October 26, 1932 - August 24, 2018
A hard-working, joyful woman with a sense of humor.
On October 26, 1932, John and Gertrude (Kumle) Mandeville, of Jacksonville, Illinois, welcomed their daughter, Gertrude Irene, the second youngest of seven children. When she was 10, her family moved to St. Louis where her parents purchased a 45-acre fruit farm near Lambert airport. The farm enabled the family to be self-sufficient. They had pigs, cows, cattle, horses, chickens and “every kind of fruit imaginable” as well as their own meat house. Her parents didn’t buy canned food. In high school, Gertrude Irene remembers saving her baby-sitting money so she could buy a can of cut-up fruit (fruit cocktail). “And I remember how happy I was the first time I opened a can.”
Recalling other childhood memories, Sister John said: I loved to work outside ... I was very interested in entomology—not the study of words but the study of insects. That sounds strange. But I would collect insects and raise them. And I have always been extremely interested in animals.
In St. Louis (Bridgeton), her education was completed at St. Mary Grade and High Schools, taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph. After graduating from high school at 16, Gertrude declined a four-year scholarship to Fontbonne College and entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on September 15, 1949, receiving the habit and the name Sister John Benedict on March 19, 1950. (An older sister, Sister Margaret, was already a Sister of St. Joseph.) Sister John Benedict went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Fontbonne College (1963) and a master’s in elementary education administration at St. Louis University (1970).
Sister John’s ministry in elementary education began with teaching intermediate students at Holy Guardian Angels in St. Louis (1952). She then taught primary students at Little Flower in Mobile, Alabama (1954). Returning to St. Louis, brought her to a junior high classroom at Nativity of Our Lord (1961) and then to St. Agnes (1964) where she was a teacher and principal. In 1970, she transitioned to the position of full-time principal at Ste. Genevieve/Valle in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, until 1980.
During the next 12 years, S. John served as principal at
St. Margaret of Scotland in St. Louis. Continuing to keep St. Margaret as her home base, she took a brief sabbatical from her elementary school ministry. During this year of “resting/reflection,” she was asked to take courses from Aquinas Institute at St. Louis University to become certified in pastoral ministry.
So, in 1993, S. John began serving at St. Paul Parish in
St. Paul, Missouri, as a pastoral minister. In 2013, she left that full-time ministry and became a volunteer at Nazareth Living Center while continuing to live at St. Margaret’s. The reason that fact is so important is that S. John and
S. Mary Jo Ritter, with whom she lived, had become foster parents over and over again. During a period of 15-20 years, they fostered over a hundred babies and are the guardians for a brother and sister whom they raised.
Since their home is a licensed foster home, they sometimes also get older children. Sister John was always quick to point out that the babies were under S. Mary Jo’s care. Many of the babies had been born to mothers who were addicted to drugs, so they needed special care. She, herself, was more comfortable with children when they got a bit older. It’s an unusual community situation when there are children to consider.
In 2016, S. John moved to Nazareth Living Center carrying out a ministry of prayer and presence. Sister John embraced her life as mentioned in a hymn sung at her funeral: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom should I be afraid.”
Sister Helen Oates