Sunday, September 1, 2013

Meet Aunt Toots

Ancestors of Mary Catherine Sullivan, 4 Generations
Sister Marie Augustine

As an adult she was known as Sister Augustine, as a child, Mary Catherine Sullivan.  To her nephews, nieces, and siblings, she was simply Aunt Toots or Toots.  She was Patricia Hanson's oldest sister and one she was close to all her life. I don't know any of my Sulli Cuzzins who don't love her to pieces. She always had time for us; in fact sought us out to find out what we were up to. She played games with us, walked with us, and shared stories and jokes. She somehow always found time to stay in contact with us, even as adults. 

We loved to visit with her.  I'm hoping other cousins and siblings will chime in here to share some of their stories. 

I remember a time when she was living in Yonkers and I was living in Poughkeepsie, NY, and she talked the 23 year-old me into driving the station wagon of the sister house, filled with nuns, to Washington, D.C. I can't remember much about the occasion of the visit.  I do remember that we stayed with relatives of the nuns in the area and visited some of the D.C. museums.  We talked and laughed all the way down and back.  There was one time on the way down when we were driving through some construction and I hit uneven pavement causing us to bump and swerve a bit.  There was a loud suggestion that the nuns get out their rosaries and pray, then silence for a few minutes as they all prayed for our safe arrival.  A bit unnerving for the driver, but we all arrived safely, wimples intact, in D.C.  (Wimple is the headpiece worn by nuns.)

Mary Catherine Sullivan abt 1923

Toots (Mary Catherine Sullivan) was the 3rd child of William Augustine Sullivan and Marie Josephine Bednorz.  She was born February 9, 1919, in Le Pas, Manitoba, Canada where the family had moved for William's job in the lumber industry.  They returned to Oshkosh, Wisconsin by late 1921 because their sister Ann was born January 22, 1922,  in Oshkosh.  

Lu (back), Toots, Eddie, Tiny
Photos from Toots collection
Sr. Marie Augustine
Perhaps early  70's
Sr. Marie Augustine
Date unknown

You can see from the Family Group Sheet below (edited to it's briefest form for this post) the list of Toots' siblings.  Following that list, I will let Toots speak in her own words from an autobiographical reflection she wrote in 1967. Warning: it's 3 pages long.  

Family Group Record for William Augustine Sullivan -
Unpublished research on September 1, 2013
Produced by: Lynn Hanson Dosch, ,
Husband William Augustine Sullivan
Born June 17, 1877 Erin, Washington, Wisconsin
Died March 14, 1957 Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Father Michael Sullivan (1847-1929)
Mother Catherine Kate Whelan (1852-1933)
Marriage February 17, 1914 Minneapolis, Hennepin, Minnesota, USA (Divorced about 1936)
Wife Marie Josephine Bednorz
Born October 30, 1893 Waverly, Wright, Minnesota, United States
Died February 24, 1972 Oshkosh, Winnebago, Wisconsin, USA
Father Andrew (Andreas) Bednorz (1852-1928)
Mother Frances (Franzciska) Marketon (1858-1925)
Other Spouse Albert Chappa ( - ) Abt 1944 - Oshkosh, Winnebago, Wisconsin, USA
1 M Lucius Arthur Sullivan
Born June 11, 1915 Waverly, Wright, Minnesota, United States
Died March 6, 1990 Sun City, Maricopa, Arizona, USA
Spouse Viola Agnes Schossow (1914- ) May 3, 1941 - Saint Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota, United States
2 M Edwin Sullivan
Born April 8, 1917 Minneapolis, Hennepin, Minnesota, USA
Died January 22, 2002 Tampa, Hillsborough County, Florida, USA
Spouse Winona Ann Hamlin (1920-2002) April 13, 1942 - Independence, Jackson, Missouri, USA
3 F Mary Catherine Sullivan (Sister Augustine)
Born February 9, 1919 Le Pas, Manitoba, Canada
Died April 20, 1999 Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, USA
4 F Dorothy Gertrude "Tiny" Sullivan
Born April 12, 1920 Le Pas, Manitoba, Canada
Died November 18, 2004 Yuba City, Sutter, California, United States
Spouse Wes B. Owens (1927-1989) March 12, 1943 - Tucson, Pima, Arizona, United States
Spouse William E. Jensen ( -1981) March 16, 1977
5 F Ann Elizabeth Whelan Cecilia Sullivan
Born January 20, 1922 Oshkosh, Winnebago, Wisconsin, USA
Died August 11, 2006 Sister Bay, Door, Wisconsin, USA
Spouse Kenneth Samuel Beutler (1920-1978) August 10, 1942
6 F Virginia S. "Deda" Sullivan
Born June 2, 1923 Oshkosh, Winnebago, Wisconsin, USA
Died December 27, 2005 Maricopa County, Arizona, USA
Spouse Thomas H. Glantz ( - ) April 15, 1944 - Tucson, Pima, Arizona, United States
Spouse E. James Simpson ( - ) October 6, 1953
Spouse William J. Monteforte ( - ) July 6, 1959 - Carson City, Carson, Nevada, USA
7 F Sylvia Lorraine Sullivan
Born July 21, 1924 Oshkosh, Winnebago, Wisconsin, USA
Died March 23, 2003 Pelham, Shelby, Alabama, USA
Spouse Robert Bernard III Porter (1923-1999) December 5, 1944 - Tucson, Pima, Arizona, United States
Spouse Charles Lamb (1922- ) July 8, 1972 - Rochester, Monroe, New York, USA
8 F Bernice Frances "Bink" Sullivan
Born January 31, 1926 Oshkosh, Winnebago, Wisconsin, USA
Died July 2013, Jamestown, Tennessee
Spouse Clyde Owen Sutherland (1919-1998) February 16, 1946 - Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, USA
9 F Patricia Ethel Sullivan
Born August 31, 1927 Oshkosh, Winnebago, Wisconsin, USA
Died August 4, 2013 Appleton, Outagamie, Wisconsin
Spouse Melvin Carl Hanson (1926-1997) July 12, 1947 - Wisconsin, USA
10 F Living Sullivan
11 M Living Sullivan

Toots Reflection 1967

Sister M. Augustine CSA
“Let me read with open eyes, the book my days are writing – and learn.” (Markings, Dag Hammarskjold)
In these few words I hope to bring out the things and events that I consider determining factors in making me the person I am today. I could mention many sisters,  -- superiors and others, who by their example, their prayerfulness, their trust in God, their patience, and their innate goodness have greatly influenced me. In deep and sincere gratitude I remember them daily in prayer.

I know I was born across from an Indian reservation in Canada – the oldest of eight girls in a row, preceded by two brothers and followed by one more sixteen years later, bringing our family to thirteen, all of whom are living except my father.

But – what is my life all about?  What has made it what it is? What has made me act and react as I have done and continue to do? I could write a book. I won’t.

Being one of the oldest of a large family has taught me early in life to share not only material things, but also time, joys, and sorrows. It made me gregarious – I despise having to be along – and it taught me to give in to others even if I were the “big” sister. It made me sensitive to the needs and wants of others.

With a mother whose mind was always active and creative, I was never at a loss for something constructive or instructive to do, summer or winter. She liked to make surprises for people and showed us the pleasure to be derived from the thoughtfulness of doing so. She was a meticulous housekeeper and was determined that her girls would take after her.

My father, not a musician himself, always appreciated fine music. He was extremely tidy about himself and was always polishing something, be it a window pane, a watch chain, or a pair of shoes. I have adopted traits from both parents and have been called by some an “old maid.” Some people I have lived with have solidified some of these tendencies in me.

The depression hit our house during my high school years. A large family doesn’t have exactly an easy time when money for food and clothing is scarce. Mom was an accomplished seamstress and earned a few extra dollars at that, besides making clothes for all of us. Dad, who was a lumber buyer, grader, and salesman, was forced at last to be a WPA foreman. I worked for one dollar a week cleaning, ironing and doing dishes for a young woman who was a hypochondriac. With that, plus babysitting at thirty-five cents a night, I paid for all my high school expenses. This meant I had to choose my recreations wisely; many times it meant coming into a basketball game after the half or just walking with friends who were in the same straits. I found out the hard way the value of money.

I spent twelve years being educated by our sisters. In all that time, I never once was conspicuous of anyone’s verbally “selling” me religious life. Yet, when I look back, there were two nuns who impressed me more than the others, though I loved and respected all of them. They have influenced many of my attitudes toward life and the values I set for myself. Sister Gervase was my teacher for five years. No, I didn’t continually fail the grade; but she was “smart enough” to go with us from 2nd through 6th. I remember her as an excellent, enthusiastic teacher; one who taught us art appreciation and color theory; a warm, human person, and a perfect lady at all times. She left a fine imprint on me at an early age. I can see her in the classroom yet.

It was when I was a senior the blow fell—Mom and Dad having had a particularly frustrating and hard time trying to make short ends meet, became impatient and cross with each other and in April of that year, separated, making our family a “broken family”. This was the greatest hurt of my life. I had just turned seventeen and my youngest brother was only six months old. The two oldest were out trying to make a “go” of it on their own. Besides the pain I felt for a family growing up without a father in the house, I was particularly saddened because I was exceptionally fond of my father. We had always been buddies, and though deep down I planned on entering the convent shortly, I hated to see him so alone, so without the family.

It was during these dark days as a senior that Sister Antoine became my sounding board. I had to talk to someone – and she listened sympathetically, patiently and often. She never blamed, probed, or scolded – just listened. She had a real feeling for people. I was aware that she enjoyed teaching teenagers. She never lowered herself to their level. She was the first person to whom I mentioned my desire to enter the convent, but that was all the further it went—merely mentioned. She didn't go into a sales pitch. When my father died in March of 1957, I thought, “if only I could talk to someone who knew him—“. she would have been the one. I was in Victoria; she in Hays—but died there in February almost before I even knew she was ill. I found out by accident on Friday; she died on Saturday morning. That left me with no one who would understand my sorrow on the loss of my father.

It seems that I had never had the slightest thought of ever being anything but a Sister of St. Agnes. It was my one and only choice, a dream which I barely mentioned to anyone even by insinuation. I didn’t feel I had to share something that was so exclusively mine. It would have taken something away from it I am sure.
An unusual message came to me in a letter from my Aunt Frances during the first year after my profession. She wrote to me quite regularly, but this letter was different. She related that when she took me to the little church in LaPas, Manitoba, to be baptized, Father Gee, the pastor, asked where my godfather was. My aunt explained that the family was relatively new in the area and they didn’t feel they knew anyone well enough to make such a request. He asked, “What’s the matter with me?”and proceeded with the baptism. After having signed his name as godfather, he said, “Who knows, some day she may be a nun.” My aunt had deliberately kept this information from me for fear that it would influence my making a free decision.

I have not regretted my choice for one minute of the last thirty-one years. Dag Hammerskjold says, “We cannot afford to forget any experience, not even the most painful.” I have countless precious memories and only enough of the not-so-pleasant to make the others even brighter. I have wonderful friends ranging in age from my “old” friend, Sister Bertha, to some who have been professed only a couple of years. I like all people, young, old, and those in between. The work they do has never been a deciding factor in my choice of them as a friend. I have known great simple souls like Sister Marietta, and I have the utmost respect for those who led the way when the community was young—those pioneers of whom Sister Vera writes so beautifully with “all devotedness”.

In spite of the fact that I like people I have often been accused of being quite snobbish by people who don’t know me. The truth of the matter is, I am afraid of people I don’t know. This is a trait picked up from my Dad. He was always ill at ease among strangers. One sister told me she actually prayed that she would never have to live with me. She finally did, and we laughed together when she told me this after three years. She is older than I! I have never deliberately tried to frighten people. If they could know how I was struggling inside, they would feel sorry for me instead.

The Community has always been extremely good to me. I pray that I will ever be grateful for its having included me among its numbers. I am a charter member of Marian College; I feel that I deserve a “degree” from the Leo House by reason of six summers spent there. I have earned my business education credits at Duquesne University and have had the privilege of receiving a Master’s degree from Creighton. Even after all this, I have had the opportunity to earn extra credits in English and Journalism. The silver jubilee workshop at Creighton will always be appreciated as a time of special grace for me. I have often looked back on it with a great deal of joy and satisfaction.

Some of my most challenging summers, though, have been spent at our hospitals. I have worked in the offices of all four – St Anthony and St. Agnes each twice. Here I learned HUMILITY if it was ever to be learned – the humility that comes from others having faith in you. To this day, I can’t understand how the administrator, the accountant, the office manager, and the seven-year, all-round worker Agnes could have all left St. Anthony for a month leaving all financial matters in my hands from the opening of the safe and the remittance control in the morning to paying bills, making out payrolls, handling mail and Blue Cross checks, running the bookkeeping machine, balancing cash and making daily deposits, and –writing a $12,000 check to the government. I wondered: “Who am I to be trusted with all this; and how can I write checks like this with someone else’s money?” I got a terrific headache that day—but the hospital remained solvent.

The whole thing, however, did make me think. I had done the best I could in a field quite foreign to me. I had never been in a hospital office before. In a human situation it is cheating not to be – at every moment – one’s best. How much more so in a position where others have faith in you!

As like everyone else, there is the uncertainty of the future before me. What God in His goodness has in store for me only He knows. I must take each day as it comes, each morning holding out the chalice of my being to Him. I must hold it out empty, -- empty of self and self-interests, for the past must only be reflected in its polish, its shape, its capacity for love. I pray that I may continually grow firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer—realizing it is the last steps which decide the value of all the things that went before.

For all that has been – Thanks!
For all that still shall be – Yes!

July 8, 1967

We all love you Aunt Toots.  Your warmth and encouragement, caring and laughter, taught us to be like you. More than you'll ever know, we carry these lessons in our heart.  You taught us well.


  1. I read this a long time ago; but re-reading it tonight had significant impact upon me. I find myself so much like her - it is amazing. And I agree with you - she always went looking for us to talk to and find out "what we were up to". She bought me an angel night light when I was about 10 or so; I named her Serena - since she seemed so serene. I remember that quite fondly - since Dale was playing football in the house and knocked her off my dresser. She got a patch job of glue - that I'm sure Mom took care of for me - since I wouldn't have the patience and I knew I was mad at Dale for ruining a priceless treasure to me. And she worked! (Thanks for posting this!)

  2. Toots gave so freely of herself - and I loved being around her. I am amazed that she didn't talk much about her brothers or sisters in this letter; sure wish that she had. Makes us take a look and make sure we document these parts in our lives - gratefulness for the family, friendship, love, environment that we grew up in.