Sister Ann Michele Kiefer
Sister Ann Michele Kiefer died Sept. 30, 2008, and her Mass of Christian Burial was Oct. 2 with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding.
Sister Ann Michele is survived by her brothers, Jacob of Savannah, Ga., and Michael of Indianapolis.
The following commentary was written by Sister Connie Kramer.
COMMENTARY FOR SISTER ANN MICHELE KIEFER, SP
A reading from Jeremiah 29: 11-14
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord.”
The first plan I believe that God had in mind for Catherine Ann Kiefer, the only daughter of Jacob and Catherine Dorgan Kiefer, was to come into this world on Oct. 22, 1930, 90 years to the day after Saint Mother Theodore came to these Woods. She was the oldest child in the Kiefer family that also includes her brothers, Jacob and Michael. Although born in Terre Haute, Ind., she was educated at St. Joan of Arc Grade School in Indianapolis and Providence Juniorate. She entered the Congregation on Jan. 7, 1948, and received the religious name of Sister Ann Michele. She professed first vows on Aug. 15, 1950, and final vows on Aug. 15, 1955.
Sister Ann Michele, who earned both a bachelor’s degree from Saint Mary-of-the Woods College and a master’s degree in elementary education from Ball State University, was an educator to her fingertips. She had a delightful childlike sense of wonder, an infectious laugh, and a free spirit which she enjoyed sharing with her students as an elementary teacher at 10 different schools, in four states across the country, over a period of 29 years.
After her years as an elementary teacher Sister Ann Michele spent an additional decade at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis where she taught algebra and served one year as a guidance counselor. It was at Cathedral that her senior students affectionately called her SAM. During these years Sister Ann Michele began to suffer significant effects of the disease of addiction to alcohol. Through the compassionate leadership of the Indiana Provincial Team, Sister Ann Michele was given the opportunity for treatment at Emmaus House on the East Coast. When she was invited to go to treatment Sister Ann Michele’s quick wit expressed her resistance by simply saying she could not go then because she had chicken in the oven. I have heard Sister Ann Michele both laugh at her own statement of resistance and also say many times, with a deep sense of gratitude in her voice, that Sister Marsha Speth saved her life.
It was at Emmaus House that the words of Jeremiah “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope” broke open Sister Ann Michele’s life as she learned to understand and respect her own disease of addiction and experience the compassionate care of her God for her. She not only found great comfort and strength in the principles of 12 step spirituality but also began to experience “a future full of hope” as the Promises found in the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous began to come true for her. She asked that these Promises be a part of her commentary since they were a source of strength and hope for her for many years. It is my privilege to share them with you now.
The Promises: “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations, which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”
Sister Ann Michele was always eager to share what she felt God was doing for her that she could not do for herself. She was very serious about her morning time for personal prayer and I believe experienced daily what Jeremiah said “When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord.”
In 1989 Sister Ann Michele moved back to the Woods to become registrar at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College for a period of two years. Then she joined the Damian Center staff in Indianapolis for the next seven years. Out of her own experience of powerlessness Sister Ann Michele was able to “break boundaries and create hope” with and for others. She rejoiced in her recovery and shared openly her own experience, strength, and hope with many AIDS victims in the last years of their lives.
Damien Center was for her a most profound experience of ministry. She became for HIV-affected persons, who are marginalized in our church and our society, a sign of God’s love, care and acceptance. Sister Ann Michele also became a friend, comforter and support for mothers, fathers and life partners of these persons. Day by day when convenient and inconvenient, she quietly became the mid-wife of the broken spirits of those she served by teaching them to let God transform their powerlessness into self-possession, possibility and peace. She was Providence in their lives. The relationships she formed there have endured through the years. These dear friends have remained faithful with phone calls, cards and visits during her struggle with cancer. Sister Carolyn Bouchard says that, “Watching her these past months as she lie dying I realized that she learned from her Damien center clients how to live with and die from incurable disease without complaint, with dignity and grace.”
In 1997 Sister Ann Michele had her first encounter with breast cancer. Because of this she left the Damien Center in 1998. She then volunteered at St. Vincent Hospice in Indianapolis, once again becoming a mid-wife to the dying. In 2002 she continued her healing ministry in Newport News, Va., where she volunteered in the parish where Sister Carolyn Bouchard was ministering.
Because Sisters Ann Michele and Carolyn were so far away from their families and SP community, they were both always very glad to have visitors. Numerous SPs took advantage of their hospitality and will always cherish the memories we have of our wonderful visits to Newport News. Critters and critter wars were also a part of Sister Ann Michele’s life. She was always trying to outsmart the squirrels that raided her bird feeders and ate her plants. And we all know how much she loved her little white dog Theodore.
In July of 2008 when her cancer returned and her health declined, Sister Ann Michele moved back to the Woods. In early August she shared with me her desire to find ways to be of active service, but her health did not permit her to do so. Instead her ministry became one of resting peacefully while she waited for her Provident God to call her home.
Now I believe, it is time for all of us to thank our Provident God who has called Sister Ann Michele to her eternal home, and who, one last time, has truly done for her what she could not do for herself, giving her a new freedom and a new happiness. We thank you too, Sister Ann Michele, for sharing your enthusiasm for life, your sense of humor, your playfulness, your quick wit, your struggles and successes, your recovery, your compassion, your hope, and your peace with those of us who were privileged to be part of your life. May you now rest peacefully in the loving arms of our Provident God forever. Amen.
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