Sister Mary Merici Oehrlein, OSF


Sister Mary Merici (Elizabeth) Oehrlein, OSF, 106, of Dubuque, died December 7, 2019, at Clare House.

Michael Anton Oehrlein came to America from Bavaria, Germany, in 1900 to become a tool and die maker in Aurora, Illinois. He married Mary Weber in 1908 and together they had five children, Joseph, Albert, Elizabeth (Sister Merici), Robert, and Roseanne. Elizabeth Suzanne was born in 1913 but was always called Elsie at home. When she went to school the sisters insisted on calling her Elizabeth, which created an unhappy dichotomy for her.

As a child, Elsie read voraciously and was fascinated by boarding school stories such as Judy of York Hill. Consequently, when her mother’s cousin, Sister Mary Servatius, suggested that she attend Immaculate Conception Academy in Dubuque, IA, she was thrilled because she imagined she would enjoy the girlish escapades described in the books she had been reading. Sister Jeanne Marie introduced her to great literature as she began her freshman year in 1927. While she thought of being a religious, she began nurse’s training in Aurora before she finally entered Mount St. Francis on September 8, 1935. At reception the following year, she was given the name Sister Mary Merici.

Upon entering the convent, Elsie had asked to be a teacher rather than a nurse, and her request was granted. She attended Loras and Briar Cliff Colleges, and obtained a Masters in English from the Catholic University in Washington D.C. Sister Merici taught in Iowa at St. Mary’s, Waterloo, LaMotte, Alton, Ashton, and Granville and in Illinois at Midlothian. While she taught English for many years, she also taught Latin and French, and was a very successful debate coach.

At the recommendation of Sister Loyola Meuret, Sister Merici was hired as campus nurse by the Foreign Study League of Salt Lake City during the summers of 1967, 1969, and 1970. In 1972 she attended summer school at the Sorbonne in Paris and studied with Alliance Francaise in Antibes. While in Paris she was able to visit Bavaria and Luxembourg, happy to have the opportunity to explore her ancestral roots.

Sister retired from teaching high school in 1983 and went on to teach remedial reading at Hazel Crest in Illinois for five years before retiring to Mount St. Francis in 1988. In 2004 she moved to Holy Family Hall and in 2011 Sister Merici moved to Clare House,

Sister is survived by her nieces, nephews, and Franciscan sisters.

Sister was preceded in death by her parents; her sister, Roseanne (Robert) Baumann; her brothers, Joseph (Pat) Oehrlein, Albert Oehrlein, and Robert (Tina) Oehrlein.