August 2011: SISTER ANGELUS GARDINER (entered eternal life on August 18, 2011)
Sara Edith Gardiner was born in Springfield, IL on February 2, 1912 to a Jewish mother and a non-practicing Catholic father. She and her youngest brother had their first exposure to a worshipping community of believers at the neighborhood Presbyterian Church which they attended with their playmates. Several years later, Edith received a scholarship to the College of St. Francis (now University) in Joliet, IL. It was there, while pursuing her teaching degree, that she was drawn to the Catholic faith and was eventually baptized. Her baptismal call marked the beginning of her journey to live her life as a member of this Franciscan family where she was given her religious name, Sister Angelus.
Sister Angelus’ teaching skills were well put to use in the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis’ community with its focus on healthcare and healing. Initially, she was teaching young women who aspired to become religious Sisters in the convent Aspirant School and Novitiate, and she later taught at Marillac College in St. Louis, MO in an inter-community effort to educate young Sisters. With the close of Marillac, she was asked to help teach English in Carthage, MO to Vietnamese refugees, candidates, Brothers and Priests of a displaced Vietnamese religious community - one of her most memorable experiences. It was 40 years after her entrance to this Franciscan community that Sister Angelus was given her first hospital assignment at St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham, IL as librarian, photographer, and editor of the hospital newsletter. Retirement has an entirely different definition when applied to a religious Sister. For Sister Angelus at the age of 82, it meant an apostolate of service to her Sisters. Using inherited skills of her mother, Effie, and her older sister Frances, she sewed lap robes, bibs (she preferred the more dignified term of “aprons”), caps and covers for the backs of wheelchairs for the infirmed Sisters in the Motherhouse.
A teacher at heart
As Sister Angelus’ aging progressed, she lost more of the ability to hear to the point she is now completely deaf. “Through notes family and friends write on a magic slate, we are able to solicit her continued pearls of wisdom,” explains Mary-Jo Gardiner. “Ever the teacher, she’s been known to correct one’s spelling and grammar in those written notes - she relishes the sharing and always closes with ‘Please come back soon,’” Mary-Jo said.
Conclusion - in her own words
If Sister Angelus were to live life over, would she do it again? “You bet I would,” she said. “I’d like to omit the mistakes, the hurts I’ve caused others, the offenses to our generous loving God. But I’ve learned from them. Perhaps I’d never have known His great mercy and love, and how to forgive others and myself. I’m now in my 72nd year since First Profession – bittersweet years of course. God didn’t promise us a rose garden! And even when we did get roses, they had thorns, too."
“Time - it is not mine alone," Sister Angelus said. "It has been given me to use for others. Their smile, their whispered thanks, their joy - that’s enough for me. Jesus’ words ‘As long as you did it to one of these…’ mean so much more when I’ve done things for others.”
(Written by Mary-Jo Gardiner, left, niece of Sister Angelus Gardiner, right)