Remembrance of the Life of Sister Frances (formerly Sister Mary Roland)Weber SL
Sister Frances Weber was born Cornelia Frances Weber in Freeport, Texas, one of four children of Roland Emile Weber and Elizabeth Mary Kleinpeter, both Louisianans by birth. To her parents and her siblings, Helen, Joe and James, she was Connie. She first came to know the Sisters of Loretto when her mother enrolled her in school at St. Mary, Star of the Sea Parish in Freeport. Even at her golden jubilee she could name every one of the sisters who taught her from third through eighth grade at St. Mary’s. Frances told an interviewer in 2010, “My heart was broken when I didn’t get to graduate with my St. Mary’s class because my father was transferred to Thibodaux, La., [where I attended Our Lady of Mt. Carmel]. I wasn’t drawn to the Carmelite sisters. They did not have the joy and free spirit of the Lorettos. That love of Loretto never left me.”
In January of her senior year, Connie wrote to Mother Mary Luke: “I’m writing to inform you that I’m seriously thinking about entering your community next September. As long as I can remember I always felt that someday I would be a sister. I … will be graduating this May. … I attended the grammar grades at St. Mary, Star of the Sea. I know Sister Anna Margaret — who told me to write you and tell you of my desire — and Sister Helen Cecille and Sister Raymond Cecille. This summer I had the pleasure of visiting the Motherhouse and meeting Mother Agnes Marie. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Sister Anna Margaret herself wrote to Mary Luke: “Connie Weber, is an ideal girl in so many ways and has had the desire to enter for so long … we are so thrilled that Freeport has its second vocation. … one of our nicest girls. … Each summer Connie comes back to help us clean up and get the books put away etc.”
Connie entered Loretto as she had hoped, in September 1959 and was received on May 31, 1960, becoming Sister Mary Roland, her father’s name. Two years later, after first vows, she and her classmates moved on to the Loretto House of Studies in Webster Groves where Sister Roland completed an undergraduate degree in English and education. She was sent to teach fifth grade at Holy Name School in Los Angeles, and after three years, returned to Texas, to El Paso where she again taught fifth grade at Sacred Heart, St. Joseph and St. Patrick and Guardian Angel grade schools for another seven years. Along the way, she resumed her own middle name, becoming known as Sister Frances.
Frances told an interviewer, “in 1972, I decided I’d like to go to art school at the University of Texas at El Paso — UTEP. I got a degree in teaching art. Right after that, I got a bachelor’s degree from UTEP’s School of Nursing.” These skills later enabled Frances to care for her aging parents. But first, Frances used her new nursing skills as staff nurse at Providence Hospital in El Paso for four years and then, from 1980 to 1990, as nurse for the Convent Community at Loretto in El Paso. The year 1985 was her silver jubilee, which she described as the highlight of her religious life to that point: “There was a celebration in El Paso. For that my parents and sister came down; it was a real milestone.”
Those 10 years, while nursing and driving for the Loretto sisters and serving on the Convent House Board, Frances also continued an active artistic life. She placed first with an etching-painting in the Providence Memorial Art Show, and published a poem in the “The American Poetry Anthology, Vol. VI, #4. Winter 1986.
Her most prolific artistic work, however, was a form of sculptural art which she developed and perfected as “Small Delights.” She is quoted in an article describing her art work, “When I wanted to do something with my art, I searched for a medium one could handle at home with economical materials, without expensive equipment. That’s how I began to design ornaments, which I first made from salt dough, using a recipe I found in a crafts book.”
With her good friend, Sister Guadalupe Vasquez, Frances hand-crafted small figurines, forming and drying them and painting them brightly. The two partners worked for a year on their first batch of “Small Delights” and sold them, all in one weekend, for a total of $6,000. By 1984 they were showing and selling at the Socorro Arts Show and at the El Paso International Airport Dos Pajaros Gallery.
In an interview in 2010, Frances spoke appreciatively of her friend: “Sister Guadalupe was from Flagstaff, and she was very quiet and shy. One day she said, ‘I can’t believe you’re my friend.’ [When I asked what she meant, she said,] ‘In the beginning a lot of times I wasn’t accepted because I was Mexican.’ I told her I didn’t care if she was purple. The point of the story is that when my parents got sick in 1990 Sister Guadalupe chose to move to Freeport to help me take care of them. She touched me in a very unique way.” Sister Guadalupe passed away at Nazareth Hall in El Paso in 2003.
Frances’ move back to her family home in Freeport to care for her parents was life-changing. It meant leaving her religious home with her Community of sisters for a lifestyle on the edge of but not quite part of the families of her parents and siblings. Continuing her art work with Sister Guadalupe helped ease the loneliness. And she highly valued Loretto: “The things that meant the most to me about being a Sister of Loretto are the support and love the sisters have given me. And they helped me develop talents I don’t know if I would have recognized if I’d not been in the convent. I think of the friendships I’ve formed — even if we don’t see each other for a while. When I get together with them, it’s like we never left. Being in Loretto is like being home.”
When Frances’ father died and then her mother, she continued living in the family home, even tried to return to teaching. But Frances herself had not been in good health for years. In 2004, with the help of Loretto friends, she moved to a retirement center not too far from Freeport. She continued with her “Small Delights” and other activities. At the urging of her novitiate classmates Frances traveled to the Motherhouse for the celebration of her Golden Jubilee. She helped with her sister’s care during Helen’s illness and continued supporting her older brother James until the pandemic kept them apart. And finally, just this fall, Frances came home to Loretto for good.