Sister Alexa Suelzer
When Sister Alexa told me I could write her commentary, she did not know that it would be like this – given after the homily was finished and during the Eucharistic Liturgy. And I think she is pleased.
Alexa Suelzer was born on June 19, 1918, to Joseph and Sophie Klueppel Suelzer, in Fort Wayne. She was the ninth child and the youngest in the family. Her parents and her siblings (Joe, Leo, Marie, Bob, Monsignor Tony, Sister Mary Josephine, Father Curt and Sister David) all preceded her in death. She lived the longest of any of them. However, she said recently when she was about to celebrate her birthday just two weeks ago that “97 is enough,” said Sister Nancy Reynolds in her commentary for Sister Alexa Suelzer, who died Friday, June 26. She was 97 years and had been a Sister of Providence for 77 years.
By the time Alexa was 8 years old, both her parents had died within a year of one another. The four youngest children (Marcella, Curt, Teresa and Alexa) were then raised by their older siblings with Leo taking the upper hand. According to Alexa, the four youngest were constantly getting into trouble. But their oldest sister, Marie, told Leo to stop being so hard on them. As they got older, one by one, those four younger ones entered either the Sisters of Providence or the seminary.
Alexa entered the Congregation on Feb. 14, 1938, after she had gone to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College for two years. She was received into the novitiate on Aug. 15, 1940, and pronounced her final vows on Aug. 15, 1946.
She obtained a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1940, and went on to get a master’s degree in English from Marquette in 1956. She obtained a Doctorate in Theology from the Catholic University of America in 1962. She had actually earned an STD, which is a Doctorate in Sacred Theology, which is a Pontifical Degree, but women were not allowed to obtain Pontifical Degrees in 1962. She was to be awarded a Ph.D. That did not bother Alexa as much as it would other people. When there was a Vincentian canonist as President of Catholic University, I asked Alexa if I could write to him and ask that she be awarded the STD, which was the degree she actually earned. She did not hesitate to tell me I could do that. The answer was in the negative. However, one of the professors she had, Rev. Charles Curran, told me that Alexa was far and above the brightest student he has ever taught.
Alexa taught in high schools from 1940 until 1958 with one year out to study in Rome. Above all, Alexa was a born teacher. Everyone who entered the Congregation between 1960 to our present day canonical novice, Sister Joni Luna, probably had Alexa for class. She loved teaching, especially teaching scripture. Once she had her theology degree, she began teaching at the higher education level. She taught at Catholic University, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Duquesne and St. Michael’s in Vermont.
Alexa was elected to General leadership as General Councilor/Vicar in 1972. When her term in office was completed, she served as Vicar for Religious/Director of Ecumenism in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with Archbishop John R. Quinn. When Archbishop Quinn was selected by Pope John Paul II to study religious life in the United States in 1986, he picked Alexa to be on what became known as the Quinn Commission.
Alexa was interested in everything, not because of what the topic was necessarily, but because she gave every person her full and undivided attention. She could carry on a conversation about a new book, some aspect of theology, the latest political events in the country or any topic one could bring forth. She was genuinely interested. Sister Paula Damiano stated that often, she would walk over to see Alexa with questions about something she was writing or when preparing to give a retreat to be absolutely certain she wasn’t going to say anything that was not correct. She said Alexa was always incredibly patient and always offered sage advice.
Alexa was faithful beyond words to writing notes to our sisters who are in health care. One of our CAN’s in Lourdes, who has worked with us for 30 years, used to see notes in sisters’ rooms with Sister Alexa on them. She was so eager to meet Sister Alexa because she was writing to everyone on the floor. When I was in Alexa’s room the day after she died, I found an envelope all sealed with Sister Marie Alexis’ name on it. I delivered that note to Marie Alexis, and, as you can imagine, it is very precious to her. Also, one of the Jubilarians showed me the card Alexa had written to her for her Jubilee. I am quite sure she wrote to each Jubilarian. She was so thoughtful and so aware of doing the kind thing that meant so much to the person receiving her notes or cards. Sister Ann Margaret recalls the times that the sisters living at Immaculata had the gift of going to spend time at a beach house. Alexa’s thoughtfulness led her to deliver breakfast in bed to Ann Margaret and the other sisters there.
Alexa was a great sounding board for all of us. I think that probably every one of us has a memory of a very “sacred” or “special” time spent with Alexa. She valued each person she encountered and treated all with love and respect. Throughout her time in the Congregation, Alexa was called upon often to write something about topics important to all of us: The theology of the Eucharist and other topics. Archives have many of her writings.
The recent canonical novices who had class with Alexa were in awe of her knowledge and teaching methods. They were always happy to go to that class. Joni Luna is sad because she does not get to finish her class with Alexa. Dina Bato stopped me in the hall one day as she was returning from her class with Alexa. She said to me with amazement, “Nancy, do you know what a great teacher Alexa is?” It was great to see each canonical novice have a one-on-one class with Alexa and be amazed at the gift that Alexa was. Sister Marilyn Herber spoke of Alexa’s teaching her Spanish at St. Agnes. She had a quiz paper returned to her upon which Sister Alexa had put an “A.” However, the A was crossed off and a B+ put beside it with the comment, “next time, use pen.” Sister Marilyn didn’t argue, she just used pen the next time.
Sister Marian recently attended the Alumnae Reunion weekend at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Members of the Golden Jubilee class (the class of 1965) visited with Alexa in her room and later told Sister Marian how much they appreciated Alexa’s teaching them how to read sacred scripture. Sister Marian was astounded that these women could give all the details of Alexa’s class 50 years later.
One day, Alexa was at the door of her residence. There was a student there who asked for another sister. Alexa sat the girl in the parlor and rang the sister’s gong. She learned later that when the sister asked the girl who answered the door, her response was, “the one who walks like Abraham Lincoln.”
Permit me, please, a couple of personal stories.
When my name was brought forth for possible election to the council prior to the 2001 General Chapter, I was discerning whether to leave my name in the mix or not. I was still living in California and when I was home for a pre-chapter meeting, I decided to see if Alexa would be open to helping me discern. I asked her if she had some time for me to do some discerning with her. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well, I will talk with you, but I am not going to vote for you.” Sometime later, when we were living together, she told me that in spite of what she said that day, she did vote for me.
Right after her birthday, Alexa had what I will call a bad “spell” for want of a better word. Her blood pressure dropped very low and her oxygen level was low. Sister Joanne Golding sat with her during the night and by morning, she had come out of whatever it was and was back to her old self. She was, however, very tired and weak after that. So, she took it easy for the next couple of days until she got some strength back. I came home last Tuesday and saw her briefly Tuesday evening and then spent all day Wednesday with her. We had a great visit. She commented that it was a relaxed visit because I was not there for a meeting with a visit to her on the side. I was there just to visit her until we started our meetings on Sunday. When I left, she told me to sleep late the next morning and then come over to her room. Around 9 that morning (Thursday), she sort of slid off her bed when trying to get up and that constituted a fall. I did not get to her room until 10 a.m. She was in bed with oxygen and very weak. I walked over to the side of her bed and her first words to me were “goodbye.” I asked her if that meant she was going to die and she said yes. Then, a little later she exclaimed, “it is funny; it’s so funny.” I asked her what was funny and she responded, “The whole dying process.” Obviously, true to form, her mind was working and analyzing things even as she was dying.
When her death came approximately 12 hours later, it was very peaceful. She took maybe 15-20 “normal” breaths without a struggle and then simply stopped breathing any more. It was the most beautiful and peaceful death I have ever seen. The quote on the Blessed Mother Theodore calendar for June 26, the day she died, was “A good life is the best preparation for a good death.” I believe that was Alexa’s life and death – both were good.
The Sisters of Providence have lost one of our greatest wisdom figures. She will be missed, but she is happy now with her God she served so faithfully and with the whole Suelzer family she missed so much.
Funeral services for Sister Alexa took place Wednesday, July 1, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
The wake took place from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., with Mass of Christian Burial taking place at 4:30 p.m.
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