Sister Constance Wenzel, MM

Born: May 31, 1900
Entered: May 12, 1922
Died: September 20, 1983

One of our zealous missioners, Sister Mary Constance Wenzel, peacefully slipped into eternity at 11:05 P.M., Tuesday, September 20,1983. Fully conscious, and readily accepting her last ‘assignment’, Sister fell asleep only five minutes before the great moment came.

Mary Kathryn Wenzel was born in Sturgis, Michigan, on May 31, 1900. Her parents, John S. and Kathryn Mohr Wenzel, pioneer homesteaders,were blessed with 12 children, nine of whom grew to adulthood. Of this number only the two Maryknoll Sisters have passed away. Sister Mary Richard died November 30, 1982. The experience of growing up within such a family, strengthened by its strong bonds of faith and love, made it possible for our two Maryknoll Sisters to develop those traits of selfless compassion, patient perseverance midst difficulties, and practicality, that have so much enriched our Maryknoll Community life and ministries.

Mary Kathryn attended the local public grammar school, and St. Joseph’s Academy at Adrian, Michigan. She completed a one-year business course at St. Joseph’s College. On May 12, 1922, Mary Kathryn entered Maryknoll. In the Reception Ceremony, December 8, 1922, she received the name Sister Mary Constance. Sister made her first profession two years later, and in 1927 arrived at her first mission station, St. Paul’s Hospital in Manila,
Philippines, where the Maryknoll Sisters had just taken over the responsibility for a hospital and nurses training school. Her final profession was made in the hospital chapel that same year (1927). Sister Constance rejoiced when she was asked to join the class of local students who aspired to become nurses. An apt student, she quickly established enduring rapport with classmates and teachers. However, before the two-year course was completed she was named, in 1929, the first Superior of a new apostolate in Baguio, the Mountain Province. For the next 12 years, this work was to call forth all Sister’s skills and gifts of nature and grace.

Under her able guidance, the Baguio Mission developed into a center for a direct apostolate to the Igorot Mountain people, a school, a rest and retreat and meeting house for our Sisters and other religious and priests.

When Sister Constance assumed responsibility for this many-faceted apostolate, the construction costs of the new building pressed heavily. Very frequently, the other convents were unable to contribute their share for the expenses of their Sisters. These economic woes would have weighed unbearably on weaker shoulders, but Sister Mary Constance, with calm practicality and great faith, set about finding ways and means to overcome the obstacles, while she promoted an atmosphere of peace and joy in the house.

One of Sister’s rare gifts was the ability to listen to others with patient respect. She accepted each individual, tried to understand and discern his or her needs, and with gentle firmness helped each one to renewed faith and physical strength. A priest guest, whose health had been restored in Baguio, remarked upon leaving that we would never know how many people throughout the missions were recipients of priestly ministries because of Sister Constance’s wise and capable nursing skills when the missioners–who came from near and far–were sorely in need of such care. Sisters, who had like experience, testify to her remarkable compassion, understanding and patience.

The war came in 1941, and for the next three years, apostolic activities were curtailed or stopped. Sister endured months with other Maryknoll Sisters in two different internment camps, spending her time in service to others in need of care and help.

One of Sister’s anxieties during this time, was the welfare of three Sisters who had been directed to remain at the Baguio Convent. When hostilities finally ceased, word was received that Sister Mary Hyacinth, one of the three, had disappeared in a trek to a refugee camp, and was presumably killed. Sister Constance was determined to return to Baguio at the first opportunity to try to discover some word of Sister’s fate. When she reached Baguio, she was overjoyed that her brother-in-law, a U.S. Military Serviceman, was able to join in the search that proved unavailing.

In 1947, Sister was assigned to a new hospital ministry in Manapla, Philippines; and in 1952 she returned to the Center for a much-needed rest and Renewal period. The following year, she became coordinator of the Novitiate at Topsfield, Massachusetts.

In 1954, Sister’s health, became more fragile. She came through this ordeal with characteristic fortitude, and then returned to the Center. When her strength permitted, she assisted with correspondence in one of the offices until her retirement in 1981.

We rejoice with Sister Constance as we think of the welcome that must have awaited her from those to whom she gave such dedicated service. Now she knows the secret of her much-loved Sister Hyacinth’s fate, as she joins all her loved ones who have gone before her into that bliss which God has promised to those who love Him.

We extend our heartfelt sympathy to all the members of Sister’s family, her sisters, and family friends who are with us today and to whom we extend a loving welcome. We join you in prayerfully commending Sister’s soul to God’s merciful love, and in thanking Him for the gift – and the friend she was – to us all.

We welcome Father Robert E. Sheridan, our Maryknoll brother and faithful friend, who will celebrate the Eucharistic Liturgy with us this morning.