sister mary josephine breiner, csj

August 11, 1925 - January 2, 2015

A faithful, hospitable woman, a community builder

“I have Indian blood in me, which I am very proud of. My grandfather was Indian.” On August 11, 1925, Marie Cecilia Breiner was born on a Sioux Indian reservation in Shields, North Dakota. She was the only daughter of the four children born to Joseph and Josephine Ann (Goudreau) Breiner. 

Marie’s earliest memories were of living on a sheep ranch where she enjoyed watching the shearers shear the sheep and getting to feed the lambs with little bottles of milk. She was four years old when her dad died. Her mother couldn’t manage the ranch with four young children to raise so it was sold. This sale left them fairly well off but then the bank failed. “My mother was very poor. We were a poor family. She had to do relief work. She had to go out and do sewing, cooking, and different things for people. It kept her away from the house for a good part of the day, but we had a good childhood.” 

The family moved into the small town of Shields so the children would be able to go to school—a two-room school with four grades in each room. There was no high school in Shields so when the time for Marie to go to high school, her mother’s sister, who lived in Marquette, Michigan, invited her to come there for school. Marie spent the next four years living with her aunt and uncle while attending Bishop Baraga, the Catholic high school. It was there that she met sisters for the first time. She related that prior to that, “I didn’t even know that a sister existed, or what they were.” 

During her senior year of high school she decided to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph which she did on September 15, 1943, receiving the habit and the name, Sister Mary Josephine on March 19, 1944. Her bachelor’s degree in elementary education was received from St. Teresa College, now Avila University, in Kansas City, Missouri.

S. Mary Josephine’s entire ministry was devoted to teaching primary level students. “My first mission [1946] was St. Elizabeth’s in Kansas City... a very, very happy mission. I could say I have had all happy missions, but that was one of the outstanding ones.” From there, she was missioned to St. Peter’s, Oconto, Wisconsin (1952); Nativity of Our Lord, Chicago, Illinois (1955); and St. Viator’s, also in Chicago (1957). 

S. Marion Renkens remembers from her time at St. Viator’s that:

There were three first grades in 1965-66 school year. Srs. M. Josephine, Rose Marie Boyancheck and Marion Renkens. Srs. Josephine and Rose Marie had larger classes than mine of 42 students. S. Josephine was an excellent first grade teacher and I learned a lot that year—my one and only time teaching first grade. 

After a dozen years in Chicago, S. Mary Josephine went to Sacred Heart, Muskogee, Oklahoma (1967); to Our Lady of the Presentation, St. Louis, Missouri (1968); to Our Lady of Lourdes, University City, Missouri (1970); and to St. Anthony, Atlanta, Georgia (1974). 

In 1975 she returned to Kansas City, Missouri where she spent the last 21 years of her teaching career, first at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and then at Our Lady of the Angels (1992). In 1996 she retired to Brookside House in Kansas City, and later moved to another local community of Sisters of St. Joseph, volunteering where she could until 2009 when she came to Nazareth Living Center to continue her ministry of prayer and witness. 

In her own words: “I’d like to say how much I’ve enjoyed being a sister and really appreciate the Sisters of St. Joseph, and am very, very happy I met the sisters in Marquette or I would not be here today. I’m very grateful to God for our community.” 

S. Helen Oates
(Excerpts from S. Josephine’s oral history)


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