Sister Blanche Thiel, MM

Born: October 10, 1925
Entered: October 14, 1948
Died: August 29, 2013

We gather this morning to remember and celebrate the life of our Sister Blanche M. Thiel, who died quietly and peacefully on August 29, 2013 at 8:15 A.M. in our Maryknoll Sisters Home Care III. She was 87 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 64 years.

Blanche Thiel, was born on October 10, 1925, in Milwaukee, WI, to Mathias and Gertrude Biesen Thiel. Blanche was the youngest of seven children. She was raised in St. Augustine Parish, and in 1940, graduated from St. Augustine High School, and in 1944, from St. Mary’s Academy, in Milwaukee. In 1957 she earned a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics from Marywood College, Scranton, PA, and in 1967, she studied public health nutrition at the University of Minnesota. Prior to entering the Maryknoll Sisters, Blanche served as a nurse’s aide at St. Luke’s Hospital from 1944-1945 and toll operator for the Wisconsin Telephone Company, both in Milwaukee from 1947 to 1948.

On October 14, 1948, Blanche entered the Maryknoll Sisters at Valley Park, MO, from St. Augustine’s, her home parish. She received the religious name Matthias Marie. Sister Blanche made her First Profession of Vows on May 8, 1951 at Valley Park, MO, and Final Vows on May 8, 1954, at Maryknoll, NY.

Sister Blanche first served as Maryknoll receptionist, operating the switchboard from 1951-1958. In 1960, she was assigned to Queen of the World Hospital, Kansas City, MO, the first interracial hospital in the nation, where she worked as a staff dietician for two years. In 1962, she was assigned to the Maryknoll Sisters residence in Topsfield, MA, where she worked as kitchen supervisor until 1965.

Sister Blanche then served for three years as a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health until joining a team of researchers at Children’s Hospital, Columbus, OH, in 1968. There, she worked with the Children’s Hospital Research Foundation and Ohio State University’s Pediatrics Department on a nationwide research program, entitled “Evaluation of Nutritional Status of Preschool Children in the United States,” beginning as a dietary researcher, visiting families in Columbus to gain information for the study, and finally being appointed the program’s supervisor in 1969.

In 1970, Sister Blanche was assigned to work as a dietician supervisor for Letchworth Village, a residence for the physically and mentally challenged operated by the New York State Department of Mental Health, in Thiells, NY. In 1971, she was assigned to the Central Pacific Region, serving first as dietician at Hale Makua Home and a cook for the Sisters at St. Anthony’s Convent on Wailuku, Maui. Her dietician background and training made her an excellent cook and a great resource to those less skilled in the culinary arts.

From 1973-1979, she served as a receptionist and pastoral care worker at St Francis Hospital, Honolulu. In late 1979, Sister Blanche became the first person commissioned as a Special Minister to serve as Pastoral Care Associate at Queen’s Medical Center, the largest hospital in Honolulu. She quickly became a familiar face on the floors she visited. The nurses referred many patients and families to her who just needed cheering up.

While at Queen’s Medical Center, one of her responsibilities was to help families in times of crisis, supporting them during surgery, critical condition or death of a patient. Her kindness built strong connections and for many whom she reached, her low-key presence brought peace of mind, especially for those who were burdened with family problems. As a good listener, she remembered details they had shared and at their next contact would ask the leading questions then listen to the update. One of her often-used statements was, “I’m sure God understands…” Some of these contacts led to her being an agent of evangelization. One of the pastors at the Honolulu Cathedral, Father Colin Correa, now himself in Heaven, spoke of Sister Blanche as a recruiter. She would call the rectory, leave a brief message for him, “When Mrs. C. calls, be sure to make time to see her.” Re-contacting with the Church of their youth was often the key to a person’s return to the Sacraments after years of separation.

“In my work as a hospital pastoral associate,” she reflected in 1981, “every day I see what it means to be a Christian, when I meet a new patient and they cry [because] I came to pray with them… They are so happy… Many attribute their becoming better to our visits and prayers.” A Sister from Hawaii recalled that Sister Blanche had a perfect personality for ministries to the sick as well as for living community life. She had a lovely sense of humor, was outgoing, and easily contributed as much as she received from others. She was quick to notice the needs of others and generous in lending a helping hand.

In 1992 Sister Blanche was assigned to Monrovia, CA, where she volunteered in various capacities such as phone duty, the dining room and kitchenette charges, driving, both medical and shopping trips on a weekly basis, and how she loved shopping!

In 2005, in response to increasing health care needs, Sister Blanche was assigned to the Maryknoll Center Chi Rho Community. She later transferred to the Maryknoll Sisters Home Care III where she died. During this time, Sister Blanche’s prayer ministry was Monrovia. We are grateful to the dedicated staff who attended to her needs with such loving care. We are also deeply grateful for Blanche’s life of generous service to the People of God.

We welcome and thank our Maryknoll brother, Father Michael Walsh, who will celebrate this Eucharistic Liturgy of the Christian Burial.