Oral History

Memories of Sister Mary Gemma, OSF

It was March 3, 1984, the month of St. Joseph and the first Saturday of the Virgin Mary when after a calm restful night Sister Gemma came into the Dining Room in Francis Hall joining Sister Rosemary Stets and Sister Laurentia for breakfast.  It was a Saturday and other Religious members of the Congregation were assembling for the Liturgy in the Sacred Heart Chapel Convent.  Sister Gemma was conversing with the Sisters speaking about suffering.  As her head suddenly struck down on the table her last remembered comments seem to sum up her whole life.

“Just take each day as it comes and pray for strength to pass through the crisis.”

Seconds later, she had passed her crisis and entered into the glory of the Father.

I was immediately summoned from the chapel as her cousin and superior to face the unexpected.

In 1958 Sister Gemma one of the first faculty pioneers was the chairperson of the Biology Department for the past twenty six years.  She gave many long hours of work, sacrifice and effort to the growth of the college.  Sister Gemma was deeply concerned about her responsibilities and made every effort to give her students a quality education.  Her pet expression to her loving students was “sweet petunia” and this remark made their day and lifted their spirits.

Sister Gemma and her Biology majors participated in the Water Quality Monitoring Program coordinated by the Nolde Environmental Center.  Participants were awarded certificates of achievement from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

In the Biology Department to enrich learning and experimentation electronic equipment was purchased and additional microscopes were acquired for use in the basic laboratory experiments.  A Preprofessional Advisory Committee for Health Careers was organized.  The Science Club participated in the Annual Science Day Program sponsored by the Division of Natural Science to service and enrich high school students interested in science.

For the past ten years, Sister Gemma assumed the additional responsibility of Junior Professed Formation Director.  In her own way she tried to instill in the young religious Sisters the essentials of religious life: the vows, prayer, sacrifice and to fulfill the will of God.  Her fidelity and charity was a lesson that will not soon be forgotten.

Sister Gemma loved to please others; she delighted in sending cards or notes to friends and family on holidays or special occasions.  She would never go empty handed for a visit, and would write a thank-you note for the smallest favor even a dinner invitation .  Among the sisters she lived and worked as a silent presence, a true friend.  When you passed her in the hall, her well remembered “Hi there Sister” brightened up your day, and made the world seem friendlier.

Sister Gemma will be remembered best for her gentle manners, her unassuming and reflective personality.  She never dominated any conversation, but in her own way she could be forceful and impressive.  She smiled often and for those who had the wisdom to listen, she had much to offer.

Sister Gemma possessed a true and pure religious spirit.  She was mindful of poverty and displayed no superfluous attachments that would hinder growth in interior life.  A woman of prayer, completely devoted to the Virgin Mary, she would often be found, rosary in hand, in meditation in chapel or her bedroom.

Sister Gemma was like an angel, there is no other way to describe her nature and spirit.  She gave herself to God in the commitment of her religious vows, and in charity and patience which marked her quiet life.  Her crown of glory was a lifetime of service and surrender to the will of God.

Submitted by Sister M. Alodia Podczasy, October 7, 2000

Contact Information

The University Archives are located at the 951 Morgantown Offices on the first floor. Please contact Sharon Neal, Library Director to schedule an appointment.


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