Sister Edna Scheller
One day I greeted Edna at her familiar post in the phone room at Providence Hall and she greeted me by waving a small book at me and asking, “Have you read this book?” Without waiting for a response, she continued “You must read it!”
That moment came back to me as I began to write this commentary and also when I read in the Gospel Jesus’ words: “… I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide,” said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Edna Scheller, who passed away on Monday, June 8, 2020, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 88 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 70 years.
Sister Ann continued: The book was entitled “The Dash,” the popular poem by Linda Ellis. The “dash” of which the poem speaks is the dash found on tombstones, between a person’s date of birth and date of death. The poem popularized the phrase, “Live your dash,” i.e., spend each day with passion and purpose, or as Jesus put it, spend each day “bearing fruit that will abide.” And Edna certainly did that! She was always for others and inspired others by “living her dash.” She is remembered for “fruit that abides” – her life of joy, compassion, service, and kindness.
Edna Mae Scheller was born May 28, 1932, in Evansville, Ind., to William and Margaret Elpers Scheller. She was one of eight children, four girls, and four boys. Edna is survived by one brother, Thomas, and his wife Jeanette. Preceding her in death were William, Ralph, and her Reverend brother Albert; and sisters Marcella, Dolores, and Betty. Her niece Kathy recalls Edna’s mother being so proud that there were two religious in the family and when others remarked that “she had hit the golden jackpot,” she would just beam.
After graduating high school from Providence Juniorate in January 1950, Edna Mae immediately entered the Sisters of Providence as a postulant. She was received into the novitiate August 15 that same year. She pronounced her first and perpetual profession of vows on August 15, in 1952 and 1957, respectively.
Edna earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and her master’s degree in education from Indiana University. She also held certification in elementary administration and supervision, all of which served her well for 43 years as a primary teacher and school principal in Illinois, North Carolina, Indiana, and California.
On the SP website, her former students spoke of Edna’s spirituality especially those from St. Bridget’s in Indianapolis. One spoke of Edna introducing her to Christ. Another put it this way: “I was awed by her beauty and grace! Such a gentle soul who taught me about Christ! I will always have fond memories of her and am so blessed to have had her in my life!”
Another former student at St. Bridget’s recalled her popularity among the students and the fact that she even passed on some rebounding tips to the boys’ basketball team. He added, “Her spirituality drew several students to become baptized Catholics, the first in their families.” A sister who lived with Edna for a number of years spoke of her pastoral presence to a student’s family whose child had drowned and said, “I will never forget it.”
After years in education, Edna became a student herself to prepare her to be an administrator of health care at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, a ministry she held for four years before accepting a position as principal at Sacred Heart School in Clinton for seven years. After those years, in 2000, she was pushing retirement age at 70, when another need arose, that of driver and coordinator of transportation at the Motherhouse. She said “yes” to this call and spent the next 16 years scheduling drivers and assigning sisters to cars for their appointments with the doctor or dentist or a few errands. Her final years of ministry were providing residential services wherever they were needed, spending many hours in the phone room and mail room and just noticing needs a sister might have and addressing them.
As fully as Edna “lived her dash,” she still found time to stay in touch with her family members and so enjoyed being with them for special occasions and celebrations. Her niece Kathy recounted how much she and her cousin Jan in recent years enjoyed staying overnight at Providence Hall and playing cards with Edna and Noralee “way into the night.” Her brother Tom remembered: “When Edna arrived at a family gathering her face would light up and she would give everyone a ‘big ol’ hug. Everyone loved her voice – just to hear it! And you could always pick it out in the crowd.”
And speaking of her voice, parents of a former student of Edna’s recounted this memory: “A yearly Parents’ Day was celebrated with a luncheon with our children. Students filled the cafeteria, chattering among themselves. Sister Edna cleared her throat and the entire student body and even parents fell silent! Sister’s face turned red from embarrassment. And she said, ‘everything’s OK children; please go back to visiting with your parents.'” “Divine respect, the parent called it.
Edna’s very good friend Noralee filled in some more elements of Edna’s dash, saying that she was very devoted to Mass and Eucharist and a frequent visitor to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. She enjoyed card games (and in fact played the day before she died … and won!). She loved observing nature, claiming that the tree outside her bedroom window was “her tree.” She also liked to put things in order so that others could find things more easily. She almost met her match in order-making, however, when she got drafted to help clear everything from the former activity room. Noralee remarked that being Edna’s friend was risky because she always got included to help with her projects, adding “If Edna saw something needed to be done, it was done.”
Edna was a close and caring friend to many, with a gentle and calming presence, always kind words of appreciation or concern. A newspaper article about her noted that “she always had a smile in her voice.” Perhaps this stemmed from her delightful sense of humor which made others laugh, too.
“The Dash” poem ends by asking: “When your eulogy is read and your life’s actions recounted, would you be proud of the things they say about you and how you lived your dash?” I think we can all agree that Edna could say a definite YES to that question. May you rest in peace, dear friend.
Funeral services for Sister Edna took place on Monday, June 15, 2020, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place at 10:30 a.m., followed by Funeral Liturgy Outside Mass at 11 a.m.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Edna in the comment section below.
Memorial contributions in Sister Edna’s honor may be made to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Sister Edna Scheller
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Catherine, Indianapolis (1956-57); Teacher, St. Bridget, Indianapolis (1957-65); Teacher, St. Luke, Indianapolis (1965-68); Teacher, St. Thomas Aquinas (1968-70); Teacher, Good Shepherd, Evansville (1970-77); Health Care Administrator, Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1988-92); Principal, Sacred Heart School, Clinton (1993-2000); Driver, Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2001); Coordinator of Transportation, Sisters of Providence (2001-16); Residential Services, Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2016-20).
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Francis Borgia (1952-55).
In North Carolina: Teacher, Blessed Sacrament (1955-56).
In California: Teacher, St. Joseph, Hawthorne (1977-79); Principal, Good Shepard, Pacifica (1979-82); Principal, St. Ambrose, Hollywood (1982-88).
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