Why Rock Island declared Feb. 25 ‘Sr. Mary Wolfe Day’

ROCK ISLAND — When Sister Mary Wolfe, BVM, returned to the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque, Iowa, last week, her luggage included something that didn’t take up much room but filled her heart.

Tucked away amid nearly 30 years of memories was a proclamation from Mayor Dennis E. Pauley of Rock Island, who designated Feb. 25, 2010, as Sister Mary Wolfe Day. At the end of the document, which was signed and presented at a City Council meeting earlier in the week, was a note encouraging “all residents of Rock Island to join Sacred Heart Parish in bidding farewell to her. She will truly be missed.”

“It was really fun but very humbling,” Sister Mary told The Catholic Post by telephone from her new home at Mount Carmel in Dubuque.

“I was very surprised at getting it,” she said, crediting friend Terry Stimpson for coordinating the effort to honor her. “I never, never dreamed this was happening.”

Sister Mary can be forgiven for not seeing it coming. Even in retirement, she’s been a busy woman.

Now a matter of public record, thanks to Mayor Pauley’s proclamation, is her nine years of work at the Augustana College Library, starting in 1981; more than 20 years of volunteering at area hospitals and serving as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at St. Anthony’s Continuing Care Center in Rock Island; keeping the streets clean by picking up litter during her walks around the city; and being an “avid recycler.”

Sister Mary attributes some of it to being raised in a poor family of nine during the Depression, but says most of what she did during her years in Rock Island was due to “the BVM way of life and the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.”

Take her commitment to recycling cans and bottles, for example.

“I lived in the Depression era. We had to recycle,” Sister Mary explained. “In World War II I saved the wrappers from my chewing gum — the tin foil. I hate to see things thrown out that can be used, especially aluminum cans.”

Her vow of poverty also plays a role. Throwing things away that are worth money is not something that a poor person would do, she said.

The money Sister Mary raised through her recycling efforts helped to alleviate hunger in the community over the years because she donated it to the Sacred Heart Food Pantry.

Sister Mary became acquainted with the BVMs, as they’re commonly known, during her years at St. Aloysius High School in Kansas City, Mo. She entered the community in 1944 on her 19th birthday, professing first vows in 1946 and final vows in 1951.

She taught in grade schools for 20 years and then switched to library work, serving at high schools in Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis along the way. When she arrived in Rock Island to work at Augustana College in 1981, Sister Mary made Sacred Heart Parish her spiritual home.

In addition to everything listed in Mayor Pauley’s proclamation, she also taught English as a Second Language and said she enjoyed working with students who were so hungry to learn. A group is starting soon in Dubuque and Sister Mary is looking forward to getting involved again.

She admitted that starting over at 85 has its challenges, but said there are new grounds to explore and things to do as she gets to know the motherhouse. Give her a few days and see what happens next.

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