Sister Mary Cecile Grojean
Sister Mary Cecile was born Mary Bernadette on Jan.1 3, 1932, in Chicago, to Joseph Henry and Othelia Rose Willman Grojean. She was welcomed by her five older siblings, Germaine, Cordelia, Frances, Henry and Joseph. A new baby, Carita Mae, arrived a year later to complete the family. She was baptized at St. Agnes in Chicago and attended elementary school there, then went on to Providence High School, graduating in 1949. She entered the Congregation in February 1950, professed first vows in 1952, and made her final profession in 1957. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music education at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1965, and a master’s in music education from Indiana State University in 1970, said Sister Maureen Abbott in her commentary for Sister Mary Cecile Grojean, who died on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 87 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 69 years.
Sister Maureen continued: Mary Cecile recalled that her parents were a strong influence on her growing up because they were always there for her. During her childhood years, she had some severe health problems. As a 3-year-old, she was hospitalized for the very contagious disease of diphtheria and recalled that her mother walked several miles to come see her. At age 11, she had a bout of rheumatic fever. She admired her parents, not only because they taught her not to talk back or lie, but because they arranged piano lessons for her, paying 50 cents for group lessons and then 75 cents for private lessons.
The Grojean family is still close. Her sister, Frances, niece Mary Kay with her daughters, Bernadette and Rebecca, were frequent visitors here. In fact, several family members had planned to come to the Woods to visit Mary Cecile last weekend. They had to cancel because of the snow, but immediately rescheduled for next weekend. Instead, they are with us this morning to honor their aunt, the last of the seven siblings to pass into eternity.
Mary Cecile loved school and the nuns, even though her third-grade teacher insisted that she, normally left-handed, learn to write with her right hand. When she was 9, her oldest sister, Germaine, at age 25, left to enter the novitiate of the Sisters of Providence, going on to become Sister Mary Germaine. Of course, this provided the occasion to introduce little Bernadette to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Not long after, her mom joined the work force to help the war effort, and with her brothers gone to military service, Mary Cecile remembered World War II as a difficult time in her life.
She graduated from Providence High School in June 1949 and went to work in a Wieboldt’s department store office until her departure for Saint Mary-of-the-Woods the following February. Apparently, hers was one of the famous train trips allowing Chicago girls entering the convent to enjoy their last taste of freedom together. In this instance, the box of Fannie Mae candy they were taking as a gift to friends never made it to the Woods.
Providence must have been smiling when this particular group of young women came together on Feb. 2, 1950. Mary Cecile liked to laugh and make people laugh. She soon discovered she wasn’t the only one, because it wasn’t long before they found each other: Ann Clare, Amata, Ruth Johnson, and Mary Cecile. Their band member, Sister Teresa Clare, told me, “When they got together, it was like a circus. One would start and another would pick it up, and back and forth.”
In a formation program designed to foster silence and decorum, we can only imagine the trouble they got themselves into. For example, because Mary Cecile was a music major, she was permitted to practice the piano in the community room. Her friends would come along with a request to liven their day by playing, “The Sabre Dance,” a piece so boisterous that the crashing chords carried upstairs to the novitiate, bringing Sister Mary Dominica rushing down to quell the sound. Meanwhile, her friends had disappeared and she got the scolding.
Sister Mary Cecile’s mission assignments were as an elementary school music teacher and took her to both the east and west coasts, as well as Chicago and Terre Haute. She was valued as a strong community woman because she was a good listener and had a way of helping others look at difficult situations in a more lighthearted way. After almost 30 years of teaching individual and choral lessons, she branched out into parish music as organist and choir director, and parish secretary. When she came to the Woods in 1993, she served in numerous ministries, including driving, the phone room and liturgy secretary. Sister Regina Marie recalls these as good years for her liturgy office as they gradually brought Vatican II liturgical reforms into harmony with traditional Sisters of Providence traditions. Of course, with Mary Cecile typing the programs and Ruth Johnson arranging the environment, the liturgy office would definitely be a fun place to work.
Weight was a lifelong problem for Mary Cecile, who commented, “What I hated as a kid was being chubby.” Somehow, she could even make a joke of this personal situation. Apparently, on one occasions, she found herself unable to get out of a dentist chair. She called to her companion to ask if she had brought money. Well yes, why? We may have to buy this chair if I can’t get out of it. Sister Christine reminds us of the days when everybody received the same amount of yardage for their habit skirts. Mary Cecile eyed Christine’s generous pleats and asked if she could spare some yardage. She remarked that the nicest compliment she ever received was, “You look like you’ve lost weight.”
To be sure, there were dark days as well. On one occasions, she was rushed to the hospital and not expected to live through the night. She did pull through and eventually came home to what was then Karcher Hall. She later described that time: “I spoke in a whisper; I could not write or even stand and was truly frightened. However, the therapy began slowly, but with great determination on the therapists’ part – and mine – and after two weeks, I stood for the first time. Perhaps you recall the song from the late 1950s – ‘Shake, Rattle, and Roll.’ That became my theme song.” She credited recovery to her doctors and also her friends, who “never let me wallow in self-pity.”
A few years later, when the East-West wing was completed, Mary Cecile was asked to speak at the dedication of the new facility, now to be known as Providence Health Care. After paying tribute to the staff for the excellent care that had contributed to her recovery, she commented on the new look of the extended building. “I don’t know what feelings you experienced as you walked through our new facility, but I felt like a combination of Leona Helmsley and Ivana Trump.”
As you would expect, Mary Cecile loved to eat. Recalling the time when she was not expected to live through the night, she commented, “However, after my first tray was delivered, I knew I was still in the land of the living!” In Providence, at their table in the dining room, she and her friends treated meals as a feast of food and joy where others stopped by as though it was a TV station announcing the news of the day. During her recent time in health care, Mary Cecile was always one to get in on the restaurant trips, with Olive Garden’s eggplant parmesan a coveted specialty. She could always count on her friend Ruth to spark up the in-between days with peanut butter and salsa treats from the White Violet Farm Store.
Long-term life in health care is difficult, but Mary Cecile was one to try to make things pleasant for those around her, especially sharing a laugh with her caregivers, who truly became her friends. Her band member, Sister Jackie Hoffman, mentioned to me that on Saturday, one of her caregivers who is also a student at the college made it a point to express condolences, commenting, “She was my favorite!”
Certainly, it was her outlook on life that earned her that designation. As we remember Mary Cecile, let’s resolve to live as she did. Here’s her advice:
Make the best of each situation.
Accept the things you cannot change.
Sing the old songs.
Enjoy simple and funny things.
Be happy. Laugh. Make others laugh.
Funeral services for Sister Mary Cecile took place on Monday, February 18, 2019, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Memorial contributions in Sister Mary Cecile’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 Mary Cecile in the comment section below.
Sister Mary Cecile Grojean
Teacher for 39 years in schools in Indiana, Illinois, California and Maryland.
In Indiana: St. Paul, Sellersburg (1952-54); Sacred Heart, Terre Haute (1956-57; 1968-70); St. Patrick, Terre Haute (1964-68).
In Illinois: St. Leo, Chicago (1957-63); St. Andrew, Chicago (1970-80); St. Agnes, Chicago (1980-87); Jesus our Brother School (1987-90).
In California: St. Anthony, Gardena (1963-64).
In Maryland: St. Clement, Lansdowne (1954-56).
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