Her biggest Ursuline influence was her teacher in the seventh and eighth grades, Sister Regina Hoffman. “At lunch time, she’d sit and talk to us, she was easy to talk to,” Sister Martina said.
When Sister Martina went to the Ursuline Academy run by the sisters, she did so not solely as a high school student, but as a candidate at age 14.
“We had family prayer all the time, I remember my mother and dad praying for religious vocations,” she said. One of her brothers entered a Carmelite seminary for two years, before coming home, marrying, and have a family of eight children. “I’m very close to my nieces and nephews,” Sister Martina said.
She knew from a young age what she wanted to do. “During my postulancy when I was 16, I definitely thought ‘this is going to be my life.’ I look at these high school seniors today, at 18 or 19, I was a substitute teacher by that age.”
Sister Martina was preparing to make her temporary profession, but wanted to know if her mother needed her more. “My mother told me she had plenty of help with the girls at home. There was a pull to go home, but reading my mother’s letter, and talking to the novice mistress, I made my profession in January,” at age 16, she said. Her father died two months later, on March 7, 1943.
She had two brothers serving during World War II, one of whom got discharged to come home and run the family farm after her father’s death.
Being the youngest in the novice class wasn’t a problem, because there were other sisters close in age, including Sister Emerentia Wiesner, who is now active in craft-making at Maple Mount.
Sister Emerentia had entered the convent the year before, at age 15, and recalled the fun the girls had in the novitiate when they weren’t studying. “In the evenings we played ball, and during the day when we weren’t studying, we’d be in the grotto pulling weeds,” she said. “We loved it when our families came to visit.”
Early teaching days
Sister Martina began teaching in 1946, right after World War II, at Queen of the Holy Rosary Grade School in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan. “You could get a provisional certificate if you showed you had 10 hours of college credit and that you were working toward a college degree,” she said. She got her regular teaching certificate three or four years later, through correspondence work and summer school.
She taught the first four grades at Queen of the Holy Rosary, then moved up to the fifth and sixth. “Some of those students I had for five years,” she said. “I enjoyed teaching that age group, but once I got into high school, that was it. I never wanted to teach in college.”
In 1953 she moved to St. Ann School in Prairie Village. The Ursulines were stretched thin to fill the teaching needs at all the schools they were in, so the sisters left St. Ann in 1955. Sister Martina went to St. Agnes Grade School for a year, which the Ursulines started in 1928, but she wanted to move up to high school.
She got her degree in education, with a minor in math, from St. Mary’s College in Leavenworth, Kan., in 1956. “I took all the biological courses I could take,” she said. “I couldn’t get a degree in biology in the summertime. Biology has always been my love.”
She needed to do practice teaching at a high school, so she taught for a year at Ursuline Academy. “I taught biology to 18-20 girls, and also had charge of a dorm,” she said. “I saw them in class, put them to bed, and got them up in the morning.” She spent just one year at the Academy, 1956-57, before moving to St. Agnes High School.
“I knew they needed more teachers at St. Agnes, it was all Ursulines other than the coaches,” she said. The Ursuline Sisters began the high school in 1945 in the converted basement of the church and the rectory, several rooms in the grade school, and a bungalow across the street. Sister Martina taught at St. Agnes in its last year, 1957-58, as Bishop Miege was being built on a hill next door.