SISTER MARIE MICHEL ALLAIN
Marie Eleanor Lillian Allain (called Eleanor by her family) was born on August 22, 1916, on a farm owned by her paternal grandfather in Neguac, New Brunswick, Canada. Her parents were Michael and Zula (Green) Allain.
Michael Allain was from Neguac, New Brunswick, and was of French and Indian descent. As a young man he left Canada for the State of Michigan in the United States, where he and a friend established a canning factory in South Haven. After a time he met and married Zula Green, a young woman of English ancestry. She was originally from Gobles, a small settlement a few miles from South Haven. About two years after his marriage he and his wife returned to Canada to assist his father on the farm, where their daughter was born.
When Eleanor was two years old her parents moved back to South Haven, and her father took up his responsibility at the canning factory. Her brother Michael was born in South Haven. He was five years younger than she, but she was delighted to have a playmate; and, as they grew older, they became very close. The parents must have been fond of animals. In her autobiography, Sister Michel wrote, “Mike and I always had pets — rabbits or cats — and a dog, Curly, joined the household.” Both youngsters attended Hartman grade and junior high school in South Haven and cultivated their own circle of friends, but they always remained devoted siblings. Eleanor was not quite eight years old when the Allains, with their children, became naturalized United States citizens on May 19, 1924.
During her school years, Eleanor took piano lessons for seven years and sang in the children’s choir. In tenth grade, she transferred from South Haven Senior High School to Marywood Academy in Grand Rapids with the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters, where she continued with her music and singing. She graduated in June 1936, and registered at St. Joseph College in Adrian with the Adrian Dominican Sisters. In April 1939, the Dominican Sisters changed the college’s name to Siena Heights in honor of St. Catherine of Siena, and so Eleanor graduated in June 1940 from Siena Heights College (now University) with a bachelor’s degree. Her major was in French, with minors in Spanish, English, and history.
Eleanor had come from a home where her parents were dedicated Catholics. Prayer and attendance at Mass were important. So it is not surprising that the Dominican lifestyle and white habit attracted her. A few weeks after her graduation from Siena Heights on June 8, 1940, and with her parents’ blessing, she entered the postulate at Adrian on June 24, two months before her twenty-fourth birthday.
During her postulancy and novitiate she tutored in French literature and assisted at St. Clement Infirmary. She and her group received the habit and their religious names on January 7, 1941. They then began the required canonical novitiate year, culminating in first profession of vows on January 8, 1942.
For six years after profession Sister Marie Michel taught in Michigan schools, beginning with second grade at Queen of the Miraculous Medal in Jackson. In 1943, she was transferred to St. Theresa in Detroit, where she taught in the middle grades and also served as musician. From 1945 to 1947, she served as musician at St. Lawrence in Utica and St. Mary in Rockwood, for a year each. After that, in most of her assignments she not only conducted a classroom but also served as musician. A period of sadness entered her life when her mother died of bone cancer in August 1946.
In 1948, Sister Marie Michel was assigned to St. Matthew in Chicago, where she taught in the middle grades and trained the choir for four years. Returning to Michigan, she served for two years at Holy Angels in Sturgis and four years at St. Joseph in Rockdale as teacher of middle grade students and as musician. There again she knew sadness, when in January 1955 she joined her brother and his family in South Haven for the funeral of their father and grandfather.
The year 1958 brought a change into her life. She was sent to the West, where she served for the balance of her ministry, beginning at St. Raphael in Los Angeles, California. Three years later, she moved to Arizona and spent three years at Loretto in Douglas on the junior high level. In 1964, she returned to California and spent three years at St. Louis Bertrand in Oakland. She wrote, “I was in the parish adult choir. At Christmastime, the group joined several other choirs to present Handel’s ‘Messiah.’” This was an experience that she enjoyed immensely.
Three years in New Mexico followed at Sacred Heart in Albuquerque. At the wake, Sister Patricia Wylie remembered:
In 1970, Sister Marie Michel returned to St. Louis Bertrand in Oakland, California, for the next nineteen years, where she served for fifteen years as teacher and assistant principal, and for four years in the library. She left in 1989, the year the convent closed. Sister Patricia Wylie had some memories from those years also:
In December 1993, the death of her brother Michael was a blow to Sister Marie Michel, and she recovered slowly. The next year Sister Patricia left the Thrift Shop and moved to Henderson, Nevada. That same year, after five years at St. Vincent Thrift Store, Sister Marie Michel moved into Villa Serra in Salinas, California, where she remained for nine years and volunteered her services in many ways. She loved the people there.
In 2003, it was necessary for her to leave Villa Serra and move back to Adrian, where she took up residence in the Maria Building of the Dominican Life Center. It was not too long before Sister Patricia also returned to Adrian. At the wake, she said:
Sister Marie Michel’s wake-remembrance service was held in St. Catherine Chapel on May 30. Sister Joan Sustersic, Prioress of Holy Rosary Mission Chapter, opened the service, and welcomed those who had assembled to bid Sister Marie Michel farewell. Her niece Michele Charleston was present, with her husband Jim and their granddaughter Samantha, and there were also several great grandnieces and grandnephews. Many of Sister Michel’s Dominican friends were also present.
Sister Joan summarized Sister Michel’s life and ministry, and spoke of the time that she spent in Adrian during her last years.
Michel Charleston, Sister Michel’s niece, told a humorous story.
Sister Agnes Carmel Dziak, a member of Sister Michel’s “crowd,” also spoke.
Sister Patricia Wylie shared.
Father Roland Calvert, OSFS, was the presider and homilist at Sister Marie Michel’s funeral liturgy on May 31. Among Father’s remarks were:
God took Sister Marie Michel to eternity on May 26, 2006, still in the beautiful Easter season. It is fitting that she, who loved the Eucharist so much, entered eternity at this time. Father Calvert reminded the assembly that Pope John XXIII once said, “Every day is a good day to be born and a good day to die.” So it was for Sister Marie Michel, when she joined her beloved God, her parents, and her brother in eternal peace and joy. Her niece Michele spoke of how much she will be missed here; but we know that she is in a better place, free of limitations and pain.