Sister Mary Michael Lager
“Then Jesus told this parable. ‘The kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.’”
— A reading from the Gospel of Matthew (25:1-7)
When the bridegroom, Jesus, came last week in the early hours of Saturday morning, we can feel certain that Sister Mary Michael, who lived religious life for 80 years, had a well-lit, well-trimmed lamp, said Sister Marie Grace Molloy in commentary written by Sister Ann Casper for Sister Mary Michael Lager, who died Saturday, July 8, 2017, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 98 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 81 years.
When asked for their memories of Mary Michael, sisters repeated the same words time and time again to describe the “oil” in her lamp – gracious, thoughtful, gentle, kind, generous, patient and always grateful. Her 98 years leave a rich legacy of devotion to family, faithful minister and loving community member.
Lucille Frances was born to Fred and Frances Marie Schoendienst Lager, Nov. 19, 1918, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Germantown, Illinois, was actually the family home, but her father was on a business trip and her mother accompanied him to New Orleans. Mary Michael would often reference the Schoendienst name with great pride, as she cheered on her cousin “Red” Schoendienst, who was a famous St. Louis Cardinal baseball player from the 1940s to 1960s.
Lucille had three sisters: Ann, Flora and Dorothy, all of whom preceded her in death. Also deceased are three stepbrothers: Lawrence, Edward and Frank, as well as stepsister Clara. Her mother had remarried after her husband died. It so happened that when the farmer’s wife down the road was dying, she told her husband if he remarried, he should marry Frances Lager, and so it happened. During the years, Mary Michael kept in touch with her many nieces and nephews.
Lucille attended grade school in Germantown and then went on to Providence High School in Chicago, where she boarded and worked to get her education, graduating in 1936. On July 16 of that same year, she entered the Sisters of Providence and the following year, was received into the novitiate on January 23. Her first profession of vows and her profession of perpetual vows occurred on the same day, in 1939 and 1945 respectively.
Sister Mary Michael, as she came to be known, attended college courses as a scholastic novice and during the summers, enough to procure a life license to teach in elementary schools. She taught for 11 years, grades two to eight, in schools in Indiana and Illinois, and often remarked how she enjoyed teaching. However, in 1950, in response to a Congregation need, she agreed to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree at the Pharmaceutical School at Purdue University. She related that she had to look up the word in the dictionary to see what she was pursuing! However, she must have figured things out pretty quickly, because she reportedly graduated first in her class with a degree in Pharmacy in 1953. Some newspaper clippings in her file attested to the fact that she attained a distinguished rating, which in her case, meant a perfect record with the top grade of “six,” attained in each subject.
For the next 37 years, until 1990, she served as community pharmacist. We can only imagine how many pills she sorted and counted out, how many prescriptions she filled in her solitary office in the now-demolished, old north wing of Lourdes Hall, and how much wisdom she shared with her sisters about drug interactions and dosages. Simultaneously, to fill her “spare time” evidently, she also served as lab and radiology technician, taught part-time at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College for seven years and served as nurse’s aide and driver when needed.
After a well-deserved sabbatical experience at St. Louis University in Missouri, she gave service in the now-Mission Advancement office for six years. She then served for seven years on the residential services staff, before beginning in 2004, a ministry of prayer and presence as a resident in health care.
Growing up on a farm, love of the outdoors came naturally for Mary Michael – in fact, she said it was her favorite place to be. She would seize any occasion to spend time in her various flower beds around campus, weeding, tending her roses and other varieties of flowers. Someone said the only things she ever complained about were dandelions, calling the plant office more than once to inquire what could be done, even as she desperately tried to rid the premises of them, but to no avail!
When cherries ripened, she would pick them for those who made cherry pies. Strawberries were also gathered and were transformed into welcomed treats for the sisters. She often gathered black walnuts from the trees on the cemetery drive and did all the necessary drying, cracking and shelling so the delicious black walnut meats might be shared and used for baking.
Nursing staff reported that Mary Michael’s favorite song was “You are My Sunshine.” She evidently took the lyrics to heart, because she was indeed a ray of sunshine to others. The health care staff to a person said she was always the same – pleasant, and grateful for the least service rendered. In her later years, most of us know how she enjoyed playing solitaire on the computer – for hours at a time – until failing eyesight ended that pleasure, something she could have complained about, except she never did.
And, of course, also remembered is how she loved to eat! Oftentimes, after finishing her own meal, she would gently chastise others at her table for not clearing their plates and then would stealthily reach across to her neighbor’s plate to help them do so!
Sister Mary Michael LagerTeacher for 10 years in schools in Indiana and Illinois
In Indiana: Cathedral, Indianapolis (1939-41); St. Patrick, Indianapolis (1945-48); Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, part-time (1953-60).
In Illinois: St. Genevieve, Chicago (1939); Marywood, Evanston (1941-42; St. Mary Carmelite, Joliet (1942-44); St. Sylvester, Chicago (1948-50).
A few years ago at her senior jubilee dinner – a served meal – her companion sister shared the story that after Mary Michael consumed the salad and roll, she reached for the dessert and pulled the plate toward her. “Oh, not yet, Mary Michael,” her companion offered, as she pushed the plate away, noting that, “The main course hasn’t been served yet.” This little ritual was repeated several times until Mary Michael looked her companion in the eye and asked, “whose dessert is this any way!?” That ended the ritual and any further discussion!
As we celebrate the long and fruitful life of Sister Mary Michael and commend her beautiful soul to God’s eternal embrace, let us strive to fill our own lamps with the oil of good works and attitudes of acceptance and gracious living which she modeled so well for us.
Funeral services for Sister Mary Michael took place on Wednesday, July 12, and Thursday, July 13, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Wednesday, July 12, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial took place at 11 a.m., on Thursday, July 13.
Contributions in memory of Sister Mary Michael may be made to the Sisters of Providence.
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