sister mary bede baeten
February 7, 1912 – February 7, 2009
Sister Mary Bede was born on February 7, 1912, in DePere, Wis. Her parents, Peter and Gertrude Ambrosius Baeten, welcomed her into their home and their hearts. Baptized three days later at St. Boniface Church in DePere, she was named Blanche Veronica. She grew up with seven sisters and three brothers.
S. Mary Bede had a wonderful family life. Her grade school years were happy ones; she loved the Franciscan Sisters who taught her. They invited her numerous times to visit their motherhouse because they believed she had a religious vocation. “They may have realized my desire [to become a sister],” she wrote, “but I had told no one.”
After grade school, she attended St. Joseph’s Academy in Green Bay and met the Sisters of St. Joseph for the first time. Her thought about choosing a religious vocation persisted, but she wrote, “As a teenager, I found life interesting and I was having fun. I wanted none of what I heard inside of me.”
But she could not ignore the call. Shortly before graduation, she heard an ultimatum. Of that time, S. Mary Bede said, “S. Agnes Clare (Cowan) cornered me one day and I can still hear the tone of her voice as she said, ‘Young lady, you’ve been fighting THIS long enough! I’ve made an appointment for you to see Fr. Exler tomorrow morning before school. Be there!’ The following September found me at Carondelet.”
She said that leaving her home and family was the hardest thing she had ever done. Times occurred when the loneliness was unbearable, yet she never recalled a time of ever wanting to leave.
She received the habit and name S. Mary Bede on St. Joseph’s Day in 1932. Beginning in 1934 and for the next 50 years, she was totally absorbed in primary education, teaching either first or second grade children, “little people” she called them. “We got along pretty well,” she said. One incident stands out. “Little Kerry,” she stated, “was telling me that when she grew up she wanted to teach first grade. Just making small talk, I asked, ‘And why would you want to teach first grade?’ Her reply was ‘Because you sure make it look like of lot of fun!’” S. Mary Bede said she replied, “Kerry, that’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me –and I still mean it.”
Many school children benefited from her teaching. She taught in Peoria, Ill.; St. Louis, Mo.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Marquette and Ishpeming, Mich.; Waco, Texas; and Keshena, Shawano, and Green Bay, Wis. Leaving elementary education, S. Mary Bede coordinated the Foreign Language Listening Center at St. Joseph’s Academy in Green Bay.
Interviewed at the time of her Golden Jubilee, she said, “God’s blessings are still with me. I now work as library assistant at the Green Bay Christian School, the former St. Joseph’s Academy. I again have the joy of being with little ones and wonderful, loving, caring people. God has been very good to me. I praise and thank Him for His love and care.”
S. Mary Bede had a real zest for living which was evidenced even on the last day of her life. A conversationalist and one to enjoy ice cream, she was doing both with visitors in her room at Nazareth Living Center just a few hours prior to her death. Exactly 97 years from the day of her birth, she gave over her life to God on Saturday, February 7.
S. Mary Bede lived her life faithfully as a Sister of St. Joseph for almost 77 years. During those years she taught thousands of children and prepared them to receive Jesus into their hearts and into their lives. It is that same Jesus who invited her into His heart. May she rest in peace.
S. Rita Louise Huebner
S. Kathleen Karbowski