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Sisters share memories of the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’

This is a photograph of Sister Marianne Mader (back, right) with her family taken in the early 1990s at the Indianapolis 500 Museum. With Sister Marianne are her mother Frances Ley Mader, her nieces Jenny – who is a Providence Associate – and Abby, and (back, left) her now-deceased sister Jeanette.

This is a photograph of Sister Marianne Mader (back, right) with her family taken in the early 1990s at the Indianapolis 500 Museum. With Sister Marianne are her mother Frances Ley Mader, her nieces Jenny – who is a Providence Associate – and Abby, and (back, left) her now-deceased sister Jeanette.

In 2015, the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods celebrated their 175th anniversary as a Congregation.

As the sisters advance into year 176, other organizations are celebrating milestones in Indiana. Take for example the Indianapolis 500, which is celebrating 100 years of existence this year.

Recently, several sisters took time to reflect on their memories of what many call the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Sister Patty Wallace, for example, recalled a time when she was a student at Butler University.

“The motor speedway started a daycare for the month of May called Racing Babies,” Sister Patty said. “It was offering childcare for the children of the drivers during practice and the race. I was in the toddler room watching Al Unser Jr.’s girls and Arie Luyendyk’s son.

“Arie won the race that year. I’m not sure if the daycare is still functioning, but it was a great experience.”

Other sisters, like Sisters Ann Casper and Carol Nolan, both also shared reflections.

“When I was principal at Ladywood-St. Agnes High School in Indianapolis, girls would sometimes skip school and go to the practice days at the Speedway,” Sister Ann said. “They would call in to the assistant principal’s office reporting their ‘illness.’

“Sister Mary Joan could hear the roar of the cars’ engines in the background, but she ‘played along.’ She and I had a good laugh over it. However, she wasn’t laughing, nor were the girls, when they reported to her office the next day.”

Sister Patricia (Patty) Wallace 2011

Sister Patty Wallace

“I was able to attend the college because of the Mary Fendrich Hulman scholarship,” Sister Carol added. “This was a full scholarship, room, board, tuition and fees, renewable for four years. She was Tony’s wife, and from the La Fendrich cigar family.

“I met her in a group once, but I didn’t have the courage to tell her that I owed my attendance at the college, and possibly my vocation, to her generosity. I entered the novitiate in the middle of my freshman year.”


Sister Ann Casper

In addition, Sister Arlene Knarzer recalled how her uncles served in the pits for drivers in the 1940s and 1950s, while also remembering the noise as a child.

“During the race, the hum of the cars racing around the track could be heard from miles away,” she said.

Many other sisters recalled attending the race many times, but one, Sister Barbara Sheehan, has special ties to the speedway.

A native of Indianapolis, Sister Barbara recently shared many reflections of her time at the speedway.


Sister Arlene Knarzer

“I often say I grew up on the Indy 500,” Sister Barbara said. “From a very early age, our dad would take my brother and me to qualification days. Dad worked at Indiana Bell Telephone and was one of the supervisors in charge of communications in and around the track.

“Those early days of being at the track created fond memories I treasure to this day.”

One of those “fond memories” Sister Barbara recalled was about the lunches they would take to the track.

Sister Carol Nolan

“We had meatloaf sandwiches for lunches – made by mom – and to this day, I make my meatloaf with carrots in it, as she did,” Sister Barbara said. “In those days, life was a bit freer for children, so we roamed and dad would set times and places for us to meet him for a check-in throughout the day. Of course, we had good parenting in being told to stay together.”

During her family time at the speedway, she had the opportunity to meet some drivers.


Sister Barbara Sheehan

“As a child – even though a female was not permitted on pit row or in the garages – I went along to talk to drivers and crew in the garages and freely explored with my brother pit row and the winner’s circle,” Sister Barbara said. “When the driver’s later qualified, it seemed sort of natural since I met some of them.”

Sister Barbara also recalled a time while teaching at Costa High School, in Galesburg, Illinois, she secured tickets for the entire junior class from Tony Hulman to attend the race.

“The school was closing and students would be transferring to another school,” she said. “It was their ‘senior class trip,’ which they wouldn’t be having the next year.

“My dad met us at the track and gave everyone a royal tour with the guys getting to go into the garage area. It was a great day for all!”

To this day, Sister Barbara said she still enjoys either watching or listening to the race. And she still holds on to some of those long-standing family traditions.

“Since those early days, I have gone many times to qualifications and three times to the Indy 500,” she said. “The race is much faster than my early days, yet the thrill is still there.  The thrill and excitement of car racing got in my bones and hasn’t left me.

“I watch it on TV if I’m not there. I mark on the lineup sheets as drivers and cars are eliminated and eat my meatloaf sandwich – with carrots!”

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

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