A visit with our Sister Mary (Bonaventure)

Sister MaryOn July 15, we celebrate an early Franciscan, St. Bonaventure.  On this occasion, I’d like to share the transcript of my 2005 interview with one of our Sisters who bore his name for many years.

Sr. Mary (Bonaventure) was born Veronica Sand on January 25, 1915 in rural Rosholt, SD. She attended St. Francis Academy, Hankinson, and was one of the three members of the first graduating class in 1934.

Like her namesake, St. Bonaventure, Sister also was a teacher, instructing students in our schools and elsewhere.  She also produced much of her own beautiful work, including the large painting of our Lady of Fatima which hangs presently in St. Francis Convent, Hankinson.  (see below)

When Sisters were able to change their names after Vatican II, she opted for a name that honored our Blessed Mother, who she so beautifully depicted in various artwork.  In her later years, she was simply known as “Sister Mary.”  Sr. Mary died last December at the age of 99.

As you read the transcript below, please note that the text in red is my questions and the black is her comments.

You studied in Dickinson?

Yeah, we were about 5 or 6 sisters and I went there two years to get my two-year certificate, and what I remember mostly is I had a very good art teacher. And she encouraged me to continue. Otherwise, I took all the other subjects that I needed for teaching so I got my certificate plus everything in art.

Then you went back to Hankinson and taught for like 9 years?

Yes

And you were prefect, too?

Yes. It was a couple of years while I was teaching.

Is there any thing you remember most about those first years?

I had some very nice children. I had first and second grade first of all. And I still correspond with some of them because we got to be real good friends. Then afterwards I had them in the seventh and eighth grade- so I had them for about four years. So it was very nice and I still correspond with some of them.  

How many students were in a class?

Oh, I suppose we had about 25, 30.

What was the best or most rewarding thing about teaching in Hankinson?  Was there one thing or things that you found most rewarding?

I enjoyed it very much as far as that goes. In the beginning I was in no other mission so I don’t know how that was. But we were right here in the Motherhouse so that made it very convenient.

How many sisters lived here at that time?

I suppose we had about 30 of them. And quite a few were young ones. And we had quite a few candidates. So it was a nice group that we had.

Did you find anything hard or challenging about your time?

There was never enough time to do everything you wanted to do. There’s always something you have to look after and find out, you know, how it happened and how to help somebody else that was in trouble and so on. But other than that- times were not as – critical- as they are now. ‘Cause I don’t think people had that much money in the beginning and so they were satisfied with the little we had and the little they had. Nobody complained about anything because everybody was kind of poor in those days. So it seemed like everybody was happy.

Did you find that community life helped you?  What was it like?  Did you have a similar schedule to now?  Prayers, and everything…

Yeah, it was worked out so that we could always be at the community prayers and recreation and everything like that so…can’t complain about that. But that was nice that we could talk it over with things that happened and so on.

Did you play pinochle back then, too?

Oh, I didn’t know anything about pinochle then, we played Whist. No, I don’t know – pinochle came much later I think.

Then you went to Rugby for a few years.

I was there three years.

What was that like?

I was teaching the fifth and sixth grade. That was very nice. And then over the weekend I painted Our Lady of Fatima, that big picture. And Msgr. Cloos was very good. He liked the way I was working…so…It was very nice. We had a nice community. There were about 6 sister I think.

Did you find it very different, difficult or a nice change?

Oh, I don’t know – It wasn’t hard for me to change but I was just glad for the experience. You know. But I enjoyed it. I can’t say that I didn’t like any of it. It was nice – different- and so on. The people were nice. Couldn’t complain.

Were there any challenge there?  Was the time an issue again?

I don’t think so. Nothing that was hard or anything like that.

Did you play cards there to?

For recreation we played cards.

Then you came back to Hankinson for 6 years?

Yes. Much like before.

Then you went to Collegeville?

There I taught 6,7,8th grade.

What was that like?

Well, it was kind of different. We had to walk to school. It wasn’t too far but still the winter months were kind of hard but other than that the priest we had was very nice. And other than that…was happy with how things were going. Then that’s the mission that we closed. We had to clean up everything before we left.

How many sisters were there?

Well there were three of us at the school. There must have been about 15 or 20 that were working in the kitchen, laundry, bakery, as I remember right.

Did you all live in the same convent?

Yeah, we were all in the same convent. We had a special house. And we walked…we had our chaplain so we had Mass there. But afterwards, we had to walk to the parish when the school children came for their Mass. So we were there then.

So you lived at St. John’s and taught at a different school?

It was St. John’s school. Grade school.

Then you went to Wahpeton and taught sixth grade.

Yeah. Three years. It was always in three years. [laughs]

What was that like?

Well, that was…I enjoyed Wahpeton very much. Nice people there…But in those days we didn’t associate too much with the outside people. Were mostly in our convent so we didn’t get to know very much of the people around us. It was just that way in those days. So it was a little? different in that way.

So it wasn’t too hard for you to move to Wahpeton?

No, I thought it was nice.

And you went to Karlsruhe.

I think it was two years. Maybe?

Was that different living so far away from the Motherhouse?

Yeah, it was different but we were close to Rugby. So we – those sisters came over some times and we went over there. That was a nice thing when we got together like that.

How many sisters were in Karlsruhe?

Three- we had a cook and then 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade, and I had – no we had 4 – Sr. Ann Catherine – and the cook – and Cabrini was the other one and then myself.

Was it hard/ challenging to be the superior?

Oh, like I say, it was so different because we never expected much. People didn’t expect that much either. You know because they were poor and it was in those years people were just more satisfied than they are now. Today, they have to have everything, you know. Those people – they were family-oriented and it was nice to talk to them.

So you had a pretty good time there?

Yeah, it was nice.

Then you went to Alverno to study?

Yes. Well, I think I just went there in the summer time and I took…I don’t remember if I was there some other semester or not I can’t remember.

It says ‘62-‘63-plus summers.

Okay, Alright. That was a nice year. The re were about 5 or 6 of us together there. We lived in a special place. Special house and it was close to the college so we didn’t have to walk too far. The sisters were all nice.

Did you see the sisters in Chicago often?

We went there for Christmas vacation. That was nice.

Any memories from college there?

Just that I went on with my art work and so on, and um, I didn’t care too much for thei art but I suppose they were good teachers. I learned something about it, you know.

When did you first get interested in art and start doing it?

I was always interested in art. Even in the grade school I did a lot of art work. My mother always encouraged me. So, um…?..good.

You taught in Hankinson again.

I was teaching mechanical drawing and art and then 6th and 7th grade.

Is that the first time you taught art?

I taught it before, I usually taught it when somebody took my kids for music. Then I went into their room to teach art. So we exchanged like that.

When?

I think even when I was here in the first grade. That sister came in for music and the n I was free and so I went over to teach art in 7th and 8th grade. Most of the time that happened like that.

You studied at MSC?

Yes, I went there for one semester, I think, because I was going to – our school was closing and then I wanted to get a little bit more in art because I was going to teach college at the

Science School and um so and then I went for a half a year to Grand Forks to help out because somebody, I don’t know if they were sick – but anyway. They needed somebody in activities and so I helped out in activities in Grand Forks.

How did you like that?

It was nice. We did woodwork and I did some painting, and helped some of the men who wanted to do some painting. It was very nice. We had quite a few young sisters there so we had a nice time.

At St. Anne’s?

Um hmm, at that time.

And then you taught in Wahpeton for ten years?

Yes.

What was that like?

That was very interesting. I just was doing art work at that time. And so I could really have a little bit more freedom in what I’m doing and whatever occasion there was, I did art projects with them, and um, I read quite a bit about art because it fit into the schedule real well. It worked out with them…with the students. Yes, I was teaching adult classes also.

Did you enjoy that?

Yeah, that was very nice.

How many sisters were with you at Wahpeton?

I was staying with the sisters who were teaching at St. John’s school. We must have been about eight, maybe.

But you were the only one at the Science School?

Yeah, but then we had two music teachers there also. So they were there at St. John’s school.

And then you came back here and started doing art work here. What kind of work have you done?

I was doing art work then, and that’s when I took over this room because we didn’t have any boarders any more- resident students and so this room was free. And so that’s were I settled down.

What kind of things have you done?  Craft shows?

I went to a lot of craft shows. And, um, I did paintings and so on. That’s when I did a lot of paintings.

What have you enjoyed most about your life as a sister in teaching and in community? What have been some of the best things?

Well I just enjoy working with paints and charcoal and anything like that. And I did some woodwork, and I did carvings and I did a lot of craft work and so on and I just enjoy doing those things.

Do you remember – when this became a province?

I think I remember it but I don’t see any difference at all. I didn’t see any difference.

History- does the long history mean anything – how do you feel about it?

Well I don’t know about any other community…so this is the only community I was acquainted with so that’s about all I can say because it was just like this all the time so that’s why I have no experience with any other community. I was here as boarder and then right after that I be-came as a candidate and postulant, and just kept going.

So it’s just always been a part of your life.

That’s right. Yeah. I didn’t know any different at all. I didn’t go to any other communities or anything like that. Although I had an aunt who was a BVM nun in Dubuque, but that didn’t apeak to me at all.

Are you interested in the community’s background?  Does it mean anything to you?

Well, there’s nothing you can do about it. We were just brought into it. It was just nothing. It;s nice to know some things that happened, of course.

What about the history in the U.S. is that interesting to you?

Well, I know most of it because I lived it, and I know where we had all our missions. And when they closed and all this. It’s just something I grew up with. So it’s nothing new.

Sister Mary also commented that she was grateful “that we’re still in the habit…”  She closed by saying:

Our Lady of Fatima by Sr. Mary

I’d just love to keep on working and I hope the Lord gives me many more years so I can do it.

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