Ursuline Sister Marcella Schrant got more than she bargained for in 2004 when, after 59 years as a sister, she accepted her first parish ministry at the tiny Holy Family Parish in Eudora, Kan. “I went there to visit the homebound and pray for the religious education, and ended up running it all,” she said.
There was no priest at the parish, which consisted of mostly small families. It was a blessing when she received a letter from the archbishop in 2007 saying, “I’m sending a priest,” but it also meant it was time for her to move on.
Sister Marcella turned 81 in June 2007, so no one could have blamed her if she’d decided to retire. Instead, she was quickly employed by Father John Schmeidler, who has served as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence, Kan., since 2004.
“Sister and I were at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center together,” Father Schmeidler said. “I tried to hire her when I first came here. She is the best greeter. You will not find a more charitable person, whether it’s to someone on the phone, or people dropping in, she will make them feel special,” he said. “That spirit flows out into the rest of the staff.”
Sister Marcella is the first Ursuline Sister to minister at St. John the Evangelist, and clearly loves the ministry and her co-workers. The downtown parish is just a few blocks from the campus of the University of Kansas, and Sister Marcella lives next door to the church. “Years ago the sisters lived where I do now, and walked to campus to go to school,” she said. In 64 years of ministry, she has always been able to walk to work.
Sister Marcella Schrant is the office assistant, and is the first person visitors meet. She is responsible for recording all the baptisms and marriages, sending out certificates, sorting and delivering the mail, and taking care of Mass intentions. She proofreads the bulletins, and acts on Father Schmeidler’s behalf if he cannot pray the rosary with a family before a funeral, or if something official needs to be signed.
Sister Marcella was an Ursuline Sister of Paola, Kan., prior to the community’s merger with the Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph in October 2008. She decided to stay in Kansas because she already had a ministry she enjoyed, and as she turns 85 this month, is unlikely to begin a new one.
“Father John is always so easy to talk to. I just feel like I have enough to still give in ministry,” Sister Marcella said. “It’s an energy that builds me up.”
Retirement is a taboo word with the staff that obviously enjoys Sister Marcella. “We are not letting her retire,” Father Schmeidler said with a grin. “If she retires, we’re coming with her,” said Lisa Roush, organist and music coordinator. In fact, Roush and Father Schmeidler made the nine-hour drive to Kentucky with Sister Marcella to the Mount Saint Joseph Picnic in September 2010.
“I’m happy for her to go to Maple Mount to visit, she loves it,” Father Schmeidler said. “Her sisterhood is part of her.” Having a sister on staff is a blessing to the congregation, he said.
“She’s lived the life so faithfully, it’s in her nature now,” he said. “People get to see her wonderful vocation. People are touched by her.”
Sister Marcella is often joined in her office by Roush’s dogs, Maddie, a white rat terrier, and Annie, a black mixed breed. “She spoils them, and makes them her own watchdogs,” Father Schmeidler said.
Sister Marcella has earned the nickname “the shredder” for her skill at recycling the office paper, and her efficiency in running the office has earned her another name. “We call her ‘the general,’” Roush said with a smile.
In her free time, Sister Marcella loves to do crossword puzzles and play cards. “The ladies at the Knights of Columbus Hall like to come out to play cards,” she said.