Sister Mary Maxine Teipen
When she was in eighth grade, young Mary Maxine Teipen asked how much it would cost to be a nun. But although she spent a good part of her religious life calculating finances, she never counted the cost of following where God called her. Instead, she was always profoundly grateful for the “ample abundance of God’s graces” that she received in her 74 years as a Sister of Providence, said Sister Janet Gilligan in her commentary for Sister Mary Maxine Teipen, who passed away on Sunday, January 5, 2020, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 91 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 74 years.
Sister Janet continued: Mary Maxine was born in Indianapolis on Feb. 10, 1928, to Mary Theresa King and Joseph Teipen. She was the eighth of 10 children: Joseph, Charles, Dorothy, Delores, Florence, Marie, Lawrence, Danny, Joann and Mary Lou. Mary Maxine cherished her memories of her childhood years. Her niece Diane says, “Aunt Maxine always spoke of the day my mom was born. My grandma had all of her children at home. Aunt Maxine would explain she went to school one day and when she got home, my mom was ‘just there.’ Mom told me about one day my grandpa came home for a lunch break from his grocery store only to find a tall ladder propped against the house under a second story bedroom window. Apparently, my Uncle Danny and Uncle Larry were playing ‘Firemen’ and ‘rescuing Aunt Maxine out the window!” Of her mother, Maxine wrote “My loving mother, a valiant woman faithful to the ordinary tasks of life, evidenced strong and vibrant love of the Lord.”
Maxine remained close to her family all her life. Every Christmas, each family knew there would be a box of Russell Stover candy under the tree from “Mrs. Stover.” When her sister Joann became a young widow, Maxine stepped up, helping her with her four young children. Even in later years, as the kids grew up, she made sure they were well taken care of. As her sister Dolores aged and her health declined, she ensured she had all that she needed. Diane explains, “That’s just the way she was, always caring and doing for others.”
Mary Maxine attended St. Roch Elementary School and St. John Academy, where she became friends with the four other St. John’s students who would join her in entering the Sisters of Providence. They were not a particularly conventional group. For example, one Halloween, Maxine hosted a party in a nearby graveyard. But on Feb. 6, 1946, the five of them entered the Congregation, and Maxine is the last of the five to leave us for her eternal reward.
Sister Mary Maxine professed first vows in 1948 and final vows in 1953. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1962. Knowing the Congregation needed business teachers, she pursued a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame in 1969, describing her six marvelous summers there as “an exciting, grace-filled and ‘swinging’ time.”
During her early years as a Sister of Providence, Mary Maxine served as a teacher at St. Mel in Chicago and St. Patrick in Fort Wayne. She was then called upon to use her remarkable administrative skills as principal of All Saints School in Hammond and as teacher and administrator at Our Lady of Providence in Clarksville. Sister Ann Casper relates, “I have heard many accolades of now-adult children who loved and greatly admired her. She was a fabulous teacher.” In 1969, she was appointed the Provincial Treasurer of St. Gabriel Province. Although she saw the call to be an administrator as God’s will, she confessed that she was always a bit “homesick for the schools.” During her term as treasurer, she organized a state-wide association of religious treasurers, saying that it was obvious that, because older members were living longer, the lowness of the salaries the sisters received was heading them toward bankruptcy. She wrote that during this time, she “helped sell off some of our schools to ward off bankruptcy – got white hair in the process.”
In 1970, she was elected provincial of St. Gabriel Province. She is remembered for her sound insight and her ability to facilitate for local communities. She was supportive and approachable, gentle but direct. In 1978, having served as provincial for eight years, she asked for a two-year sabbatical to study for a master’s degree in theological studies from Catholic Theological Union, and in 1980, celebrated the reception of her degree by traveling to Europe with her family.
In 1980, she became the vicar for religious in Covington, Kentucky. But after only one wonderful year in that position, she had once more to give up her own will to follow the will of God when she was elected First Councilor in the General Administration of the Sisters of Providence, a position she held from 1981 to 1991.
As First Councilor, she supervised health care programs, acted as liaison to the Sisters in Taiwan, and was deeply involved in the Community’s formation program. Herself a woman of integrity with strong values, she wanted those in formation to be living witnesses to what it meant to be a Sister of Providence. She was especially concerned that they should dress appropriately – no “dungarees.” But she was always kind and tolerant of this new breed of young people, and they knew she cared for them deeply.
Sister Nancy Nolan recalls that although Maxine took her responsibilities seriously, she also enjoyed a good time and was a lot of fun. Delighted to near the completion of her many years as an administrator, she joined with the others in singing: “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, We hope that it isn’t a train.”
When she completed her term as Councilor in 1991, she became Director of Alumnae Relations for the Congregation’s schools, coordinating contact with the approximately 25,000 women who had graduated from a Sisters of Providence school. In 2001, she left that position and spent the next eight years caring for her aging sister Delores.
In 2012, Sister Mary Maxine returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, calling it her spiritual haven. “I’m 85 now. Returning to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods has given me a marvelous experience of letting go of what in my previous life was sort of a frenzied rush around. And I feel at home in accepting a calm, a stillness, sort of contemplative approach to each day.” One sister recounts that as she sat with Maxine at table, Maxine expressed genuine joy and gratitude for being home. And, in true, practical Maxine fashion, she said “I come to the dining room three times a day and choose my meal items – I don’t have to plan a menu, shop for groceries, cook, or do the dishes, pots and pans! It’s wonderful!”
Until 2014, she volunteered as a receptionist at Woods Day Care, and ever the organized administrator, she gave invaluable help with the details involved in the closing of the Day Care Center.
Maxine viewed religious life as an awesome and intriguing journey. Always practical and realistic, she valued ministry but knew it had to be grounded in a deep prayer life. A sister who lived with her remembers their daily times of prayer and notes that “When Maxine shared, everybody listened.” Maxine wrote that “the gospel we live without compromise needs to be wrapped not only in good intellectual processes and judgments, but also in the feelings of the warmth of love and understanding, of empathy and compassion.”
When those who knew Maxine describe her, they use these same terms: She was intelligent and gave sound advice, but was also warm, understanding and compassionate. A gracious, kind person, she never complained. She was always concerned about others. Even in her last days, although she clung to the friends at her bedside, she worried that they needed to go home and rest. And she lived the gospel without compromise. She is described as a straight arrow; you always knew what she thought, where she was coming from, and you never had to second guess her. She had a dominant personality, but she never dominated. She didn’t make a big splash but worked quietly behind the scenes.”
Along with her warmth and joyful spirit, Maxine was an extraordinarily gifted administrator, always organized and so well prepared that she had the nickname Sister Mary Previous. She was a deep, articulate thinker; she kept up with contemporary affairs, watching Meet the Press every Sunday, joining a discussion group after she retired. Her passion for organization never left her; when she moved from Providence to Lourdes and from Lourdes to Mother Theodore Hall, she gently insisted that her clothes had to be hung in a precise order.
In her last days, as her hearing and eyesight failed, she was still gracious and grateful for everything done for her. She had always given up her own will to follow where the will of God was calling her – leaving teaching, leaving schools for Community administration, leaving her beloved job as vicar to become First Councilor. But the cost she paid became her gift to us, as she shared her joy, her generosity, her profound insights, her many talents. She once wrote that “religious life is a sign that the gospel is possible, joyful, and other-centered.” Sister Mary Maxine was such a sign. She liked to quote Meister Eckhart’s “There is no stopping place in this life.” And we know that her death is not a stopping place but a beginning, as she enters into the eternal reward she so richly deserves.
Funeral services for Sister Mary Maxine took place on Thursday, January 9, and Friday, January 10, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Mary Maxine in the comment section below.
Memorial contributions in Sister Mary Maxine’s honor may be made to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Sister Mary Maxine Teipen
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Mel, Chicago (1948-53).
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Patrick, Fort Wayne (1953-59); Teacher/Principal Superior, All Saints, Hammond (1959-65); Teacher, Our Lady of Providence High School, Clarksville (1965-69); Provincial Treasurer, St. Gabriel Province House, Indianapolis (1969-70); Provincial, St. Gabriel Province House, Indianapolis (1970-78); First Councilor/General Administration, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1981-91); Alumnae(i) Relations Manager, Office of Congregational Advancement, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1992); Alumnae(i) Relations Manager, Office of Congregational Advancement, Indianapolis (1992-2001); Ministry to the elderly, Indianapolis (2001-12); Volunteer, Providence Center and Woods Day Care, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2012-14); Residential Service, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2014-17); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2017-2020).
In Kentucky: Vicar for Religious, Diocese of Covington, Covington (1980-81).
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