Women In Our History
Sister Magdalen Ullrich
1872 - 1922
– by Catherine Podvin, OP
Of the 10 children in the Ullrich family, four entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation. They were Sisters Magdalen, Gabriel, Celestine, and Bernard.
Philomena Ullrich, the future Sister Magdalen, was born on Christmas Day, 1872, in Sachenbach, Bavaria. Her parents were Magdalen (Bachman) and George Ullrich. The family left Bavaria for America, and settled in the Thumb of Michigan on a farm near Gagetown, where Philomena and her siblings met the Dominican Sisters at St. Agatha Parish. She was the first of the Ullrich sisters to enter.
Sister Magdalen with her siblings, Sisters Gabriel, Celestine and Bernard.
When Philomena arrived in Traverse City where the novitiate of the Midwest Province of the New York Dominicans was located, she was 19 years old. She asked to be a "lay novice," which at that time was a sister who did domestic work. Her German accent was strong, and all of her education had been in German, so she did not feel capable of teaching in English. She received the habit and her religious name on April 1, 1891, a year before the novitiate of the Province was transferred to Adrian. In 1892, the year the new Province in Adrian was canonically erected, one of her sisters entered there and was known as Sister Gabriel.
In August 1893, Sister Magdalen, with three other novices, was sent to Adrian to take first vows under Mother Camilla Madden. The bishop of Grand Rapids had been negotiating with the New York Dominicans for the separation of the sisters in his See from New York, and this came about in 1894. The Dominican Sisters in the Diocese of Grand Rapids became an independent congregation with their Motherhouse in Grand Rapids. Sister Magdalen chose to remain with the Dominican Sisters in the Adrian Province, as did her sister. Later, two more Ullrich sisters entered in Adrian.
Although she had asked to be a domestic, Sister Magdalen was sent to teach at St. Joseph in Port Huron, Michigan. Later, she was appointed superior at Holy Cross in Delray, Michigan, and at Assumption in Swanton, Ohio. The sisters who served under her regarded her as considerate and fair, one to be loved, not feared. In preparing her own school work, she frequently consulted others for help in English, and stayed up late writing her lesson plans. When the other sisters were working on their lesson plans, Sister Magdalen frequently made cupcakes, and served hot chocolate or coffee.
In 1922, Sister Magdalen was appointed superior at Ruth, Michigan. On her way there, she stopped in Delray, where she suffered a stroke and died on August 17 at age 49. Her body was taken back to Adrian for burial.