Sisters of Charity Federation Archives

Sternitzke, S. Mary Denise, Oral History, 6/28/2017




Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 1 of 19

JK: This interview is with Sister Mary Denise Sternizke. The interviewer is Jane Kenamore, and
we are at the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Mother House in Leavenworth, Kansas. The date
is June 28th, 2017.
Sister Mary Denise, I love that name, by the way. It's beautiful. Sister Mary Denise, when and
where were you born? [00:00:26]
MDS: I was born in 1922 in Sedalia, Missouri.
JK: Oh, ok. Can you tell us about your parents and how they influenced you over the years?
MDS: My dad, Leo Sternizke, worked in the offices of the MKT or Katy Railroad, and I think
my mother must have been doing secretarial work or something, but that's where they met. And
my dad was an ardent Catholic. Mother is a convert, but she was a good convert. I mean she
really converted. And after one year, because when the Katy offices moved we moved too. So,
we moved to Boonville, Missouri, were there for about eight years. And then they moved the
offices to Parsons, Kansas, so we moved to Parsons, Kansas, and that's where I lived for the eight
years before I entered the Sisters of Charity.
JK: And did you enter the Sisters of Charity right out of high school? [00:01:36]
MDS: Yes, I did.
JK: You did.
MDS: Yes.
JK: And what attracted you to religious life? [00:01:42]
MDS: I think my vocation to religious life started three days after I was born. My father took me
to be baptized. He wasn't taking any chances. He's going to have his daughter baptized right
away, and in those days you didn't have a big ceremony. I mean it was just the sponsors. And
when the sponsors had left my dad picked me up, took me over the Blessed Mother's alter and
offered me to her.
JK: Really.
MDS: That was a pretty big thing. I never knew that until the day I said, "Dad, I want to be a
Sister." And then he told me that.
JK: Oh, my goodness. That is very interesting. [00:02:27]

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 2 of 19

MDS: And I know that he was the happiest person on earth at that point. My mother didn't take
it quite so (laughs)… quite so calmly, but, you know, it evolved and got better and better, our
relationship and finally she was actually happy that I did that.
JK: Oh, good. Good. How long did it take your mom to accept your entering the SCL
community? [00:02:59]
MDS: Well, she came up with me to visit, to see the place and see if that's what I really wanted,
and she was very good about it. And, you know, as the community evolved ,that is, in changing
habits and all that, she liked that and there was a lot more freedom and getting to go visit them.
So, by the time we had gotten pretty close to the end of our lives, why, she was very happy that I
had done it.
JK: Oh, good. That's good. Like many other new members of the community you spent your
early years teaching in grade school and elementary school.
MDS: Yes.
JK: So, first you taught in the lower grades, is that right? [00:03:53]
MDS: Yes, I did. I started out in the third. Then I had first and second, and then went onto to the
sixth to eighth (phonetic) group.
JK: And how many years were involved in that? [00:04:06]
MDS: It was about six years, you know.
JK: Oh, ok. Ok. And, let's see, you went to Denver? [00:04:16]
MDS: Those are all correct. My elementary… there was Denver, and St. Mary's is right but not
Topeka and Billings.
JK: Oh, ok.
MDS: Those were high school.
JK: Oh, those were high school. Ok. How were your experiences…? Since you had never taught
before how did you deal with this? [00:04:36]
MDS: Teaching was not my choice. I wanted medical technology.
JK: Oh, you did.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 3 of 19

MDS: I did very much. But in the community you do what the community needs, you know.
And I had never been around children of that age. I mean I had no particular rapport with them.
All I had was one brother and he was just three years younger, and we didn't babysit in those
days. And I can say I did not like teaching in the elementary. I mean I just didn't feel comfortable
with people that age. It was a whole different story when I got with teenagers.
JK: Oh, was it? [00:05:22]
MDS: Oh, yes. Loved them; loved them.
JK: Oh, good. So, then you did go on and teach in high school, and where did you teach there?
MDS: I taught in all of our high schools except about three. My longest stretch was in Topeka,
but I also taught in all three of the Kansas Cities—Missouri, Kansas, and North Kansas City—
and Falls City, Nebraska, Billings, Montana, Denver.
JK: Where was your favorite place to teach? [00:06:01]
MDS: I think St. Pius X in North Kansas City.
JK: Oh, really?
MDS: I think so.
JK: And what did you like about that? [00:06:07]
MDS: The students were students for one thing. I mean it was very academically oriented. And
there was no such thing as any problem with discipline. Their parents were behind them and they
were good students. In my sophomore class the top 20, if you can believe it, academically were
boys except for one girl.
JK: Really.
MDS: That's unusual. I mean girls at those ages usually outshine the boys.
JK: Right. What were you teaching at that time? [00:06:48]
MDS: Different levels of mathematics—one, two, three and four—and chemistry.
JK: Upper math…
MDS: Yes.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 4 of 19

JK: …was more boy oriented at that time.
MDS: That's what they say, but, you know, in one school where I had too large a class for a
fourth year math we had four rows of boys and one whole row of girls.
JK: Did you?
MDS: Yes. When they're good they're very good.
JK: That's good. So, you were saying earlier that teaching math has changed drastically over the
years. Can you tell a little bit about that? [00:07:32]
MDS: Can I just lump the math and chemistry together because the same things have happened.
In the span of time that I was teaching those courses the subject matter and the method of
teaching changed radically, probably more in chemistry than in math. But people don't realize
that mathematics research is going on at a great rate at the same time. It starts at the universities
and then trickles down. And the people teaching are going to have to change with it and that
means continual education.
And I was very lucky in math. The community sent me to Notre Dame as soon as I got my
bachelor's degree and I spent the summers there, taught in the winters. And I got my master's in
mathematics in the summer of 1955, I think it was, and then continued teaching in the high
schools. And as far as chemistry is concerned it changed even more radically and it required
even more preparation on the part of teachers.
And the thing was that the college chemistry teachers were saying that high school students are
not prepared for college chemistry. So, that meant the high school chemistry had to be revised
and really revised from being descriptive chemistry to theoretical chemistry, and that's harder for
both the teacher and the student.
JK: And can you define descriptive chemistry and theoretical? [00:09:25]
MDS: Kind of. If I said to you today we will study sulfur. Sulfur is yellow. Things like that that
describe the element, not so much what they do. And then the theoretical part was based almost,
not entirely, but more on energy and energy changes and it was more difficult. And so the
teachers really had to go back to school, and we would be getting things in the summertime.
Well, my master's degree from Notre Dame gave me a big head start on the mathematics,
although I did take some other courses later. But the National Science Foundation came to the
rescue and offered a large number of summer fellowships in the sciences. And what you had to
do is to apply for one and if you got it then you had a free ride for that summer to study. I had

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 5 of 19

one in physics at Seattle U. I had one in chemistry at St. Louis University. I had one in math at
Brown University and another one at Notre Dame one time.
JK: Oh, my gosh.
MDS: So, by that time I had a much better science background although I still took some work
later on. And teachers just had to do that if they were going to present the material that was in
text books.
JK: Right. And when was this big change? I mean I'm sure it was over several years but when
was the…? [00:11:11]
MDS: Yes it did. It evolved. It evolved.
JK: What was that time period? [00:11:15]
MDS: I got my master's degree in '55, 1955. The years following that, and it wasn't just one
year, I mean. It was a continual thing. And every summer or before the summer the National
Science Foundation would print a booklet of what was being offered, and then you could pick
out what you needed and apply for that, and if you got it, that was it. You went.
JK: That's great. That was kind of post-Sputnik, so there was a lot of emphasis on science and
math during that period. [00:11:54]
MDS: Yes, yes, because it was changing so much, I think.
JK: So, overall, did you teach in a girl's school too? [00:12:06]
MDS: No.
JK: So you always…
MDS: One year when I taught, when we still had an academy here, and that was all girls, I
taught one chemistry class there.
JK: Oh, just one. [00:12:17]
MDS: Yes. Because I was studying at the same time.
JK: Oh, ok. So, that wasn't a very sizable experience but how did the girls in the all girls
environment do as opposed to the girls in the co-ed environment? [00:12:38]
MDS: Well, I think people think they're supposed to…

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 6 of 19

JK: Right.
MDS: …because the boys seem to take dominance in those subjects. But one of my challenges,
and one that I was really dedicated to, was to get more girls into the field, to really like and want
to go on in mathematics. And it was a real reward for me to get someone who was scared to
death to take a math course to get over that. I even met that at the college. They had one math
course required and there were people who left it to their senior year hoping it would evaporate
or something. And that was a great reward for me to be able to get them over that hump of
feeling that way. And I understood it because when I was in high school my lowest grades were
in math until my senior year.
JK: Oh, really. [00:13:45]
MDS: I just kept taking it to keep my dad happy because he's the one that really taught me to
think. And if it hadn't been for that I might never have made the master's degree in mathematics.
But I never could just get the answer. I had to know why. And that really helped me. So, I could
transfer that to other girls, you know, to try to make them see that they could be just as good in
math as boys. And we really came out with some good ones.
JK: Oh, that's good. And what about your love of chemistry? Where did you pick that up?
MDS: That's what I really wanted to major in. I just fell in love in chemistry even before I took
it. (Laughs) And when I did, why, it was just what I wanted.
JK: Which high school and college did you go to? [00:14:42]
MDS: St. Mary.
JK: You went to St. Mary here.
MDS: What is the University of St. Mary now was St. Mary College is where I got my
bachelor's degree.
JK: And where did you go to high school? [00:14:53]
MDS: In Parsons, Kansas.
JK: Oh, ok. Ok. So, you must have had good teachers along the way.
MDS: Pardon.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 7 of 19

JK: You must have had good teachers along the way. [00:15:06]
MDS: I did have some very good teachers.
JK: And were they Sisters or not? [00:15:10]
MDS: No. I was in a public high school.
JK: Oh, you were in public high school.
MDS: Uh-huh.
JK: Ok.
MDS: And we did have good teachers, and we did have good discipline.
JK: Oh, that's good. Yes.
MDS: But I always had an attraction for foreign language. I just didn't have room to get it into
the schedule, you know. So, I was happy when I was able to take German here, and that was
because I was looking at medical technology. German would have been a requirement.
JK: Did you ever consider being a doctor as opposed to…?
MDS: Oh, yes. I did. That's what I really wanted to do. My mother convinced me that no one
would ever have any faith in a woman doctor.
JK: Oh. That's sad.
MDS: So, we dropped that and went to med tech. That was… (Laughs)
JK: Oh, ok. But it was true in those days. [00:16:05]
MDS: In those days she was right. She would be surprised if she knew what there were today.
JK: Right. Right. You also taught German.
MDS: Yes.
JK: And, as we discussed before the interview you're reviewing it now on your iPad. [00:16:28]
MDS: I'm reviewing, yes.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 8 of 19

JK: You also said you had four chances to speak it. Can you tell about learning it and the
chances you had to speak it? [00:16:40]
MDS: It wasn't so much a chance to speak as to teach. What was available at the time I taught
German you could get the tapes that went with the textbook. And so the students got native
speakers on those.
JK: Oh, that's good.
MDS: And that was a big help because I hadn't had much conversation, and so I could
concentrate on the other part and then use the tapes for conversation.
JK: So, can you tell me about studying German on your iPad? [00:17:26]
MDS: About what?
JK: About studying German on your iPad. Do they have…?
MDS: Oh, it isn't German. It's Russian I have on the iPad.
JK: Oh, it's Russian.
MDS: My German, I just brought along a text book to review with, but I found out that I know
almost as much now as I knew then. I think it just sort of soaked in during the years. So, I enjoy
JK: And have you picked up the Russian alphabet? [00:17:57]
MDS: Yes. The Russian alphabet isn't as much an obstacle as people think it is. It looks terrible
but actually it isn't that bad. I mean you could learn that pretty quickly. There are some things
about the Russian language that are even easier than some others. For instance, there are no
definite or indefinite articles. I mean no "a," "an," or "the."
JK: Really.
MDS: You just say, "John doctor." I mean you say, "Ivan doctor." And then you just fill in Ivan
is a doctor. So, there are several things that are easier. There are some that are harder. Every
noun has six endings. That's kind of hard.
JK: That is.
MDS: Yes, six endings depending upon the case. Therefore, you never worry about word order.
You can use any word order because if that ending means its stated case and so, you know. But

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 9 of 19

that is kind of an obstacle to learn six endings. And then there are only two conjugations of
verbs. The first one's easy; the second one's messy. It has a lot of, what's the word I want, where
you change the rules a little bit. I can't think of it.
JK: Flexibility.
MDS: What?
JK: Flexibility? [00:19:36]
MDS: No, not flexibility. Exceptions.
JK: Oh exceptions. Oh, ok.
MDS: Like English has lots of them, you know.
JK: Right.
MDS: That second conjugation has lots of exceptions.
JK: Oh, does it? Irregular.
MDS: Yes.
JK: Irregular verbs. Yes.
In the '70s you served on the SCL Personnel Board…
MDS: Yes.
JK: …as its secondary education representative. [00:20:07]
MDS: Yes.
JK: What did you do in that role? [00:20:10]
MDS: The Personnel Board was sort of an experiment where the people in each section, like
secondary ed., elementary ed., voted on a representative. But the thing I found I didn't really…
We didn't have just what we were supposed to be doing definitely laid out, and it was because it
was an experiment, and so I felt a little at ease (verbatim) not knowing just what I was supposed
to be doing. And then because it was a voted thing. There were people who would rather have
had somebody else, and that always made it a little difficult. But we got through it.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 10 of 19

JK: Oh, I see. Have you ever served as a chapter representative? [00:21:07]
MDS: Yes, I did.
JK: Oh, you did.
MDS: One year we had a two-year session of the chapter and I did serve on that one. It was a
good experience.
JK: What kind of issues did you face? Do you remember? [00:21:23]
MDS: We worked on problems of the community and where we were headed. We had different
groups and I chose to work on the spirituality one. There was one on governance. I don't
remember what the third one was. But it was for the future of the community, where we wanted
to go and how we were going to get there. (Laughs)
JK: When did you do that about? [00:21:52]
MDS: Oh, goodness. I know I was in Topeka at that time so it must have been quite a little
while ago. Let's just leave it at that.
JK: Ok. Ok. So, it was prior to the time… Were there still a lot of young women entering the
community? [00:22:24]
MDS: Quite a few, yes. Quite a few.
JK: Yes. So, you had other issues.
In 1979 you went into school administration. You became principal of Sacred Heart in Fall City,
Nebraska. How was your experience as principal and did you miss teaching or were you teaching
also? [00:22:39]
MDS: Well, I was doing both.
MDS: It was a small high school, very small.
JK: Ok.
MDS: So, yes, I usually taught what you would consider a half schedule. And the principalship
wasn't too much of a job because it was a very small school. They didn't have everything, you
know, that big schools have.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 11 of 19

But administration is not my favorite thing. It's all right if I'm not the top man on the totem pole
but… Now, in Topeka that was a larger high school, and we had kind of an administrative board.
And each one of us, the four of us, I think… The principal was a priest, and then we had one who
took care of activities. I had curriculum, so I did the master schedule and all the scheduling, and I
loved doing that. That was mathematical, you know. (Laughs) And then I taught there also and
some really good students in Topeka.
JK: Oh, really.
MDS: Uh-huh.
JK: Do you have any memories of particular students or particular classes? [00:24:04]
MDS: What's that?
JK: I said do you have any memories of certain students or classes? [00:24:09]
MDS: Oh, yes. Yes, I do. And, believe it or not, since I've been back here retired, I've had
several come to visit me.
JK: Oh, you have.
MDS: Yes, from way back.
JK: Really.
MDS: From Topeka and from North Kansas City.
JK: Oh, that's great.
MDS: And then one from Hogan High School which is in Kansas City. That's rewarding.
Teachers don't have day-to-day rewards, you know, and it's so nice when students come back and
say your fourth year math class got me through Creighton or whatever it was. Things like that.
JK: Oh, that's very nice. You live here now, don't you?
MDS: I do. I live in Ross Hall.
JK: Yes. Can you describe your experience teaching at St. Mary's? [00:25:03]
MDS: At the college?

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 12 of 19

JK: Yes.
MDS: You know there's not an awful lot of difference between a college freshman and a high
school senior. That isn't that I had all freshman, but I really didn't feel like it was that much
different. There was difference in scheduling. We had night courses. Things like that. But on the
whole I didn't really find it… Well, there was this difference. In high school you have more time
in the classroom and less time preparing. In college it's just the reverse. You spend more time
preparing and less time in the classroom.
JK: Right.
MDS: So, that was a difference but not a hard one to do. If the class was there to be taught you
put in the time getting ready for it, so your day turned out about the same.
JK: Which did you enjoy more, college or high school? [00:26:07]
MDS: I think high school.
JK: Really.
MDS: I think I did. But I had more time in high school than I had at the college too. So, I don't
know. I think the kids that age I really liked. I really, really felt at home with them.
JK: Why? What did you like about them? Because a lot of people are not so fond of teenagers.
MDS: Here's one example from… This one was at St. Pius X in North Kansas City. On April
Fools' Day, or before it, the kids had planned that at a certain signal in this one class they were
going to all put on dark glasses. Someone tipped me off, and so I put my dark glasses in my
pocket. We were still in the habit then. And I recognized the signal and so I turned around while
they put on theirs and then I turned around and faced them with my dark glasses.
JK: (Laughs)
MDS: And they were the kind of people that you could enjoy. They were just really good
students and I could enjoy them. And other little things like that came up and I could just enjoy
JK: That's wonderful. You're probably—I think you are—the most senior Sister that we're
interviewing this week.
MDS: I think I am.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 13 of 19

JK: I think you are. By the way you don't look 95.
MDS: Well, that's nice.
JK: No, you look like you're in your seventies.
MDS: Well, people have told me that but…
JK: So, you joined in 1940.
MDS: I did.
JK: So, that's a long time ago. And you've seen a lot of changes in training ministries…
MDS: Oh, my.
JK: …community culture and changes brought about by Vatican II. What are some of the
changes that you've experienced before and after Vatican II brought on by Vatican II? [00:28:24]
MDS: When they first started, when the changes first started, I wasn't one to get out in the front
lines on any of those things. For instance, like the change in the habit. I would have been happy
just to stay like we were. But it was moving along, and it was kind of a tension time in our
community because there were those who wanted to and then there were ones who didn't want to
change. And then just gradually some of our other customs were mitigated. You know, we were
in bed at nine o'clock and things like that. So many of those little rules were changed, and I
thought for the good.
JK: The old rule was that everybody went to bed at nine o'clock.
MDS: Pardon me.
JK: The old rule was that everyone went to bed at nine o'clock. [00:29:18]
MDS: They did in the schools anyway—the ones that taught. And we had 60-some odd grade
schools at that time and nine high schools, so that would be a lot of people who went to bed at
nine o'clock.
JK: Yes. I wonder how they got all their work done.
MDS: In fact, I had to get special permission the year before I took my orals at Notre Dame to
stay up 'til 9:15 so that I could review. (Laughs)
JK: Oh, my heavens.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 14 of 19

MDS: And, you know, those things like that just gradually disappeared, and, in my opinion, the
Sisters are happier now than I've ever seen them.
JK: I can imagine. What were some of the other changes that were welcome to you? [00:30:04]
MDS: Being able to go home to see your parents. I only lived… Parsons, Kansas isn't that far
from here, and I didn't get to go home for 11 years. I was in 11 years before… Well, see, that all
gradually changed. And I got to go lots of times after that.
JK: Right. I can understand why some parents were reluctant to send their daughters off.
MDS: Yes. Right. (Laughs)
JK: They'll never see them again practically. [00:30:47]
MDS: Yes, that's right. That didn't mean I didn't see them. They could come visit me.
JK: Oh, they could come visit you.
MDS: They could visit me. I just couldn't go back to my own home. And, as I say, we only lived
130 miles, so.
JK: That's awful. Did any of the changes require some adjustment for you? [00:31:09]
MDS: Oh, I think so. Yes. But they came gradually. So, I'll tell you one of the biggest
adjustments for me was the music in church. And now, of course, I think it's great. I mean there
is so much better music now. But some of the first attempts I thought were pretty bad. I love
classical music and so what they were turning up with… I almost walked out one day.
MDS: But gradually that got better. The good musicians got in on it and the church music
hymns got a lot better. Now I think they're wonderful.
JK: Oh, good. Good. So, you're involved in a prayer ministry now. Can you tell us about that?
MDS: I don't know really what you mean by that because it wasn't a ministry in the sense of
going out and working with other people. It was just my own spiritual life.
JK: Right. Right.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 15 of 19

MDS: I had time, you know with... But for one thing I broke my ankle, no, my leg once while I
was in Topeka, I think. Well, wherever I was and I had to come to the Mother House to
recuperate because our house halls were too narrow for a wheel chair. No, I believe it was when I
was in Grand Junction, Colorado. That's when it was. And I had time then to pray and to think,
and I think my own spiritual life developed at that time.
And there were some people that I did influence. If you talk about a ministry I didn't really set it
up as a prayer ministry but there were some people that I was close to that we had conversations
about prayer and different types of prayer and so on. But some people have that prayer ministry
as really their job, you know.
JK: Right. So, it's an individual thing for you. [00:33:33]
MDS: That's right and the few people that I influenced by the fact that they were my friends.
JK: Well, the SCL community does so much active work but prayer plays a role also. So, can
you say a little bit about how prayer reflects on the community and on yourself? [00:34:00]
MDS: How prayer reflects on the community.
JK: Yes.
MDS: I think our community has always been very prayerful. But I think one of the things that
was important to me, because I was at a point in my earlier life when I was very dissatisfied with
my own prayer life, and we had just very limited books that we could use and then gradually it
got so that we could choose our own, you know, and things like that. And that was a big step
forward for me.
But finally over a period of, maybe, six years, more than that, I got into what's called Centering
Prayer. And that was really worked out by three Trappist priests. They saw a more contemplative
type of prayer being… There were people that really desired that type of prayer, and they were
running off to India and Japan and China to find those things, and these three Trappists said we
have that in our own. We just have to find a way to make it available to people and not just
religious, to all, anybody who wanted it.
So, they worked out this little plan with four steps to it. And then they started experimenting with
it, and I happened to make a retreat here by one of the ones on that group, and he just threw it out
as an experiment. But it resonated with me. It was kind of what I was looking for. And he didn't
call it Centering Prayer then. It was just this method. But, you know, that in 35 years that it's
been going it is now in 50 countries. In other words, it has just taken hold like everything. And
it's for everybody—Catholic, Protestant, anybody that wants to, you know. It's not limited to any
race or religion or anything. So, it has just spread like wildfire.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 16 of 19

And so they have an organization. They call it Contemplative Outreach. And they have
headquarters in most cities, and it's just grown and I've grown with it.
JK: Well. That's interesting.
MDS: I mean it has really been what I needed.
JK: Have other people taken it up here?
MDS: Oh, yes. (Laughs)
JK: Oh, really.
MDS: Oh, yes. If it has spread to 50 countries there have to be a lot of people there. But in our
own it's… One of our Sisters was head of the group in Denver. And if you could see their
publication you would see where it is. Father Thomas Keating is sort of the head one there and
he has written numerous books. I mean there's plenty that people could read on it. But it has
spread very, very rapidly.
JK: That's interesting. When did you retire? [00:37:31]
MDS: Let's see. Oh, I retired from the college after 12 years, and then I still wasn't ready just to
sit down. So, I looked around and one day our table up where I was living… I was living in
Mead Hall. We had a group of six Sisters living together there, and that was another new thing—
to get away from this large community living and into smaller groups. A lot of people really
wanted that. And there was a list of some openings at the Marillac Clinic in Grand Junction,
Colorado. And I looked at the four and I knew three were not in my realm of being able to do.
So, one of them was bookkeeper. I had never taken a business course but numbers, you know.
JK: Right.
MDS: I thought I surely could add, subtract, multiply and divide. So, I interviewed for it and
took it. So, I spent 16 years in Grand Junction, Colorado working at the Marian Clinic…
Marillac Clinic for people who had no insurance or very little insurance. And besides doing
bookkeeping I did a lot of other things too. And I loved those 16 years. I wouldn't give those up
for anything and it's from there then that I retired.
JK: And when was that? [00:39:17]
MDS: Oh, let's see. Let's see. I've been here two years, so the 16 years before the two years I
was here.
JK: Oh, ok. Ok. So, you retired a couple of years ago then. [00: 39:39]

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 17 of 19

MDS: Yes.
JK: Yes.
MDS: I didn't work full-time at Marillac in Grand Junction. I really worked a half schedule.
JK: Oh, ok. Well, that's good.
MDS: Because I was getting on, but that was a wonderful. Loved Grand Junction. The people
are wonderful there. And it was just a very good experience.
JK: How did you feel about retiring and coming back here? [00:40:06]
MDS: By the time that I did retire and came back here I was ready to because I knew that I
needed more help to live and medical help and I knew it was time. I hated to leave Grand
Junction but I really knew I needed to. And, of course, this is a wonderful place. Ross Hall
wasn't finished when I came but I've grown with it, so. (Laughs)
JK: Oh, good, good. So, it hasn't…
MDS: So, I'm very happy.
JK: It hasn't been too difficult a transition. [00:40:50]
MDS: No, it really hasn't, not as hard as it's been for some people, I think. The Sister I was
living with in Grand Junction, it's very hard for her. She had been there for a long time and had
lots of friends. And it was very hard for her.
JK: Yes. Since you were working in healthcare as a bookkeeper, but, nonetheless, you were
surrounded by others working in healthcare…
MDS: Yes.
JK: …what do you think of what's going on in Washington right now with the healthcare
legislation? You're rolling your eyes. (Laugh) [00:41:27]
MDS: That's all I can do. I almost stopped listening to it. I just get so upset. It isn't worth it.
(Laughs) I can't imagine how the American people put that man in office, but they did.
JK: Hard to realize. Hard to understand. [00:41:50]

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 18 of 19

MDS: It is. I'm sure some of them regret it. (Inaudible) to. But I don't know where we're headed
in healthcare or… But if that bill of his goes through all kinds of poor people are going to lose
their healthcare. Medicaid is going to go down the road.
JK: Yes. And so people will die.
MDS: That's right.
JK: Because of (inaudible). [00:42:16]
MDS: At Marillac Clinic we had Medicaid for our dental. The rest of it was all medical, and we
had a wonderful program for mental health where a person could see a medical provider and a
mental health provider on the same visit. And those were all poor people. Travel wasn't easy for
them, you know. So, that was a great boon for them.
Today they have, the clinic has, competed for a grant of some kind. I don't understand all the
details. But anyway, they got it. They've received it. And right now they have doubled the
number of people they were seeing before. It's flourishing.
JK: Oh, good.
MDS: That makes me happy.
JK: Well, it's a short-term benefit anyway. [00:43:10]
MDS: Yes.
JK: Yes.
MDS: So, that was an important part of my life, those 16 years in Grand Junction.
JK: It must have been. Would you like to add anything to what we've talked about? [00:43:30]
MDS: I don't know. I think you pretty well covered it.
JK: Oh, I have one more question.
MDS: All right.
JK: What do you see as the future of SCL?
MDS: Of…?

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Mary Denise Sternizke
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 28, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 4, 2017

Page 19 of 19

JK: SCL, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. [00:43:44]
MDS: Well, we're surely not getting a lot of new members but neither are most of the other
communities. It's because lay people can do a lot more things, I think, than they used to. They
didn't have to join a religious community to do them. And I don't know what the future of SCL is
except that the spirit is so wonderful.
When I came home I thought I would find Sisters sitting in rocking chairs waiting to die. That is
not the case. I mean these people are just doing all kinds of things in Leavenworth and in Kansas
City. They're active. It was just a wonderful revelation. I can't see how something like that is
going to die out.
JK: Oh, thank you. That's a wonderful perception. [00:44:30]
MDS: I think some way or other God's going to find us a way to continue, but I don't know how.
JK: Others have said the same thing. In one way or another things will… the community will

Dublin Core


Sternitzke, S. Mary Denise, Oral History, 6/28/2017


Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Teaching, School Administration, College Teaching


She speaks warmly of her family. Her father was overjoyed when she joined the Community. Her mother had reservations, but grew to be very proud of her daughter's call to religious life. Initially, Sister taught in elementary schools and struggled with this age group. As she speaks of her transition to high school students, you can hear her voice change. She loved working with these students and inspiring them to overcome their fear of math and science. Her stories illustrate a lifelong commitment to educating herself. As math and science research progressed, she did graduate work in mathematics, chemistry, and physics in order to better teach these subjects. She talks about her love of languages. She studied German earlier in life, and in retirement, she was tackling Russian on her iPad. Other topics include her transition to school administration, college teaching, and Leadership positions as Secondary Education Representative on the Personnel Board and a Chapter representative. Sister also spends a good deal of time speaking about her relationship to prayer throughout her life.


Sternitzke, S. Mary Denise; Kenamore, Jane


Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth




All rights belong to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth






Oral History


Sternitzke, S. Mary Denise



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Kenamore, Jane


Sternitzke, S. Mary Denise


Digital Sisters Files

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Sternitzke, S. Mary Denise; Kenamore, Jane, “Sternitzke, S. Mary Denise, Oral History, 6/28/2017,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed July 14, 2024,


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