Remembrance of the Life of Sister Frances Ratermann SL
April 28, 1915—September 10, 2013
Pancho, as her family called her, was the youngest of the six Ratermann children. The oldest, Mary, entered Loretto; known as Sr. Helen Julius, she died in 1955. Her sister Helen and brother Julius (Buddy) are also deceased. Frances is survived by her sister Barbara Keenan and brother Andy and by a large number of nieces and nephews, grand and great nieces and nephews.
Aunt Frances was loved by her nieces, nephews and many greats for her tremendous zest for life, and the adventures she had with them. Frances loved to tell of the time she invited two of her great nieces to visit in El Paso when they were very young. They came with many fresh and pretty clothes, each with her hair arranged just so. Every night Frances would ask the girls if they wanted to take a bath. They politely responded “no.” Frances said “fine.” The girls liked the clothes they were wearing—crawling through the dog door was a favorite pastime. After many days the girls returned to their parents with a suitcase full of clean clothes. Frances could never remember if they ever took that bath.
Frances attended Loretto Academy, El Paso, for twelve years. During her high school years she played with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. Following graduation in 1950, she worked for the Tri-State Music Company while waiting to be admitted to the Loretto Novitiate. She was received on April 25, 1951 and was known as Sister Mary Xavier. Following her first vows, April 25, 1953, Frances earned bachelor and master degrees in music from Webster and De Paul Universities.
Frances served in Missouri, Colorado and Texas. In each of those missions, she taught music, piano, and often band. In high schools she worked with her good friends of the musicals. She loved her time at Machebuef and living at Blessed Sacrament. She made such great friendships there with both community members and students. One of her Machebeuf boys remembers “One of my fondest memories of Sister Frances is when I would travel to El Paso on business and stay at her house. We would go to dinner at Ponchos Mexican Buffet and solve the world’s problems with our discussions. Several times I would offer to give a modest donation for her to use for some of her poor neighbors that she regular helped out. She would not accept it. Instead she would tell me how much poorer the Indian women were in Juarez. However she would not take the donation for them either, but instead take me to Juarez at night to find these women and to have me give my gift to them directly. She wanted me to experience their poverty and their appreciation of a donation, no matter how small. This great lady changed my life in so many ways over the last 44 years.”
Frances left Machebeuf to participate in Loretto’s Third World Experience in 1976. She went to Hong Kong and lived with the Maryknoll Sisters. She fell in love with the people and the country. She felt limited by the language, but used the universal language of music to communicate with her students.
Unfortunately, Frances was called back to El Paso when her sister, Helen, the caregiver to their parents, fell and broke her leg. She had no sooner arrived back in the states when her father died. Rather than return, Frances saw the need to care for her mother who was succumbing to dementia. She began teaching at Loretto Academy, for a “short time”. She wrote after the first year: “Mom is very well and this year has been the ‘success’ I needed. ‘Success’ meaning that in some small ways I am influencing the girls’ lives rather than just putting in time. In fact, this has been a very comfortable year and I am definitely planning to teach here next year.” Frances continued at Loretto Academy for 22 years!
During that time she cared for her mother and worked full time. Shortly after her mother’s death in 1982, Frances herself was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. At her death she was a cancer survivor for over 30 years.
Frances often said she didn’t really know where those years at Loretto Academy went. Sam Forsythe, teacher and later principal, says “Over her many years of teaching music in Loretto Academy Middle School and High School, Sister Frances exuded her love for music and animals everywhere she went. She took the Loretto Academy Show Choir to competitions across the Southwest and to California. Her Show Choir tours provided rich cultural experiences and educational adventures for scores of Loretto Academy students. Sister Frances also led the music in middle school and high school liturgies for decades. She brought the beautiful sound of music to the Loretto Academy Chapel with instruments and song, always giving the spotlight to her students.” Sam remembers being a chaperone on many Show Choir trips. He says with a grin on his face that they were true adventures, as he never knew what the girls or Frances would do next. Summing up, Sam said: “Sister Frances demonstrated God’s love for children, music, and animals through her decades of unselfish service at Loretto Academy.”
Upon retirement from Loretto Academy in 2000, Frances took on responsibilities as health surrogate, family member, driver and friend to those living at Nazareth Hall. She loved thinking about birthday parties and executing them. She took some sisters to the casino, race track and out for rides. Frances truly walked with her sisters, just as the caregivers at Loretto Motherhouse have done during Frances’ final days.
Dorothy Ortner remembers that Frances played the organ for Dorothy’s father’s funeral in 1975. Frances was in the Denver area at that time. Dorothy sang a hymn which Frances accompanied. One wonders how many people Frances walked with during their final days and the great sendoffs she would prepare.
Her neighbor, Carolyn Millican Sorden remembered Frances in an email recently: “I will never forget coming home to visit my parents and her regaling me with her latest summertime adventure over a dinner of Mexican food – I think the most wonderful was her rafting down the Colorado River with some of the other Sisters! Her lust for life was catching – to Frank everything and every day was an adventure! Her love of family and the neighbors was legendary and there was never a closed door when a stray animal happened to be lucky enough to stop by her door (I especially remember the cat, Welfare, who just appeared one day on her front walk and ‘called’ to her until she invited him in! Did he know he’d entered Heaven’s Gate?). Jessica Louise (her German shepherd) graciously put up with whatever appeared! I’m so glad that I knew her in the prime of her life – that’s the way I will remember her – with a smile on her face and a song in her heart! When she arrived on God’s doorstep, I’m sure there was great rejoicing at the return of one of God’s finest.”
From Mary Nelle Gage, SL: “As a teacher, Frances taught me that the real value of the musicals on which we collaborated was first to include every student who wished to participate, so we would write in extra parts, double cast the leads, etc. The second value was to ensure that the experience became a joyful memory. Sisters Theresa Ann Reardon and Margaret Rose Knoll hand-made purses for the girls in the show; we made wooden dice for the boys and planted signs in the yards of the leads,”Home of Sean DeBow, star of ‘GUYS AND DOLLS’.” Forty years later, they brought the souvenirs to the Machebeuf Reunion! She was an exuberant friend, and I was gifted with her affirmation and her tales of adventure. I watched her create happy experiences for Loretto Community members, arranging trips and outings to balance the work of meetings.”
Frances died peacefully at the Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary early in the morning, September 10, 2013.
Click the image below to see photos from Frances’ life:
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