Sister Suzanne Smith (formerly Sister Louis)
Jesus appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the owner of the harvest to send out laborers into it. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a person of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon such a one; but if not, it shall return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his or her wages; do not go from house to house.”
Suzanne was a traveler! And I suspect with her calm and laid-back disposition, she brought peace to those who welcomed her on her journeys. Her interest in her ancestry led her to Canada on three different occasions and also to Ireland. She traveled to Rome for the canonization and planned a trip to China for her band members to celebrate their Golden Jubilee. And these were just her major journeys, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Suzanne Smith, formerly Sister Louis, who passed away on Wednesday, February 3, 2021, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 86 years old and was a Sister of Providence for 67 years.
Sister Ann continued: Sister Teresa Costello, often her traveling companion, admired Suzanne’s uncanny ability to plan such trips, stating, “Before we went out the door, she knew exactly where we would stay (usually in “Vatican Motels” as Suzanne called convents, retreat houses, college dorms – all quite economical!). She even knew where she and companion travelers could find decent and inexpensive restaurants, even down to those that served blueberry pie, her favorite! Her prior planning and calculations made for wonderful journeys!”
Suzanne Elizabeth Smith was born in Washington, D.C., to George and Christine Mitchell Smith on February 26, 1934, their only child. When I was looking through her file in the Office of Records, I found an envelope with an old newspaper clipping in it from the Chevy Chase Herald. Suzanne had written on the outside of the envelope, “Every time I see this picture, I laugh out loud. So, don’t be afraid to laugh when you see it.” It was a photo of a lineup of eight 5- to 7-year-olds in bathing suits. Little Suzanne was first in line, with blond ringlets covering her head and cascading down to her shoulders. And, yes, I did laugh when I saw it!
Suzanne attended Dunblane Hall, a grade school, and Immaculata High School in Washington, D.C., where she was taught all 12 grades by the Sisters of Providence, graduating high school in 1951.
Nearly three years later, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence, on January 30, 1954, and received the religious name, Sister Louis. She returned to her baptismal name not many years later. She pronounced her first vows on August 15, 1956, and her perpetual vows on the same date in 1961.
Suzanne’s former student, Sister Judy Cervizzi, recounts that Suzanne explained to her that her early years in the community were extremely difficult because of her mother’s lack of acceptance of her call. Her mother wanted grandchildren! Her dad was very accepting and supportive and came to all the reception and vow ceremonies to celebrate with Suzanne. Mrs. Smith would come with her husband, but never spoke with Suzanne. This went on for several years and somehow or other, her mother one day came around.
Sister Suzanne earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in math from the University of Notre Dame. Later, she received an MBA degree from Indiana State University. Perhaps these degrees explain Sister Ruth Johnson’s memory of Suzanne … that when she took an official IQ test for Mensa International, she was glad to receive word that she had tested high above the average score. The organization’s members must score in the 98th percentile of standardized IQ tests.
Sister Nancy Reynolds also recalled Suzanne as “a very bright person who loved working with numbers. Suzanne befriended me when I was appointed to the Investment Advisory Committee, taking me under her wing and personally encouraging me to learn all I could about investments. She was very knowledgeable about them herself. She taught me the terminology I needed to know to at least act and sound intelligent.”
Suzanne was also well-traveled in her ministry career, serving for 20 years, mostly as a high school teacher in Illinois, Indiana, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Maryland and New Hampshire. She then ministered at the Woods for nearly 38 years, filling various positions of Congregation finance, data processing, computer services, and as an instructor in the WED program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She chose to spend her sabbatical year in Taichung and Shalu, Taiwan (of course!). When she returned to the Woods, her volunteer ministries included the Ministry of Care office, WED, Providence Housing Corporation, Providence Center and the Our Lady of Providence Shrine. She also ventured into prison ministry.
When Sister Judy was a canonical novice, Suzanne lived in the formation house at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. When Judy found this out, she was flabbergasted. She said, “I had heard of sisters living with their teachers, but I wasn’t ready for it as soon as my canonical year! The day I moved in, I was readying my stuff to climb the stairs and she was at the top of the stairs. I looked up to her and said, ‘I don’t know about this – my living with one of my teachers!’ And Suzanne’s response was, ‘What makes you think I’m crazy about living with one of my students!’ We both laughed and she became a real support to me during my canonical year.”
Suzanne became very interested in tracing her ancestry, way before ancestry.com! In talking with her first cousin, John Bowen, he told me that he was impressed with “Suzanne’s interest in and research of their family’s history, both on her mother and father’s side. She tracked down a cousin Norma in Maine that no one had contacted or met and one summer drove her from Maine to Cape Cod so my wife and I could visit with her.” Suzanne has left boxes of documentation of the family’s ancestry, still awaiting the sorting and filing she always intended to do.
This interest in history and research showed itself in the Congregation as well. In preparation for the Sisters of Providence Sesquicentennial, Suzanne suggested to the Council that she be allowed to coordinate visits to all the graves of sisters buried elsewhere than at the Woods and check their gravesite and their tombstones to make sure the lettering could still be read. If it could not, she would make arrangements with local monument providers to replace it. She enlisted five sisters to assist her, but she herself visited most of the sites and did all the correspondence involved. In all, 19 sites were visited, mostly in Indiana, and a few in Michigan and Missouri. She arranged for the replacement of 12 tombstones.
Suzanne is also remembered as a faithful and dear friend to many and as one never heard to say an unkind word about anyone. Sister Carolyn Glynn related this story indicative of Suzanne’s faithfulness as a friend.
“Sister Teresa Costello was in a serious car accident about 10 years ago. She was in a medically induced coma when Suzanne called me to ask if she could visit. I explained the situation but Suzanne said she wanted to come anyway. At the time, she was making a retreat in New Hampshire. The next I knew, Suzanne had rented a car and would drive down to Boston. Only a crazy person would drive into Boston, I thought to myself.
“The car was delivered to the retreat house, but when Suzanne got into it, she discovered that it was a hybrid. Where did the ignition key go? How could one tell if it was running? No motor sound! Was it running? Suzanne made a quick call to the rental agency. They would have to come, get that car and drop off one she could drive. Several hours passed.
“It was later afternoon when she started for Massachusetts. This was before the days of cell phones or GPS to direct her to Brigham & Women’s Hospital in the busiest section of Boston. Only those of you who have been missioned in the Boston area can appreciate Suzanne’s venture. At about 9 p.m., she was let up to Teresa’s room. She talked to her unconscious dear friend and held her hand. It was beautiful to see. I suggested that she stay in Malden for the night, but no – ever the night owl, she would go back to the retreat house in New Hampshire. Teresa never knew she had come but now treasures that story of her faithful friend.”
Sister Mary Ann Phelan had a similar story noting Suzanne’s thoughtfulness: “Suzanne was visiting in Washington, D.C., and she took time to drive to Lansdowne, Maryland, about an hour away to pay my mother a visit to express her sympathy on the death of my dad, who had died while Suzanne was in Massachusetts. My mom often used this as an example of the Sisters of Providence kindness toward family members.”
Nancy Reynolds also recalled that Suzanne could drink coffee any time of the day or night. Any trip they made together often included a Starbucks stop. And those of us who ate with Suzanne on a daily basis know that she loved her frozen yogurt! Chocolate was her favorite, but the flavor really didn’t matter that much – she would leave the noon meal each day with a large tumbler full of yogurt in each hand. To her credit, if she heard the yogurt machine groan, signaling no product, she would offer to share some of hers with the disappointed sister next in line.
Sister Ruth Johnson recalls a mountain climbing experience with Suzanne and five sister companions: Irma Meuse, who planned the trip, Betty Donoghue, Teresa Costello and Shawn McDermott. Irma was told there was a mountain that had a restaurant at the top, so that became their destination. On arriving at the Mount Chocorua and viewing the possible ascent, Ruth and Teresa wisely decided to stay in the car. The others became the trailblazers. They noted that the climb was for experts and the brave of heart. Still, they started for the summit, 3,490-feet up.
Unbeknownst to the climbers, they had been directed to the wrong mountain and there was no restaurant at the top. (That would be Mount Washington, in the same range as Mount Chocorua). They groped their way along the 3-mile path to the summit, which merely brought them to the “path” of descent, except that no path was visible, only high cliffs. Fear and anguish set in and Suzanne admitted: “I am afraid of heights. In the novitiate, I could not climb the ladder to clean the transepts in Providence!”
Two kind, experienced climbers who had all kinds of equipment came to their rescue and helped the inexperienced women to manage the high cliffs and get back down the mountain.
Meanwhile … when it got to be four o’clock, the two in the car grew very concerned. Neither had a license and in the days before cell phones, they could only wait and pray. As dusk was leaning in, they saw their four trailblazers descending. They were exhausted and starving, having eaten nothing but a roll of Certs they all shared. (To me, the moral of that story was to let Suzanne plan future mountain excursions).
Suzanne needed no directions for her final journey to God. She knew the way, for she had followed Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, throughout her 87 years. Rest in peace, Suzanne, you have reached your final destination.
Funeral services for Sister Suzanne took place on Monday, February 22, 2021, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A virtual wake took place at 10:30 a.m., followed by Eucharist without liturgy at 11 a.m.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Suzanne in the comment section below.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Suzanne to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Sister Suzanne Smith (formerly Sister Louis)
In Illinois: Teacher, Providence High School, Chicago (1956-59).
In Indiana: Teacher, Ladywood (1959-65); Business Office Assistant, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1977-79); Director of Data Processing, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1979-82); Comptroller General Business Office, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1982-93); Director of Finance Central Business Office, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1993-99); Consulting and Computer Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1999-2001); WED Admission Assistant/Instruction Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College/Accounting Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2001-02); WED Admission Assistant/WED Adjunct Instructor, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2002-03); Volunteer/Ministry of Care Office/WED Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2004); Providence Housing Coproration, Housing Assistant, Providence Housing Corporation, West Terre Haute (2005-06); Administrative Assistant Providence Center, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2006); Administrative Assistant/Coordinator Our Lady of Providence Shrine, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2006-14); Prison Ministry, Terre Haute (2014-15); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2015-2021).
In Washington, D.C.: Teacher, Immaculata High School (1965-68).
In Massachusetts: Teacher, St. Rose High School (1968-69); Teacher, Sacred Heart, Malden (1969-70); Finance Manager, Notre Dame Education Center, Lawrence (2004-05).
In Maryland: Teacher, St. Clement, Lansdowne (1970-72).
In New Hampshire: Teacher, Lady Isle, Portsmouth (1972-73); Teacher, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dover (1973-76).
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