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Sister Frances Alma McManus

Sister Frances Alma McManus

“Keep to the narrow path of goodness, and have hope.” (Book of Sirach)

“If the sum of Sister Frances Alma’s years is any indication, it is obvious that she heeded well these words from Sirach. Somewhere in her remarkable journey of 100-plus-one years, Mary Agnes McManus put herself in the presence of God and there she stayed. Faced with the challenges that she most certainly encountered in her life as an administrator, Sister Frances Alma, in her own patient, humble way remained clear-minded about her goals—that the students in her care would ‘make their mark in the world as fine Catholic women.’

“And if the contents of this scrapbook are any indication, she reached her goals. This scrapbook was given as a gift to her on her 100th birthday and includes cards and letters from 120 women who had been her students during her time as founding principal of Mother Theodore Guerin High School in River Grove.  It IS filled with accounts of how these women have made their mark in the world.  It also reveals wonderful stories of how Sister Frances Alma kept them on the narrow path of goodness!,” said Sister Dawn Tomaszewski in her commentary for Sister Frances Alma McManus, who died May 16.

Sister Frances Alma entered this world Feb. 23, 1911, as Mary Agnes Potts, born in Quincy, Ill., to Frank J. and Josephine (Jackson) McManus. She had two sisters. She attended elementary school at St. Mary’s Academy in Quincy and at Sacred Heart School in Cullman, Ala. She attended high school at St. Agnes Academy in Indianapolis. Sister Frances Alma entered the Congregation June 7, 1928, and professed first vows and perpetual vows Feb. 24, 1931, and Jan. 23, 1936, respectively.

Sister Frances Alma’s first teaching ministry was at St. Catherine School at Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1931. In Indiana, her classrooms were also located Holy Trinity, New Albany; and St. Agnes Academy and Ladywood, both in Indianapolis. In Chicago, she taught at Our Lady of Sorrows, Providence High School and Mother Theodore Guerin High School, where she was the founding principal. She later served as director of Guerin Alumnae.

“Mary Agnes’ own path began in Quincy. She shared life with her two sisters Ellen Frances and Catherine, who have preceded her in death.

“Mary Agnes attended St. Mary’s Academy in Quincy, where she was taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.  She met the Sisters of Providence during high school at St. Agnes Academy in Indianapolis. She entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence right after graduation from St. Agnes on June 7, 1928. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.  Eventually, she would add to her resume a master’s degree in Latin from Indiana University and a master’s degree in educational secondary administration from Indiana State University.

“She put this education to work for 47 years in both elementary and secondary schools in Indiana, Illinois, New Hampshire, Massachusetts as well as at Immaculata Junior College in Washington, D.C.   Many Sisters of Providence remember her as their English or Latin teacher at St. Agnes Academy and Ladywood in Indianapolis and at Providence High School in Chicago,” Sister Dawn said.

“For 18 of her 47 years of educational ministry, she served as principal— at Marywood in Anaheim, Calif., at St. Rose, Chelsea.  It was under her leadership that Mother Theodore Guerin High School in River Grove opened in 1962.

“She welcomed Guerin’s 1962 freshman class of 398 to a wing rented from neighboring Holy Cross High School.  At the same time she kept a watchful eye on the new Guerin School Building then under construction.  Beyond the daily administrative tasks of those first years, there were activities and traditions to initiate.

“Of this time, one member of the class of 1966 remembered, ‘I think my fondest memories of Guerin came the year we spent at Holy Cross.  I can still remember you and Brother Walter standing guard by the cafeteria/gym doors during change of classes so as not to have the boys and girls mingle—my how times have changed.’

“She continued, ‘Whenever I would see you in the hall you always addressed me by my name—I was so impressed that you remembered who I was.  Even at one of our reunions, when I stopped to talk to you, it took you a minute, but you looked at me and said, ‘Hello, Joann,’” continued Sister Dawn.

“Another memory: ‘Despite starting a new school you always made time for individuals.’ Said another, ‘Being an educator, I have not witnessed many principals who have relationships with their students the way Sister Frances Alma had with us.’

“’I always think of you and the influence you had to set the tone for the school,’ wrote another.  ‘It was a place that young ladies went to be educated and to become the best person that they were capable of being.  I remember your calm voice even when you were unhappy about a situation and the way you handled things calmly and efficiently.’

“Similarly, ‘We respected you even if we were afraid of you at times.  In retrospect, I can say that you were always fair and most of all, patient with us.  You always encouraged excellence.’

“Another revealing insight, ‘I had to comb my ratted hair out many times in your presence, more times than I care to admit.  However, when you told me how proud you were to see me working as a Candy Striper at Loretto Hospital it was something I never forgot.’

“Here is my personal favorite, “This birthday greeting comes from the long ago 1964 freshman who transferred out of Guerin to the public high school and back into Guerin—all in the same day! You were kind enough to let me return! In my career as a school administrator, I would sometimes think, ‘WWAD?’  (What would Alma do?) Your decision to let me re-enter Guerin profoundly affected the course of my life,” shared Sister Dawn.

“Another of my favorite stories came via a mom of one of those early students who helped Sister Frances Alma decorate the Guerin convent.  Although not captured in this scrapbook it certainly captures a side of Sister Frances Alma that we students never saw.  It seems that Sister Frances Alma, the woman who could quiet an auditorium full of rambunctious adolescent girls with one word AND a certain look was obsessed with things looking JUST right, down to the color of the tissues matching all of the other matching accessories in the convent guest bathroom.

“On second thought, perhaps it was that same spirit of things needing to be just right that made Sister Frances Alma the successful administrator, educator and creator of ‘a place where we could launch our dreams.’

“’How much you did to help shape our future?’ another graduate wrote. ‘You were the embodiment of what we young Guerin women aspired to be.  You were strict when it was easier to be lenient and it paid off for me and I know I speak for many more of us who believe the same.  Although maybe we didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, we do now….Thank you.’
“When Sister Frances Alma finally retired from education in 1978, she served for 10 years as the director of the Guerin High School Alumnae. It was no surprise that years later when the association established an annual award recognizing a graduate who ‘significantly reflects Guerin’s educational philosophy and ideals,’ it was named the McManus award to honor Sister Frances Alma.

“In 1987, Sister Frances Alma was among 50 senior citizens from almost 750 nominees honored as part of Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s Salute to Older Illinoisans,  and recognized as being an inspiration to all generations.  She was only 76 at the time, so she told the awarders that she was in no hurry to slow down.  ‘I feel fortunate,’ she said, ‘to possess the qualities that are important for a satisfying life—inner peace, a sense of humor and a balanced perspective on life,” Sister Dawn said.

“Sister Frances Alma remained in Chicago until 1993 when she returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and entered totally into the ministry of prayer. After a lifetime of facing the challenges of ministry, Sister Frances Alma faced the challenge of poor health and illness, of letting go of loved ones, especially her dear friend Sister Dorothy Mary Noe.  In the early hours of May 16, the God in whom she trusted did come to help her and quickly and quietly took her home.

“The last time I publicly said goodbye to Sister Frances Alma, I was 17 years old, a junior at our beloved Mother Theodore Guerin High School.  As the editor of the school newspaper, I was asked to write the farewell editorial when we learned that Sister Frances Alma would not be returning to Guerin the next school year.  My appreciation for Sister Frances Alma has only grown over the years, but the Dag Hammarskjold words I quoted then to end that editorial are a fitting goodbye now.

For all that has been…thanks.
For all that will be…yes!

“Thank you Sister Frances Alma…for all you have been to so many.

“And yes…..your legacy lives on in your students as we make our mark in this world,” Sister Dawn concluded.

Sister Frances Alma McManus died Wednesday morning, May 16. She was 101 years old and a Sister of Providence for 83 years. The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Frances Alma was celebrated March 19, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding. She was preceded in death by her sisters.

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