Sister Adelaide Ortegel
“Then small children were brought to Jesus so he could lay hands on them and pray for them. The disciples began to scold the parents, but Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone – let them come to me. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ And after laying his hands on them, Jesus left the town.”
— Matthew 19:13-15
The Word of the Lord
All of us gathered here and who are with us via livestream to celebrate Adelaide’s life know that although she lived more than 89 years, she always radiated the childlikeness of which Jesus speaks, as she danced through life as a sister, aunt, teacher, artist, designer of liturgy, clown-mime, puppeteer, writer, composer, and in the many countless other ways each of us knew her, said Sister Cathy Campbell in her commentary for Sister Adelaide Ortegel, who died Wednesday, December 13, 2017, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 89 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 71 years.
Adelaide arrived on this planet in Chicago on June 12, 1928, the first of two daughters born to Alfhild Rustad and Ralph Ortegel. We are pleased that her sister, Carol, brother-in-law, Charles, and many of her nieces and nephews are with us today. The family moved to Wilmette when Adelaide was a child and she became a student at St. Francis Xavier Parish School.
Sister Adelaide Ortegel
Teacher for 45 years in schools in Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Antigua, West Indies.
In Indiana: St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne (1954-57); St. Mary, Lafayette (1974-78); Providence Cristo Rey High School, Indianapolis (2007-10).
In Illinois: St. Agnes, Chicago (1950-53); St. Mark, Chicago (1957-58); Mother Theodore Guerin High School, River Grove (1963-70, 1979-88, 1989-97, 2000-07); Center for Contemporary Celebration, Hyde Park (1970-74, 1978-79).
In Oklahoma: Corpus Christi, Oklahoma City (1949-50).
In Massachusetts: Sacred Heart, Malden (1958-63).
In Antigua, West Indies: Christ the King High School, St. John (1997-99).
As she grew up, she discovered the world of puppetry as a teen responsible for story hours at the public library near her home. Her dad became her partner in building puppets and stages and an early version of the Magic Puppet Theater was born.
At St. Francis Xavier, she met Sister Ann Collette, SP, who planted the seed of her vocation. However, Adelaide was not sure that she liked nuns well enough to become one. So, she asked her parents to transfer her from New Trier High School to Mallincrockdt High School, staffed by the Sisters of Christian Charity. About a year later, as Adelaide was sharing with Sister Ann Collette the news that she had decided to enter the Sisters of Providence, Ann Collette told her she had received word she was being missioned to China. Another seed planted.
So, Adelaide entered the Sisters of Providence on July 19, 1946, pronounced her first vows on January 23, 1949, and final vows on January 23, 1954. She earned a bachelor of arts from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and then a Master of Arts in Art Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When her mom and dad were preparing to bring her to Saint Mary’s, according to Adelaide, her mother mentioned Adelaide’s puppets to Mother Gertrude Clare, who told her that the marionettes would be welcome to. So, as band members, Sisters Adele and Mary Louis and many others among you here can attest, the magic of puppetry became part of the formation program for a time and a variety of characters appeared in many feast day celebrations from that moment on.
From the moment she said her “Yes” to God, Adelaide was all in – ready to go where Providence called. She first ministered in elementary education in Oklahoma City, then in Malden, Massachusetts, in Fort Wayne, and in Chicago. As the Holy Spirit blew through the church and society in the 1960s, Adelaide was ready to go where the breeze and invitations from Providence might take her to waken imaginations from kindergarten through high schools, to colleges, schools of ministry, and ecumenical ministries in the Catholic Church and many others denominations. In 1963, she landed at Mother Guerin High School with the task of starting the school’s art department. She also collaborated with Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France, to design the stained glass windows in the convent’s chapel.
That’s when Providence caused our paths to cross in August 1968. I was a scholastic novice and Sister Francis Alma, the superior of the house, was confronted with the challenge of having me and several other sisters in formation in her charge. Based on her observation of how Sister Adelaide and I had connected during a visit in the spring before I came, she enlisted Adelaide to mentor me. I did not know this until about 10 years later, when Adelaide told me that her initial reply to Sister Francis Alma’s invitation to be a kind of formation director for me was anything but enthusiastic. Adelaide said she did not want such a responsibility. “If she likes me and we find out we get along, then all right, I will do it,” Adelaide told me she said. “If it doesn’t work, well, we’ll see.” Well, I guess in God’s Providence, our friendship was meant to be a special gift to each of us.
Adelaide was a free spirit, with an unbridled imagination. Rooted in emerging Post-Vatican II theologies as well as the writings of Teilhard de Chardin, and later Thomas Beery and Brian Swimme, she was well into the wonder of the new cosmology, before many of us heard such invitations. The energy of her paintings reflects her absorption into the new frontiers of spirituality she explored. Simultaneously, she shared her love of puppetry with her students at Guerin, enabled them to develop their own gifts and talents, and also explored ways of integrating various art forms into worship. With the blessing of her superiors who took leaps of faith to support her in her prophetic endeavors, Adelaide ministered with the Center for Contemporary Celebration for more than a decade. She authored three books: Banners and Such; Light, a Language of Celebration; and A Dancing People, that became widely used in church communities throughout the United States. She wrote several songs for Come, Share the Spirit.
While at the center, Adelaide discovered the clown with her in 1970, when the team was asked to create a Christmas special for the Chicago Archdiocese’s weekly television show. Her colleagues asked her to become Wobbles the Clown. With a filmmaker trailing her, Adelaide’s task was to find “love in the world.” As Wobbles, Adelaide wandered through Chicago’s loop asking business people, harried shoppers and others, “Where do you find love in the world today?” The question was poignant, because war was raging in Vietnam, racial tensions filled U.S. cities, and many were searching for love in their own lives. Eventually, Adelaide found herself standing in front of Santa at Marshall Fields. As she recounted the moment, Adelaide told me the Santa looked her squarely in the eye and said, “Honey, I don’t think there is love in the world!” “My heart broke,” Adelaide said, and she decided that one of her calls as a Sister of Providence from that moment on was to enable people, especially young people, to discover how they could be agents of love. So Patches the Clown was born. Eventually, she created “Little Patches,” the puppet who became her alter ego.
For more than 40 years, Sister Adelaide danced through life, sweeping others up into wonderful adventures of imagination, including Sister Agnes Arvin, who helped her to realize her dream of being a missionary. In 1996, Adelaide asked the chapter of possibilities to approve opening a new Sisters of Providence mission at Christ the King High School in Antigua, West Indies, Indicative of the great energy that Adelaide and Agnes took with them to this ministry was the fact that soon after they arrived, a Category 4 hurricane, Georges, swept over the island, creating damage but not causing any great injury. This event gave them new momentum as messengers of Providence. Though only there two years, Adelaide left behind a group of clowns, a family of puppets, and several banners.
When the Sisters of Providence Associates formed, Adelaide stepped up and mentored a colleague at Guerin as a member of the first class. When the letter came announcing that the Congregation was establishing Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis, Adelaide, at age 78, decided she wanted to minister there and help Sister Jeanne in whatever ways she could. Several of her banners hang in the school today.
In the last 10 years, as Adelaide found herself being lured into the fog of Alzheimer’s by Providence, she never stopped dancing or exuding the wonder of the child. As a resident of Lourdes, she loved attending parties, often surprising the Sisters around her by jumping on a table in the Activities Room to be sure everyone could see the puppet.
As we companioned her, Adelaide never stopped surprising Sister Mary Catherine and me with her childlike wonder at the world around her. Mary told me, “When we took walks or sat in the grove on a bench, she would always want me to see in new ways how the colors worked or to laugh at the geese at the lake. Being with her gave me such great joy.” All of you have your memories and stories of Adelaide – I have enjoyed hearing you tell so many of them in these recent days. So please keep sharing them! Each morning, like me, you have an opportunity to praise God for the imprint Adelaide left in our lives as we pin on the white Sister of Providence cross that she designed in the 1960s, and that Providence Associates have adapted as their insignia.
Many often asked me after I visited her in recent years, “Did Adelaide know you?” Here’s my answer.
“Yes! Adelaide knew me. We met at the deepest level of childlikeness to which she took me when she enabled me to find the ‘clown, the creative energy, the fool for God’ within me over these almost 50 years of our collaborating in the mystery of Providence. Could she call me by name? I don’t think so. Did the energies of her spirit and love connect with mine? Yes, oh yes!”
So, Adelaide, until Providence reunites us amid the galaxies where you roam freely now, I promise I will love the clown and the spirit of childlikeness within me and take to heart each morning the song you left me – all of us, that our good friend, Sister Mary Catherine, will now sing:
Rise Up in the Mornin’ (By Sister Adelaide Ortegel, SP)
(From Come, Share the Spirit – Center for Contemporary Celebration, West Lafayette, Ind., 1975)
Al-le-lu-ia – Al-le-lu-ia —
There’s a spirit in the air —
Feel it movin’ ev’rywhere —
Callin’ us to jump aboard – and rise up in the mornin’ in the joy of the Lord.
Al-le-lu-ia, al-le-lu-ia —
Light that light and watch it glow,
Plant those seeds and help them grow,
Give all the lovin’ you can pos-si-bly afford,
And rise up in the mornin’
In the joy of the Lord.
Let’s build a world that’s a place for livin’ in.
Use the lives that we’ve been given.
Hope a growin’ and faith restored —
Just rise up in the mornin’ in the joy of the Lord.
Funeral services for Sister Adelaide took place on Wednesday, December 27, and Thursday, December 28, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Memorial contributions in Sister Adelaide’s honor may be made to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Adelaide in the comment section below.
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