Sister Antonetta Wilgenbusch, MM

Born: January 12, 1912
Entered: June 10, 1935
Died: June 29, 2013

On June 29, 2013, Sister Antonetta Wilgenbusch, MM, passed peacefully on to her New Life with God in Maryknoll Sisters Residential Care IV, accompanied by her Sisters and MRC staff.  Antonetta was 101 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 78 years.

Antonetta Cordula Wilgenbusch was born in New Alsace, IN, on January 20, 1912, which happened to be just two weeks after the Three Secretaries arrived in Hawthorne, NY.  It was her reading of Foreign Mission magazines that eventually led Antonetta to Maryknoll.

Antonetta was one of four children born to Bernard and Anna (Hagedorn) Wilgenbusch. Antonetta attended St. Paul’s School in New Alsace, IN.  On June 10, 1935, she entered the Maryknoll Sisters at the Motherhouse in Ossining, NY.

After her first Profession of Vows at the Motherhouse on January 6, 1938, Sister Antonetta served in both the Motherhouse and Seminary kitchens.  In 1940, she was assigned to Hawaii where she made her Final Vows on January 6, 1941.  Sister Antonetta was in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was bombed. For the next 30 years, Sister Antonetta worked as a domestic and pastoral agent in St. Anthony Parish in Kalihi and St. Augustine’s Parish in Waikiki.  She also worked with two other Maryknoll Sisters, at Bishop James Sweeney’s residence at Diamond Head, where she is remembered as being very gracious and a very good cook!  Being certified in sign language, she also taught at the Diamond Head School for the Deaf.  During the summers of 1969 to 1971, she was able to continue her studies and attained Certificates in CCD and other Religious Studies at the Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, TX, and Chaminade College in Honolulu. Antonetta then enrolled in Rogers College at the Motherhouse where she obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Education in 1973.

It was at this time that Antonetta received a request from her sister, Alviena, to come home to Indiana to help care for her.  After several years of Family Ministry, her sister still needed her help and Antonetta requested a transfer to the Eastern U.S. Region in 1975.

Here is how, in early 2009, she described her ministry in the Eastern US Region: “I came home to live with my sister and looked for a teaching position.  The School Board at St. Mary’s in Aurora, IN accepted me as Third Grade teacher.  Although St. Mary’s is a distance from our home and I had to drive quite far each day, I worked at St. Mary’s for 15 years.  I then transferred to St. Paul School, which is my home parish and was close by, and had smaller classes.  I enjoyed teaching in both places.  When I was too old to teach full-time, I worked as a Substitute Teacher in the Public School and in Religious Education at St. Martin’s parish.”  What Antonetta did not describe is that when she was teaching she was also caring for 12 cows, which she knew each by name, and that she had to milk the cows before going to school and feed them when she came home.  She also cared for the chickens on the farm.  It was during her time at St. Mary’s that she became close friends with the Oldenburg Franciscan Sisters.

Antonetta continues: “In 1985 my sister, Alviena, died.  I stayed on the farm… I enjoy visiting Nursing Homes and gather a group for a card game.   It is beautiful on the farm.  I love spring and summer caring for the flowers and grass. Now at age 97, I have my great-nephew come and help me with the work.  Life is wonderful and I love being where I have so many friends and relatives.”  She also remarked, “It’s great to be in a parish.  We celebrate birthdays and have bingo and cards once a month.”  It was obvious that, besides her teaching ministry, Antonetta was a master in social ministry. Antonetta also expressed her love of nature in her use of herbal remedies.  “I began going to an herbalist twenty years ago – at first out of curiosity but later because of the effectiveness of the treatment. Antonetta graciously shared her knowledge of herbal medicine with all.

Late in 2009, Antonetta came to Maryknoll to retire at our Maryknoll Residential Care.  Sister adapted well and made herself at home, getting to know the Sisters and Staff.  She formed a weekly foursome for card playing and participated in all the activities.  Highlights in her life in MRC were the celebration of her 100th birthday and her participation in the Offertory procession at our Centennial Opening Mass when Archbishop Timothy Dolan greeted and kissed her, much to her delight. Antonetta enjoyed a special friendship with our Sister Jeanne Schaedler who visited her every afternoon. Antonetta felt deeply Jeanne’s recent death; they had been friends during their membership in the Eastern US Region. Antonetta’s last days were pain free and she seemed conscious of the flow of visitors circling her bed, and the mutual blessing experienced by all.  We rejoice in her life and now her peace with God.

Antonetta’s Prayer Ministry was the United States of America.

We welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father Ernest Lukaschek, who will preside at the Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Antonetta.