Young Irma Wiesner was very impressed with the older girl who came over to play whenever she visited her aunt in Scipio, Kan. Her name was Helen Hermreck, and she attended Catholic school in Scipio, where she was taught by the Ursuline Sisters of Paola.
“We would talk about religion and how much she loved the sisters,” Irma said, now known as Sister Emerentia Wiesner. “I thought a lot of her.”
Helen eventually joined the Ursuline Sisters and she urged Irma to do the same. So when Irma reached the same age Helen was when she entered, she also became a sister.
She was 14.
“Daddy had gone to bed. I lay down in the bed and told him what I wanted to do,” Sister Emerentia said. “He said, ‘Have you told your mother?’ He didn’t object, but he hated for me to go, I was his pet. Mother was happy for me. They thought I was a little young, which I was, but I didn’t know it at the time. Sister Helen had already joined, so I thought I could.”
Sister Helen was the first Ursuline of Paola to move to Maple Mount following the 2008 merger with Mount Saint Joseph. She died in 2011, in her 72nd year as an Ursuline Sister.
This year marks 73 years for Sister Emerentia as an Ursuline. She can be found most mornings sitting at her sewing machine, working on beautiful craft items that are sold at the Mount Saint Joseph Picnic. She’s happy she made the decision to become a sister.
“I’ve been able to go to Mass every day and receive our Lord,” she said. “Feeling God loves me, that’s the best part. These other things are nice, but the best part is learning how to talk to God, and knowing that God is listening. You don’t have to say big things.”
Irma Wiesner grew up in Richmond, Kan., a small town about 35 miles southwest of Paola. From the age of 3 her family lived across the street from the public grade school and she joined with the other children on the playground. She is the second oldest of nine children and the oldest girl. She has six sisters and one brother living.
Faith was important to her family. There was no Catholic school in Richmond, so she attended religion classes on Saturdays, first with the priest, but later with Ursuline Sisters of Paola who came from Scipio. They taught two weeks of classes in the summer on the catechism and Bible history.
She had two cousins who were Ursulines, Sisters Christina and Mary Margaret Wolken, but as a young girl, she admits she was “scared to death of them.”
She was in the sixth grade when she met Helen Hermreck, who was a year older. “She entered at 14, so when I became 14, I entered too,” Sister Emerentia said.
That was in 1939. Her mother became ill in 1940, and as the oldest girl, the family requested she leave the convent to take care of the family for a year until her mother improved. She returned to the community in 1941 and entered the novitiate in 1942. Her mother lived until 1977.
Her mother’s name was Emma, so upon entering the community she was given the name Emerentiana, after the saint who was stoned to death while praying at the tomb of her friend, Saint Agnes. But Irma said that name was too long, so they dropped the last two letters to make it Emerentia. (She was unaware until recently that legend says Emerentia was the grandmother of Mary, the mother of Jesus.)
There were two other members of her novice class, Sister Barbara Carlin, who is deceased, and Sister Martina Rockers, who is still teaching in Kansas.
“It was so wonderful to be able to go to the chapel when you had extra time,” Sister Emerentia said. “In the evening, the three of us were sent to pull weeds in the grotto. We would say the rosary and talk about religious life. It was good we could do that away from everyone else.”
Her first ministry, from 1945-73, was as a teacher or principal in seven schools in Kansas and one in Oklahoma. Teaching young children remains her favorite ministry. “They were sweet children and happy for whatever you did for them,” she said.
In 1973, the Ursuline community needed someone to handle nursing, so Sister Emerentia volunteered. After a year of training, she became director of Monica Hall, the infirmary at Paola, from 1974-87.
From 1989 until she moved to Kentucky in 2009, she sewed for the sisters in Paola, and made craft items for the Christmas Boutique fundraiser each year.
“I began sewing for the sisters when I first entered the convent,” Sister Emerentia said. “We made our own habits and other articles of clothing. Some of the postulants and novices hadn’t learned to sew, so it was my duty to help them.”
She stills enjoys sewing and will do it as long as she is able. Every day she says a small prayer that she keeps near her sewing machine, written by Dag Hammarskjold:
“For all that has been done, thank you God. For all that will be, yes.” She admits to one small embellishment.
“I added ‘God.’”