Sister Winifred Mary Sullivan
Paul tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God, and Mother Theodore tells us to love the children, then instruct them. Sister Winifred Mary Sullivan, who all her life quietly and gently radiated the unconditional love of God to all who met her, was also a perfect model of Mother Theodore’s maxim, loving and being loved by the many children with whom she came in contact. When she went to her eternal reward on Friday, December 3, she was 94 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 76 years, said Sister Janet Gilligan in her commentary for Sister Winifred Mary Sullivan, who passed away at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, on Friday, December 3, 2021.
Sister Janet continued: Winifred Sullivan was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on October 15, 1927, to Mary Mann Sullivan and John Sullivan. She had seven older brothers and four younger sisters. Her father was a foreman on the railroad. Although he lost an arm in an accident at his job, an artificial arm enabled him to continue to work on the railroad. Winnie (as everyone calls her) says he was faster at typing with one hand than she was with two. She writes that she learned a lot from her father, especially a passion for being on time. He insisted that you should never keep anyone waiting. He told his children that if Mass on Sunday had already started when they arrived, they should turn around and go back for the next one. Winnie adds: “I don’t think we followed that advice too often.” She describes her mother as a seamstress, cook, housekeeper, volunteer – “you name it she did it.” Winnie claims to have learned a lot from her mother “except for the seamstress bit.” Sister Mary Mark Dede, who knew the family well, describes them as fervent Catholics – recalling that Mrs. Sullivan was very caring and never missed a funeral.
Winifred attended Saint Ann Grade School and Saint Patrick High School. She writes that she had always loved the Woods from the time she was a little girl and her mother would bring her daughters to Saint Mary’s on Sunday afternoons to visit her Sister friends. Winnie graduated in 1945 and entered the community in July of 1945. Her mother was reluctant for her to leave, perhaps because at that time, six of her brothers were serving in the military. Thankfully, all of the brothers returned home safely.
Winnie took first vows in 1948 and final vows in 1953. She graduated from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in education. In 1969, she earned a master’s degree in education from the University of St. Louis.
For many years, her life was devoted to education. She taught in Indiana, Maryland, Illinois and Missouri, and at the Middle School in Jasper, Indiana, from 1976 to 1991. From the very beginning of her years as a teacher – grade three at Saint Andrew in Chicago – Winnie loved teaching. Her first principal, Sister Irma Therese, informed her she was a born teacher. (Those of us who remember Sister Irma Therese know this was high praise!) Her last principal classified her a master teacher. Sister Carol Lindly, who was her principal in Jasper for 24 years, recalls that Winnie was an excellent teacher who loved her students and was loved and respected in return. Without being intrusive, she came to know and understand them, and they trusted her.
Her niece Cindy has a slightly different perspective on her aunt’s teaching. She recalls a visit from Sister Winifred Mary and Sister Margaret Norris when she was in the fourth grade. They were appalled by her terrible penmanship. “Sister Winifred Mary made me write the word ‘November’ over and over again like 100 times to get my v’s and b’s looking better in cursive. I would send her cards over the years and remind her that despite her best efforts, my penmanship was still lousy.”
Winnie also served as a principal in Annunziata in St. Louis and Saint Margaret Mary in Terre Haute. She confesses that she never felt she was good at that job, but Sister Mary Beth Klingel disagreed. She said Winnie was a very good principal, an astute educator, able to recognize qualities and skills in her teachers. When Winnie told Mary Beth there was a perfect position for her in Jasper at the 10th Street School, Mary Beth took the job and it was indeed a perfect fit.
Winnie loved to travel. In 2000, she and Margaret Norris, Joanna Brown and Barbara Bluntzer trekked from San Francisco to Portland, stopping at Crater Lake and other tourist attractions. Barbara said, “Winnie was an easy traveler, never complaining, joining in picnics and walks – her sense of humor added bright spots when we needed them. Everyone enjoyed her company.”
In 2003, Winnie and Margaret and Barbara were joined by Lucy Lechner on a re-creation of the journey of Mother Theodore and her companions from New York to the Woods. Each day, they went to significant places described in Mother Theodore’s journal. Barbara notes once more that “Winnie was easy-going, cooperative, agreeable to all, a passenger who looked forward eagerly to the events and places of the day, who appreciated all she saw.”
In 1993, Winnie left teaching and volunteered as an instructional assistant, a hostess in the surgery waiting room of a hospital and a tutor of Hispanic children. In 2008, she returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and worked in residential services ministry. Although she claimed she had not inherited her mother’s sewing skills, her final ministry was in sewing for Linden Leaf Gifts.
Her nephew Jeff describes Winnie as “a good person who was dedicated to her faith, her family, her friends and her students.” She remained close and dear to her family. It was clear that Winnie loved them and they loved her in return.
Jeff said, “I suppose one thing I remember best about her is that I always felt that she really cared about each of us and was truly interested in our lives. I can recall her engaging in long conversations with me on a variety of topics – life, politics, what I was doing at that point in my life, and what my plans were for my future – from the time I was a teenager until very recently. I always looked forward to seeing her, and her great friend Sister Margaret (who I also came to think of as an extra aunt) because she had this ability to make me feel important.
“I think that caring attitude is best reflected in her relationship with my aunt Rita Jean. Winnie and Margaret frequently visited Jeannie and made sure her needs were being met. The family was comforted knowing that Winnie was keeping in close contact with her little sister.”
Those who knew Winnie describe her as gentle, caring, sweet, quiet, and understanding. A recurring theme in recollections of Winnie is that she made a difference in the lives she touched. Sister Margaret’s niece, who remembers her as “a gentle, very caring woman of God,” said “knowing her has made me a better person.” Another friend wrote, “I’m honored to have known her – she will be missed.” Her dear friend, Sister Margaret Norris, said she was a true friend, caring and understanding in a very gentle way.
As her health diminished, she was content to cheerfully do whatever she was able to do. She was happy, she writes, “to be able to spend more time in prayer – in being with my God – in thanksgiving for my life. I loved my life as a Religious and as a teacher. There were some hard times, but they were outweighed by the good times. I will be eternally grateful for the many blessings and gifts the Community has given me.”
Although her warm heart eventually gave out, she was alert almost until the end, even able to complete a few word search puzzles. No doubt she will be welcomed into the arms of the God she served so well with the same tenderness and gentleness that was her gift to us. We are grateful to have had her among us all these years, and we wish her a safe journey to her heavenly home.
Funeral services for Sister Winifred Mary took place on Friday, December 17, 2021, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place at 10 a.m., followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Winifred Mary to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Winifred Mary in the comment section below.
Sister Winifred Mary Sullivan
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Andrew, Chicago (1948-50); Teacher, Immaculate Conception, Chicago (1953-58).
In Maryland: Teacher, St. Clement, Lansdowne (1950-52).
In Indiana: Teacher, Cathedral, Fort Wayne (1952-53); Teacher, Holy Family, New Albany (1958-60); Teacher, St. Joan of Arc, Indianapolis (1966-67); Teacher/Principal, Terre Haute (1967-69); Teacher, Tenth Street School, Jasper (1969-76); Teacher, Jasper Middle School, Jasper (1976-91); Teacher, Greater Jasper Consolidated School, Jasper (1991-93); Tutor/Community Service, Diocese of Evansville (1994-2003); Volunteer, Diocese of Evansville (2003-08); Residential Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2008-12); Residential Services/General Administration Volunteer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2012-14); Residential Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2014-16); Sewing for Linden Leaf Gifts and Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2016-2021).
In Missouri: Teacher/Principal, Annunziata, St. Louis (1960-66).
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