In Our History
Alvara Graham -1907
Sister Michael Esper 1874-1907
- by Catherine Podvin, OP
our early Congregational tradition, the names of Sisters Alvara Graham
and Michael Esper were always associated. They died nine days apart at
St. Joseph Convent in Marblehead, Ohio.
Very little is known about Sister Alvara, not even her birth year. She
was born in Ireland and probably educated there. After working for a short
time, she received the habit in 1877 at Holy Rosary Convent on Second
Street, New York City, and was professed in 1878. It is possible that
she was still in her teens. After a few years of teaching in the eastern
part of the country, she was sent to Michigan, the "Peninsula of
Sister Alvara was one of the sisters who ministered for a time at St.
Joseph Hospital and Home for the Aged in Adrian. She was also one of the
sisters who, in 1893, opened St. Joseph School in Marblehead, and later
was assigned to St. Joseph School in Wyandotte, Michigan. In 1901, she
returned to Marblehead as superior and principal.
Elizabeth Esper, the future Sister Michael, was the daughter of Catherine
(Horger) and Jacob Esper, German immigrants who had settled on a fertile
farm in Springwells, Michigan, now known as Dearborn. One of 13 children,
Elizabeth was born on August 20, 1874. The Espers were dedicated Catholics,
and it is not surprising that two of their daughters entered religious
life (Elizabeth became an Adrian Dominican and another daughter entered
the Agnetian Sisters of Fon du lac, Wisconsin), and three of their sons
were ordained priests.
Before her entrance, Elizabeth studied music and kept house for her brother,
Father Michael Esper. She was 26 when she entered the Congregation in
1900. After profession in 1902, and known as Sister Michael, she taught
music in Michigan schools: Gagetown, Bronson and Ruth. Her last assignment
was in Marblehead, where Sister Alvara was superior and principal.
It was at Marblehead that Sister Michael suffered a severe heart attack,
and discovered that she had a very serious heart condition. Sister Alvara
cared for her compassionately, until she herself was struck with pneumonia
and died on January 14, 1907. It is possible that she was somewhere between
45 and 50 years of age. Just before her death, she promised that she would
ask the Lord to allow her to come back for Sister Michael in nine days.
Strange as it may seem,
Sister Michael died nine days later, on January 23, 1907, at the age of
This coincidence was the source of a story told and retold for a while
throughout the Congregation.
Since it was the custom at that time to bury the sisters in the areas
they died, Sister Alvara was buried in Marblehead. At the request of her
family, Sister Michael was buried in Adrian. It is interesting to note
that three of her nieces also became Adrian Dominicans: Sisters Evangeline,
Michael, and Lambertine Theisen.