Remembrance of the Life of Sister Ann (formerly Sister Mary Fidelia) Gohl SL
Lois Ann Gohl was born the fifth child of William August Julius Gohl, of St. Paul, Minn., and Rose Caroline Woerner Gohl of St. Louis. Their large family home was in the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves, where Ann attended the public grade and high schools. With these bare-bones facts, we pick up Ann’s own account of her life written with the historian’s attention to detail and submitted to the archivists with a note, “I don’t want an obit about me to say ‘she taught 6 years here, 3 there, etc. etc.’ ”
“My mother died when I was just 3, and my father was left with four girls and two boys under the age of 9. Within two years Dad married again and my little sister Adrienne was born. I think that I loved her from the moment that I saw her. Years later when I left Loretto for about a year, Dree and I lived together in an apartment in Los Angeles, and we who were so different in personalities became very close friends. Dree died when she was only 40, when I was in London doing research, but I remained close to her family, especially her oldest girl Debbie.
“When we were small children my father found it impossible to hire housekeepers who wanted to also care for seven children and so in time my grandmother and aunt came to live with us in Webster. By the time I was a freshman at Webster High, my father became ill with cancer and the house was sold and each of us went a different way. Somehow, I was able to go to Loretto Academy on Lafayette in St. Louis. I became a sole boarder, living in the room above Sister Sophie Marie Hunleth’s music room in the ‘tower house.’
“With the Sisters there I discovered a whole new world. Whatever they had, I wanted, and so for the first time I became serious about religion and began to pray for a faith which then seemed a wonderful mystery to me. Finally, in my senior year, it happened, and I was baptized on Easter Saturday at St. Francis Xavier Church and entered the world of Catholicism.
“After high school graduation in 1941 and with my new found faith, I went to California to join the academic world at UCLA. Being strictly on my own, and it being the war years, I found work in the Lockheed Aircraft office during the swing shift and attended classes during the day. After three years of muddling through I applied to Loretto and joined the October 1945 class. Actually, I loved the years at the university but I knew that if I were ever to become a Sister, it must be before I graduated and became involved in the life of academia.
[“I was received April 25, 1946, with the name Sister Francene] but after one month as a novice, my ‘acute anxiety’ drove me to feel that God did not want me after all. And so, in November 1946 I left and returned to a more or less normal life with Dree in California. But the following July, I realized that I had made a major mistake and just needed to not take myself so seriously. Mother Edwarda Ashe accepted me back and on April 25, 1948, I was again received, this time as Sister Fidelia. I made my first and, in my mind, my final vows April 25, 1950, and, after filling in the rest of the year for Sister Kateri who was ill at St. Augustine’s, Lebanon, I went to El Paso.
“The first graders at St. Joseph’s in El Paso taught me that first year and after that I taught grades two through eight in St. Louis and Deerfield, Ill. In Deerfield I was fortunate enough to have Sister Norbertina Glynn as my principal and superior. For six very happy years I taught sixth through eighth grades there. My first year we opened the new convent and taught in the World War II pre-fab building while the new school was completed.”
Ann includes in her autobiography several detailed paragraphs about the multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary projects she organized with her students at Deerfield, concluding with this comment: “These projects were done with sixth- and seventh-graders; small wonder then that despite my [going on to teach] all levels of history and English in high school and finally history courses at various colleges, my heart seemed to stay with the Deerfield middle school children. I found Sister Norbertina to be a fantastic friend and mentor. She made you feel that you could do anything and so you could.”
From Deerfield, Ann went on to teach elementary grades and high school for another eight years — St. Vincent de Paul, St. John and St Mary Academy High School in Denver, and Loretto Academy in El Paso. Meanwhile, she prepared for doctoral studies in history, working on a Master of Arts degree from Loyola in Chicago between 1961 and 1967, then in 1970 enrolling at the University of Missouri in Columbia for “five unusual years in the life of a Sister of Loretto,” including the opportunity to study in England for a year and to travel widely in Europe. When Ann began her career as a college teacher in 1975, she was 52 years old. Her college teaching spanned just eight years, at two Kansas City area community colleges and at Loretto Heights and Regis in Denver.
Ann soon moved on to her final career — as a travel consultant! It made sense, she thought, with her wide knowledge of places and history and her experience traveling in Europe. She began working in California, where she could be close to her sister Dree’s children. When she was ready to move to Denver, where more Sisters of Loretto lived, Dree’s daughter Debbie drove Ann and all her clothes; later Debbie would help her move to St. Louis, too.
Ann’s autobiography picks up the story here: “The best memories of my working life probably involved working in living history museums in San Jose, Calif., and then in Littleton, Colo., where I was the school marm. Everything was authentic except me. We wore very authentic costumes and Amish-made boots of leather with very hard wooden soles — the pioneers did not need hair shirts, believe me! I taught 12 to 15 students for about 20 minutes as they would have been taught in 1868. We had an authentic log school house. The youngsters read McGuffey readers or wrote on the slates with soapstone and rags to wipe them clean. On very cold days I built a fire in the potbellied stove so that they were more or less comfortable on the hard wooden benches. The teachers who brought their young charges were very impressed, but I reminded them that I only had the children for 20 minutes and it was an adventure for them, while the teachers had them all day and it was class as usual.
“In 2001 I realized it was time to fold my tent and consider a retirement community. Wanting an apartment, having lived in one for so long, Sister Valerie Usinger and I chose the Sarah Community in St. Louis. Debbie drove me to St. Louis, and January 2002 I was able to move in. I found a useful and interesting job setting up an environmental waste paper collection. It kept me busy and helped the trees, land fill and perhaps made more people aware of our world and its needs. Valerie joined me in July, and we spent one very happy year before Val’s illness necessitated her move to skilled nursing care. After she went to the (Loretto) Center (in Webster Groves), the drive to visit her proved less daunting than I had anticipated, and encouraged me keep up with Loretto’s many challenges.”
Ann herself moved to the Loretto Center in St. Louis in early 2010; before the year was out, she moved to Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary. Her autobiographical comments end with a hint at her final years: “My novitiate days are somewhat of a blank, but my first Vow day was very special, and my years with Loretto have often made me wonder how I ever managed to get involved with such a remarkable group of people. Perhaps someday I will be more of a Mary and less of a Martha — Miracles never cease! It has never been dull, and I would do it all again in a minute.”