sister mary louise gagnon


December 4, 1906 - July 13, 2012

Exceptional Teacher, Compassionate Companion

Quiet and very private, S. Mary Louise left very little written about herself. Wherever she lived, however, her companions knew she embodied holiness and lived in the true spirit of what it means to be a Sister of St. Joseph.

She was born on December 4, 1906, in Marinette, Wis. Her parents, Joseph and Gertrude Gordon Gagnon, had her baptized two weeks after her birth at St. Joseph Church in Marinette. Mary Louise had two sisters and one brother. With love and encouragement, these children grew up in a close family. Thus when at age 21, Mary Louise told her parents she thought she had a religious vocation, they found it difficult to let her go, but encouraged her in her life choice. She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on September 8, 1927, and was received and given the name S. Mary Alonzo on March 19, 1928. In 1968 she reclaimed her baptismal name.

S. Mary Louise was an exceptional primary teacher. Her mild but firm manner allowed very large classes of squirming, eager first grade children to learn with confidence. Beginning at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Kansas City in 1930, S. Mary Louise left her mark on young children for the next 47 years.

Early on, she taught in Kansas City, St. Louis, and St. Joseph, Mo., as well as a few years in Denver, Colo. She wasn’t much of a traveler, so she enjoyed the visits of her family at her various missions.

 Beginning in 1959, (with the exception of one year at St. Joseph School in Marietta, Ga., in 1963), S. Mary Louise spent her remaining teaching years in Wisconsin or Michigan. She taught in L’Anse, Mich., on two separate occasions and in West DePere, Oconto, and Green Bay, Wis.

Closer to home now, she appreciated spending time with her sisters and her brother and getting to know her nieces and nephews. In support of one another, she and her siblings often visited their mother in a nearby nursing home. At one point reflecting on her many years of teaching, she realized she had not only taught first grade for over 30 years, but had prepared hundreds of children to receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. As a seasoned primary educator, she willingly passed on her wisdom to less experienced teachers of the elementary grades.

Prior to retirement in 1987, S. Mary Louise volunteered for nine years at St. Peter Grade School in Oconto, Wis. She also volunteered in the Parish School of Religion and at Riverside Nursing Home in Oconto, where she was appreciated for her prayerful, compassionate presence. In her retirement years, she lived at St. Joseph Academy Convent in Green Bay and cheered on the Packers.

At age 84, she moved to Nazareth Living Center and lived an additional 23 years. Would she have imagined it? On her last birthday, December 4, when it was time for her to celebrate with the community, she said to those attending, "Oh I think I’d rather stay here and take a nap." She surely had the right to be tired, for she had, indeed, poured herself out for many years. In retirement, she loved the Eucharist, prayed her rosary faithfully, and focused her attention on God’s presence. She modeled for all the ministry of prayer and witness. May she rest in peace.

S. Kathleen Karbowski
S. Rita Louise Huebner

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