SISTER MARIE MICHEL ALLAIN
1916-2006

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:

I didn’t know how to drive at that time, but she loved to drive. It was during the late ‘60s, and there were lots of meetings going on. Sisters were getting grants to go to school. Sister Marie Michel and I got grants and went to the University of New Mexico at Las Cruces. Sister Marie Michel was thrilled, especially with driving back and forth to attend the classes and meetings. It was usually around midnight or 1:00 a.m. that we’d stop at a diner, and she’d get pie and coffee. I said, “You can’t fool me! I know why you like to drive.” She was always willing to do anything asked of her. But those days were difficult.

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:

I asked her to live with me in Mayer, Arizona, and work in the St. Vincent Thrift Store. She came in January to see whether she would want to come there. I think the trump card was where we lived. It was one of the pathways where many wild creatures passed through town to get to the river. She loved animals, so she came. Later, we had to move to a different location. We had a screened-in back porch, and we could have breakfast every morning with a lot of little wild creatures if we were up early enough.

She arrived in June, began working at the Thrift Store, and soon was librarian. This became her ministry. If customers came in to browse, she soon had them in her department discussing books.

She soon became interested in Meals on Wheels, and was helping out there, too. She said “yes” to any request, whether it was sorting dresses, working the cash register, or arranging books. But after a while, Sister’s tremors became more pronounced and activities were much more difficult for her.

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:

After she came to Adrian, I never heard her complain. She was so grateful for everything done for her. She loved being able to attend Mass in her room and to say her prayers there. This last month, when I went to visit, I would find her with her arms outstretched. She was prayerful, courageous, and most affectionate.

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.

Somewhere along the line, she developed a love for green onions, which she enjoyed at dinner and supper every day. That was her salad.

She was a voracious reader, and Sister Pat provided books for her. Their friendship continued when Sister Pat moved to Adrian. Pat visited her every day.

Because of Sister Marie Michel’s difficulty in getting around and her essential tremors, she stayed in her room. She loved company, and was always delighted to see visitors. Once in a while she’d attend Mass in her wheelchair, on the balcony. Usually, she watched the Mass on TV … She participated in the Office on TV, also. She was so pleased to be closer to her niece Michele and her family. It was a delight to her when they came to visit.

Sister had been having a great deal of pain from arthritis, and she was less able to get around. Because there didn’t seem to be any physical reason for her decline, she was sent for X-rays. It was discovered that she had cancer that had metastasized to the bone. She was peaceful with the news, and was willing to do what God had in store for her. The family was here on Sunday, May 21, because Sister had told them of her condition, and all her great nieces and nephews came, too.

She never forgot to say “please” or “thank you.” One day, when she was lying in bed, she said, “Please.” When I asked her what I could do for her, she said that she’d like her cat, that she hadn’t seen him in a long time. I asked her if a stuffed cat would do. She agreed, and Sister Annette Glendenning loaned her a fluffy white cat which pleased Sister Michel immensely.

Michel Charleston, Sister Michel’s niece, told a humorous story.

I remember that my aunt could never pass up on a dare. When she was a child walking across a metal bridge in the winter, someone dared her to put her tongue on the metal. When she was able to get it loose, she left a part of her tongue on the metal.

She tried to teach me to play the piano, but I’m not musically inclined. I learned where middle C was, and that was about it. But she passed her love of reading on to me, and now we all read a lot — because of her.

Sister Agnes Carmel Dziak, a member of Sister Michel’s “crowd,” also spoke.

I never talked to her much until she came here, and then we visited a lot. We had some good chats. I found her to be prayerful, kind, joyful, and pleasant to be with.

Sister Patricia Wylie shared.

When I called the Thrift Store to let them know that Sister had died, they said, “Oh, we have another angel!” It was their custom to put the names of deceased helpers up in the store as angels. So I know that her name is up there. So now we have an angel at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

Father Roland Calvert, OSFS, was the presider and homilist at Sister Marie Michel’s funeral liturgy on May 31. Among Father’s remarks were:

All who have spoken of Sister Marie Michel have mentioned her deep spirituality and her fervent prayer. She stayed close to God, the source of her strength.

Paul quotes the words of Jesus, “There is more happiness in giving than receiving.” This was very much the attitude of Sister Marie Michel during her life. She was very generous in sharing her time and energy with others, and helping them in any way she could …

Another lifelong habit was reading. She was an avid reader and taught others to read, promising them, “You will never be bored!” … Because of health reasons, she did not vacation often, but books must have served the purpose of getting away to other places.

Sister Michel has been here at the Dominican Life Center for the last three years. Her office book, I’m told, is worn out from frequent use. She made a holy hour each day, and was very dedicated to prayer. She had a particular love of the Eucharist, and received Jesus each day with palpable joy.

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.