April 17, 2006
Retired Franciscan nun still helping others
By Linda Scherer
It has been almost 60 years since Sr. Jean Becker first entered the convent, a decision she has never regretted.
Today, Becker, who has been retired from Winsted’s Holy Trinity parish ministry since spring 2005, is embarrassed to say she sleeps in until 6:15 a.m.
Her days are made up of volunteering her time to Holy Trinity parish and its parishioners, where she has been a member since being hired by Fr. Bob Wyffels in 1991 to be Holy Trinity’s pastoral minister.
She continues to visit the elderly, helps at the nursing home, and works with Fr. Paul Wolf, Holy Trinity pastor, to set up his visits with the elderly on Saturday morning. She is part of the area’s prayerline, and she serves as a representative of Holy Trinity parish at wakes and funerals at the funeral home.
Becker was born in Faribault, the daughter of Alphonse and Katherine Becker. When she was eight, her family moved to a farm in Union Hall, close to New Prague, which was her home until she went into the convent. It was a 160-acre dairy farm where they raised everything including pigs and chickens.
She has two brothers and a younger sister, Eunice, who also became a Franciscan nun her senior year of high school.
Becker had thought of becoming a nun at various times when she was young, “but it seemed more like a dream, unreal.” It wasn’t until she had the opportunity to visit the Franciscan convent in May of her senior year of high school, that she felt that it could possibly be a reality for her and something that she would like to do.
Both Sr. Jean and her younger sister were invited to the Milwaukee convent by a cousin, Sr. Alda, who was a nun at the School Sisters of St. Francis. Actually, Becker and her sister had nine cousins that were all Franciscan nuns in Milwaukee, but Sister Alda was younger then the others and they felt closest to her. Both Becker and her sister enjoyed their visit to the convent and both wanted to go back.
After graduation from New Prague High School in 1947, Becker made up her mind to enter the convent, and she moved to Milwaukee in August of that same year.
She became a Franciscan postulant her first year, and then a novice her second and third year, when she received her white veil. During this time, she attended Alverno College in Milwaukee, working toward a degree in education.
In 1950, after taking her first vows as a Franciscan nun, she began teaching third and fourth grade at a Catholic elementary school in Slinger, Wis.
Her routine changed. She taught school during the school year and then began attending college during the summer, until she graduated with a degree in education in 1957.
She continued to renew her vows as a Franciscan sister each year, three years in a row; then took three- year vows, and in 1956, took her final vows.
When asked if she thought the convent rules were strict, she commented, “They were, but so was my life before I came to the convent. My mother was very strict. We worked hard had our chores to do at home, too.”
The first year she was at the convent, she was not allowed to go home until Easter, a total of eight months. During that time, she was allowed to have visitors once a month, but it was a long distance for her family to come, so she saw only her mother once in her first eight months at the convent.
“That seemed like a long time,” Becker said. The evenings were especially long because Becker had been used to a lot more activity in the evenings at her home on the farm in New Prague and that required some getting used to. However, she did not miss milking the cows.
Another restriction after she became a novice was not going home for five years. Becker thought that was very strict. Eventually the rules did ease up, but by then, both of her parents had died.
When the religious community rules changed in the 60s, and all of the minor permissions that were needed from the Mother Superior went away, “it felt like a lid was taken off. I really did not realize how relieved I was going to feel.”
In 1963, she became principal of a small Catholic school in Big Bend, Wis., and also taught seventh and eighth grade at the same time. After nine years, she became principal of a larger Catholic school in New Prague, where she was principal for 17 more years.
In the summer of 1969, she started to attend Clarke College in Debuque. It was an enjoyable time for her as she was able to stay with family friends that entertained her and took her on sight seeing trips around the Debuque area. She continued to attend Clarke College in the summer until she received a master’s degree in administration.
When asked if there were any times that were special that she would like to share, she said “The companionship of the nuns and the bond their community shares. Reunions with the other sisters at assemblies, meetings, workshops brings all of the sisters of the School Sisters of St. Francis together from all across the country. It is very rewarding.”
Becker also enjoyed a one-year sabbatical from 1990 to 1991, where she had the opportunity to meet other sisters, priests, brothers, and missionaries. It was a wonderful experience for her.
Becker expressed appreciation for her religious community, “I am most grateful that I was called to be a School Sisters of St. Francis. This has helped me deepen my relationship with God and carry that relationship with me every day. I believe it helps me to make an impact as I do Jesus’ work in my small way.”