Remembrance of the Life of Sister Elaine (formerly Sister Mary Assumpta) Satterwhite SL
March 23, 1934 – June 3, 2018
Elaine Satterwhite wrote a brief autobiography at the time she rejoined Loretto; in it she described her life in her characteristic plain and simple style:
“I was born in Denver, Colo., on March 23, 1934, attended Holy Family grade and high schools, attended the University of Colorado in Boulder for one year, and then entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Loretto in 1952. I received a bachelor of music education degree from Webster College in 1957 and then taught in the music department at Webster College from 1957 to 1970. I received a master’s degree in organ performance from DePaul University in 1963. In 1970 I resigned from Webster College to begin work on a doctor of music arts degree in organ performance at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The degree was completed in 1976.
“Interest in the Civil Rights movement led me to seek and obtain employment in a black college. I received a dispensation from my vows as a Sister of Loretto in April 1972. The following fall I began teaching at Morehouse College in Atlanta. In 1982 Sisters Mary Mangan and Alice Eugene Tighe encouraged me to seek readmission to the Sisters of Loretto, since my goals so closely approximate those found in the Loretto Community.”
Elaine Louise Satterwhite’s parents were Samuel Mann Satterwhite, originally from El Paso, Texas, and Elizabeth Mary Gregorich Satterwhite from Aspen, Colo. Elaine had two older sisters, Gerry and Patricia; the three were just one year apart in age.
Elaine’s 1952 letter to Reverend Mother Edwarda is matter-of-fact: “I ask your permission to come to Loretto as a postulant in October of this year.” Her pastor’s letter of recommendation, from Holy Family in Denver, is more revealing: “I have known Elaine Satterwhite for more than six years. … She is a member of a fine Catholic family whose reputation is among the highest in the parish. … Her work in our parochial societies shows her genuine interest in the welfare of souls without benefit of compliment or recognition to herself. The parish has further benefited of her special music talents for the many years that she has served as one of the parish organists. She has always been most generous in giving of her time in these and other things in which she could help in any way.”
Elaine arrived at Loretto in October of 1952 and received the habit and the name Sister Mary Assumpta on April 25, 1953. Following her profession of vows May 24, 1955, she went to the newly opened House of Studies in St. Louis, completing her undergraduate degree at Webster College in 1957. She immediately joined the Webster music faculty, continuing to teach while earning a master’s degree in organ performance – an accomplishment which required many, many hours of strenuous practice.
Elaine left Webster in 1970, moving to the Denver area to embark on her doctorate, also in organ performance. Two years into her studies, Elaine asked to be dispensed from her vows. Also in 1972 Elaine accepted a position in the music department of Morehouse College – an historically black college located in Atlanta. We have only Elaine’s brief words to account for her choice of Morehouse: “Interest in the Civil Rights movement led me to seek and obtain employment in a black college.” The depth of her commitment, to Morehouse, to music and to the well-being of black persons can be measured by the intensity of Elaine’s activities over the next 30-plus years.
While a full-time faculty member at Morehouse, Elaine contributed to many aspects of campus life. She used two sabbatical grants, in 1986 and another in 1996, to travel to South Africa to study African music and the social effects of Apartheid and racism. While visiting the University of Fort Hare on the southern tip of South Africa, she became aware of the plight of black university students and returned to the States to recruit Loretto grants for food support programs. When she retired from Morehouse, Elaine accepted a visiting professor position for a year at Fort Hare, serving there from January to November 2001.
Elaine’s commitment to civil rights and to the welfare of black peoples on both sides of the Atlantic led her to ask, in 1982, to re-enter Loretto as a vowed member. Her long-term friendships with Mary Mangan and Alice Eugene Tighe helped smooth the way. Elaine renewed her final vows at the Loretto Center in St. Louis on Pentecost Sunday, May 26, 1985.
Elaine had a very quiet way of going about her life of loving service. A good friend, Sister Mary Ann Mulligan, CSJ, characterized her this way: “In Atlanta … we shared an apartment … and became good friends. Elaine is easy to be with, is quiet and gracious, though determined. She impressed me most with her thoughtfulness of others, particularly toward those for and with whom she worked. She also impressed me with her selflessness. She seems to have practically no personal needs and lives a very simple life. … (Elaine) is able to do without a great many creature comforts, but at the same time can enjoy television, a good record player, and a good meal upon occasion! … She has the added ability to laugh at herself and at the personal foibles we all exhibit at times.”
At the time of her application to rejoin Loretto, Elaine wrote, “If possible and practical, I would like to work in a Third or Fourth World country and plan to investigate possibilities in this area.” Not too many years later, Elaine realized this calling by engaging herself in every aspect of the goals and mission of Loretto’s newest members from Pakistan. Elaine was a faithful editor for Nasreen Daniel, who was working in Holland to complete her dissertation. Elaine served on committees and support groups as the Pakistan mission developed. Even as the social and political situation in Pakistan became more difficult, Elaine doggedly persisted until she acquired visas to travel to Faisalabad, not once but twice, to live for extended months with the Loretto community.
Elaine was surprised to receive a sudden diagnosis of cancer with little prospect of recovery. She chose to move from the Denver Center to Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary for her final months. Until just before her death, Elaine kept up a regular correspondence and internet communications with the Pakistani Loretto Sisters. Just after her death at Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary, word came from the Pakistanis that their long-awaited visas to attend the 2018 Election Assembly had been granted. One of Elaine’s beloved Pakistan Sisters remarked that the visas must have been Elaine’s last work for the mission there.
– Eleanor Craig SL