Home » Obituaries » Sister Jeanne Knoerle (formerly Sister Mary Gregory)


Sister Jeanne Knoerle (formerly Sister Mary Gregory)

Sister Jeanne Knoerle“Sister Jeanne Knoerle has told us she was born at home during a snowstorm on Feb. 24, 1928. She must have come in quickly, just as she left us quickly on Monday, June 10, 2013,” said Sister Jean Fuqua in her commentary for Sister Jeanne.

Jeanne was born to Bernedine and Harold Knoerle in Lakewood, Ohio, a part of the greater Cleveland area. She had an older brother, Hal, who preceded her in death. Jeanne’s younger sister, Anne Schram survives. Jeanne entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence on July 22, 1949 and was given the name Sister Mary Gregory. She taught high school for just a few years in Chicago, Fort Wayne Indiana and Washington D.C. before joining the faculty of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College where she taught for eight years.

After earning a PhD in comparative literature with an emphasis in Chinese literature, she was invited to be a visiting professor for one year at Providence College in Taiwan, an institution founded by the Sisters of Providence. On returning to the U.S., she served Saint Mary-of-the Woods College as assistant president and was named president in 1968, a position she held until 1983. During her presidency, she began the Women’s External Degree program, now Woods OnLine. After leaving the presidency taking some time for rest, she returned to the College where she served as Chancellor, overseeing endowment funding and the Woods Association. In 1988, she became program director for the Religion Division of the Lilly Endowment. Leaving the directorship, she continued as consultant for five more years. In 2003, she took on the responsibility of Director of Residential Life and Services at the Motherhouse, serving her sisters with her excellent administrative skills. In 2008, she retired but continued on as a volunteer at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. She became an accomplished spinner of alpaca fiber and helped with the fiber program.

Over the course of Sister Jeanne’s life she received a bachelor’s degree in drama from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, a master’s degree in journalism, a doctorate in comparative literature with emphasis on Chinese literature and a master’s degree in business administration, all from Indiana University. She also received honorary doctorate degrees from six Indiana colleges and universities.

Sister Jeanne was named a Woman of Influence in Terre Haute in 2012. She previously had served as a member of the board of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, Wabash Valley United Way, board of directors for Indiana Vocational Technical Institute, Terre Haute Medical Education Foundation, Mental Health Association of the Wabash Valley, Hospice of the Wabash Valley, Union Hospital and Woods Day Care/Pre-School.

She was a Fulbright Scholar and was a recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship and the John K. Lamb Award in Terre Haute, a prestigious honor for service to the community. She formerly served as chairperson of the Indiana College Press Association, past president and founding member of the Alliance for Growth and Progress in Terre Haute, chairperson of the Association of Catholic Colleges (ACCU) and Universities, president of the Indiana Conference of Higher Education, director of the Federal Home Loan Bank and she was employed as a program director in the Lilly Endowment’s religion division for several years. She envisioned the concept of the Our Green Valley Alliance in Terre Haute and served as its first president.

She received the Theodore Hesburgh Award from ACCU. She was honored at Sister Jeanne Knoerle Day in Cleveland in 1983, so proclaimed by Mayor Greg Voinovich. She was honored by a resolution passed in the Indiana Senate in 1984 for her leadership at Saint Mary-of-the-the-Woods College. She was the founder with Tracy Schier of Woods Associates, a consulting firm to assist not-for-profit agencies with strategies, planning, management and marketing.

“The newspapers have circulated, the obituaries are sent, the media has exploded, the beautiful comments on the blog have been read, what more can one say? We have all read that long list of accomplishments of Sister Jeanne Knoerle and the just-as-long list of awards! How did she do it?” continued Sister Jean Fuqua in her commentary.

“Ironically, the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin calendar quote for June 10, the day Sister Jeanne died, is the favorite of many of us: ‘What have we to do in order to be saints? Nothing extraordinary; nothing more than what we do every day. Only do it for his love…’ That is exactly how Sister Jeanne did it! It was just her nature to do everything out of love.

Sisters Jean Fuqua, left, and Jeanne Knoerle participate in knitting socks at Fiber Frolic 2006.

Sisters Jean Fuqua, left, and Jeanne Knoerle participate in knitting socks at Fiber Frolic 2006.

“Here are just a few stories of how she lived each day out of love. To honor what I think Jeanne would expect of me is to keep it simple.

“On Sunday, June 9, the day before she died, Sister Jeanne participated in Family Day here at the Woods — she helped children toss a bean bag and showed others how to play the kazoo! That evening we had company for dinner, and she was herself among guests. She played with a puppy dog until the rest of us were exhausted! She exhibited no evidence of not feeling well, and now we are all trying to believe that that feeling continued until the last moment when she sensed something was wrong. We know that she went quickly because she never awakened any of us to say there was a problem. That was the way she prayed to be taken. I heard her say it often!

“The day before that Sister Jeanne had spent the afternoon at one of her favorite pastimes — working at St. Joseph Lake at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to make it beautiful and inviting for those who love its surroundings. She whacked every weed in sight with her weed eater! The reward was a first canoe ride and first swim of the season on a warm, sunny afternoon. We will soon plant the state tree of Indiana, the Tulip Poplar, in the center of that picnic area in her honor. Its shade will provide comfort for many in the years to come.

“There are so many stories to share. You will share your own with one another. I have three. In 2002 when Sister Jeanne had her hip replaced, she was unable to drive or carry heavy loads for several months. So, after serving many years as companion to the “summa”, I now became her chauffeur and porter. Remember the movie ‘Driving Miss Daisy’? Well, from that time on my nickname for her was Daisy and she in turn called me Hoke. We only used those names in secret!

“Life at Woodland Inn: a few years in the 70’s, there were three Jean’s living at the Inn — Jeanne the Queen, Jean the Dean (myself) and Hygiene (in the Biology Dept.) There were also several other Jean(ne)’s. The phone would ring…”May I speak to Sister Jeanne?” Silence. ”Which one? Burke, Fuqua, Karier, Hagelskamp or Knoerle?” None of us had much of a claim to that name but Sister Jeanne Knoerle. Soon she got her own phone.

“Once when Sister Jeanne was returning from a trip to visit her family in California, on the day she was to return, she called and said she would not be on the scheduled flight … she had gone to the wrong airport! Her excuse was ‘I don’t know why Barbara booked me out of San Francisco. I never fly out of there. I always fly from San Jose!’ Sister Jeanne always saw the big picture and not much attention to details. She left that to some of the rest of us.

“Now I turn to a few more profound thoughts of Jeanne. I found this in her Bible. It seems to be her definition of her life as a whole in her own words:
Outward – people, place, work
Inward – generosity, love, sense of giving, humility
Nunhood – search for God; desire to have and sustain a consciousness of God’s presence
Vocation – bring this presence wherever you go, whatever you do
Three different kinds of energies in this vocation:
Early – teaching, external, interactive
Middle – administration, diffuse, active
Later – quiet time, inner, deeper, a call to explore the interior, the part we don’t often explore
Now – I want to share the fruits of this inward journey — Many are searching and perhaps I can help a little. There are things to learn about how to do it — there are ways to become more fully conscious of God’s presence … Difficult, requires discipline, but it is worth the effort!
And that’s what I want to do – deepen my own practice and help others learn how to deepen theirs.

“I think these thoughts of hers answer our question – how did she do it?

“To close this reflection I wish to read one of Jeanne’s favorite Scripture readings from Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (Eph. 3:14-21):
This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural, takes its name: Out of his infinite glory, may God give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and length the height and the depth; until knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.
Glory be to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to God from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.

“Jeanne truly believed in this infinite power of God working in us and she conveyed that belief to all she met. Jeanne loved people, and people loved Jeanne! This is spoken over and over in the many comments she received from her loving public! I believe Sister Denise Wilkinson summed it up perfectly in her words: ‘To say Sister Jeanne Knoerle was a remarkable woman understates the case. Sister Jeanne possessed many gifts. She had keen intelligence, a penchant for analysis and action on behalf of whatever ministry or cause she embraced. Sister Jeanne centered her life on her belief in the God of Providence; that belief impelled her to love God’s people and the entire cosmos created by God. She loved the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence and most certainly loved Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She worked enthusiastically for the good of both.’

“And now, Sister Jeanne’s response to all of this? It would be similar to her response at the end of her tribute dinner in May of 1983: ‘The Woods has certainly been more than a job for me… I accept with very much gratitude – and no little sense of humility – your words of recognition of me and your very generous support of the College and the Community in my name… a moment of happy pain as I pass on the leadership of a beautiful and vital institution … thanks for your challenging me and us to do more than we thought we could and for bringing us to where we are.’

“And so, Jeanne, we rejoice with you in a life lived to the fullest, and we thank you for the gift of love you have given to SO many of us,” concluded Sister Jean Fuqua.

A funeral Mass for Sister Jeanne Knoerle was held June 18, 2013 at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 85 years old and had lived as a Sister of Providence for nearly 64 years at the time of her death.

Please join us in remembering Sister Jeanne by sharing your memories on her abundant life here.

Read Sister Denise Wilkinson’s Gospel reflection from Sister Jeanne’s funeral here.

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