Bond between Benedictine sister, middle-school students still strong after 65 years

Sixty-five years ago, Benedictine Sister Lois Wedl was a young teacher with little training working with youth in grades 7 and 8. Looking back, she said, “I had no idea what I was doing!”

But her students remember it differently.

They recall her as a loving, caring teacher who made learning fun.

Five members of Sister Lois’ Holy Angels eighth-grade class from 1958 visited St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph March 21 to see their former teacher and celebrate the 65th anniversary of their eighth-grade graduation.

Marthann Halliday, Bonnie Maske, Trude Adam, Jack Hirschfeld and Gene Kruschek, all members of the 1958 class, took Sister Lois to lunch before gathering at the monastery for cake and visiting.

Jack Hirschfeld hands Sister Lois Wedl boxes of candy he brought for her.

“I was so young, and I didn’t have a degree or anything,” Sister Lois said. “They had no idea how much I didn’t know.”

Now 92, she started teaching at age 21 at Sacred Heart School in Sauk Rapids. After four years of teaching seventh grade, she was assigned to Holy Angels in St. Cloud. There she served as principal, taught seventh and eighth grade, directed the choir and worked with seven different priests.

“I was too young to know I couldn’t do it all, so I just did it,” she said.

As the group reminisced, Sister Lois talked about her students, remembering their names and even where they sat in the classroom.

“I just somehow had a great relationship with all of my students and their families. … We cared about each other,” she said.

Sister Lois described the relationship with her students as being like a family. Her former students agreed.

“I always felt so cared for and loved in your class,” Marthann told Sister Lois during her visit.

“I switched from a school in another town and eighth grade was my only year at Holy Angels,” Gene added. “I was scared to death. I came to class, and Sister Lois and the other students were so welcoming. It turned out to be the best year of my school years.”

Jack Hirschfeld had two special cakes made for the reunion — one featured a present-day photo of Sister Lois along with another photo of her as a young teacher. The other cake featured a photo from the class’ eighth-grade graduation.

Jack, who now lives in Chaska, Minnesota, organized the event and had two special cakes made — one featured a present-day photo of Sister Lois along with another photo of her as a young teacher. The other cake featured a photo from the class’ eighth-grade graduation.

“The significance of this reunion is the emphasis on the closeness of our class and our appreciation of Sister Lois,” Jack said.

“Our class was fortunate to have her as a teacher during our formative years,” he said. “While Holy Angels grade school no longer exists, the school played an important part in the lives of the students and the city of St. Cloud.”

Over cake and coffee, the group swapped stories, talked about how much fun they had and the trips they took as a class. They recalled other students who either couldn’t make it to the reunion or have passed away.

Seijin Klepp shows Sister Lois photos of her grandmother on her phone.

Seijin Klepp, a freshman at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, also joined the group. Her grandmother, Janet Connolly, who died several years ago, was a member of the class. She brought pictures of her family and her grandmother’s wedding to share

“You are all a very special part of my life,” Sister Lois told the group.

“To get together with you guys again is so special to me,” said Gene, who drove from his home in Kirkwood, Missouri, for the event. “And then to find out that Sister Lois is still here … I would have driven across the country.”

After four years at Holy Angels, Sister Lois moved to Long Prairie and later was assigned to teach high school in Puerto Rico.

“She was a good teacher, and we learned so much from her,” Gene said. “But it wasn’t just her teaching, it was her love and her personality that stuck with us all these years.”

Sister Lois said she doesn’t know why she ended up being chosen to teach middle-school-age students at the beginning of her career but believes the Holy Spirit guided her through those years.

More than once, she said, as her class was reflecting on the week’s Gospel reading, she remembers sharing something, stopping and thinking, “Where did that come from?” Because it was something she had never thought of before.

She also remembers one specific experience that helped form her as a teacher.

“I started listing the scores of the students on the board, but when I realized that a few were much lower, I almost cried,” she said. “It suddenly dawned on me how it would feel to see your grade way at the bottom or close to the bottom of the list. I remember erasing the grades and knowing that I would never do that again.

“As we looked through the questions the next day, I told the students what I almost had done,” she said. “I encouraged the students whose grades were lower than what they wanted, to feel free to share with me what happened. I learned some things about those who had done poorly, and at least in a few instances I was so glad I had not added pain to what they were already experiencing. I learned the importance of asking the patient question, ‘What happened?’ Or to say, ‘Help me understand . . .’”

Sister Lois talks about her early teaching days fondly, and though she had little training, there was at least one person who had a big impact on her career.

“One of the greatest blessings I received early in my teaching career was that of attending a workshop facilitated by a psychiatrist, Dr. William Glasser,” she said. “During his presentation he stopped and very seriously said words I have never forgotten: ‘Always remember that the main role of an educator is to put heart into our students.’”

“I have tried to put heart into all my students since 1952,” she said.

Pictured above: The reunion group from left:  Trude Adam, Gene Kruschek, Sister Lois, Marthann Halliday, Jack Hirschfeld, Jack’s wife Carol and Bonnie Maske. (Photos by Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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