Sister Monica (Patricia Ann) Withem
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about the body and how you are to clothe it.’” (Luke 12:22)
“This reading is appropriate as we celebrate the life of any Sister of Providence, but perhaps even more appropriate this afternoon for our remembering Sister Monica Withem. She has been described as determined, prayerful, faith-filled, and, no doubt, she trusted in Providence as Jesus described to his disciples,” said Sister Margaret Quinlan in her commentary for Sister Monica, who died June 9.
Born Monica Withem April 17, 1914, in Indianapolis to William and Mary (Kremer) Withem, she was one of six children. She attended St. Philip Neri Grade School and St. Agnes Academy, both in Indianapolis, and graduated from St. Mary-of-the-Woods Academy. She entered the Congregation Feb. 10, 1933, and received the religious name Sister Patricia Ann. She professed first and perpetual vows Aug. 15, 1935, and 1941, respectively. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
Sister Monica began teaching at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Village School in 1934. Her other Indiana classrooms included St. John, Loogootee; St. Rita, Indianapolis; St. Francis Xavier and St. John, Vincennes; St. Jude, Fort Wayne; and St. Malachy, Brownsburg. In Chicago, she ministered at Maternity BVM, Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Mel. She spent three years in California at St. Anthony, Gardena, and St. Ambrose, Hollywood.
“Although Sister Monica had volunteered for the mission in China, it was to Peru that the Congregation sent her in 1963 to teach at the Colegio San Jose in Arequipa. Before going there, she and the other sisters assigned to the mission studied Spanish in a ten-week course at Georgetown University. She was a scholar of language and studied diligently, but she was frustrated by her difficulty in speaking Spanish. Sister Monica remained in Arequipa, except for one short period back in the States, until 1974,” said Sister Margaret.
After returning to the United States, Sister Monica served as a receptionist for one year in the Archdiocesan Office of Education in Indianapolis. She then spent four years at the United Southside Community Organization in Indianapolis.
“In 1980, Sister Monica attended the Credo Program at Gonzaga University, then became pastoral associate at Assumption Parish in Indianapolis. There she and Sister Mary Frederick Fields (RIP) replaced the pastor, who had died. They were among the first to take such positions. They visited the sick, cared for the elderly, had communion services and organized the annual festival. They were beloved by the parishioners, so much so that one parishioner suggested telling the archbishop not to send a priest because ‘We wouldn’t want to lose our sisters,’” shared Sister Margaret.
“But, unfortunately, when Interstate 70 was built, the area was literally divided geographically in two, and the decision was made to close the parish. Of course Sister Monica was greatly disappointed by this decision to close her parish. It was suggested that parishioners move to St. Anthony Parish, and Sister Monica became pastoral associate there. In that position, she could still minister to the parishioners from Assumption,” continued Sister Margaret.
“In 2003, Sister Monica returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to begin her ministry of prayer here. Last week, one day she was in chapel and the next day in the hospital. But she told her sisters that she didn’t want to die in the hospital but ‘at home.’ Sisters Regina Lynch and Joan Frame were with her in her room at Lourdes Hall. She spoke of ‘the boys’ — probably her brothers — as being ‘right over there’ and slipped away,” said Sister Margaret.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Monica was celebrated June 15, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding. She was preceded in death by all her siblings.
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