Remembrance of the Life of Marcia Elise André CoL
April 26, 1937 – March 14, 2019
I was born on April 26, 1937, in St. Mary’s Catholic Hospital in Clarksburg, W.V., to loving Christian parents. My mother, daughter of a Northern Baptist minister, was an English teacher; unfortunately, she had to give up her job when she married because the sentiment of the day was that she would have a husband to take care of her. (They really could have used that second salary.) My father, son of a Belgian glassblower, emigrated to the United States at age 8 with his parents and only brother. At that time the Catholic Church in Belgium did not mean much to those without money, so my grandparents in effect shed their religion when they arrived in the New World.
Both my parents were from very modest backgrounds but worked hard on their own initiative to obtain good educations; how fortunate that there was a college in their hometown of Salem, W.V. It was during his student days that my father became active in the Methodist church. My parents married in their early 30s, only after my father had paid back his debt for going to law school. Beside myself, they had a daughter, Nancy, before me and a son, David, after me. My parents managed to realize the American dream for themselves.
My early years were quite happy with school, piano lessons, flute lessons, and of course, Baptist Sunday school every Sunday. Despite my mother’s insistence, I was never active in the youth groups; when I was older I went to church with her. After Sunday school my father normally went to the office during church; back home afterward it was often he who prepared Sunday dinner. [We spent summers at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, where I participated in music classes and cultural events.] I loved the inspirational church services in the huge amphitheater at Chautauqua.
My parents often talked about how much fun high school had been for them. Although I enjoyed studying and having many good girl friends in high school, I worked very hard; normally, I had about four hours of homework a night plus music practicing to do. I tried to be perfect in everything. Frankly, I was pretty burned out by graduation time, to the point that my parents made an appointment for me to talk with another local minister who had a background in psychology. His advice was for me to take a year off before college, something unheard of in those days, and so I went off on schedule to Vassar College to prove myself.
It was soon evident that I was not going to be a straight A student there, especially among such talented girls who had been groomed for the academic rigors by their years in private schools. I did very well, however; but once again between academics and my music (plus a disappointing romance) I wore myself to a frazzle by senior year. As a matter of fact, I felt that I would never make it through finals, since I was so exhausted that I could no longer eat or sleep. I did pull through, with much help from some wonderful friends at the local Baptist church, but my grades suffered.
Having been to France with the Experiment in International Living during the summer of my junior year, I was dying to return there and did, as an assistant in English conversation for the following academic year at the girls’ lycée in Reims. This experience put me on track for becoming a teacher, and later a professor, of French. My daily walk between where I lived and where I took my meals led me past the famous cathedral, which I entered often in varying light and in different seasons, and which I still consider “ma cathédrale.” During that year I met and became close friends with Johanna, an Austrian woman my age, a devout Catholic.
A number of years later I met a very dynamic Belgian, Sister Béatrice, who taught one summer on the same campus as I in Brattleboro, Vt. That was the beginning of my acquaintance with Vatican II and what it meant, at least for some sisters. I remained very close to Béatrice for 14 years while she was called, first to Southern California and then to Chiapas, Mexico, where she and another sister were killed in an automobile accident. During some of those years I was in graduate school — earning a doctorate in foreign language education at Ohio State University. There I met a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, Jo Ann Recker, and through her started going to Mass and feeling very welcome in her convent. It was she who urged me to go on a retreat in Milford, Ohiom when Béatrice’s sudden death hit me so hard. When I exclaimed that I wasn’t a Catholic, she merely said that it didn’t matter.
That was the first in a long line of eight-day retreats. In 1985 I happened to be at Milford again and coincidentally so was Jo Ann. It was that week that I began to consider not just remaining on the fringes of Catholicism; I shared this happy news with her and asked what to do next. Fortunately, I was accepted (late) into the RCIA at Christ the Kind in Lexington, Ky., where I encountered a wonderful Christian and terrific teacher in the person of Margie Ralph. My sponsors, mostly in absentia, were Jo Ann and Johanna, my dear Austrian friend. I became a Catholic at Easter 1986, a celebration attended by my Berea College colleague and friend, Sister of Loretto Jane Godfrey, who had quietly supported me during this process. She invited Dorothy Brown, another good friend and Catholic convert, and me to Mass and dinner at Loretto Motherhouse on Easter Day, without which there would have been a real letdown for me. My visits to the Motherhouse multiplied over the years as my attraction to this wonderful group of committed Catholic women (on the cutting edge) grew. Jane was my initial contact but [I came to] feel quite at home with Loretto. I made a number of friends at the Motherhouse [and Lorettos around the country] in the succeeding years.
I believe that all my life I have been evolving into the kind of Christian that God intended me to be. From the day I was born in that Catholic hospital to a former Catholic turned Protestant and a devout preacher’s daughter, to 1997 when I became a Co-member of Loretto, seeds planted early have been nourished by many along my way.
Participating in Loretto liturgies with my flute is one of my great pleasures. Like Loretto, living simply is something that I have espoused for some time; so, too, the love for and nurture of this wonder-filled Earth that we call home.
As a Loretto Co-member I commit myself to trust and follow the longing of my soul for God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, drawing me into ever deeper relationship; to hold in my heart and pray for all the members of the Community; to nurture relationships and to participate in gatherings of the Community; to live out the mission and vision of the Community by expressing and sharing my gifts as I continue to be led by the Spirit. My truth is named [in this commitment, for which] I am truly thankful. May the journey continue.
Elise André died peacefully March 14 at the nursing facility at McCready Manor in Richmond, Ky., where she had retired to an apartment. Following the funeral here at Loretto Motherhouse, Elise’s remains will be taken to Bridgeport, W.V., to be buried next to her parents.
Leave a Comment