July 11, 1934 - July 24, 2023
God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
The Suerth family welcomed a third child and only daughter on July 11, 1934. While not quite sure what to do with a baby girl, ten-year-old Bill and eight-year-old Jack treasured her anyway. Mr. and Mrs. Suerth baptized the little one Jeanne Marie shortly after her birth. It was a gift Jeanne Marie reflected on at the time of her 60th Jubilee when she said: “I believe faith is a gift I received at my baptism, which was then nurtured by my family and by my teachers. I was 8 when I first became aware of my faith. I will never forget the day. I was sitting in the front seat of my family’s blue Dodge Lancer, waiting for my mother. All of a sudden I became aware that God loved me. Me! I actually felt God’s love. I’m just a kid! I sat there feeling so special. I think that drew me to the path of religious life. And for 60 years, I’ve lived my vocation as my faith, open to all that happens, and always aware of God’s unending love.”
Jeanne Marie was raised with her brothers in St. Celestine Parish, Chicago, Illinois. Like her brothers, she attended St. Celestine Parish School where she was educated by the Adrian Dominicans whom she came to love. For the rest of her life she held happy memories of her experiences at St. Celestine and remained grateful for their influence in her life. When her 8th grade teacher started a club to pray for vocations, Jeanne Marie joined it. She was already learning about religious life through the example of the Dominicans, and through the activities of the club Jeanne Marie began to see it as a possibility for herself.
When it came time for high school, Jeanne Marie met another religious order: the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at Notre Dame High School. Their prayer, the genuine care shown for the students, graciousness, kindness, simplicity and affection for each other deeply touched Jeanne Marie. She was also touched by how they lived community with one another. Her sense of a call to religious life deepened during her senior year as it became clear to Jeanne Marie that it was a call to a life of generosity, love and service to others. She went back to her 8th grade teacher for advice and was encouraged to follow her heart. Jeanne Marie also asked the Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who was her homeroom teacher for advice and was encouraged. Her teacher arranged an interview with the Provincial the last week of school which also went well. It was with a peaceful heart that she applied to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. However, Jeanne Marie did not mention her decision to her parents until after she was accepted.
Mr. and Mrs. Suerth were not expecting Jeanne Marie to enter. Mr. Suerth was happy with her decision. Mrs. Suerth was not unhappy, but it took her a little while to get used to the idea. She did support Jeanne Marie as she followed her heart, but Mrs. Suerth always let her know she would be welcomed home at any time. It helped that the Suerths were not alone. Eight other seniors from Notre Dame High School had also decided to enter that year. The parents supported each other as they watched their daughters board a plane to fly to Cincinnati, Ohio, and continued to support each other as they car-pooled to Cincinnati for visiting days.
For Jeanne Marie, an airplane trip was the beginning of a life-long adventure. She and the rest of the young women from Chicago joined many others who were also entering. Together they began learning more about life as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and gaining skills they would need for the primary ministry of the community: education. Jeanne Marie never wanted to go to college. She preferred learning from experience to learning from books. The irony of the situation did not deter her so much as it taught her to rely on God’s grace to follow the call she had received. Jeanne Marie took the lesson to heart and lived out of it throughout her life. She took many other lessons to heart as well, including enjoying community activities and taking time to get to know each of her Sisters.
The theology of the day supported the tradition of novices receiving a new name. Jeanne Marie asked for the name Sister Jeanne Patricia to honor the name her parents had chosen for her at baptism and her senior homeroom teacher. She would be known by that name until the theological renewal that followed the Second Vatican Council encouraged Sisters to use their baptismal names. She was Sister Jeanne Marie from then on. When her senior homeroom teacher died, Jeanne Marie asked to be given her Notre Dame Cross. She wore that cross the rest of her life.
Jeanne Marie started her teaching ministry when she was assigned to teach 1st grade at St. Augustine Parish School in Columbus, Ohio. It was a wonderful experience for her. There were experienced teachers who served as mentors helping her each step of the way. The principal was affirming and, while she didn’t seem really strict, she “ran a tight ship” giving her staff and the students structure and boundaries to help them succeed. Jeanne Marie spent six happy years at St. Augustine and then was transferred to St. Robert Bellarmine Parish School in Chicago where she also taught 1st grade. She was grateful for the transfer as her parents were aging and it made it much easier on them to have Jeanne Marie in the same city.
Three years later she was sent to Holy Angels Parish in Dayton, Ohio to teach 2nd grade. The seven years Jeanne Marie spent at Holy Angels brought great changes in the Church, religious life and the world. She approached the changes with practicality and deep reflection that led to strengthening her sense of call and commitment to Notre Dame. Jeanne Marie appreciated the changes in religious life that created possibilities for visiting her family more frequently, deeper and more frequent conversations with her Sisters, ongoing theological education for the whole community, and openness to greater collaboration with the laity. During these years she finished her B.S. and M.S. in Education and was called on to mentor younger teachers. Always willing to meet needs as they arose, Jeanne Marie also took a course in motor mechanics and responsibility for training Fraulein (a German shepherd acquired by the community).
1972 found Jeanne Marie taking on a new challenge: the ministry of principal at St. Rita Parish School in Rockford, Illinois. Her organizational skills, patience, ability to listen and ability to respond rather than react helped her to deal with the challenges inherent in the position. Rockford also made visits to her widowed mother, and brothers and their families, much easier. Four years later Jeanne Marie was called to accept another challenge. She was missioned to the Notre Dame community in Hamilton, Ohio to serve as superior and teach at Notre Dame Education Center which tutored adults to help them gain their GED and other life skills. It was a community of more than 20 Sisters and many were older and the building itself was in need of some attention. Jeanne Marie gave two years of service doing what she could to help the Sisters, shore up the building and serving the adults she tutored. She was accepted into a year-long sabbatical program after which she returned to formal education for her ministry in 1979.
Jeanne Marie was missioned to live with the large community located on Rich Street in Columbus, Ohio and to join the faculty of Notre Dame Elementary School. It was a school born of the consolidation of a number of smaller parish schools. She taught 5th grade her first year there and then was asked to serve as principal for the next two years. She taught an additional year in Columbus before being asked to serve at Mt. Notre Dame in Reading, Ohio. Jeanne Marie’s practical skills were needed to help oversee the maintenance and housekeeping staffs at the large complex that served as the provincial house and infirmary for the community. She was missioned to teach at St. Robert Bellarmine in Chicago the following year.
Once again Jeanne Marie was near her family and able to visit more frequently. Her mother would save repair tasks for when Jeanne Marie visited. Helping her mother by changing light bulbs, painting, and climbing ladders for various purposes planted a seed that would grow into a new ministry. Jeanne Marie realized that there were many older parishioners in the same situation as her mother: they needed help with simple home repairs they could no longer safely make. She also realized her whole life had included perfect job training for helping them. Her maternal grandfather had been a master carpenter who passed on to Jeanne Marie’s mother a love for puttering and skills to be a whiz at household repairs. Jeanne Marie grew up watching her mother fix things: “Gradually she let me help. I loved working with my hands.” When she entered she thought she would never pick up a screwdriver or hammer again. Later, as a Sister assigned to schools in Ohio and Illinois, her extra chore was helping with convent maintenance: “I learned a lot from watching skilled repairmen.” Jeanne Marie had also spent “vacation” time in Hamilton, Dayton, Columbus, Ohio, and Kermit, West Virginia, doing needed repairs and maintenance for grateful Notre Dame communities.
In 1988 Jeanne Marie was given permission to start a new ministry called ‘Sister Jeanne on the Scene.’ She took a course for people starting a business and another Sister helped her set up the books, taught her how to give receipts, pay taxes and all the financial tasks she needed to do. Jeanne Marie placed simple ads in parish bulletins and built up a solid clientele in local parishes. She could rewire a lamp, fix a wall receptacle, paint, or reupholster a chair and so many other odds and ends. Her senior clients trusted ‘Sister Jeanne’ to come into their homes and spend time with them when often they were afraid to let strangers into their houses. Jeanne Marie wrote: “Many are elderly and on a tight budget. Or they have a ‘poverty of energy’. Some are ‘captives’ in their homes, so I visit with them. That’s where the real ministry comes in.” Her clients would offer her lunch, a cup of coffee, a cold drink. Jeanne Marie would sit down and simply listen to them talk about their lives and families. Her clients also provided her with tools for her trade. She soon had six toolboxes that filled the trunk of the car and an extension ladder. All were donations from widowed clients who couldn’t use them and needed them to be used. Jeanne Marie networked with other people doing similar ministry through her membership in Handy Home Helpers. This was an organization connected to Our Lady of Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago. Jeanne Marie received their Worker of the Year award in 1995.
Jeanne Marie brought her official ministry as ‘Sister Jeanne on the Scene’ to a close in 1997 in order to return to Cincinnati to meet her community’s needs for medical drivers. Her work as a driver for her senior Sisters utilized her listening skills and practicality as she supported those who had mentored her over the years. At the same time, Jeanne Marie began six years of service as the caretaker of the SNDdeN house at Lake Lorelei.
A very different ministry opportunity found Jeanne Marie in 2000. She accepted a position as chaplain with Cincinnati Works, a job training program for the economically disadvantaged in downtown Cincinnati. Jeanne Marie thoroughly enjoyed working with adults from diverse backgrounds. Cincinnati Works valued having her as part of their team. In 2003, Cincinnati Works wrote: “Sr. Jeanne is a real asset to the staff of Cincinnati Works. She is so supportive and kind to our members and to the staff. She is always willing to listen. She participates actively in the staff meetings and with the first day of the workshop activities. Thank you for letting her be part of our team.”
By 2008, when Jeanne Marie brought her service at Cincinnati Works to an end, she was already a member of the Marian Community at Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio. She got involved in all kinds service to her community members: driving Sisters, organizing and caring for the community files, helping new community members orient themselves to a large space, visiting Sisters in Cuvilly and much more. Jeanne Marie also served on the Life Enrichment Committee and helped show weekly movies, plan parties, and was MC of the annual talent show. She found great joy in community and willingly gave her energy to community tasks and activities. The Sisters she lived with appreciated her cheerfulness, approachability, sense of humor, willingness to get involved and help with projects, and the respect and care she had for each individual. Jeanne Marie loved spending time with her Sisters, family and friends. She was also content spending time by herself working a jigsaw puzzle. Jeanne Marie loved baseball, both watching and playing the game. She could be counted on to be part of the Chicago team in the days when province gatherings included playing a “Reds” vs “Cubs” baseball game. Jeanne Marie also loved to travel: driving across country to help another Sister get to a new ministry or throughout the mid-west giving service at various Notre Dame communities, a trip to Ireland to kiss the “blarney stone” or a cruise with her family, she enjoyed it all.
Jeanne Marie enjoyed close relationships with her brothers Bill and Jack in spite of being so much younger. As they married and started families, she considered herself blessed with great sisters-in-law. Loraine and Marian were like sisters to her, and always welcomed Jeanne Marie to visit. She appreciated the years she spent closer to family because it was a chance to get to know her beloved niece and nephews and their families.
Her short illness and death took many of those who loved her by surprise. Jeanne Marie participated in the Ohio Unit Assembly and celebrated her 70th Jubilee as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur in mid-June. She answered her good God’s call to the next life just five weeks later. As her Sisters, family and friends gather now to remember the gift of Jeanne Marie and all the ways she shared God’s goodness, her words recorded in a 2015 oral interview can be a comfort: “I’m here, I’m happy, I love it. We are blessed with all the care we get from the Staff, from the Sisters…..it’s been a good life.” We celebrate Jeanne Marie’s good and generous life. We ask her prayers for all of us that we may have the grace to say the same words about our own lives. Thank you, God, for Jeanne Marie!
- Born July 11, 1934, in Chicago, Illinois
- Parents: Joseph A. Suerth (born in Chicago, Illinois) and Mary M. Miller (born in Chicago, Illinois)
- Siblings: William J. Suerth and John S. Suerth
- Baptized on August 5, 1934, at St. Ferdinand Church, Chicago, Illinois
- Confirmed on May 13, 1946, at St. Celestine Church, Elmwood Park, Illinois
- Entered September 8, 1953, at Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
- First Profession: March 10, 1956
- Final Profession: August 13, 1961
- St. Celestine Parish School, Elmwood Park, Illinois, 1949
- Notre Dame High School, Chicago, Illinois, 1953
- Bachelor of Science in Education from Our Lady of Cincinnati College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1968
- Master of Science in Education from the University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio 1972
- 1956-1962 St. Augustine Parish School, Columbus, Ohio
- 1962-1965 St. Robert Bellarmine Parish School, Chicago, Illinois
- 1965-1972 Holy Angels Parish School, Dayton, Ohio
- 1972-1976 St. Rita Parish School, Rockford, Illinois
- 1976-1978 Notre Dame Education Center, Hamilton, Ohio
- 1978-1979 Program Participant, Active Spirituality Program, Mt. St. Joseph College, Mt. St. Joseph, Ohio
- 1979-1982 Notre Dame School, Columbus, Ohio
- 1982-1983 Pope John XXIII School, Columbus, Ohio
- 1983-1984 Manager of Housekeeping & Maintenance, Mt. Notre Dame Convent, Reading, Ohio
- 1984-1988 St. Robert Bellarmine Parish School, Chicago, Illinois
- 1988-1997 “Sr. Jeanne on the Scene”, Chicago, Illinois
- 1997-2000 Medical Driver and Lorelei Caretaker, Mt. Notre Dame Convent, Reading, Ohio
- 2000-2008 Chaplain at Cincinnati Works, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 2008-2023: Community of Service/Ministry of Prayer, Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
Died: July 24, 2023, at Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
Sister Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
July 31, 2023