SISTER BIBIANA SINGER
1912-2006

Sister Bibiana Singer was the youngest of five children. At her birth on August 6, 1912, the doctors informed her parents that she would not live. How wrong they were! She lived for ninety-four years, seventy-three of them as an Adrian Dominican.

John Joseph and Theresa (Gildea) Singer, Sister Bibiana’s parents, gave their children rather unusual names: Clement, Ambrose, Lambert, Praxedes, and Bibiana. There was a reason for this. John Singer, who had a common name, was at one time confused with another John Singer, and he did not want the same thing to happen to his children. The Singer home must have been a place where love of God and prayer were cherished — three of the five children entered the service of the Church.

Both parents were from Michigan. John Singer was from a large family, and had been brought up on a farm near Wyandotte. The farm was later sold, but his brother Will continued to operate it. John worked at the J. L. Hudson Company. In her 1994 autobiography, Sister Bibiana wrote:

His was a responsible position; he supervised all the supplies of that prosperous store … J.L. Hudson figured prominently in the life of the Singer family. In times of illness and bereavement, the employees were as one family, coming to the aid of those in need. Christmas bonuses and other helps added to the sense of being well provided for.

John was highly respected, and called the men with whom he worked “princes.”

Theresa Gildea was born in Roscommon County, Ireland. At the age of sixteen and alone, she followed some of her older siblings to America and lived in Detroit with her married sister Nora. Sister Bibiana did not tell us how her parents met.

After their marriage, the Singers lived in Detroit, in St. Leo Parish, and their children all attended the parish school with the Sisters of Charity. Bibiana was six years old and had not yet begun school when her mother died on October 18, 1918. The flu epidemic was raging, but Theresa Singer died of a heart attack, not the flu. After her death, one of her sisters, Mary, lived with the family during the week while their father was working, and returned to her own home for the weekend. Praxedes helped her aunt, and took care of her younger sister.

John Singer, thus widowed at an early age, assumed all the responsibilities of both parents. To be sure, he was aided by “Aunt Mary” throughout the week, but he was definitely the head of the household … He was an excellent cook, manager of the house, carpenter, and housekeeper. The children helped, of course.

The boys in the family all worked, and were able to help finance their college years. All of them earned degrees. Clement went to the seminary, and was ordained a priest.

John Singer spent his vacation days with his children. Sister Bibiana wrote of delightful trips to Belle Isle, Bob-Lo, and other family gatherings. At times, he visited his brother on the farm where they had both grown up.

The Sisters of Charity were very helpful to the family, especially at the time of the mother’s death, and they were always very dear to the Singers.

Probably because of fragile health, Bibiana was eight years old when she began school at St. Leo, and she graduated from eighth grade in 1928. Her high school years were spent at St. Theresa School with the Adrian Dominican Sisters, and she graduated in June 1932. That was also the year that Praxades graduated from Marygrove College, and the year that John Singer retired. The year that followed “was a happy and carefree one for the household.”

In the summer of that year, on June 17, 1933, Bibiana appeared in Adrian and was one of the girls from St. Theresa who entered the postulate. There were several of them, and they met at St. Theresa Convent and traveled together to Adrian. There they accepted the postulant’s veil from Sister Mary Gerald Barry, the novice mistress. Mother Augustine Walsh had died six months earlier; and on June 24, a week after their entrance, the new group of postulants saw the election of Sister Mary Gerald as the third Mother General of the Adrian Dominicans when the third General Chapter of the Adrian Dominicans was held.

Bibiana and her group received the habit and their religious names on December 27, and she was allowed to keep her own baptismal name as her religious name. This ceremony was the beginning of the required canonical novitiate year, a year of studying Dominican traditions and way of life, as well as attending college classes at Siena Heights College (now University). She and her group professed their first vows on December 31, 1934.

Her first assignment kept her as a full-time student at Siena Heights for the rest of the school year and the following summer. In July 1934, she returned home for her father’s funeral. On one of his visits to his brother on the farm, he had died in the same way his wife had died — suddenly, of a heart attack.

In August 1935, Sister Bibiana began her ministry as a teacher of middle-grade students at St. Joseph School in Homewood, Illinois. She was delighted when Praxades entered the postulate in August 1937, and was later known as Sister John Therese.

Four years later, in August 1939, Sister Bibiana was brought back to Michigan and spent the next eight years in Michigan: six years at St. Bernard in Alpena, where her sister, Sister John Therese was also assigned, a year at St. Joseph in Wyandotte, and a year at Precious Blood in Detroit. In July 1942, as a result of summer study at Siena Heights College in Adrian, she received a bachelor’s degree with a major in English and minor in history.

The year 1947 saw her traveling to Florida where she spent ten years. She taught for two years at St. Mary in Walton Beach, then was assigned as teaching principal and superior at Little Flower in Hollywood. Sister John Therese was also in Florida. She had been teaching at St. Patrick School in Miami Beach since 1946, and in 1952, she became superior and principal there, so the sisters were able to see each other frequently. When Sister Bibiana’s successful term in administration finished, she spent three years at St. Anastasia in Fort Pierce. During the summers of 1951 and 1955, she found it necessary to have medical attention.

Returning to the Midwest, she was assigned to St. Edmund in Oak Park, Illinois. She and Sister John Therese, who was at Mount St. Mary in St. Charles, were again close enough to visit. At the end of five years, Sister Bibiana spent a year at St. Jude in Detroit. It was during that year, 1963, that she and Sister John Therese attended the funeral of their brother Ambrose. His widow Ruth, however, became the center of the Singer family. It was at her home that family gatherings were held.

Again, in 1964, Sister Bibiana was on the train, this time for Buffalo, New York, where she served as principal and superior at Mother of Divine Grace School. Sister John Therese was missioned at Dominican High School in Detroit. She became ill and was diagnosed with terminal cancer. On March 21, 1965, while her brother, Father Clement, was celebrating Mass in the convent chapel, Sister John Therese died. Sister Bibiana was devastated, but finished her term in Buffalo.

She returned to Michigan and taught for two years at St. Lawrence in Utica, two years at Holy Name in Detroit, and served as parish minister for six years at St. John Parish in Flint. In 1979, a year before she left Flint, Father Clement died, leaving Sister Bibiana as the sole surviving member of her immediate family. She was not, however, the only member of the family in the Congregation. One of her nieces, Joann, had entered the postulate in 1948, and was known as Sister Judith Mary. She also had three priest-nephews: Rev. James Singer, OSA; Rev. John A. Singer, SJ; and Rev. Jerome Singer.

Sister Bibiana returned to Florida, and spent a year as librarian at St. Joseph Parish in Stuart. Her health was failing, so in 1982, she thought it time to go back to the Motherhouse. She lived with a group of sisters in Regina Residence and for a time served as sacristan in Holy Rosary Chapel. Because of her health, she gave up that ministry and became a volunteer. In 1993, she found it necessary to move into the Dominican Life Center/Maria, until her death in July 2006.

Sister Bibiana’s wake-remembrance service was held on July 20 in St. Catherine Chapel. Present were: her niece, Sister Judith Mary; her nephews, Father Jerome and Jim; and her many Dominican friends.

Sister Joan Sustersic welcomed those who had come to say farewell to Sister Bibiana. She summarized Sister Bibiana’s life and ministry, and spoke of her last years.

Sister Bibiana had a marvelous sense of humor and an infectious laugh. Despite continuing health problems, she maintained her sense of humor. A very thin woman, she continued to grow weaker.

On Tuesday, July 18, she went down to the beauty parlor. She had been feeling poorly and it was thought that a hairdo would lift her spirits. It was in the beauty parlor that she became ill, was brought back to her room, and passed away — just that quickly.

Several sisters gathered yesterday to share stories of Sister Bibiana. While most didn’t feel adept at using the microphone, the feelings were unanimous: prayerful woman, kind, gentle, loving, thoughtful of all in the house, a positive woman who enjoyed teasing co-workers and sisters, one who always buoyed others up.

Sister Judith Mary Singer, Sister Bibiana’s niece, praised her aunt.

Sister Bibiana, my aunt, was such a wonderful example of how to live our lives. She was grateful for the care she received, for all the Congregation gave her, and for everything that she had. She expressed her thankfulness in every way that she could every day.

She was a brave person, living with suffering and yet with little complaint. One day she said to me, “Whoever thought I’d be a bag lady!” Her colostomy was a real trial to her. She took care of herself the best that she could. The nurses only did it when she couldn’t. It was something that was part of her daily life. She suffered all those indignities — not having her inner organs working right.

She had a lot of courage, and shared it in many ways …She always ignored the bad and rejoiced in the good. She was kind to everyone, always loving and always saying how much she appreciated those who stopped to see her. Those who came to see her left in better spirits than when they came.

Sister Mary Pat Dewey, Delegate of the Mantellata Mission Group, also spoke in praise of Sister Bibiana.

Sister Bibiana was the prayer supporter for our group. She took this ministry very seriously and prayed for the group every day … One day I went to visit her after she had a serious fall. As soon as I walked in her room she said, “You tell that Mission Group that this prayer thing can go two ways!” I immediately left and sent an e-mail to people and asked them to keep her in prayer.

Sister Bibiana was always happy and loved to joke with you. She had a sharp wit and a great love of life. She was always grateful to everyone for all of the things they did for her, whether they were large things or small.

Sister Bibiana’s funeral took place on July 21. Her nephew, Father Jerome Singer, was the presider and homilist. Father explained the readings, and paid much tribute to his beloved “Aunt Bib.”

On July 18, 2006, God took Sister Bibiana to eternity. There, with her parents, her beloved siblings, Sister John Therese, Lambert, and Ambrose, she is enjoying the peace and tranquility promised to those who love God above all else. Her relatives and friends spoke of how much they will miss her — they will keep her memory in their hearts.