Sister Mary Ann Lechner (formerly Sister Robert Ann)
The scripture readings just proclaimed had echoes in the life of Sister Mary Ann Lechner – a valiant, thoughtful, strong woman of dignity and wisdom, who extended her hand to assist others, and who spoke with care and kindness, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Mary Ann Lechner, formerly Sister Robert Ann, who passed away on Tuesday, February 1, 2022, at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana. She was 93 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 75 years.
Sister Ann continued: She was able to laugh at changes as they were presented to us. She knew that those who were poor, those hungry, those mourning, those suffering from the words and actions of others were in need of love and she gave love without hesitation. Her address book grew and grew as friends were added through the years.
Mary Ann was born on February 8, 1929, to Silas and Theresia Hopf Lechner, in Jasper, Indiana. Two sisters, Elizabeth and Eileen survive, while four sisters – Martina, Dorothy, Helen and Sister of Providence Rita – along with her brother Robert, preceded her in death and no doubt, along with her parents, gave her a hearty welcome to her heavenly home. Her cousin, Sister Lucy Lechner, and many nieces and nephews survive and have remained very close to Mary Ann through the years.
Mary Ann’s elementary school years were at St. Joseph School in Jasper. She graduated from Providence Juniorate High School in 1947 and a few days later entered the novitiate, on January 8, 1947. She received the religious name Sister Robert Ann and only later returned to her baptismal name. Mary Ann made her first profession of vows on August 15, 1949, and on that same date in 1954, her profession of perpetual vows.
Like so many sisters of that era, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees during summers on the “installment plan,” from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Indiana State University, respectively. Both degrees were in education. Her teaching assignments during 48 years were only in Indiana and Illinois, where she taught grades two through eight. On two different occasions, she had three grades at once, and another time, was principal along with teaching seventh and eighth-graders. Her last teaching assignment was her longest, 17 years at St. Simon School in Indianapolis.
She retired in her 70th year and for the next 22 years, gave herself wholeheartedly to volunteer ministries: The Hispanic Education Center and La Plaza in Indianapolis; and at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Woods Day Care/Pre-School, Archives, Providence Spirituality and Conference Center, and the Advancement Services Office at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Of her time at the Hispanic Education Center, Sisters Marikay Duffy and Therese Whitsett had this to day: “We were honored to have had such a wonderful SP presence as part of the Hispanic Education Center for 12 years. Mary Ann arrived at the center with her smiling, positive and energetic attitude to do ‘whatever it takes to help.’” Mary Ann went on during her years to probably fulfill and surpass most of the 59 attributes of a volunteer found in Webster’s Thesaurus!
“Although Mary Ann didn’t speak Spanish, she was the perfect teacher match for some high school dropouts who wanted to get a GED degree. Mary Ann worked very long and hard, teaching and encouraging them, so they might qualify, and those who persevered did get their diplomas.
“Mary Ann was so concerned about one fellow, on the day of his test, she came and asked should she call him to make sure he got up that morning? He didn’t answer, so she fretted until he walked in the door to hug her, present a flower and show his certificate. When things changed at the center and her program ended, Mary Ann applied her detailed financial skills to do bookkeeping and banking for the center. She forgave us our mistakes with gentle corrections. Mary Ann’s welcoming hospitality was noted by all.”
Sister Judy Cervizzi recalled Sister Mary Ann’s volunteering at the reception desk at Woods Day Care/Pre-School. “She endeared herself to the children, parents, teachers, and those who were in environmental services and on our kitchen staff. Mary Ann was really sensitive and reached out to parents or staffs who were having difficulty. It was almost as though she had a sixth sense.
“When Sister Mary Ann was at the desk, I never worried because I knew all was going well. Her experience as a school administrator and educator brought so much to the day care. I learned so much from her about being a good administrator.
“I had the privilege of having Sisters Mary Ann and Rita Lechner as receptionists at the desk and when their shifts overlapped there was great fun and laughter. I loved hearing them and observing the way they related to one another! Some of the day care staff have continued to be devoted to Mary Ann even though the day care closed in 2014. They came to the Woods a couple of times a year and would have dinner at Providence Hall dining room with Mary Ann and any of us who were around. She witnessed to the life of a Sister of Providence and reached out in love, mercy and justice to all God’s people.”
For many years, Mary Ann was the hospitality minister at the back door of the Church for the Taize services. Sister Paula Damiano commented, “What was so dear to me happened after her move to Lourdes Hall. Once she moved, she told me she wouldn’t be coming to Taize. However, that lasted only a couple of months. On one of my visits to her, she shared that she really missed doing that ministry. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘I know most of those people after all these years.’ And know them she did, asking about their health, about family members, about their grandchildren or their work. So, I assured her that using a walker was no reason to prevent her returning to the ministry, as long as she felt she could. So, Mary Ann was there that month and several months after that, greeting and extending her warm welcome and concern for those who walked through the church entrance.”
Mary Ann had few pleasures that she enjoyed more than watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy faithfully every evening. Providence Associate and volunteer Jan Surber recalled watching the shows with Mary Ann, who was particularly attentive to her when she stayed at Owens, always asking if she needed anything. She also loved playing Rummikub, especially with Elizabeth and Ken, who came so faithfully to visit these last months, especially, and take her to her room in Lourdes where they played and shared many laughs.
A practice of Mary Ann’s which became more of a tradition was making bran muffins for her floor residents at Owens Hall. When she moved to Providence, she continued for those floor residents. The aroma of fresh baked muffins filled the halls every Sunday morning. She even continued to make sure that a former Owens’ resident, Sister Adele Beacham, now in Lourdes, would get her weekly muffins.
Her sisters and many nieces had memories galore to share. Eileen, her younger sister in California, remembered family visits when Mary Ann was in the novitiate. “We would sit in the room and all watch the door until Mary Ann would come gliding in.” Elizabeth remembered a conversation she had with Mother Rose Angela who told her that Mary Ann was an “exemplar religious” and that “I should try to be like her!”
Her niece Jill cherishes her many emails. “She was always so interested in me and my photography. Her loss will be felt in my heart for a long time.”
Niece Anne wrote: “The thing I loved most about Aunt Mary Ann was her commitment to her vocation and her approach to life. Her famous line was ‘moderation.’ It’s amazing how powerful the word ‘moderation’ can be to shape thoughts and actions. Moderation is a true ‘buzz’ word for us.”
She continued, “Aunt Mary Ann always wanted to keep her family prayer ‘up-to-date’ as she prayed for all of us by name every day. During our dad’s 78th birthday party in 2003, we took the celebration to the Poling farm for fun on the farm wagon rides, target practice, corn hole, wiener roast and tree stand climbing. She participated in everything and proved to be a sharp shooter and a whiz at climbing the 15-foot tree stand at the age of 72. My mother, Dorothy, welcome any friends of hers and when those nuns gathered, the prayers, singing and fellowship was so festive and uplifting. Who knew nuns could be so much fun?!”
Sharon, Mary Ann’s best friend of 50 years shared, “Mary Ann and I were practically running to Church at Holy Sprit when Mary Ann tripped and fell. Father asked ‘Are you OK?’ Mary Ann jumped up and said, ‘Yes. I am fine. I was trying to walk a dog.’ We laughed through the whole Mass.”
Sharon continued, “When vacationing in Washington, D.C., we began walking at 7:30 a.m. (since the two of us college educated people did not know how to use the metro system!) and toured until 7:30 p.m., on foot. When we got back to our hotel room, Mary Ann fell backwards on the bed with her clothes, shoes and all, and slept until the next morning.”
Her niece Mary Beth talked about her “very fond memories of Aunt Mary Ann. As a youngster, we would visit her at her various homes. She always had puzzles out, both in the convent and in her classroom; telling us that working puzzles was good exercise for the mind.
“My family would take day trips to the Woods to visit with her. Aunt Mary Ann would walk the grounds with us sharing stories and the history of her beloved foundress. She was in her happy place there. I have been inspired by Aunt Mary Ann’s kindness to all, her wise words, and her desire to care for others. Her spirit lives with us.”
Narie Suh in the Advancement Services office wrote, “Whenever any of us had anything to pray about, we were comforted by knowing that she’d pray for us with sincere love and care. We were able to celebrate her 90th birthday together in our office in 2019. When asked about her childhood, she said ‘we worked hard, played hard and prayed hard (maybe not in that order)’ and it showed how she and her siblings lived, dedicating themselves to God and those who needed their presence and help. I could tell when she opened the mail from the donors, which was part of her job in our office, whenever there were prayer intentions written, she would not pass them on without praying for them. And I believe she will not cease praying for us and the intentions of the donors from heaven.”
Mary Ann’s own prayer life remained strong even during her latest rehab efforts. Several sisters mentioned that when they would visit, before entering the room, they would see her struggling to use her big and cumbersome office book, with one hand, in order to pray the psalms of the day.
We would all be well served to heed the words of Mother Rose Angela and strive to “live like Sister Mary Ann Lechner.” What a model of wholehearted giving, sensitivity, common sense and yes, moderation, except, perhaps when it came to loving. Rest in peace, dear friend.
Funeral services for Sister Mary Ann took place on Tuesday, February 8, 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 Mary Ann to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Mary Ann in the comment section below.
Sister Mary Ann Lechner (formerly Sister Robert Ann)
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Mel, Chicago (1949-54); Teacher, St. Mary Carmelite, Joliet (1956-59).
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Joseph, Terre Haute (1954-56); Principal/Teacher, St. Susanna, Plainfield (1959-65); Teacher, St. John, Vincennes (1965-67); Teacher, St. Ann, Indianapolis (1967-68); Principal/Teacher, St. Francis Xavier, Vincennes (1968-69); Teacher, St. Mary, Lafayette (1969-72); Teacher, St. Ann, Indianapolis (1972-76); Teacher, St. Joan of Arc, Indianapolis (1976-81); Teacher, St. Simon, Indianapolis (1981-97); GED Coordinator, Hispanic Education Center, Indianapolis (1998-2003); Volunteer-Financial Assistant, La Plaza, Inc., Indianapolis (2003-06); Volunteer Receptionist, Woods Day Care/Pre-School, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2010-14); Volunteer for Providence Spirituality & Conference Center, Archives, Administration Building and Mission Advancement, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2014-2020); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2021).
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