SISTER AGNES CHARLES SPOUTZ
1921-2006

Sister Agnes Charles Spoutz devoted the first page of her interesting and detailed autobiography to extending gratitude to “all those wonderful forces who led me to today.” She thanked God, her parents and siblings, the Adrian Dominican Congregation, the IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary) Sisters with whom she lived and worked for a time, and all her relatives and friends.

She also told us something about her parents, August Charles and Irene Agnes (Ebach) Spoutz. Both were born and raised in Ruth, Michigan, both were of German ancestry, and both came from large families. Her father was raised on a farm. Her mother’s father was a blacksmith. Both parents came from dedicated Catholic families. They were married in 1916 at SS. Peter and Paul Church in Ruth, but soon moved to Detroit where their children were born.

On August 26, 1921, a daughter came into the family and was baptized Margaret Clementine. She would later be known as Sister Agnes Charles. Three daughters had preceded her (Geraldine, Kathleen, and Marion) and she was followed by two sons (Thomas and William). In 1924, when Margaret was three years old, the family moved into St. Theresa Parish, where all the children were educated at St. Theresa School with the Adrian Dominican Sisters. When Margaret was in sixth grade, she began helping Sister Ellenita Boyle, who was teaching first grade. “I really became a professional first grade teacher.” Her teachers gave her time off in order to help, and all her high school study halls were spent assisting in first grade. It was during this time that her vocation to the religious life came into being.

Shortly after graduation she left home for Adrian, where on June 25, 1939, she received the postulant’s veil from Mother Mary Gerald Barry. She wrote that it was hard for her to leave home.

I loved everything about my home. My mom and dad were very special and very good parents. My brothers and sisters were the finest anyone could have. I loved them all so much. God promised a hundredfold to those who left mother and father, brothers and sisters, for His sake, and also life everlasting. I’ve certainly received the hundredfold and hope for eternal life.

There were twenty-three young women in the postulate at that time, and they were busy with college classes and learning how to live their new lives. On January 3, 1940, they received the habit and their religious names — “a happy and exciting day. Mom and Dad were so proud!” The required canonical novitiate year followed, a year of prayer, training, and study — “a busy year, filled with laughter, tears, the development of friendships and a new love for Jesus.”

Margaret and her group professed their first vows on January 8, 1941. The next day she was on the train for Chicago, where she taught at St. Carthage School. She taught classes on the junior high level first — sixty-five seventh graders and sixty-eight eighth graders. The next year she was assigned to first grade with eighty-five young children. In 1943, she was sent to Sacred Heart School in Bad Axe, Michigan, where she taught primary children. After four years, she was again in Chicago, this time at Queen of Angels School, where she remained for a year. She had been studying at Siena Heights College (now University) in Adrian during the summers and in summer 1948, she received a bachelor’s degree with a major in history and minors in English and mathematics.

In 1948, she spent her only years away from the Midwest. She taught at Blessed Martin School in Fort Pierce, Florida, and resided at St. Anastasia Convent. This was a school for African-American children, and she taught middle grade and junior high students for six years. She wrote, “These were happy years. The children and parents were so grateful, and really loved us.” She also wrote that they lived through several hurricanes. Another traumatic experience was her father’s death of cancer in 1953. During the summers she studied at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and in August 1954, received a master’s degree in education, majoring in school administration and supervision.

Brought back to the Midwest, in September 1954 she began her high school ministry at Visitation in Detroit. She wrote:

In 1955, I began to work on my doctorate at WayneState. It was hard work because I had a full day of teaching and went to school at night and on Saturdays. After completing my course work, I couldn’t do more. I asked Mother Gerald to relieve me of my studies. She agreed.

In 1959, her mother died suddenly of a heart attack. Sister Agnes Charles wrote, “I know she missed Dad so much and wanted to be with him.”

After six years at Visitation she was transferred to Bishop Muldoon High School in Rockford, Illinois, as superior and principal. Following a successful six-year term, she was sent back to Detroit, this time to Bishop Borgess High School, where she spent two years.

In 1968, she was again assigned as superior and principal, this time at St. Alphonsus in Dearborn, Michigan. When her six-year term ended, she served a year as principal on the elementary level at St. Bridget in Loves Park, Illinois, then moved to St. Mary of Redford in Detroit as an elementary teacher for two years. There she lived and worked with the IHM Sisters.

She became principal of St. Cyril of Jerusalem Elementary School in Taylor, Michigan, in 1980. After serving there for ten years she was in poor health, so she took a year’s sabbatical. “I studied at Madonna University for a semester. I wanted to see if I might be interested in working with senior citizens. I decided that was not my calling.” She also spent twelve days in Florida at her niece’s condo.

In her autobiography she summarized her ministry with these words:

During my fifty years of teaching and administration, I worked with many children and parents. I pray to God that I taught them to love God and serve Him all the days of their lives … My days with children were always happy days. I thank God for them.

In need of an easier ministry, she returned to St. Mary of Redford as attendance clerk and served there for almost nine years. Again, she ministered with the IHM Sisters. She wrote, “I live in an apartment, and I find tremendous peace and quiet in my little space.”

In July 1988, her sister Marion died. Sister Agnes Charles wrote:

She died when my brother, sisters, and I were at my brother’s summer home at MulletLake. We were all together in the water when Marion had a heart attack and died. This was a sudden tragedy that I have never gotten over. My life was saddened without her.

In December 2000, with failing health, she returned to Adrian. She celebrated her Diamond Jubilee that year — “sixty years as an Adrian Dominican in the service of God and His Church.”

Sister Agnes Charles loved to travel, and her opportunities were many. In the summer of 1955, she spent nine weeks in Europe, including visits to Lourdes and Ireland. In the 1970s, she traveled through eastern and western United States, Canada, parts of Florida, and Kentucky, including Thomas Merton’s monastery. In 1984, she spent time in Canada, the Holy Land (“It made Scripture come alive”), Italy, France, and Greece. In 1990, she was given the opportunity to visit Poland, Austria, and Bavaria, including a trip to Oberammergau to see the Passion Play.

Sister Agnes Charles’s wake-remembrance service took place on July 19 in St. Catherine Chapel. Present were her sister Kathleen Harris, her brother Tom and his wife Shirley, many nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, other relatives, and her many Dominican friends. Sister Joan Sustersic, Prioress of Holy Rosary Mission Chapter, welcomed them and extended sympathy. She summarized Sister Agnes Charles’s life and ministry and spoke of her last years.

I was her Chapter Prioress in Great Lakes Chapter in 2000. She had surgery in November. It was recommended that she have a series of radiation treatments, but those never came about. While recuperating from surgery, she suffered a debilitating stroke. We arranged for her to come to the Dominican Life Center in December 2000. It was a difficult time for her. She missed being in close proximity to her family, but the distance didn’t prevent them from coming to see her.

For some time, her health has declined. She knew that she was preparing for her last journey, and talked of it openly. Several times she had a change of condition, but always bounced back … [When she went to God] she was eighty-four years of age and had spent sixty-six years as a professed Adrian Dominican Sister.

Sister’s nephew Ed Wilkie shared some memories of “Aunt Margie.” He said in part:

I remember that having Aunt Margie come to visit was quite an event. The house had to be spotless, we had to be spotless, and, of course, we had to be on our best behavior. Additionally, the dinner was specially made — no leftovers or quick meals when she came! When I got older and she came to my home, her visits continued to be special events. It’s not because she demanded the special treatment; I think it’s because of what she represented.

What also stands out for me is how Aunt Margie was always expecting the best from me and, just as importantly, for me. She wanted all of us to be well educated, interested in each other, successful in our jobs, faithful to the family, faithful to the church, and, of course, happy.

Her grandnephew Rick Borzymowski, who was her godson, also shared and part of what he said is quoted:

One lesson I learned from her very early on was that you really could live Jesus’ commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” She gave of her time and talent, she loved to teach, she loved to celebrate and gather people together, she loved her neighbor as herself and lived a life of ministering.

I’m grateful for the lessons Aunt Margie taught me. I’m grateful that she taught me to pray, for the love we shared, and that her suffering is over. I’m grateful, honored, and proud to be her godson. I’m truly glad that she is walking once again on streets of gold, with angels, saints, family, friends, and Jesus. I thank her, and I love her.

Nancy Wilkie, Sister’s niece, spoke of her aunt. She said in part:

Aunt Margie was our hero. She taught many of us how to swim. She never got into the pool, but she stood on the side and watched. I can remember going over to her apartment. She always had treats … She had an array of music boxes, and gave many of us one to remember her by. We played dice a lot, too, and she was very good. She always won.

I followed in her footsteps. I became a teacher … I’ve met people who knew her. I teach in Dearborn, and many people there remember her.

Carol Barzymowski, Sister’s niece, said in part:

Aunt Margie was a wonderful person. She excelled in being a good daughter, sister, friend, and educator … She was a giving person — whether of her time, talents, or advice — but it was always giving with love. She has given all of us two very special gifts:

Memories. Every one is beautiful.

Example. Her life is the perfect example of how to live. It’s as simple as love. And that is what she did every day — always thinking of others first

I loved her very much. She will be truly missed.

Sister Loretta Schroeder, IHM spoke:

I thank our Dominican Sisters for the gift of this wonderful woman, to the core filled with faith and a dynamic person.

She was a wonderful cook. She made soufflés that would have taken prizes. She made rolls that she had to get up several times at night to punch or roll. She was the best teacher that I ever met … She was as tough as nails but the students loved and respected her. She changed her bulletin boards for every liturgical season. She was a super, super person, a wonderful friend, and we will miss her.

The funeral liturgy for Sister Agnes Charles was held on July 20. Father Roland Calvert, OSFS, was the presider and homilist.

On July 17, 2006, Sister Agnes Charles left us for eternity and reunion with the loved ones who preceded her. As Father Roland said, “She faithfully followed the way of Jesus, and she now receives, in all its fullness, the life promised by the Lord. We rejoice with her.”