SISTER MARY GERALDA TRAUSCHT
1912-2006

GERALDA SISTER MARY

Sister Geralda Trauscht’s family was very dear to her, and she was dear to them. The following words, written by her niece Donna O’Keefe, attest to this fact.

When I received the news that Sister Geralda Trauscht, my Aunt Marie, was knocking at Heaven’s gates, the intensity of my grief surprised me. I thought I was prepared for the passing of someone who had lived more than ninety-three magnificent years. But I wasn’t. My aunt was an integral part of my life. I selfishly didn’t want to lose her.

In 2000, Sister Armella, Sister Geralda’s younger sister, died as the result of an automobile accident, a blow not only to Sister Geralda but to the entire Trauscht family. Now, six years later, Sister Geralda is reunited in eternity with her Dominican sister and all of the loved ones who preceded them.

Marie Lucille, the future Sister Geralda, was the second child born to Anna (Simon) and Francis Trauscht of Chicago. On November 18, 1912, she was welcomed into the family by her older sister Florence, and she and Florence soon welcomed three other sisters, Frances, Mildred, and Peggy. They inherited Belgian, Irish, and French ancestry from their parents.

In her interview, Sister Geralda spoke of her happy childhood. Francis Trauscht owned and operated a jewelry store that provided a good living for his family. The family resided in the back. There were close relatives nearby, and the children visited them often. Sister Geralda spoke of walking around the neighborhood, and of playing in the park that it included, without fear. The worry for children’s safety that is prevalent today did not exist in those years. They also walked to St. Rita School, which they all attended through eighth grade.

In March 1922, tragedy struck the family. Sister Geralda recalled seeing her mother in bed one day, and the five little girls were sent to stay with neighbors for the night. There was a commotion early the next morning, and they were told that their mother and newborn baby brother were both dead. The funeral was the largest ever held at St. Rita Church, and she wrote that her grief-stricken father was supported by her grandmother and aunt as he walked up the aisle. “Without their support, I don’t know what he would have done.”

After the funeral, the girls went to live with different relatives. Florence, Marie, and Frances, who were in school, lived with their paternal grandmother. Each morning they attended Mass at St. Rita Church, where they sometimes were given breakfast at the convent before going to school. When school was over, they would stop at their father’s jewelry store and do their homework until he closed the store and took them home. Although the older girls were separated from their two little sisters, Mildred and Peggy, their father saw to it that they visited frequently.

The priest at St. Rita Parish, concerned for the welfare of the young family, constantly urged the father to remarry. After several months had passed, Francis Trauscht met another Anna, Anna Grady; and about a year after his first wife’s death, he and Anna were married. The girls loved her, and did not look upon her as a stepmother, but as their “second mother.” This second marriage brought two more sisters and two brothers into the family: Connie, Elaine, Frank, and Peter. One of the younger sisters suffered from polio, and another from spinal meningitis. Sister Geralda recalled that they were treated by a chiropractor for years.

When Marie graduated from eighth grade, she enrolled at Aquinas High School. During her high school years, she attended a business school in the evenings, and her uncle gave her an office job that paid $16 a week. Her older sister Florence was also working, and these two incomes gave financial help to the large family.

The idea of becoming a religious was fast taking hold in Marie’s mind. She spoke to the sisters at St. Rita, and to Mother Augustine Walsh when she came on visitation. At the end of her junior high school year, she went to Adrian and visited with Sister Mary Gerald Barry, the novice mistress, who urged her to enter that August and finish her high school work at St. Joseph Academy. Her family accompanied her to Adrian, and on August 15, 1929, she received the postulant’s veil at the age of sixteen.

Within a short time she was sent to Detroit to teach third grade at St. Brigid School. She returned to Adrian at Christmastime, and with her group received the habit and religious name on December 30 of that year. This ceremony began the required canonical novitiate year, ending in profession of first vows on December 31, 1931. Seven months later, in July 1932, her sister Frances entered and later was known as Sister Armella.

For thirty years Sister Geralda ministered in Michigan. She returned to St. Brigid, where she taught on all levels, ending with eighth grade, for seven years; and, in addition, trained the altar boys. At Sister Geralda’s wake, Sister Marie Siena Chmara remembered those years.

In 1935, a ten-year-old by the name of Betty Ann Chmara was assigned to a fifth-grade classroom at St. Brigid School. The teacher of the specific class was Sister Geralda. Sister Geralda personified those characteristics that are found in the ideal teacher and professional. She showed her love and respect for her students, and they, in turn, loved her. She not only taught us subject matte r— the “what” of the curriculum — but she taught us the “why” and “how.” She developed in us a love for learning and the excitement of discovery.

Let me share a few specific examples: she taught us spelling, the wonder of geography, the parts of speech by diagramming sentences. She would use her energies and talents not only to get us excited about learning but to impress upon us that learning is a lifelong activity … We are forever different because of her having been our teacher.

When she left St. Brigid, Sister Geralda was transferred to St. John in Ypsilanti for ten years, where Sister Armella was also missioned, then to St. Theresa in Detroit for two years. During this time, as a result of summer study, in August 1941 she had received a bachelor’s degree with a major in Latin and minors in English and history. In August 1947, she received a master’s degree in education from De Paul University in Chicago, with a minor in religion. In 1950, she became principal and superior at St. Patrick School in Escanaba, located in the Upper Peninsula. One of the sisters who lived and taught there at that time remembered how fun-loving Sister Geralda was, and how she would do the Charleston to entertain the sisters.

At the end of her successful six-year term, Sister Geralda was sent to Catholic Central High School in Alpena, where she taught history, religion, and English for a year, then spent a year and a half at St. Gabriel High School in Detroit. For the second semester of 1959, she taught at St. Mary Elementary School in New Baltimore.

In 1960, she began her ministry in Illinois, where she remained for the balance of her active years: two years at her alma mater, Aquinas High School in Chicago, two years at Muldoon High School in Rockford, and four years at Regina High School in Wilmette. In December 1962, her father died suddenly, and three months later her stepmother joined him in eternity.

In 1968, Sister Geralda was again assigned as principal and superior at St. Laurence Elementary School in Chicago. It seems that administration was no longer to her liking, and two years later she moved to Aquinas in Chicago for the second time, where she spent two years. In 1972, she applied to her home parish, St. Rita, where she taught in the school for seventeen years, and served as a retired volunteer for almost six years. Her sister, Sister Armella, was also there with her. In October 1995, St. Rita Convent was demolished, and the sisters moved to St. Catherine Alexandria Convent.

Sisters Lila Watt and Ann Kelly had also lived at St. Rita during those years. At the wake, Sister Ann said:

Sister Geralda was retired, and she had taught there for a long time. She kept getting lots of calls and letters from previous students, and was frequently invited out to dinner. Every time she got another invitation, Sister Lila and I would look at each other. We had taught there, too, and no one was calling or writing us, or inviting us out.

In 2000, a fall and broken bone made it necessary for Sister Armella to return to the Dominican Life Center/Maria at Adrian, and Sister Geralda accompanied her. Sister Armella was healing well, when the automobile accident that took her life occurred. Losing her was very hard for Sister Geralda but, aided by the love and concern of good friends, she managed to recover.

At the wake, Sister Rosemary Abramovich remembered: “When Sister Geralda came here, she wanted a ministry and we found one for her. She went around every night and turned out every light. She was a night hawk.”

Sister Mary Louise Gass also shared a remembrance.

About two years ago, I took her to a doctor … She got out of the car and went inside. I had an errand to do, so I did the errand and went back. She wasn’t there. I discovered that I had left her at the wrong doctor’s office. I found out that when she realized she was in the wrong office she took a ride with another lady who was leaving. The right doctor was about three blocks down the road. When I got there, I was told that she had seen the doctor and left. When I got home, I asked her how she got home. She said, “Someone was leaving, and I asked for a ride.” She never held it against me that I took her to the wrong place.

Sister Dorothy Worthy told an amusing story.

I lived with Sister Geralda when I first went on mission. I didn’t see her a lot until we both came here, and I guess she had forgotten me. One day she said to me, “Oh, dear, are you thinking about being a sister?” I said, “Sister Geralda, dear, I’ve been a sister for at least two generations. But I’m glad that you think I’m worthy to share your vocation.”

Sister Geralda’s wake was held on May 16 in St. Catherine Chapel. Sister Joan Sustersic, Prioress of Holy Rosary Mission Chapter, welcomed the members of St. Geralda’s family who were present: her sisters, Connie Kaufman and Elaine Kunycky; her brother Peter and his wife Joann; her nice Karen Kolovitz; her nephews Frank and Tim Kaufman and Tim’s son Sean; her cousin Mary Ann, friends Phil and Donalda Stokes; and her many Dominican friends. Sister Joan summarized Sister Geralda’s life and ministry. She added:

In these past few years, Sister Geralda’s pain in her back and knees from arthritis increased. She was deaf in one ear and had great difficulty in hearing with the other — even with a hearing aid. Despite that, she retained her keen sense of humor and delightful laugh. As she prepared for her final journey, she was very peaceful.

Sister Geralda’s niece, Donna O’Keefe, wrote:

My mother Florence said that Marie was born “a stickler for detail and doing things just right.” These traits never changed … She learned some lessons early — life is fragile, loss is painful, and often it’s necessary to put others before self … She saw the world’s glass as half full … Sister Geralda told me that she was a joyful child who liked to dance, play school, and participate in sports, especially swimming. Full of energy, she could hit a mean softball and do a wicked Charleston.

My fondest memories of my aunt include her ever present laughter, her sense of adventure (which showed itself as a willingness in middle age to learn to drive and to fly cross country to see new places), and her favorite exclamation of surprise, “Oh, my word!”

Sister Lila Watt also sent a message that was read at the wake. She wrote in part:

Sister Geralda pulled my name to be her intercessor about fifty-four years ago. I treasure the friendship that developed after that.

Nobody appreciated attending more than one Mass per day than did Sister Geralda. When possible, she managed to go to either two or three Masses some days. When she was on mission, she constantly extended herself to get to the wakes and funerals of the sisters. I admired her getting so much into twenty-four hours. She often slept only four hours a night, and packed a great deal into her schedule. It seemed as though she had bilocation — teaching, praying, cleaning, visiting relatives, etc.

Sister Geralda’s funeral liturgy was held on May 17 with Father Roland Calvert, OSFS, as presider and homilist. Father spoke of Sister Geralda’s love for the Eucharist. He added:

I can bear witness that she also highly valued the Sacrament of Reconciliation … Even in the garden- level community, when she had very little hearing left, she went to confession. I nearly lost my voice trying to make the penance heard on one occasion, so I soon learned to take a pad and just write it down.

The day of Sister Geralda’s funeral was the first day that the detail from the large painting of the last judgment by Fra Angelico appeared on the chapel wall. Father Calvert reminded the assembly that the picture is there to remind us of our destiny, the journey to God that awaits us all. On May 13, 2006, Sister Geralda made that journey. She is now with the loved ones who preceded her, all pain and sorrow have gone, and she rests from her labors — face to face with the God whom she served so well.