By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Sister Mary Ellen McRaith, a 1959 Holy Trinity graduate, celebrated her golden jubilee anniversary as a School Sister of St. Francis Aug. 15.
She was honored for her more than 50-year commitment to serving others at a special morning Mass at Holy Trinity Church, and in the afternoon, there was an open house at St. Mary’s Care Center.
McRaith has been employed at St. Mary’s since January 2003, a job she calls, “perfect” for her.
At St. Mary’s, McRaith’s daily duties include visiting residents. She also schedules religious services, lines up the clergy, and asks volunteers to help get the residents to and from the chapel. On days when she is available, McRaith helps seniors keep in shape with therapeutic exercise to music.
“Sister Mary Ellen has become one of the family at St. Mary’s,” Michele Mueller, St. Mary’s therapeutic manager said. “She brings compassion, understanding, and acceptance to each resident and family member. The core values of hospitality, respect, justice, and stewardship of the Benedictine Health Care System come forth in her daily work. The residents look forward to her visits and generous spirit.”
When McRaith was offered the opportunity to work at St. Mary’s in 2003, it had been the first time in almost 10 years that she was able to return to her duties as a Franciscan sister.
McRaith had been granted a leave of absence by the Franciscan community in November 1993, to return home to help care for her aging parents.
Her father died soon after she had returned home.
At first, McRaith thought she would be able to work part time and care for her mother, but she soon discovered that her mother’s memory was deteriorating and she could not be left alone at all.
When her mother had a serious fall in November 2001, breaking both of her arms, she was taken to St. Mary’s to recover.
It was while McRaith was visiting and helping to care for her mother at St. Mary’s, that she was offered her current job.
“I am so grateful that Michele asked me to come to work here (St. Mary’s),” McRaith said.
With her new job, she could spend time with her mother, but was also able to help care for others as well.
McRaith’s mother died at the age of 95 in May 2007.
“From the time she brought her mother here, until her death, Sr. Mary Ellen became a part of St. Mary’s Care Center,” Mueller said. “I think Sister wanted to stay in Winsted, to be close to her family, as well, and she felt she would be doing what came naturally to her. She found her niche.”
McRaith will be leaving for Rochester, NY on a sabbatical Wednesday, Sept. 1. The three-month sabbatical is for the enrichment of Franciscan community members.
“My community offered it to me on my jubilee year and I said yes. It’s hard to leave, but I thought it will help me to be a better person spiritually,” McRaith said.
Her plans are to return to St. Mary’s.
The making of a Franciscan nun
Becoming a nun was something that McRaith had wanted even before she moved to Winsted with her family when she was 10 years old.
During her early years she grew up in Fountain Lake, just west of Delano.
She had attended catechism at the Church of St. Mary of Czestochowa in the summertime, where she was taught religion by the Franciscan sisters from Delano.
She remembers one particular day, watching one of the sisters teaching her students and thinking it would be “neat to teach about God and have fun, too.”
“It was that feeling that just stayed with me the feeling that it was right,” McRaith said.
Her parents, Michael and Mary McRaith, moved to Winsted so McRaith and her two older brothers and two younger sisters would be able to attend Holy Trinity School.
Their new farm home was along McLeod County Road 1, just north of ShadowBrooke Golf Course.
All through high school McRaith said she continued to have the feeling that becoming a nun was something that God wanted for her.
Her father had two sisters who were nuns, and McRaith also had two cousins who had become nuns by this time, but she said this was not something that influenced her decision to become one, too, although it could have without her realizing it.
A visit to the Franciscan mother house in Milwaukee with her parents following her graduation only made her more sure of her decision.
On Sept. 8, 1959, McRaith and three other women from Winsted climbed aboard a train headed for Milwaukee with plans to join the convent.
“I felt this was what I wanted and what God wanted for me. I wanted to be a sister and to help people,” McRaith said.
The women were among a total of 110 women to enter the convent, coming from all over the country.
Of the 110 who entered, 90 were received, including McRaith, June 12, 1960.
Of the four Winsted women who entered the convent, McRaith was the only one to remain a sister.
When the other women left the convent, McRaith said, “It was sad, but maybe it was God’s way of getting me there.”
For her first three years in the convent, McRaith was kept very busy working in the kitchen of the Milwaukee mother house cooking for 600 people.
“We had strawberry parties, where we cleaned strawberries; and apple parties, peeling apples,” McRaith said. “Or we would help fry fish all morning or dish out plates of different things and put them in the steam box to keep them hot.”
There wasn’t much time to write home, or to think about being lonesome. However, McRaith remembers she did not come home for Christmas for 11 years.
After she was able to take her first vows, she left the mother house in Milwaukee to cook and clean for other nuns who were teaching in Nebraska.
After 10 years of cooking and caring for other nuns, McRaith thought she would like to become a nurse’s aid, a job where she would be able to assist in the care of others who might need her more.
Following her training, she worked at a New Prague hospital for three years, gaining experience, and eventually returned to Nebraska to get her degree as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), which she received in 1975.
For many years after she received her LPN training, she did home care nursing in Omaha.
In 1990, she worked at a Franciscan mother house in Illinois for three years, taking care of the elderly nuns.
She believes her decision to move home in 1993 has brought her full circle, returning her to her roots.
“It just evolved. I couldn’t have planned it this way. God planned it,” she said.
McRaith acknowledges the “wonderful” care her brothers and sisters did in taking care of their parents, but was glad she was able to do her part, too.
She has two older brothers Jerry (Jeremiah) of Waverly; Bernie of Hutchinson; and two younger sisters, Pat Miles who lives in Arizona; and Rita Butterfield, who lives in Seattle.