Sister William Eyke
There are lots of Williams in the Eyke family. Sister William was born in 1923 in Muskegon, Mich., to William and Adelaide Eyke. Her older brother was William, and her nephew William and his wife Mary Lou are were with us June 25. I’m guessing, but I think her father was known as Bill Eyke, her brother was Bill Eyke, and I know her nephew here is Bill Eyke. And … our Sister William was fondly known to many of her students as Sister Bill, said Sister Jean Fuqua in her commentary for Sister William Eyke, who died June 19, 2014, at age 91. She had been a Sister of Providence for 56 years.
She was never Sister Bill to me. I knew her as Miss Eyke when she taught Chemistry at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in the early 1950s. Miss Dorothy Eyke transitioned to Sister William Eyke in 1958 when she joined the Sisters of Providence.
She never lost her ties to Michigan and so remained close to her Michigan family over the years. She traveled and visited every year with her older sister, Mary. She also visited her nephew Bill and Mary Lou every summer and always talked about their cookouts and boat trips. Sister William was fond of and spoke about her nephew, Jeff, and her niece, Gina, but they lived farther away.
Sister William missed dying on her 91st birthday by just seven days. When she returned from the hospital to Mother Theodore Hall on June 12, her birthday, I think she was expecting and wanted to die that day. When it was my turn to sit with her that Thursday evening, she was very sleepy, but awoke from time to time. She was very lucid. Her greeting to me was, “I was hoping to see Jeanne (Knoerle), but I guess not yet!”
I later found a short prayer which I believe would have been her thoughts that night. It is titled, “Bridegroom,” by Christopher Idle, from the book, “Fragments of your Ancient Name,” by Joyce Rupp. It goes like this:
You set your heart on my soul
And woo me into fuller relationship.
You stand at the altar of my life
In hope of a total commitment
To the faithful love you propose.
My heart see-saws in response.
Going toward. Returning back.
Hesitant to truly give you my all.
Thank you for patiently waiting
As I struggle with a complete “yes.”
That complete yes came seven days later when she slipped away (while none of us were watching) very early the morning of June 19.
Sister William’s professional life is a remarkable story. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1946, a master’s degree in 1948 and a doctorate in 1952, all at the University of Michigan.
Mixed with all that academia was her baptism and conversion to Catholicism in June 1950. We think she had actually completed her doctoral studies in 1951, since she began teaching at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in the fall of 1951.
She taught Chemistry here from 1951-57. When she expressed interest in joining the Sisters of Providence, she was told to take some time away in order to confirm her interest in religious life. So she taught at Marquette University for one year.
She was then accepted as an SP Postulant in July 1958 at the age of 35. At the end of her canonical year in January 1960, Sister Rosemary Schmalz recalls that they were in scullery, discussing the fact that Sister William was going to put on a black veil as a scholastic novice and return to teaching at the college! So she quickly moved back to her professional life back there.
During the 1960s, while serving as head of the Chemistry Department, she participated in several National Science Foundation Summer Research programs at Indiana University. A consultant to IU from DePaul University wrote to Mother Rose Angela about Sister William: “Sister is a very capable and interested chemist. I believe you should know of the way in which Sister is considered a ‘colleague,’ of those on staff working with her. They and I are most impressed.”
In July 1968, Sister Jeanne Knoerle became President of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and named Sister William Eyke the Academic Dean and then Vice President for Academic Affairs. Sister William served in this capacity for six-and-a-half years. It was during that time that she and Sister Jeanne went to Goddard College in Vermont to investigate their external degree program. I would say Sister William’s legacy to the college was getting the faculty in place and the WED program off the ground in its formative years.
Somehow, during those six-and-a-half years, Sister William managed to combine teaching with her administrative duties. I don’t remember how that worked, but Sister Jenny Howard, one of her budding chemistry students in the early 1970s, said of her: “She was compassionate, understanding and patient. She didn’t write us off when we were struggling. Indeed, she was a great scientist, researcher and the best teacher. Her legacy to her many chemistry students is alive in their hearts to this day.”
Sister William continued along this path of teaching and research from July 1975 until July 2005. This all adds up to 50-and-a-half years! Can you think of another Sister of Providence who devoted her entire life as a Sister of Providence to a single ministry?
Sister William was a true “five” on the personality testing device called the Enneagram. A five is described as “The Investigator, The Thinker – The Intense, Cerebral Type: Perceptive, Innovative and Analytical! They are also secretive!”
Yet, if asked, Sister William could give you information on just about anything. Not just chemistry or science – she knew a lot about lots of subjects. Having lived with her at Woodland Inn from 1969-2010 – that’s 41 years – I can recall when any question arose: How and what to cook, what herbs went with what foods, how to fix the plumbing and on and on. We would always say, “Ask William.”
In my early days of spinning and weaving alpaca fiber, if I needed help, I would always “Ask William.”
Sister William was a gourmet cook. She and Sister Ruth Eileen were the prize winning chefs for some of the best meals we prepared for the 20-some Sisters of Providence who lived at the Inn in the 1970s and 1980s. Lest you believe it was all academics behind those lab doors of the chemistry department, no, there was always space for Sister William’s current hobbies.
She made beautiful and colorful candles which we always had available for gifts. And it was a conjecture that hidden behind the doors of the chemistry and biology labs, she and Sister Alma Louise competed for who could make the best wine. We missed Sister William greatly when she broke her hip in 2010 and moved to health care.
So what was Sister William’s favorite prayer or scripture verse? I think it was her love of God’s creation and her ability to see something beautiful in all that she saw on her many outdoor walks during her recent years in health care. When I drove her to a doctor, she always had a new story about some bush, flower or tree she had observed on her walks.
My best guess is that this translation of Psalm 23 from Eugene H. Peterson’s “The Bible in Contemporary Language” would be at the top of her list:
God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word, You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through Death Valley,
I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.
You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.
Funeral services for Sister William were Wednesday and Thursday, June 25-26, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind.
Mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m., Thursday, June 26.
We welcome you to share your comments on Sister William in the comment section below.
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Sister William was an extraordinary teacher who made learning interesting. She was warm and engaging and made me feel like I could do anything. I loved the experience!
Sr. William was a remarkable woman and believed in us as women. She was a fabulous teacher and the classes I had with her were exciting and interesting. When I came back to the Woods after 45 years and visited her, she remembered me and I was impressed with her again on that.
After a long absence, I also had the opportunity to visit with Sr. William at our 45th class reunion in 2010. Sitting in the parlor at the Woodland Inn, we had a wonderful discussion that covered many subjects, both locally and globally — what a sharp mind and terrific memory! Although I had been a math major, chemistry was my minor, and Sr. William was one of my favorite teachers.