Sister Mary Hildegarde Peiffer
Sister Mary Hildegarde Peiffer
April 4, 1917 – March 27, 2011
Tonight we welcome family, friends, CHM sisters and associates as we remember and celebrate the earthly life of Sister Mary Hildegarde Peiffer. In one of the opening paragraphs from our CHM Search and Service we are reminded that `each individual, in turn, contributes to the congregation through her personal presence, attitudes, affection, and work.` (Search and Service, p. 13, #13) It is my hope that with this tribute we will be able to see how Sister lived out her commitment as a Sister of Humility.
Hildegarde Adelia Peiffer was born on April 4, 1917, in Buffalo, Iowa, to Wendel and Adelia Streicher Peiffer. She and her sister, Marcella, and her brothers, Wendel and Joseph, spent their childhood years in Buffalo and Davenport, Iowa. Her parents, sister Marcella and brother Joseph are deceased. Brother Wendel, nieces and nephews survive. Hildegarde attended Buffalo Public School for grades 1-6, St. Alphonsus School in Davenport for grades 7 and 8, and began her high school years at Immaculate Conception Academy in Davenport but finished high school at Ottumwa Heights Academy, Ottumwa, Iowa. After completing high school, Hildegarde entered the Congregation of the Humility of Mary on July 3, 1935, received the habit and her religious name Sister Mary Hildegarde in 1936, and made first vows on July 17, 1938. She continued her education at Ottumwa Heights Junior College receiving an AA degree in elementary education and obtained a Permanent Professional Certificate from the State of Iowa.
What would have been for many a huge roadblock loomed before her when early on in her ministry she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Our Search and Service says `…sisters can accomplish what one alone cannot do in creating an environment of justice, love, and peace. Hence each one shares self and talents in a response to a corporate vision of search and service.` (Search and Service, p. 13, #14) Despite the physical difficulties of her disease, Sister embraced a very active teaching ministry in primary education and later a domestic ministry caring for the retired priests at St. Vincent’s Center. She began her teaching ministry at St. Mary’s Marshalltown and returned there two more times. Other schools in Iowa where she taught were Cosgrove and Parnell Public; St. Joseph, Fort Madison; St. Mary’s, Centerville; Sacred Heart and St. Mary’s, Ottumwa; St. Mary’s, Oskaloosa; and John F. Kennedy, Davenport. She also cared for infant children at The Christ Child Home in Des Moines. In 1937, after thirty-five years in the classroom, sister moved to the opposite end of the spectrum and accepted a position as housekeeper for the retired priests at St. Vincent Center in Davenport. Increasing physical difficulties did not reduce her stamina; in fact, it seemed to increase it. She loved her work with the priests and they greatly appreciated her. Even after she moved to Humility of Mary Center in 1992, she would walk down to St. Vincent’s on Saturday to sort the mail and check up on her `boys.`
Sister was never happier than when Wendel would take her to his home for a family gathering. He surprised her with a party at CASI for her 80th birthday. She was elated and talked about it for a long time. My, how excited she was when her nephew adopted two Russian children, and she could not wait for their visit and made sure all of the sisters were properly introduced. Her family even flew her back to Davenport for holidays after she was at Bishop Drumm Retirement Center in Johnston. One of her favorite activities here at the Center was the Sunday night card game with Sisters Christine, Madeleine Marie and others. Only family events cancelled that.
Sister never let her physical infirmities dictate what activities she could do. Her grit and determination were a source of amazement and inspiration to all of us. When people expressed concern about her falling, she always replied, `I know how to fall.` No one will ever know how many times she really did fall. She never seemed to break any bones; but I imagine she had some real bruises at times. Sister Hildegarde never let physical infirmities stand in the way of what our founders had in mind when they wrote; `…the sisters share a mission of the church; to give witness to the message of the beatitudes according to the congregation’s spirit and tradition.` (Search and Service, p. 42, #93) Just visualize it; she is tooling around heaven with no crutches or wheelchair!
Sister Micheline Curtis
March 29, 2011