Sister Mildred Fritz, MM
Born: October 8, 1908
Entered: October 13, 1925
Died: August 9, 2005
“It was on a perfect October day — cool, crisp and colorful” wrote Millie Fritz, “that I first met Mother Mary Joseph. The year was 1925 and I was a 17 year old postulant fresh out of St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was buttering Parkerhouse rolls in the seminary kitchen where a group of us were working when I became aware of a large woman in a simple gray habit and black veil who was directing preparations for a special meal to help the priests and seminarians celebrate St. Teresa’s Day. What I remember most vividly about her were her blue eyes which sparkled with such love and joy that I have never forgotten this meeting.” And she goes on, “On October ninth (1955) while I was in Panama City studying Spanish, the news came that Mother had died and I was to return for the funeral. I stood beside her coffin grateful that her suffering was over, knowing that I would miss her for the rest of my life.”
Now, nearly eighty years after that initial encounter and fifty years after Mother Mary Joseph’s death, Millie and her dear friend, Mother Mary Joseph, are meeting once again. Our Sister Mildred (Millie) Fritz died at 10:45 a.m. on August 9, 2005, in the Maryknoll Sisters Residential Care IV, surrounded by song, prayer and loving friends. She was 97 years old.
This story of Millie’s life was prepared with the help of Sister Rosemary Healy and many other Sisters, who knew Millie through the years.
Mildred Cecilia Fritz was born on October 8, 1908, on a farm in Newport, Minnesota, the fourth of nine children of Georgia Dorland Fritz and Nicholas F. Fritz.
About her decision to come to Maryknoll, Millie wrote, “When I was a senior in high school at St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Paul, Father Hugh Craig, MM gave a talk to the students in September of 1925. He was a young priest enroute to his first mission in Korea. He talked of the hardships and dangers of mission life, especially of the sisters in Korea. ‘They don‘t want your sympathy; they want your prayers’ he told us; and I decided then and there to be a Maryknoll Sister. My school uniform was ordered… I cancelled the order and wrote to Maryknoll, that very day.” One month later, on October 13, 1925, Millie entered the Maryknoll Sisters.
At Reception she received the name Sister Mary Mildred. She made her First Vows on April 30, 1928, and her Final Vows on the same date in 1931, both at Maryknoll, N.Y.
Her high school education was completed through the Catholic University Extension Service in 1928. She earned a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Latin from Mount St. Vincent’s College, New York City in 1933 and a Master of Arts Degree in Education Administration from The University of Minnesota in 1947.
Millie’s first assignment was to Hawaii in 1933. She was a teacher and principal at Maryknoll High School at Punahou, on Oahu, and after ten years moved to the island of Maui where she was principal at St. Anthony Girls’ School. By the time she left Hawaii thirteen years later, it is said, she knew the name of every flower and plant there. A source of pride for Millie was that she started the first troop of Catholic Girl Scouts on the islands. Years later in Guatemala she also started a Girl Scout troop.
In 1946 she returned to Maryknoll, N.Y. where for two years she served as Postulant Mistress and taught at Maryknoll Teachers College. Millie was then named Motherhouse Superior. At her initiative Mary’s Field was created, as well as Rosary Path, which led to it. There were two other projects that were especially close to her heart. She gathered and had printed the Conferences Mother Mary Joseph had given over the years and she asked Mother to record the Conferences so there would be a record of Mother’s voice. Millie is responsible for the familiar plaque with Mother’s picture along with her description of the ideal Maryknoll Sister. Many times Millie said of this period, “It was certainly the greatest gift I had had during my life, to have been at Maryknoll at that time.”
For 46 years, beginning in 1955, Millie served in Guatemala and Mexico. She taught at Colegio Monte Maria, in Guatemala City, and served as Principal. Monte Maria was her residence during the years she was Regional Superior. (Upon receiving the news of Sister Mildred’s death at Monte Maria everyone gathered to sing the school song, which she had written.)
Merida, Yucatan, Mexico became home for Millie after 1969. She combined educational work and care of the library at the school, Rogers Hall, with pastoral work and basic evangelization in the Colonia Hidalgo in the town of Chuburna. In 1985 she returned to Guatemala, this time to Lomas de Portugal, a section of Mixco, just outside Guatemala City. She and Maryknoll Sister Pat Denny formed and trained catechetical teams. In one section, San Jose La Comunidad, the catechists to this day are called the “Milli-Pat Catechists.” She returned to Mexico, to Oaxaca, in 1990. At the age of 92 she was still tutoring students. Millie enjoyed her family’s visits to Guatemala and Mexico. She was very close to them. They were missioners with her, supporting many projects for the poor.
When Millie was Regional Superior of the “Middle America Region”, from 1964 to 1969 it consisted of six countries and more than 100 members. Her leadership reflected her deep friendship with Mother Mary Joseph. As one Sister expressed, Mother Mary Joseph’s love spilled over to us from Millie. She was at home with everyone and people responded to her deep love. Millie spoke of those years, about the changes in the Church, in Maryknoll and in Central America, “I think everybody was questioning ‘are we doing the right thing’ or ‘could we do something that would be more effective as far as mission work is concerned?’ … that was certainly on everybody’s mind, to find out what was the most effective way of working.” These were the most difficult years for her, Millie admitted. However, her calm leadership at that time was deeply appreciated by Maryknollers. One of the delegates who met Millie for the first time at the 1968 Chapter of Affairs, remarked that she could only describe her as a woman completely at home in Maryknoll. After that Chapter, Millie retired as Regional Superior and allowed regional members to invent a complicated regional governance involving 17 people. The region survived and became a learning community for the future.
Millie spent a lifetime of moving with the Spirit. She always wished she had more energy to work harder, yet how could anyone keep up with her? Millie’s health, however, had many ups and downs. In 2001, she left Mexico and returned here to Maryknoll, New York. Now her ministry in Residential Care IV was to pray for Mexico. (In one down time while in Residential Care IV Millie was heard to say, “Jesus, 95 years is enough. “)
Millie, in her elder years, said about prayer: “I love working out in the garden because when I’m out there it’s a very special time of prayer for me. To thank God for the flowers, fruits, leaves little bugs that crawl around…. I have learned to say thank you to God.. .for the day.. .for the sun …for feeling good…for those beautiful moonflowers out there! I say ‘praise God for those…and to say thank you for so many wonderful things that have happened in my life’.”
And, so, we praise God for Millie. We thank you, Millie, for sharing your loving Spirit in so many ways, and for living Mother Mary Joseph’s ideals of a Maryknoll Sister.
Maryknoll Father Robert Lloyd will preside at our Liturgy of Christian Burial.