister Marita (born Colette) died on March 21, 2017. She entered the community directly after high school, at age 16, and pronounced her final vows eight years later. Born in Huntington, Indiana in 1915, Sr. Marita went on to receive BS and MS degrees in Home Economics from the University of Saint Francis, and — in 1961 — a PhD in Education from Purdue.
The letter of her life passed on by her community, explains:
For the next eight years she taught in the Education department at Marquette University. She returned to South Bend to begin a study to prove that blacks could learn as well as whites in an attempt to eradicate racism. This began her legacy of working in the inner city to teach the poor and those who had not succeeded in public schools. She and Sr. Evodine began the Primary Day School in 1968. By the third year, there were ninety students enrolled. After this school closed in 1986 she returned home to Huntington to care for her parents. In 1987, Sr. Marita began the Center for Basic Learning Skills to help adults to acquire their GED and as she said, “to get them on the right path and help them stay there.” Her specialty was in teaching reading. It was often said, “Sr. Marita could teach anyone to read.” But her real passion was helping the poor and those most in need which was a mission of mercy that lasted for forty years.
After teaching for an astonishing 70 years, Sr. Marita retired to the community’s Motherhouse in 2008, at the age of 93, where she continued to help others by kindly recommending books and even delivering fresh squeezed orange juice to her sisters “to keep them healthy.”
She voluntarily stopped driving and turned over the car keys after she retired. She was thrilled with the use of a scooter which you could spot just about anywhere and at any time. A favorite part of her day was playing euchre or a dice game after supper. After a fall in her room she moved to Our Lady of Angels Convent in 2013.
Miss Alexis worked there, before her beginning her postulancy.
Sister Marita’s long life was lived in service to others, and her affection for all of her sisters is beautifully reflected in this image.
[By Elizabeth Scalia]