The Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Family, Mount St. Francis, Dubuque, Iowa, commend to your charity the soul of their beloved, Sister Lois Wagner, OSF, who was born, December 26, 1922, and departed this life October 27, 2015, in the 72nd year of her religious life.
Sister Lois’ grandparents had immigrated from Germany and Luxemburg and settled in Eastern Iowa. Her father, Andrew Wagner, met and married her mother, Mathilda Kurtenacher, near Alton. They, along with his two sisters and their husbands, homesteaded on ranches near Ralph, South Dakota. It was here that Andrew and Mathilda raised their family of five boys and two girls, of whom Lois is the fourth. She was born December 26, 1922. The three families erected a telephone line between their ranches so they could stay in close contact. They had no church, but Masses for their mission were held in the Wagner home. Her father led the music by playing his harp guitar and her mother and aunts sang along. The three families were the chief support of the mission, and the pastor who had to travel 50 or more miles and came only once a month, slept at their house, ate with them, baptized their babies, and was welcomed as a friend.
Lois’ mother had been a teacher before her marriage, and was firm in seeing that her children valued education. All of them attended a one-room school – Lois was alone in her class. When she was 12, her mother died of cancer. This was devastating to a family harassed by years of depression and drought. Her older sister cared for the family, and her father went to work for the WPA in order to provide for his family.
High school could only be obtained by “boarding out.” Although her father was reluctant to send her so far away, he finally agreed to let her live with her mother’s two sisters in Alton, Iowa, where she attended St. Mary’s Academy. Living with conservative aunts in their 40s and 50s, being in a class of 17, and attending daily Mass was quite a change from life on the ranch. Her last two years of high school she boarded with the Franciscans at Alton. During the summer months she assumed full care of the Wagner household. This included washing by hand with a tub and wash board, and ironing with a flat iron heated on the wood stove, or a scary gas iron. The contrast between being in full charge and taking orders when she was back at school was difficult for an adolescent to handle.
During this time she also struggled between a desire to enter the convent and feeling responsible for the family. She stayed home for a year and a half, playing the organ at the mission, singing with her father while her brothers served Mass, and leading the rosary when the priest failed to come. While her father wanted her to stay home, he admitted he would rather have her in the convent than anywhere else. With the encouragement of their priest, she entered the convent in January 1941. Here she found that the years of striving to be competent, self-motivating, capable of making decisions had to be quickly unlearned. Her January entrance meant she had missed the first six months of preparation with her class. Poor health proved detrimental, and dental problems necessitated getting dentures. When it was time for reception, she was told she could not be received with the class. She was given the option of working in the laundry at Loras College to help pay for her dowry and her dental procedures, and reentering the following August. She and Sister Hildegard Grohman shared their deep disappointment while they both worked in the laundry. She struggled with doubts, feelings of rejection, and the stigma of being a “rerun” when she joined the next class. However, on August 12, 1943, she was received and given the name Sister Mary Placid. She was professed Sept. 10, 1945, and could have made a home visit, but chose not to in order to spare her father the expense of the 900 mile trip when he was still struggling to pay the debts of her mother’s illness. However, two years later, at her request, Mother Irmina arranged for a companion who could take her home on a railroad pass.
Lois taught middle grades and was in charge of the music at rural schools in Temple Hill and Keota before being sent to Midlothian, Ill. Here the adjustment to urban living and the pressure of teaching classes of 50 students created health problems that resulted in her being sent back to rural schools like Sugar Creek and Holy Rosary, LaMotte, where she began her high school teaching in biology. Her bachelor’s degree was from Loras College, and with the help of grants from the National Science Foundation she was able to obtain a master’s degree from St. Mary’s in Winona, Minn.
When Lois was sent to Wahlert High School, she was assigned to teach the slow track biology students because of her work in the intermediate grades. This became a passion for her, and along with two colleagues, she wrote a biology text which she used for her last nine years there. She was an excellent teacher and received both state and national awards from the National Association of Biology Teachers.
In retirement, she headed the sewing department at MSF and initiated a clothing recycling process we know today as New To Me. She also classified and labeled all the trees at MSF. She moved to Holy Family Hall in 2006. While the name, Placid, fit her well, she was strong and fearless in defense of her principles.
Survivors include her sister-in-law Rose Wagner, and her nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her parents; her brothers Joseph (Rose), Donald (Leah), Andrew (Margaret), Thomas (Carol); her sister Annette (Ivan) Kusler and her brother William who died in infancy.