Sister Catherine Arkenberg (formerly Sister Jean Loretto)
“God’s flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd’s care. Watch over it willingly as God would have you do, not under constraint; and not for profit either, but generously. Be examples to the flock, not lording it over those assigned to you, so that when the Chief Shepherd appears you will win for yourselves the unfading crown of glory.”
—– 1 Peter 5:2-4
This is a short reading from the first letter of Peter depicted well for me the Catherine I have come to know through the eyes of her family and her sisters in community. For Catherine, God’s flock was her students who were in her midst for more than 50 years. She watched over them with a generous heart and revealed God’s love through her gentleness of spirit and her attentiveness to all whom she encountered. This “flock in her midst,” certainly also included her family to whom she was very devoted and her Sister of Providence band members and friends, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Catherine Arkenberg – formerly Sister Jean Loretto – who died Thursday, April 16, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 93 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 76 years.
Mary Catherine Arkenberg was born in Chicago on May 2, 1921, to Raymond and Dorothy Cullen Arkenberg. She was the eldest of seven children: Her sisters Marian and Zita, and her brother Raymond, are with us today; two brothers, James and Thomas, and her sister, Sister Jean, preceded her in death.
From early on, she was a Sister of Providence “product,” having attended Maternity BVM grade school in Chicago and Providence Juniorate High School here at the Woods. From there, she entered as a postulant, on Jan. 5, 1939. She received the name Sister Jean Loretto, and years later, returned to her baptismal name. Her other milestones related to membership in the Congregation all occurred on Aug. 15: Her entrance into the novitiate in 1939, and her profession of first and final vows in 1941 and 1947, respectively. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, in her case, on the 25-year plan!
Her ministry years got off to an interesting start. She was sent to St. Rose in Chelsea, Mass. She was in Chelsea exactly one month when she was changed to St. Philip Neri in Indianapolis. The only other time she ministered outside of Illinois and Indiana was three years in Washington, D.C. She was nine years in Indiana and 27 years in the Chicago area, where she taught grades three through eight. She ministered an additional 18 years at Mother Theodore Guerin High School in River Grove. She was known as an excellent teacher who dearly loved her students.
I found in her file in archives a program booklet chronicling the “Guerin Phase” of Catherine’s life. The program was a farewell to her from the sisters at Guerin before Catherine returned to the Woods in 1999. Mention was made of her bookstore years when “A million books were sold and orders received were not allowed to mold.” Later, she handled all the audio visual equipment for the school, taking the requests, assuring that needs were fulfilled in a timely manner. Catherine also spent several years as a secretary and evidently loved to file!
Outside her ministry duties at Guerin, Catherine was known to “love to go a wanderin’” on the CTA and would map out routes in advance. She liked to play cards and do Jumble puzzles and even liked to make up jokes, described as “corny” by her housemates. And Catherine, along with Sister Jean, was an avid sports fan, and yes, sad to say, yet another Cubs fan has died without realizing that dream of a World Series win!
The Catherine we knew through these many years was very family-oriented. She was very proud of the accomplishments of her many nieces and nephews and later of her grandnieces and grandnephews. And she knew them well, for early on the family would visit the “Aunt Sisters” as they called them. The only problem in their young eyes was that they both looked alike in their habits and their names, Jean Loretto and Marian Jean. Ah, but there was one saving mark of identification: One wore glasses, so for years, they talked about them either as the one who wore glasses or the one who did not wear glasses. That system worked for them until the both ended up wearing glasses!
For nearly 40 years, on the last Saturday of the month, the “Chicago family,” including those who lived in the suburbs, has gathered for breakfast at a centrally located restaurant. Sometimes, there are six or there can be as many as 40. The two sisters really got this practice started because they wanted to see everyone when they came into town. The attraction of the gathering for the family was “the sisters,” for they loved seeing them and hearing the family stories that the sisters never seemed to tire of telling.
Now family members have passed on a few stories of their own about Catherine. They spoke of her as being “truly green,” an environmentalist way before her time. She loved to recycle! They spoke of receiving recycled greeting cards (“Sometimes, it was a get well card on your birthday.”). The other card giver’s name would be scratched out to make room for hers!
They recounted one Christmas when she instructed the large family that they had to save every scrap of wrapping paper, tissue paper and ribbon. It all went into a big, black trash bag. And heaven forbid, if you did not put your soda can into another large trash bag. “At the end of the day, Uncle Wally left to drive Catherine home, only to return after about a five minutes’ drive – he had forgotten the two trash bags.” The family still insists that they have never laughed harder than that night.
They remember giving Catherine driving lessons (“which she wasn’t very good at”) and after an hour or so and a lot of whiplash, she explained to them that she had forgotten her driver’s permit.
The family remembers most how much Catherine loved photos; she loved to go through albums and to take photos. “Unfortunately, that was another thing she was not very good at. She usually cut off the heads when she took photos. So, when she got the photo envelopes back from the drug store, most pictures were headless; those that were not were either too dark or ALL dark. You see, her recycler-self, didn’t appreciate that you could use a flash cube only once – she used them over and over, wanting them to be good again. Yet, wonder of wonders, one of her assignments in her Guerin years was taking all the pictures for the yearbook!” The family wonders to this day what those yearbook student photos looked like …
Catherine with all these delightful qualities returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1999, where she assisted in Residential Services until she entered health care in 2004. Over 11 years, she endeared herself to the health care staff who simply loved her for her kindness, gentleness and expressions of gratitude. One sister witnessed their love for Catherine, as staff, even those not on duty the day she died, came to her room to say their goodbyes. The sister by her bedside experienced these visits, equating the staff’s tears-of-farewell as an anointing.
Catherine was definitely ready for “the Chief Shepherd to appear.” She has won her “unfading crown of glory.” She is reunited with her Sister Jean, her parents and her deceased siblings and loved ones, rejoicing in God’s presence. And the family who remains? Well, they are counting on Catherine’s intercession to bring them the long-awaited Cubs World Series win!
May it be so!
Funeral services took place Sunday, April 26, and Monday, April 27, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A wake was from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Sunday, April 26, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m., on Monday, April 27.
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