Sisters of Charity Federation Archives

Presentation on Sister Marie Agnese Bonanno, SC by Sister Judith Metz, SC October 28, 1996




TAPE #252
Both of Sister's parents were born in Italy, were married in Italy, in fact, they had their first
two children while they still in Italy. She says: “When my oldest sister was 2 years of age and
my second oldest brother was 6 months old my parents decided to come to America wanting
to make a better life for their family. My uncle Bill lived in Cleveland, so my father went and
stayed with him until he earned enough money to send for his wife and children. He worked
in a canning factory, but the heat made him sick there. Later the moved to Muncie, Indiana
where my mother's brother lived. Both of my parents had gone to school in Italy and knew
how to read and write.”
Sister Marie Agnese, or Anna Maria, which was her baptismal name, was the 6th of 11
children in the Bonanno family. When she was growing up, the family moved to Lima, Ohio.
She says, “We had a very happy home-life and enjoyed one another's company. We were
poor but we were never hungry. We each had our own small and intimate friends, but I can
never remember having a toy to play with because there were 5 older and 5 younger children
in the family and I helped care for my younger sisters and brothers. At the direction of my
parents, we would call on the elderly women living on our street, and since my father had a
grocery store, we would often bring bags of fruit with us to give them.
My parents were very active people , loved by their friends, and they were devout Catholics.
I used to go to an early Mass every Sunday, then go to a second Mass later just I could go
with my father. My parents apparently were kind of leaders in the Italian community in Lima.
They used to write letters for the Italians living in Lima who wanted their loved ones backin
Italy to know how they were doing in the new land. I can remember my mother writing love
letters for some younger men who had left their sweethearts in Italy.
Msgr Manning, the Pastor of St. Rose Church, used to ask my father to round up all the
Italians in South Lima whenever an Italian priest, or a priest who spoke Italian came to the
city to hear confessions or give a mission. My father was a true social worker who constantly
helped others to better themselves. Mother worked hard cooking and sewing and taking care
of the 11 of us children. During my youth, my father had a grocery store and also had a
vegetable and fruit stand in the market house in South Lima, so I decided to go with my older
sister to help wait on customers. We all attended St. Rose School in Lima taught by the
Sisters of Charity. Some of the teachers were loving and kind, and from their example,
especially Sister Martha Marie whom we all loved. I knew, when I was in the 6th grade that I
wanted to be a Sister of Charity. I started to go to 6:30 Mass every morning and make the
stations of the cross after school. When I finished my sophomore year I decided to enter,
otherwise I would lose my vocation.
About this time a friend of the family asked my parents for my hand in marriage. When my
father told me, I expressed the fact that my only desire was to become a religious.

Father Williams wanted me to go to a diocesan community like the Visitation Cloistered
Sisters or the Sisters of Mercy in Toledo. But, I wanted to enter the Sisters of Charity.
My parents were very helpful in buying my clothes even though they seemed sad because
they thought they were losing me. They purchased everything on the list and surprised me
with a dollar. My mother made my Postulant outfit with the finest French serge.
Because I had never been on a train, my father took me to Dennison, Ohio in May to visit my
uncle. The day finally came when I was to leave my parents, brothers and sisters. My last
request was that my father, brothers and sisters walk the five blocks to the train station with
me. Mother could not go, which made me sad, however, I felt better when, after a block
away, I returned home and kissed her goodbye again. At the station were Sister Agnese
McGuire , Sister Sarah and Sister Mary Agnes and some of my best friends and neighbors.
The day was July 6, 1923 and I was 17 years old.”
When she entered the Community, her Mistress was Sister Flavia. “Three months after, I
received the brown habit as a Novice and was named Sister Agnese, the name given to me
by Mother Irenaea.”
After she completed the Novitiate, she was missioned in September of 1924 to Holy Name in
Cleveland. When she arrived there she was told to teach the 1st and 2nd grades. She said,
“The Sisters were gracious and lovable and gave me a good welcome. For four years I taught
the 1st and 2nd grade, 3rd and 4th grade, and 4th and 5th grade. And then I taught the 5th grade
for five straight years. I enjoyed teaching. I was taken out of school in 1933. The Pastor
wanted Sister Eugene and me to do Parish Visitation. He had recognized various situations
like invalid marriages, unbaptized children, and some who had not made their First
Communion or been Confirmed, and some adults who had stopped attending Sunday Mass.
For six years I labored among the parishioners doing home visitations as part of the parish
staff. In 1939 I was put back into the classroom teaching 8th grade for two years and was
again asked to continue with parish visitations. This I did until 1943. After 19 happy,beautiful
years at Holy Name, I was missioned to social work in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The
previous year, Msgr Marcellus Wagner, who was the Director of Charities in Cincinnati had
expressed an interest in arranging a program to benefit underprivileged and retarded children
in the Catholic Schools of the Cincinnati area. He had contacted the Mothers General of all the
Communities who were serving the schools in Cincinnati asking each Community to give one
Sister whose work would be to go to the Catholic Elementary Schools and consult the
Principals concerning children who presented a psychological or emotional in the school.
Msgr entitled this program as School Social Service.
All of the Communities contributed one Sister except for one. Sister Carlotta was the Sister of
Charity missioned to do that work. As they identified children who had these psychological
needs they eventually became the basis for what became the Springer Institute.
It was established in 1940 as a school for exceptional children.

Because all of the Communities were not able to respond to Monsignor's request for Sisters,
he asked for the Sisters of Charity to give him an additional Sister to do this work. And, it was
at that time, in July, 1943 that Sister Marie Agnese was missioned to do this social work in
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. In addition to the School Social Service work, she was also
assigned to do case work in the family division of Catholic Social Services throughout the
She recruited students for the School for Exceptional Children by consulting school Principals
about writing psychological histories. She also worked very closely with the Principals of the
schools in terms of identifying these children, and also with the Pastors in order to get the
children in the right place as far as their education was concerned.
She served at Catholic Charities from August, 1943 until September of 1947 at which time
she was appointed Administrator of Santa Maria Institute, and the following year as Superior
of the Institute. She doesn't tell us very much about her years at Santa Maria. Msgr Wagner
contacted the Community because he wanted to send her to Washington, D.C. To get a
Masters Degree in Social Work, but Mother Mary Regina Russell said she could not go, but
would give the opportunity to another Sister. Monsignor Wagner refused.
Using the experience that she had gained at Catholic Charities, she was able to carry that
forward through her years at Santa Maria. So, from 1947 until 1954 she was the Superior
and Director of Santa Maria Institute. She said, “There were many problems involved at Santa
Maria because money was so scarce. After seven struggling but happy years, in September of
1954 I was again missioned. This time to Saint Joseph Infant and Maternity Home where I
remained until 1960.” So, for those six years, she was the Director and Superior of St. Joseph
Infant and Maternity Home. She says: “At the time that I went to the Infant Home there
were 60 Sisters there. Thirty of them were retired school and music teachers, and the other
thirty worked in the home with duties such as nurses with the care of the newborn infants,
toddlers, the milk lab, and as childcare workers for the groups of children from ages 2 to 5.
The children stayed there until they were transferred to St. Joseph Orphanage. Some Sisters
worked as secretaries and some worked as cooks.
We sometimes had over 200 children to care for at a time. About in 1958, the five year olds
were sent over to the orphanage. So, from that year on, we only had newborns to four year
old children. We had 45 unwed mothers at a time when I first went to the home, and never
less than 30.
In June of 1954, the Maternity Hospital that served not only our own unwed mothers, but the
people in the neighborhood and any mother who wished to have their baby delivered there,
was discontinued. After that, our girls were delivered at Good Samaritan Hospital. Since the
Sisters couldn't drive at that time, John Marie and later with Sister Veneranda drove the
unwed mother ready for delivery to the hospital.

Parents brought their daughter to the Infant Home in the 3rd or 4th month of pregnancy, and
girl remained with us until they delivered. They returned to the Infant Home after delivery
and stayed from 6 weeks to 3 months. They were asked to pay $125. This included medical
and hospital care as well as food and shelter at the Infant Home. Later, a social worker from
Catholic Charities decided that the girls from out of town would pay $150. Sister Grace Marie
and Sister Eugene Marie, administrators of Good Samaritan Hospital were most
understanding, so they would take nothing for the hospital bill unless the girls were able to
pay. Most of the girls gave their babies up for adoption, as not even their own brothers and
sisters knew they were pregnant and thought that they were away at college or visiting
relatives. We were not successful in getting tutors or teachers from the Board of Education to
come to the Infant Home, so we did the best we could in teaching crafts, crocheting, etc.
Before I was sent to the Infant Home, the girls worked in nurseries for 8 hours a day. Since I
thought they were not there for punishment, I brought their work hours down to four. Sister
Veneranda, the excellent nurse in charge of this department gave them love and
understanding. The nurses in training at Good Samaritan Hospital came and stayed for
several months at a time, and were taught child-care from the head nurse. They lived on the
first floor vacated by the senior citizens who had lived at the Infant Home for years.
Our financial problems were always a source of worry as we received very little from United
Appeal. We were permitted, by them, to hold a festival every July. Other sources of income
were card parties and our Christmas Appeal . Many school Sisters came in the summer to
help with the children, or went on begging sprees to get prizes donated for our festival.
A few unusual things happened in my years, such as finding baskets with a precious newborn
infant at our front door. Our girls ages ranged from 12 to 49 and came from all parts of the
United States. Several times, government officials came to the Infant Home as “white
slavery” was prevalent in Kentucky. They talked to the unwed mothers who were involved.
One evening, about 5.00 p.m. A 49 year old woman who lives several blocks from the Infant
Home came to our front door to ask for help. As she started to talk about her problem, our
supper bell rang. She begged me to go to supper, and I promised to return. It was about
6:30 p.m. And she said that she had been driving all morning and passed the Infant Home
about 10 times trying to decide what to do. As she passed a bridge going into Kentucky, she
felt like throwing herself in the river . She was three weeks away from delivering and asked
to stay. I was able to reach Mrs. McGuire, our Social Worker from Catholic Charities and Msgr
Kramer, the Director who said to keep her there and help her.
The Infant Home served Protestant as well as Catholic girls, girls of every race and color.
One morning, a beautiful Protestant girl about 25 years of age came from Kentucky to the
Infant Home. She said that when she told her parents she was three months pregnant they
told her to leave and never to return. She could not think of a place to go and felt that God
directed her to us. She had no money and only the clothes she was wearing. She said

she couldn't help the baby, and wanted to give her child up for adoption. Six months later,
when she did deliver, the baby was mongoloid and became a ward of the state of Kentucky.
However, one night, when her baby became seriously ill, Sister Michael Ann, the nurse on
duty baptized the baby and when the baby was better, it became a ward of Catholic Charities.
My story wouldn't be complete if I failed to tell you of our good fortune when a beautiful
young woman came to my office in September of 1956 to ask if we had a Guild. Nancy
Ilendorf was that person (NOT SURE ABOUT THE SPELLING OF HER NAME). I called Msgr
Kramer at Catholic Charities and he asked me to send her to his office. He, in turn, consulted
with Archbishop Alter. He said that in the 10 years he served in Cincinnati, no one had ever
come to ask to do anything for any of the social service institutions in the Diocese. They were
both happy for us, but not as happy as the Sisters at the Infant Home.
Nancy's family and friends started by having a card party, and our first $100 and $200 were
like pure gold. Many of our families, friends and relatives were our first Guild members. Sister
Ellen Joseph Walsh was fortunate in hiring Nancy who worked as secretary/receptionist for
about 20 years **(someone in the audience said that Nancy was still there at the time of this
presentation)** Without her work and encouragement with the Guild for the past 30 years, I
doubt that it would be the success that it is today. Our Infant Home loves and appreciates
what the Guild has done to help the Sisters, the children and unwed mothers as well as what
they give to the Infant Home.”
So, she spent 6 years doing the work there at the Infant Home, and then in 1960, she was
missioned to Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton as Personnel Director. After spending a year
in that Department, she was asked to open a new Social Service Department which she ran
from 1961 to 1969. She was very much an advocate of the hospitals establishing social
service departments. In one paper that she wrote in 1962 she writes, “These are some of the
things that I think our Community should pursue in the are of social service. At present, of
the seven hospitals operated by the Sisters of Charity, only 2 have Social Service
Departments. At Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton, I opened one in 1961, and Good
Samaritan in Cincinnati opened its Social Service Department in 1962. These were operated
by lay social workers. I feel that all of our hospitals should consider the establishment of
Social Service Departments. And, since the Community has sent Sisters away to study for
their Masters Degrees in Education and hospital work, they should likewise educate Sisters in
Social Work.”
Then she tells about when back in 1943 when she became involved in social service work for
the Diocese with Catholic Social Services how she was able to do for the parents of the
children involved in that program. Then she goes on to say, “I'm sure that all of our schools
have some needs for a social worker who would act as a liaison between the families, the
pastor, the teacher and the school principal. Our apostolate could be extended to Sisters who
have not necessarily reached retirement age, but retired because they were unable to do a
full day's work in school. They might be able to visit nursing homes and/or serve as
Sister/Visitatrix in hospitals. I believe it would be an excellent idea also for our teachers to go

into the urban areas which I assume are the same in all cities.”
She decided in 1969, after having served as the Director of the Social Service Department in
Dayton, that she wanted to go West because she had never been there. But, in the
meantime, Sister Grace Marie, who was at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, asked
her to come there to re-organize the Department of Religion, as she called it. She did this for
one year. But, finally, in 1970, she went West. She went to Penrose Hospital and she served
as Information Clerk from 1970-1975. She says, “After 5 ½ years at the Information Desk,
Sister Myra James asked me to work in social service, which I did until 1977 when I left
I tore a tendon in my right leg, and I was determined not to be a burden to anyone, so I
asked to retire to Mount St. Joseph. I worked in the Craft Department in Mother Margaret
Hall and helped to supply the Motherhouse gift shop with items to sell. Later, I learned that
St. Elizabeth's Residence was a Sister of Charity project, and so, I asked to go West. I
received my letter of acceptance in late September, and went to St. Elizabeth's in 1980 and
stayed until 1984
In 1984 when she returned to Cincinnati, she learned that St. Joseph's Center at the Infant
Home was open. So, she decided to go out there once again. Once there, she became very
active doing craft work and crocheting work and she supplied things for the Center.
There isn't anything in her file about this time, but I know that her family got really involved
in doing some of that work and wound up building the garages. The gift shop was renamed
Bonanno. She was really active out there at the Infant Home in her later years running the
thrift shop and making things to raise money for the children who were living at St. Joseph
Home. By that time, Saint Joseph Home had changed its ministry from maternity home to a
home for the profoundly retarded . So she spent her last years very active out at there.
She died September 16, 1991 at 85.
Sister #1:
When she came to Dayton, there was no personnel department. She really
organized that and she included the information about the Sisters on staff.
Sister #2:
Some member of her family was in the liquor business and they supplied
St.Elizabeth's Residence in Colorado Springs with the best wine they had ever had.
Sister #3:
She was my ?? grade teacher . She was very warm and loving, and I think she
was like Sister Anne Hermine, if it wasn't written down you didn't have to worry about

Dublin Core


Presentation on Sister Marie Agnese Bonanno, SC by Sister Judith Metz, SC October 28, 1996


Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati; Monasticism and religious orders for women -- Catholic Church -- History; Community-based social services -- History


A presentation on the life and ministerial works of Sister Marie Agnese Bonanno that was researched and presented by Congregational Archivist and Historian Sister Judith Metz. The program ends with Sisters in the audience sharing some of their remembrances of Sister Marie Agnese. This recording is a part of the oral history series housed at the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Archives.


Bonanno, Sister Marie Agnese, SC; Metz, Sister Judith, SC


Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Archives


Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Archives Oral History Series




Delisle, Sister Lorraine, SC (Transcriber)


Online access is provided for research purposes only. For rights, reproduction, and use requests or more information, please contact the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Archivist






Oral History


Presentation on Sister Marie Agnese Bonanno, SC by Sister Judith Metz, SC October 28, 1996



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Metz, Sister Judith, SC


Cincinnati (Ohio); Cleveland (Ohio)

Original Format



31 Minutes 45 Seconds


Bonanno, Sister Marie Agnese, SC; Metz, Sister Judith, SC, “Presentation on Sister Marie Agnese Bonanno, SC by Sister Judith Metz, SC October 28, 1996,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed July 14, 2024,


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