We Remember Sister Irene Krogmeier

We Remember Sister Irene Krogmeier

At least 10 years ago, well before I became Prioress, Sister Irene and I had a conversation that remains with me.  Immediately following a vigil service for one of our sisters, Sister Irene was sitting in the chapel and motioned for me to come to her.  She leaned toward me and whispered, “At my wake, will you have something to say about me?”  Well, Sister Irene, you are getting more than either of us bargained for at that time!

She began life as Loretta Theresa Krogmeier on December 5, 1922, born to John and MaryAnn Krogmeier in Fort Madison, IA.  She grew up on the family farm with her brother John who was two years older.  Loretta attended Sacred Heart Grade School in Fort Madison, and no doubt was influenced by the sisters there as well as by her four aunts who were sisters:  Three School Sisters of Notre Dame and one Franciscan in Dubuque, and her first cousin, Sister Martina, who entered the community in Nauvoo.  She spent two years working at Shaffer Pen Company before entering the community. 

Once she decided to become a sister, why did she choose Nauvoo?  The story she told us many years later was that her cousin, Sister Martina, had several young sisters working in the garden (sometimes not so happily) ‘offer it up’ for her cousin that Martina thought had a religious vocation.  And so, the prayer of this Benedictine community drew her to us.

Sister Irene made first profession of vows in 1946, 73 years ago.

She was a multi-talented community member, serving 30 years as a cook and housekeeper both at the Priory and on missions, six years in sisters’ health care, and 16 years as head of housekeeping at the Academy. In all these roles, Sister Irene blessed us with her loving service and stable, dedicated commitment to excellence.  Martin Luther King, Jr. once addressed street sweepers in words that are fitting to Sister Irene.  He said:

“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera.  Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.  Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

Sister Irene always did her job well!  She recognized that her work was a significant contribution to the life of the community and she consistently performed her tasks with love, attention, and joy. 

I was blessed to travel with Sister on many trips to Quincy.   She had various doctor appointments and I would go along to visit my mother.   I remember so many great conversations during those trips—she was quite talkative—and I learned her perspective and observations about life in the monastery.

I believe Sister Irene thrived on the rhythm of monastic life.  If physically able, she joined us for Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist in the chapel.  Often when I would stop by her room for a visit, she would have a spiritual reading book in her hand.  A recent one I remember is Sister Acquinata’s book on the Rule of Benedict.  She lived the opening lines of Chapter 48 of the Rule: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.  Therefore, the monastics should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”

Sister treasured the strong ties with her family.  She was able to visit her mother frequently during the years she was in a nursing home, and she loved the regular visits with Deb and John that have continued through the years. 

In recent years Sister has borne patiently her loss of mobility and hearing that limited her active engagement with the community she loved and served so faithfully.  Yet until her death, she has been for us in the words of Thomas Merton “a window through which God shines.”  Let us rejoice that Sister Irene has now heard the voice of our Savior speaking to her: “Come to me you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.”  Matthew 11:28

With grateful hearts, we remember Sister Irene. 

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