Sister Mary Henry Landsteiner, 99, died on Feb. 25, 2014, at St. Scholastica Monastery. Henrietta Anna Landsteiner was born in Fairfax, MN, on October 13, 1914, to Henry John and Anna Mary (Buchl) Landsteiner. She was the eldest of seven children, one boy, Joseph, and six girls, Catherine, Florence, Delores, Lucille, and Angela, who joined her sister in community as Sister Annabelle.
The Landsteiner family moved to Minneapolis when Henrietta was in first grade. Prior to this time, she only spoke German, so her entry into school was delayed until the next school year in order for her to learn English. Most of her early education took place at St. Bridget’s School, where she first came to know the Sisters of St. Scholastica Priory. Sister Ursula Kociancich, her eighth-grade teacher, felt she had a vocation and encouraged her to go to Villa Sancta Scholastica. She was not ready to leave home, however, and continued her education in Minneapolis public schools, keeping in contact with the Sisters. She transferred to the Villa during her junior year, and graduated in 1932. The following August she entered the community as a postulant. When she became a novice in 1933, Henrietta became “Sister Mary Henry.” She professed her Triennial Vows July 11, 1934, and began teaching at St. Francis School in Brainerd that fall, where she remained until 1940. On July 11, 1937, she professed her Perpetual Vows.
Sister Mary Henry, gentle and steadfast, was blessed serve in her ministries for longer tenures – never less than five years at each school in which she taught. She returned to Duluth in 1940 to teach at Cathedral Elementary School. During this time, she received her teaching certificate from Duluth State Teacher’s College (later UMD). In 1945, Sister Mary Henry was sent to teach at Our Lady of Sorrows School in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she remained for ten years. This was the only time that her ministry took her away from Minnesota. She would return in the summers to pursue her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at the College of St. Scholastica. During these summers she also taught catechism. She especially enjoyed preparing children for their first Holy Communion.
Sister Mary Henry returned to Minnesota in 1955 to teach at St. Joseph School in Grand Rapids. Her next assignment took her to St. Leo School in Hibbing, where she remained from 1961-1974. It was here that she settled into her favorite niche as a first grade teacher. She loved teaching these smallest pupils the fundamentals of reading and writing. In 1968, she was called upon to use her extraordinary organizational skills in a new way as principal of St. Leo’s.
In 1974, she had the joy of returning to her home parish, St. Bridget’s in Minneapolis, where she finished her teaching career. After teaching fourth grade for one year, she settled in again to teach the first-graders. Each year during this time, her classes scored over the 90th percentile in national testing. Even though her teaching career spanned more than 50 years, she never lost her enthusiasm for teaching or took the work entrusted to her lightly. Father Anthony M. Criscitelli, TOR, pastor at St. Bridget’s Parish, who presided at Sister Mary Henry’s funeral, spoke of her extraordinary gift for teaching and how she touched the lives of so many children, modelling for them a life of faithfulness and holiness. He recounted that when he asked her to work late one evening, stating that she surely could teach without any preparation, she admonished him saying that “each class is different; each has its own unique needs.” She was a woman of great humility and seemed surprised by the respect others had for her gifts: she kept an envelope containing affirmations from her colleagues and marveled that “they all seemed to say the same thing!”
In 1985, she began to “slow down,” which meant helping children in first through third grade who needed remedial teaching in the morning and “bringing communion to North Memorial Hospital, visiting the homebound, and serving as relief for caretakers” in the afternoon as her good friend Sister Marie Therese Poliquin recalled.
In 1987, Sister Mary Henry returned to the Monastery to become co-director (with Sister Annella Wagner) of Benet Hall, the Sisters infirmary. During this time, she touched the lives of the Sisters and many others with her kindness, generosity, and attentiveness. She loved to do crafts and enjoyed helping the Sisters to make decorations for Benet Hall. She was a gracious hostess and advocate for her relatives who came to study at the College, inviting them to dinner and praying for them always.
Throughout her life, she maintained close connections with her family. Family events and illnesses were chronicled in her notebooks, and she was their prayer advocate through all their joyful and difficult times. She loved to pray and took this ministry very seriously. There were few intentions for her own needs in her books; the overwhelming majority of her prayers were offered for others. Besides her family and friends, she prayed for the community and by name for all the staff on Benet Hall and for all of her doctors—not to mention the prayers she offered for the needs of the Church and the world.
Father Anthony caught the essence of her spirit when he said that her generosity, joy, and enthusiasm for God were “a lamp, burning brightly” for all of us.
A wake service was held 9:30 a.m. on Monday, March 3, 2014, in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at St. Scholastica Monastery. The Mass of Christian Burial followed at 11 a.m. The presider was Father Anthony M. Criscitelli, TOR, pastor at St. Bridget’s Parish, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Interment will be in the spring in Gethsemane Cemetery. Arrangements were by Bell Brothers Jarvi Dowd Funeral Home.