sister mary grace heiner


S. Mary Grace Heiner, CSJ (S. Henrietta Eileen)
July 16, 1907 – August 9, 2010

In her oral autobiography S. Mary Grace said, “The only advice I ever got about religious life was from a good Jesuit friend. I asked him, “Is there something I ought to be doing?” He said, ‘Love God.’ That’s the only advice I ever got: Love God.” And for more than 103 years that’s exactly what this determined, gifted, brilliant woman did. She loved God.

The only daughter of William Henry and Nell Grace Heiner, she knew early on she had a religious vocation. She was born on July 16, 1907, in St. Louis, Mo. and baptized five days later at Visitation Church. She attended Cathedral Grade School, Rosati Kain High School and Fontbonne College, then located at Carondelet. She fondly recalled seeing the novices. As a student she could not talk to them, but as they passed each other in the hall, she and the other girls gave candy bars to the novices.

When Fontbonne moved its campus to the Wydown site in 1925, S. Mary Grace was excited to be traveling to the new location. There she began her study of chemistry and had more time to spend with her CSJ teachers. With them she pondered the meaning of religious life. She reflected, “The atmosphere the year I was at Carondelet is what got me; that really affected the rest of my life.”

Her journey toward a life-long commitment with the Sisters of St. Joseph began on September 8, 1928, when she and 15 other women gathered together at Carondelet. As a group they bonded and learned to treasure and respect each other and their gifts. On March 19, 1929, Mary Grace received the habit and name S. Henrietta Eileen. Almost immediately, this gifted woman started working on her master’s degree in chemistry at St. Louis University, receiving it in 1933.

She really liked teaching and began on the secondary level at St. Joseph’s Academy in Chillicothe, Mo. After “getting her feet wet,” she was sent in 1934 to teach at St. Teresa’s College in Kansas City, Mo., where for the next six years she taught chemistry.

From 1946-1949 S. Mary Grace studied for her doctorate in organic chemistry at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. On June 7, 1949, she completed her studies. An excellent student, she had many articles published. Her heart, however, was with the students and sisters in Kansas City, to which she happily returned.

From 1949 until 1963 Sister served in various capacities at St. Teresa’s. She was faculty member, director of adult education and academic dean. Everyone knew her and none could imagine St. Teresa’s without S. Henrietta Eileen on campus. However, in 1963 she “received her marching orders,” she said, and off she went to Fontbonne College in St. Louis. She taught full time until 1972.

Life at Fontbonne after finishing teaching kept her busy with a variety of tasks and volunteer duties. At age 65 she took charge of the business office. Junior sister students remember her as assistant to the juniorate director. In her off hours, she recorded science and chemistry texts for blind students.

In 1976 she moved to Carondelet. There she served on the provincialate staff, briefly volunteered for the Literacy Council of Greater St. Louis and worked as receptionist. She welcomed, as visitors, many former students who were pleased to tell her that Fontbonne had named its first scholarship in the name of a faculty member in her honor.

S. Mary Grace moved to Nazareth Living Center in 1987. It gave her joy to welcome newcomers as they moved in whether sisters or lay folks. All knew to look in the chapel if you wanted to visit with her. There she would be with her rosary in hand. Faithful to the end, she echoed in her life what she had learned from her Jesuit friend—she just “loved God” her whole life.

S. Kathleen Karbowski
S. Rita Louise Huebner

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