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Sister Marilyn Kraus

July 26, 1927 - March 24, 2019   |   Passed On

Tribute by Sr. Mary Rehmann

Sister Marilyn Kraus, along with Sisters Joanne Di Iulio, Karen Macksey, Joan Marie Schuster and Marian Smith were celebrated by the Sisters of Humility last summer for their 70 years in religious life. Since then Sr. Joanne DiIulio left us on December 8, 2018, a special Marian feast of the congregation. Sr. Marilyn died just a day before the Marian feast of the Annunciation when God became human, perhaps the most significant feast of the liturgical year.

Marilyn Joanne Kraus was born on July 26, 1927, in Keokuk, Iowa to John and Minnie (Bruegger) Kraus. She graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1945 and attended Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa, where she met the Sisters of Humility.  She and Sr. Marie Vittetoe became friends as freshman science majors; both enjoyed walking in the rain which they did on Kimberly Road, then a “primitive country road”. 

After her third year of college, Marilyn entered the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Ottumwa, Iowa on September 8, 1948. The following summer she received the habit and her name in religion, Sister Mary Jonita. She made vows in 1951. Following Vatican II, Sr. Jonita returned to her baptismal name, Marilyn.

There were 15 members of that class and Sr. Joan Marie says there were “three groups of five (5)”.  Sr. Jonita was in the middle group. She finished her senior year of college as a postulant, and received her BA in Biology with her original class in 1949.  She taught Biology at Ottumwa Heights Academy as a senior novice. 

Sr. Jonita’ s first two years “on mission” were at St. Mary’s High School in Marshalltown, Iowa, from 1951 to 1953. Sr. Marian Smith says that the two of them would walk to Jackson’s bakery on Saturday and pick up all kinds of wonderful baked goods. From Marshalltown she went back to Ottumwa Heights where she taught biology to the academy students.  She was there at the time of the fire in 1957 and moved with the Heights faculty, first to the mansion on Elm Street that had recently been purchased by the congregation. When classes could begin at the former Naval Air Base outside Ottumwa, she moved to the BOQ (Bachelors’ Officers Quarters) with the sisters, novices and college students from foreign countries. 

In the spring of 1959 she accompanied students to Washington, D.C. and was described as the “disciplined one” among the sister-chaperones. When one of the students hadn’t checked in by the 9 p.m. curfew, Sr. Jonita was calm and rational. Turns out the student was browsing in a book store across from the hotel and had lost track of time. Sister also seemed to be more interested in historical sites than others on that trip. 

In September 1960 a coed Catholic High School was begun at the Air Base with Humility faculty from Ottumwa Heights Academy and Walsh High School. The former Walsh school building was converted into St. Anne’s convent where the sisters lived. Sr. Jonita was one of the drivers of the donated Volkswagen van in which the sisters traveled back and forth every day between the south side and air base.  In 1962 the high school opened in a brand new Walsh High School building. During her five-year tenure there, Sister Jonita had the reputation of being a very good teacher who demanded the best from each of her students. She spent hours preparing for classes, setting up experiments, growing fruit flies, and collecting rocks, leaves and butterflies among other things.

Having earned a Master’s degree in Biology from Notre Dame University, in 1965 Sr. Jonita was assigned to teach biology at Ottumwa Heights College where her reputation as an excellent, but demanding, instructor continued. Between 1959 and 1969 she had grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to Summer Institutes in Spokane, Berkeley, Notre Dame, Madison, NJ, and Memphis, TN.  In 1969 she went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to pursue a degree in Public Health, awarded in 1970. For a couple of years, now Sister Marilyn Kraus, she helped with the family business, John A. Kraus Co., in Nauvoo as Administrative Assistant. Then she studied at the University of Missouri in Columbia where she received an MA in Health Sciences librarianship in 1973. That prepared her for the position as Chief, Medical Library Services with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City where she continued until she retired in 1995. During that time Sr. Marilyn had befriended a woman in her apartment complex and asked Sr. Marie Vittetoe to continue to visit her after Sr. Marilyn left. Both sisters were saddened by “Pinky’s death” while Sr. Marie was on retreat one year.

After retirement Sr. Marilyn was dedicated to the family business of hospitality for visitors to Nauvoo’s well known historical and religious attractions. She made regular trips to Iowa City for a number of years. She would stop at Humility of Mary Center, always looking for her classmate, Sr. Joanne Di Iulio, with whom she kept in touch. Sr. Marilyn also served on the Board of Directors of the Nauvoo Historical Society to which memorials can be made. It was a familiar sight to see her watering and otherwise caring for the plants in front of the family businesses.

When nephew Dan Kraus informed the community that Sr. Marilyn was near death on March 20, Sisters Mary Ann Vogel and Johanna Rickl made a day trip to the nursing home in LaHarpe, Illinois, where she was receiving hospice care. Father Tony Trosley was called to anoint her. We also learned that, after being told of her condition, many of the Benedictine sisters at St. Mary’s Monastery in Rock Island were remembering Sr. Marilyn and her family in prayer. Of course, they were a long-time presence at their monastery and school in Nauvoo until moving to Rock Island in 2001. Some of these sisters recalled the pleasure of eating at the Kraus restaurant.

While visiting, Sisters Mary Ann and Johanna were happy to have spent the time in prayer with Sr. Marilyn and to share stories of her life with Dan’s three daughters. It was comforting to know that the funeral arrangements had included much of Marilyn’s earlier input. They give credit and gratitude to Dan for being an exceptional nephew and to the family for their care and attention to Sister Marilyn throughout her life.       

Sister Mary Rehmann, CHM