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Sister Mary Esther Lane (formerly Sister Francis Gertrude)

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Sister Mary Esther Lane

“Fear not, I am with you always.”

—– A reading from the Prophet Isaiah

Once, when asked her favorite passage from scripture, Sister Mary Esther Lane quoted that passage from Isaiah, said Sister Margaret Quinlan in her commentary for Sister Mary Esther, formerly Sister Francis Gertrude, who died Saturday, Nov. 19, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 101 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 83 years.

Let’s listen to it again.

Fear not, I am with you always.

This seems to be an appropriate way to begin our remembrance of her.

Sister Mary Esther was born in Loogootee, Indiana, on April 11, 1915, to Emma Kuebler Lane and Dr. Andrew Lane. She had three brothers, Claude, Herbert and Ralph, and one sister, Maureen.

In an autobiography which Mary Esther wrote in 1960 for a class assignment at Butler University where she was working on her master’s degree, she wrote “I have always been eager to learn. We had a well-equipped, home library, and all in our family were scholars. I had good example to follow … we all loved good music, made our own, read good books, studied hard and stayed close to home.”

Mary Esther attended elementary school and high school at St. John’s in Loogootee. She earned her degrees at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and at Butler University. She entered the Sisters of Providence on Aug. 15, 1933, and made her final profession in January of 1942. Her religious name was Sister Francis Gertrude before she returned to her baptismal name.

In her autobiography, she described her first year at teaching, 34 seventh-grade boys, as a year of “perplexities, doubts, trial and error methods, but valuable experience which one can glean only from actual practice in the battlefield.” In her long career, beginning in 1936, Mary Esther taught seventh- and eighth-grade and then high school in 15 different schools in Indiana, Illinois and California. She taught mostly English, guided young people in speech contests, and for two summers, took 35 seniors and college students abroad to eight different countries. Her students described her as “super nice, but strict.”

Sister Mary Esther Lane

Sister Mary Esther Lane

In 1979, she began ministry at a Retreat Center in Orange, California, and later at Serra Retreat House in Malibu, California. In 1983, she began working at St. Elizabeth, in Van Nuys, California, in the health office, weighing, measuring and testing the eyes of the children there and keeping the records, sending notes to parents about taking the children to the doctor.

In 1995, she returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, where she ministered in community service. Part of that community service was to assist the sisters from Vietnam who were students in the college, helping them with English pronunciation and grammar. Sister Martha Wessel said she “really drilled them,” but Sister Jan Craven, whose bedroom was across the hall from the room where they worked, remembered the laughter she could hear as they worked. Jan added that Mary Esther loved humor and that was how she taught.

A co-worker once described Mary Esther as “competent in teaching, sewing, cooking, directing choir and plays and games, with good judgment and common sense, which made her welcome in every circle.” Another co-worker at St. Elizabeth described her, in 1983, when she was almost 70, as “always neatly attired, walking with a purposeful stride, puzzling to any age-guesser.”

When Mary Esther was in grades one, two and three, when people would ask her what she was going to be when she grew up, her answer was “a priest.” Their reply that she couldn’t be a priest was “a cruel blow,” as she described it. She wrote once that “I prayed: ‘Dear Lord, help me to know and follow my vocation, but don’t let it be as a nun.’” But, of course, her call turned out to be just that. Years later, she wrote “I love being a Sister of Providence. It is truly a gift from God.”

Several years ago, the local fire department here said that all the roads in the area had to be named and labeled so that properties could be located in case of emergency. For one little street in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Village, with maybe eight houses in its total length, the neighbors decided theirs should be named “Mary Lane.” However, the fire department insisted that it couldn’t be “Lane,” that they should all be named “Street” or “Road.” So, the street sign now says “Mary Lane Road.” I understand that Mary Esther loved taking visitors over there to show them the road that is named after her.

Mary Esther was a good friend to many, including her friend, Joe, who brought her flowers each Sunday morning and brought her over to liturgy in her wheelchair. He will miss her, as we all will.

Blessings, Mary Esther, and remember, “Fear not, God is with us always.”

Funeral services for Sister Mary Esther took place on Monday, Nov. 28, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

A Wake took place from 9 to 11 a.m., followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.

We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Mary Esther in the comment section below.

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7 Comments

  1. Cathy Campbell, SP on November 21, 2016 at 10:45 am

    Sr. Mary Esther was one of the my favorite people. Up until her final days, she kept up to date on what was going on – prayed for me and those of us in ministry – and always called me by name! I hope I am doing as well at the century plus mark as this remarkable SP was. I feel very blessed to know she is in the heavenly host now continuing to watch over me and all of us as we continue the work of Providence entrusted to us.

  2. Richard Rouse on November 21, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    She was the teacher I wanted to have in eight grade. Highly intelligent, well spoken, pleasantly demanding, kind, and an excellent teacher. Thank God for granting her a long life and may she rest in peace.

    • Jo Ann Dailey on December 15, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      Hi, Richard,
      I was a pupil at St. Joe’s in Hammond from fifth to eighth grade, and had Sister Francis Gertrude for Indiana History and American History. Your name sounds familiar! I am living in Terre Haute now, and was able to visit Sister a few times in the last few years–once I found out that she was indeed Sister Francis Gertrude. It was when I realized that the Bishop of Nicaragua she was talking about was David Zywiec, who was also in our 8th grade class. I still see Margaret Drux (now Sabo) when I visit my cousin in Hammond. Hope you and yours are well! Jo Ann Dailey

  3. Renata Rafferty on November 25, 2016 at 5:49 am

    Sister Francis Gertrude was my sister Barbara’s favorite teacher at St. Mark back in the 1960”s. Beautiful inside and out, she stayed a close friend of our family for many years. I was blessed to visit Sister just three years ago at the Woods. Two years ago, I was offered a position at Saint Gertrude High School in VA, and it felt providential that I should be called to a school with Sister’s name. God rest her beautiful soul.

  4. Jody Jeffries on November 27, 2016 at 3:26 am

    Cared for all the sisters as a cna , all of them will have a special place in my heart, rest in peace my friend,

  5. Carla Johnson on December 6, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Sister Francis was a wonderful woman and servant to God! Her words of wisdom to me over 30 years ago had never left my mind. She said “Dare to be different”! I have lived by those words ever since she shared them with me!
    Truly a wonderful woman. She will be forever missed!

  6. Debbie Prieto on December 15, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    I met Sr. Mary Esther Lane when she was ministering at St. Elisabeth Parish in Van Nuys, CA. I became friends with Sr. Mary Esther,and all the SP Sisters there at St. Elisabeth. We’d go out for many a meal and had loads of fun–always laughing. Sr Mary Esther had a great sense of humor. She was like a mother figure to me as well as my good friend and mentor. She had many friends but treated me like I was her only friend. Always giving me her utmost attention. She made me feel special. She helped me with my prayer life. She was a beautiful Sister and loved God more than life itself. No doubt is sharing eternal life in the Kingdom of God. I will never forget Sister Mary Esther Lane, SP. May she rest in peace.

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