March 28, 2018
Sister M. St. Anthony Chrzanak
May 2, 2018
March 28, 2018
Sister M. St. Anthony Chrzanak
May 2, 2018

By Sister Nancy Linenkugel

Recently in looking at the necrology listing for our community, I noticed that Sister Gabrielle died on March 14, 1978.  That would be 40 years ago this year.  Eternal rest to you, dear Sister Gabrielle.

Who could forget her distinctive yellow coffee cake she made weekly so that our Sunday breakfast would be festive?  In her cheery demeanor with broken English she always appreciated the help of assigned novices in the St. Joe’s bakery.  Some of us had more aptitude for baking than others, but that didn’t matter to Sister Gabrielle, who gladly welcomed each of us.

Can’t you picture the small St. Joe’s bakery, with its large mixer and kneading hook, carts of bakery trays, and plenty of counter space to work the dough?  Sister Gabrielle had most everything in arm’s reach as she perched on a stool and used her cane as a prop for her leg with the bum knee.

As a novice in 1969, I did my best during my turn as bakery helper to assist Sister Gabrielle in whatever she needed.  Because my turn came during the spring, the “whatever she needed” turned out to be helping with her Jubilee cards along with the baking.

We recall that in those days instead of money or wrapped gifts we gave Spiritual Bouquets.  Our archives are replete with beautifully hand-crafted and adorned oversize cards presented to Mother Adelaide on many occasions indicating all the gifts of prayers from the community.  For Sister Gabrielle’s purposes, she simply needed me to write the cards on her behalf because her command of the English language was better spoken than written.

So one day she had all the supplies with her in the bakery:  festive greeting cards, matching envelopes, and a good pen.  She cleaned off an area of a bakery table I could use as a writing surface.  I pulled up a chair in front of the “desk” and she sat nearby on her usual stool.  I clearly recall how trusting she was—trusting that I would capably address the cards and scribe her sentiments exactly as she dictated to me.

So we began.  She had a list of the Jubilarians, and we started with the first sister on the list.  I addressed the envelope and showed it to her.  “Beautiful, beautiful!” she exclaimed.  So far, so good.

I opened the first card, wrote “Dear Sister (name) and turned to Sister Gabrielle asking, “What shall I write for your spiritual bouquet gift?”

She thought for a moment and said, “I will say the prayer Jesus/Mary/Joseph 500 times.”

I stopped writing, looked up, and said, “500?” with an incredulous tone to my voice.  Truthfully, I had never heard of anyone saying so many prayers and counting them to boot, so my reaction was just automatic.  I wanted to be sure I heard correctly.  However, Sister Gabrielle thought that I thought she was being chintzy, so immediately she said, “Oh, no.  No, no.  Make it 1,000.”

I didn’t react.  I didn’t even look at her.  I just kept writing.  I didn’t dare make any more comments.  And when I finished writing the first card, I said, “Sister Gabrielle, what a wonderful gift.  Our Sister-jubilarian will be really pleased.”  Sister Gabrielle smiled.  Then she used that same 1,000 number for her prayers that I wrote in each other jubilee card.

The whole time I was feeling badly that my immediate reaction ended up doubling her praying.  No wonder she needed a cane to prop up her bad knee.  I had just caused her twice as many hours of kneeling.


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Sister Mary Thill
5 years ago

I just read your Spiritual Bouquet story about Sister Gabriel…I could just see the two of you
in the bakery getting those Jubilee cards ready. What a sweet memory for you and her and us.
Thanks for sharing it with us.
P.S. The yellow coffee cake is also known as Polish coffee cake!

Mary Fran Reichenberger
5 years ago

Nancy, this story is not just an exercise in nostalgia, though it is that too ( a simpler time–at least it seems so now). These are the kind of stories/memories that keep us united to our deceased sisters and united with one another in common experiences or for those that did not experience these, a spirit that forged us and still lives. Your story is a story within THE STORY. It reminds me of how early on we learned to celebrate and make a big deal of important occasions in simple but meaningful ways, how we pitched in, learned to… Read more »

Sister Irenaeus
5 years ago

Oh Nancy, what a most delightful story to share about Sr. Gabriella. Yes, I remember her many years in the kitchen, She was a most beautiful person. Her beautiful smile and facial expression warmed our hearts. She truly was a very humble Sister. She never let her handicap get in the way of her service to the Sisters. She spent long hours on her feet in the kitchen doing what she loved best. Her coffee cakes were wonderful. Her story of a “Spiritual Bouquet”, so simple but yet so powerful brought tears to my eyes. Hoe good it is to… Read more »

Sister Maria Pacelli
5 years ago

Nancy, what a delightful story.! I wasn’t fortunate enough to work with Sister Gabriella but I’m glad so many others have these lovely memories of her and her delicious coffee cake.

Sharon Havelak
5 years ago

What a sweet memory of a very sweet person – but, then again, Sister Gabrielle was so memorable in so many ways!

Shannon Schrein
5 years ago

Sweet memories of a wonderful Sister, thanks, Nance. I never did her Jubilee cards but I helped her with letters to family and friends. I was always a joy to assist her.. and Sister Rita n the kitchen.

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