Sister Jean Michele Monaghan (formerly Sister John Michele)
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
“The widow’s mite. An odd choice, you might say, at a vesper service for a religious sister. In his ministry of teaching, Jesus made use of stories, parables, and homely examples from his surroundings. But Jesus was also a “people watcher”; he used real people (in this case the widow) to illustrate what he expected from those who welcomed the kingdom. In Jesus’ day the dress of a widow revealed her identity and perhaps the quality of that dress told Jesus she was a poor widow. Yet despite the sorrows of widowhood and despite the limitations of poverty, here she was—out-doing the wealthy. A true disciple! This pattern of the cross marked Jean Michele’s life, too: death of parents, serious illness, mental decline—but she met all with a buoyant spirit and cheerful heart,” said Sister Alexa Suelzer in her commentary for Sister Jean Michele Monaghan who died Feb 16, 2013.
“Sister Jean Michele (baptized Mary Jean) was born in Indianapolis on July 10, 1919, to Martin Patrick Monaghan and Ellen Sharkey Monaghan. She had two siblings, Edward and Raymond, both now deceased. Their mother died of pneumonia when Jean was only three years old. The father’s efforts to hold the little family together had small success and soon the children were being reared by relatives, chiefly Aunt Anna. Despite the break in the family the children remained close to each other. Jean enjoyed working around the house. In later years she recalled (with a chuckle) doing her brothers’ ironing—for which she charged fifty cents a shirt.
Jean attended St. John Academy, but her education was cut short by the death of her father. She then took a job as an accountant in L.S. Ayres, the department store. Her decades of work there were accompanied by a generous investment of time in parish activities, such as the Legion of Mary and Daughters of Isabella.
During those years did she feel a calling to life as a religious? Undoubtedly she did. Nevertheless, for many years this attraction was put aside for the sake of her brothers and the aunt who had reared her. Finally, at the age of 44, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Providence on Sept. 12, 1963.
Today, of course, we are somewhat accustomed to older women entering religious life, but in 1963 being 44 years old in the midst of sixty teenage postulants was quite a challenge. Her easy-going manner and keen sense of humor saw her through the novitiate and juniorate. Hers was a very common-sense sort of spirituality. In a “spiritual profile” written in later years she was asked to name a turning point which affected her adult spiritual life. Her response: ‘Well, nothing jumps out at me!’
In 1966 Jean Michele pronounced first vows and made her final profession in 1969. Her ministry began at St. Francis Cabrini parish in Crestline, California, where for six years she taught CCD and assumed various parish duties, with the glorious San Bernardino Mountains as a backdrop.
Returning to the Midwest, Jean served with S. Charlotte Wohlhieter as Community Representative for the large groups of sisters then living in Providence and Foley. ‘Sweet, kind, thoughtful’ are adjectives describing her five years in that role. And one cannot forget her sense of humor and readiness to laugh—nor her prompt and generous service. During these years she underwent serious cancer surgery, with permanent debilitating health effects. She survived this with her usual buoyancy, even meeting with and instructing patients cowed by their illness.
Traveling was a delight to her, especially with her friend Sister Angela Clare Gorman. Wearing full religious gear, they even naively visited the north of Ireland. Then it was back to California, this time to St. Elizabeth’s in Van Nuys, where she was librarian and computer lab aide for fifteen years.
Returning to St. Mary’s, Jean Michele continued in residential services until health needs required a move to Providence Health Care in 2003. Her mental decline was slow and lengthy. She could no longer contribute “out of her abundance,” but from her poverty Jean continued to give all she had—’all she had to live on.’ May she now enjoy forever the riches of God’s house,” Sister Alexa concluded.
Sister Jean Michele died Feb. 16 at age 93 having served 49 years as a Sister of Providence. The Mass of Christian burial for Sister Jean Michele was celebrated Feb. 21 in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
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