Agnes G. Johann
June 29, 1915 – February 17, 2010
Mother..a word that is synonymous with the heart…Our Mom was a person who lived her life in generosity…who opened her door to others and welcomed them into her home…regardless of beliefs or race…Democrats or Republicans…she always loved a lively political conversation or discussions about God and faith. Even if Jehovah Witnesses would come knocking on the door, and most of us would not respond, she would invite them in for a discussion, relishing the debate. Once she and Dad went to Combermere, Canada to visit Catherine de Houeck Doherty’s home of retreat. Father Fran Eschweiler traveled with them. He was a great friend of Mom and Dad’s and shared much with them. Mom was a woman of faith, not one who would go around pushing it on others…but one who simply gave the example of prayer…faithfully attending the Liturgy on Sundays and Holy Days…saying her prayers each morning and evening at home and before meals. If she had one weakness, it was worrying if she was too hard on others or did not do enough to help someone. She was hardest on herself. She was a woman with a conscience.
Mom was a good friend to her friends. There was Ceal Dehler, a dear friend, who already has returned to God…and Helen Gagan, a nurse,. Ceal, Helen and my Mom would discuss religion and were notoriously known as “The Weeping Women of Jerusalem”–my Mom would come up with these dramatic titles for themselves. She was not afraid to question her faith or what she believed. Ann Schaefer Bruendl was another of her very close friends, since childhood to this very day. Gerty Berres was also someone with whom my Mom enjoyed to visit and share laughter. I remember that my Mom and Gerty took all of us children– Gerty had several as well—and off we all went to Lizard Mounds State Park for a picnic and hiking. The picnic was outside of the Burial site. My Mom always held a special place in her heart for the Native Americans and would speak in their defense whenever the opportunity presented itself. When Mom thought an injustice was done to someone, she would speak up in their defense.
Mom had the most sensitive heart of anyone I have ever known. Sensitivity in our culture today is looked upon oddly…like a weakness…but as our Mom showed us through her daily life, her sensitivity to the needs of others was a gift of love and compassion. She would spend literally hours finding just the correct greeting card for someone’s birthday or anniversary. She would search for the card that would touch the heart. She was blessed with many good and special friends over the years.
Through her many years of being mother to eleven children, grandmother to twenty-five grandchildren and great-grandmother to eighteen great-grandchildren we find a person who never stopped caring or giving. She worked so hard. I can still see the shirts and overalls that she would wash and wring it with the old hand crank and then carry out to hang on the clothes lines. She always made sure we had new dresses for Christmas and Easter. Each birthday was celebrated with a cake and a gift that was carefully selected.
Now being parents ourselves, we can better understand how very much patience they had with us all. She left us a legacy to continue her spirit of love, forgiveness and care for one another and for others.
Caring for eleven children brought with it tears of joy and tears of loss. Our parents, like we in our day, had sad times mixed with joyous times. Certainly losing their two oldest sons at such tender ages, Robert at the age of six to tuberculosis and Roger at the age of 20 in a fiery Air Force plane crash, were sad and difficult time. Our children should never die before us. But they did not allow this great sadness to stop them from continuing on with life or with loving and helping others.
My parents gave without thinking of returns. Their home was always open — to us, to our families, and to our friends. My Mom cared for her mother and dad when they could no longer take care of themselves. She and Dad also took care of Dad’s Dad. Mom also took care of her Aunt Gerty for many years until she went home to God. In addition to that, ever so often the parish priest would call her and say , “There are some young girls who need a place to stay for the summer. Could you take them in for a while?”
The thousands of meals that she prepared over the years were always done with great care and planning. Though she did not acknowledge it within herself, she was an artist and the tables were set with just the perfect tablecloth, candles and decorations matching the feast being celebrated. She loved to celebrate each feast and holiday—Easter, July 4th, Birthdays, Thanksgiving Day, and especially Valentine’s Day. Each Valentine’s Day Dad would bring her a huge heart filled with chocolate delights and gave each of us kids a smaller one. One year Mom decided she needed to lose weight, so Dad bought her a scale. She had a sense of humor! It paid off, she was the Queen of TOPS that following year! And even received a trophy for her efforts. Mom also would cut out and create felt valentines for us and through the years we would receive them through the years, and that is why it was one of the gifts brought up during the Offertory procession as well as a ceramic shoe to symbolize the collection of ceramic shoes she had received—whenever someone would go on a trip, she would receive a special shoe from wherever they had been. Mom also cherished the many cards and letters she received from her children, grandchildren and friends and with them she crafted 24 scrapbooks, filled with kind words and memories. The love of friends and family was what she cherished the most!
I recall as a young child, the times Mom would create the posters for the Strawberry and Fall Festivals that St. Michael’s Church would orchestrate each year. My Mom would be sure to take the signs to all the local businesses in the surrounding towns. Despite all the housework, and she much to do, she would find time to help the Church in any way that she could.
What I appreciate most from her were the conversations that we shared and her deep love for God – her sense of spirituality has kept me alive and continuing the walk through life. I appreciate the fact that she taught me to be open to all people and respect other cultures and faiths. When I was in college, I would ask to being home friends at Christmastime that had no where else to go, and they were always welcomed—whether they were Chinese, African-American, Native American, Jewish, Lutheran, Spiritualists,–it didn’t matter—they were welcomed. Even when one of my friends from Taiwan, having been used to living in an apartment, accidentally used the clothes chute for an incinerator, helping clear the scraps from the meals one night! It was funny finding the pork chop bone in the sock the next morning! My Mom was not a woman of pretense, but someone who could listen and appreciate the diversity of people. She taught me a great deal. It was because of her that I chose to be a teacher. She had one regret, that she never had the chance to attend high school. More than anything, she believed that getting an education or training to be your best self was very important in life…and I am sure if she were here today, that would be her message to each of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She would also encourage us to continue to read—for that was her favorite pastime. She was an avid reader as the shelves of books in her home would verify.
Mom also enjoyed celebrations! Many New Year’s Eve parties and Halloween parties took place in her home. She loved it when she could don a costume. As a teenager, she was in three Church plays with the lead role. She loved the drama and enjoyed good movies.
Finally, I would say what she always said to her friend, Bette Thelen, who I spoke to yesterday morning, “Pray not for the dead, they are in God’s hands, but pray for the living!” So let us pray for each other and be joyful we had Ma for 94 years and continue to live the joy and goodness that she lived so wonderfully in her life! Her final request to me was that St. Francis’ prayer should be sung at his funeral Liturgy. I will rewrite the prayer now as a promise to my Mom.
Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
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