Sept. 12, 1939 — Oct. 7, 2017
Roseanne Thornton gave us her own account of the first half of her life, including her early years as a Sister of Loretto. She tells us, “I was born Sept. 12, 1939, in Denver, Colo. We lived in Blessed Sacrament Parish. I began school when Dad was in the Marines on Iwo Jima. We were staying with our Grandmother and she lived near old Saint Mary’s, so I started school there. Sister Robert Leona Edelen was my teacher, very kind and firm with me. She helped my mother a great deal during this difficult time of my mother’s life. [Besides myself, we had Kathleen, Rita Marie, Bill and David, whom we called Deak, who was born the day I made my first communion.]
“After Dad came home we went to Blessed Sacrament School again. I’d only gone one grade to Saint Mary’s, skipping kindergarten. One of my best memories of St. Mary’s was … Sister Sara Frink, the nicest nun in the world.
“My grade school life was sort of uneventful. In fourth grade I had Sister Robert Leona for a teacher again. I remember I liked school but was rather shy. Names that come to my mind from my grade school days are Sisters Victorine, Loretto Marie and Francis Paula. I was May Queen in eighth grade, which I considered an honor, since it was a voted position, the qualifications being who in the class the others thought was most like Mary. I’d never gotten an honor like that before or since.
“In high school I started to think seriously how I was going to serve God. Sister Mariana Harkins was a big influence on me. I was also very interested in politics and baseball. I wasn’t too interested in boys like most girls were at that time.”
In April of 1959, Roseanne wrote to Mother Mary Luke, “I am interested in becoming a Sister of Loretto. Sister Eileen Marie told me to write to you for information and to tell you something about myself. I will be 20 in September. For the last two years I have been doing secretarial work for my dad [who owns and operates a small bank and volunteering in the governor’s campaign of my uncle Steve McNicholas.] … My health is good except for the fact that I have asthma, which is not too serious at this time. If an attack ever comes on, I have pills which keep it under control. I do have a desire to serve God and am very much interested in teaching. I love little children very much and can get along well with them. For references I would like to mention Sister Robert Leona, Sister Mariana, and Sister Francis Paula.”
Roseanne’s references were all enthusiastic. Sister Mariana wrote, “Roseanne definitely has a vocation and should become a very good religious. … She has sound religious habits and convictions.” On her application form, Roseanne wrote she wished to become a Sister because “the Lord has done so much for me. I would like to do something for Him.”
Roseanne joined the postulant class at Loretto on Sept. 15, 1959, and received the habit and the name Sister Rose Maura on May 31, 1960. After first vows on May 31, 1962, Roseanne went to the St. Louis House of Studies to attend Webster College. She graduated in 1964 with a major in English and minor in education. Sharon Kassing SL was from the class two years behind Roseanne’s; she recalls a party when those newly arrived at the House of Studies gathered to send the new graduates off to their first missions. Roseanne was practicing the “stern look” with which she hoped to establish classroom discipline, but she could only hold it for a few seconds before breaking into giggles. Roseanne’s autobiography picks up the story here:
“After I entered the Sisters of Loretto, I taught at Fort Collins. The Sisters there helped me a lot on my first mission. Then I went to Highwood, Ill. I taught a year or so and then began having fainting spells and convulsions. The order sent me home to Denver where I had brain tests. They were all right, so I was then sent to the Motherhouse. I remember I asked Sister Marie Lourde Steckler to help me, and she recommended a doctor.”
Over the next several years, Roseanne was increasingly debilitated physically and emotionally by symptoms that seemed never to be fully diagnosed or put to rest. Later it would appear that the medication she had been taking for asthma since early childhood may have caused both the convulsions and the deep depression which periodically overwhelmed her. She was hospitalized several times without lasting improvement. Roseanne worked at finding ways to be helpful and active, despite the fact that she was not able to work steadily enough to hold a job.
“During my years at the Motherhouse, I worked in the kitchen, taught at Manton School, worked in the Infirmary as a nurses’ aide and then as a social activities aide. I liked my work as an activities aide the best.
“I was still desperately depressed. I even considered leaving the order because I felt I had to do something to relieve that horrible depression. I called the Loretto Staff – long distance to Denver. Sister Mariella Collins invited me to live at the Province House in St. Louis, to go to Webster College [for study] and be under a doctor’s care.”
Roseanne moved to St. Louis to the Province House in 1976. She told a friend that she was “working at living” every day. As a Community member she was known as witty and funny, eager to be helpful, attentive to others’ needs. She worked as a kitchen assistant for some years. Then about 1986, when the Province House became Loretto Center, and offered nursing care for Loretto elders, Roseanne studied with Mary Louise Denny SL to become a certified nurse’s assistant. Mary Louise described her as “extremely bright, very willing, delightful and eager as a student.” The nurse at Loretto Center, Katherine Billups, encouraged and prodded Roseanne; and Sister Lee Connelly SL, who was a vocation counselor, coached her. For her part, Roseanne accommodated the reality of her ups and downs, her good times and bad times. For 20 years she served the Loretto Center residents as nurse’s assistant.
Seven years ago, Roseanne moved to the Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary. She came with a new diagnosis—Parkinson’s disease. She also brought her quick wit, her ready laugh and smiles of gratitude which she showered on all visitors — family, Loretto members, Infirmary and dietary staff, friends. Carol Ann Ptacek SL, who spent time with her every day in the final years, said, “Rosie was grateful for everything. So many people loved her and she knew she was loved.” Roseanne died Oct. 7, 2017, joined in her final moments by her family. As a young Sister, she had aspired “to do something for God.” With God’s grace and one day at a time, she was able to live for God.
– By Eleanor Craig SL