Sister Agnes Mary Raetz
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man or woman who built a house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.”
— A reading according to the Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel just proclaimed was the Gospel for the day that Sister Agnes Mary died. Indeed, Sister Agnes Mary took that Scripture passage to heart and built her life not on sand, but on solid rock, said Sister Denise Wilkinson in her commentary for Sister Agnes Mary Raetz, who died Thursday, December 7, 2017, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 87 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 54 years.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, to Agnes Swarz Raetz and Thomas Raetz, Sister Agnes Mary was one of four children: Her twin sister, Angela Danford, and her sister Elizabeth Vangordon. Their brother, Thomas, died in 2000.
At the time of Sister Agnes Mary’s birth, the family lived in Toledo, Ohio, but later moved to Indianapolis. It was in Indianapolis that Sister Agnes Mary first came into contact with the Sisters of Providence at St. Joan of Arc grade school. Having completed her eight years there, she attended Broad Ripple High School and graduated in 1950.
I mention that date only because it was not until December 5, 1962, that Agnes Mary Raetz sent a perfectly typed letter to Mother Rose Angela requesting permission to enter the Congregation. Agnes Mary explained, “I have been praying to make this decision. The rest is in His hands.” Indeed – her house was built on rock.
Entering in September 1963, at the age of 41, Sister Agnes Mary found herself in a band totaling 63 women; most of us were 18 years old. Nonetheless, as one band member noted, “Agnes would roll her eyes and just smile at all our shenanigans.” Not even being outnumbered by young band members, who of course knew everything, could shake Agnes’ equanimity and kindness from the solid foundation of her love and affection for others.
Sister Agnes Mary’s entire ministerial life took place here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods – or, as Agnes called it, “home base.” Meticulous and extremely alert to all details, she possessed the perfect skills to serve as secretary on the Generalate Staff, to the Congregation’s General Secretary, in the Office of Records, as clerical assistant in the office of the president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, in Providence phone room, the Sisters of Providence business staff and in the offices of Congregational Advancement and Residential Services.
We Sisters of Providence may want to know that in 1983, we were asked by the Office of Records (aka, Agnes Mary) to update our information sheets regarding health care and end of life details, education and ministries. Evidently, she had as much luck as her successors, for Sister Rosemary Schmalz, current coordinator of Office of Records, just this past summer, asked us to update that same information. We are slow learners.
Regarding Agnes Mary’s penchant for detail, Sister Ann Casper said of her work, “Whenever (Agnes Mary) appeared in the director’s doorway, you could be pretty sure she had found a discrepancy that several other pairs of eyes had missed.”
Agnes Mary’s smile and affectionate and inclusive nature may well be her most lasting legacy to all those who knew her – a legacy available only to one who relies on God as both rock and source of faith and love.
Here are a few testimonials to Agnes Mary’s love for others and her gentle ways of conveying that love:
* From one of the sisters who often drove Agnes Mary to medical appointments: “No matter how long the wait to be seen by the doctor, she was always peaceful and patient.”
* “Her face radiated love, kindness and beauty, while she eagerly extended a hand and gave me a kiss in greeting!”
* “I was a frequent and faithful visitor to a sister in Mother Theodore Hall. After that sister’s death, Agnes Mary made sure she was present to greet me. Her reason she wanted to be a welcoming face for me … she wanted to fill in for that special (friend) … that kindness and thoughtfulness almost brings me to tears.”
* “Agnes Mary seemed very serious until you got to know her. She had such a great sense of mischief about her. While we were novices, she worked for Sister Ann Kathleen in Tile Hall and I worked in the Vocations Office upstairs, but I had an additional duty. Every morning … (I swept) the front steps of the Church to clean up the pigeon and bat droppings. I kept lobbying for water and hose, but never got them. Agnes thought my duty was quite hilarious and was always teasing me about it. But most of all, (she was) kind and gentle and a true woman of Providence – and always so good to me.”
* “What I remember about our dear Agnes Mary is a woman whom one may think was very serious until that face would break into a smile that was so warm and welcoming and ‘glad to see ya’ you couldn’t help but respond with a hug – which would be received and returned with gusto … She personified that hospitality piece of the Sisters of Providence charism.”
As a resident of Mother Theodore Hall, Sister Agnes Mary devoted herself to the ministry of prayer, in particular to praying for the staff of Mission Advancement. Her forms of prayer no doubt included acceptance of her physical diminishment and the constant pain she endured. Her prayer must also have taken the form of showing her openhearted affection and acceptance of all with whom she met. On the day she died, her prayer took the form of peace and patience – in spite of the pain that assailed her.
The invitation to Sister Agnes Mary’s final profession of vows included this quotation from Teilhard de Chardin: “Who can say what God would fashion out of us, if trusting in his word, we dared to trust in his counsels to the very end and surrender ourselves to his providence?”
Sister Agnes Mary, trust in God’s word and counsels you surely did. Surrender to God’s providence you surely did.
On the rock of God’s word, counsels and providence you continued to build on the rock of hope and of joyous hospitality. We thank you.
But, Agnes Mary, I would remiss if I did not mention a trait of yours that also endeared you to us. In your house built on solid rock, you probably had one of the messiest bedrooms in the Congregation. Yet, you always insisted you knew where everything and anything was – so don’t mess with the stacks of stuff you arranged in your own way. We count on you, Sister Agnes Mary, to always find and assist each of us as we follow in your footsteps of building our houses on rock and not sand.
Funeral services for Sister Agnes Mary took place on Thursday, December 14, and Friday, December 15, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A Wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Thursday, December 14, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m., on Friday, December 15.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Agnes Mary in the comment section below.
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Sister Agnes Mary Raetz was such a loving kind person. She always made me smile and could make a room light up. Our time together was a blessing. I’m so thankful I can’t the chance to meet her and become her friend. She will be dearly missed.
I am so sad to find out that Sister Agnes Mary has left our earth. We were together at the same place and the same time in 1963. I was one of the 63 who entered that year. On those occasions that I visited SMW to see a retired teacher, I would encounter Sister which was always a delight. May she rest in peace.
I kept thinking about the “messiest room in the congregation” comment. It seems most improbable to me that the messiest room of a Sister of Providence was really a mess compared to most messy bedrooms including mine. As I recall visiting Sister Charlotte Brock and Sister Beth Kelso, their rooms were perfectly tidy. There was not a single think out of place. So, if Sister Agnes Mary had simply a messy desk, it might have seem messiest to most. Anyway, we were obviously kindred spirits. I only wish we had actually been sisters.