Sr. Micheline Curtis
Tribute to Sr. Micheline
Carolyn Cecilia Curtis was born on December 10, 1937 to Hubert William and Alice Cecilia Rummelhart Curtis in Iowa City, Iowa. She has one brother, Tim, who lives with his wife in Aledo, IL. She has been very close to her nieces over the years.
The family attended St. Wencelaus Church in Iowa City and prayed the family rosary during Lent. Carolyn and Tim went to public schools; she graduated from Iowa City High School in 1956. Regular weekly religious education classes required faithful attendance and preparation in order to go out on Friday and Saturday nights.
Carolyn met the Sisters of Humility when she attended Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa. She liked the sisters, and the idea of belonging to a group. So, after three semesters of college, she entered the community on February 2, 1958, along with good friend and college classmate, Mary Ruth Stegman. The following summer she received the habit and her name in religion, Sister Mary Micheline. She and her classmates made vows in July 1960, at St. Mary’s Church in Ottumwa. A devastating fire had destroyed the entire Ottumwa Heights complex – Motherhouse, Novitiate, Junior College, and Academy – in October 1957. Remaining classmates are Srs. Mary Ann Aman, Catherine Burns, Elaine Hagedorn, Luz Maria Orozco, Marilyn Schierbrock and Catherine Talarico. They made final vows in 1963, in the middle of Vatican II.
While the new Ottumwa Heights was being built, the sisters, novices, postulants and college students lived in the Bachelors Officers Quarters (BOQ) of the former World War II air base outside Ottumwa. The city of Ottumwa made the facility available to the community and classes were held in buildings on the campus. A yellow school bus transported the sisters and students to and from classes and the BOQ.
Sr. Micheline received her Associate’s degree from Ottumwa Heights College which enabled her to be certified to teach in Iowa. Her first assignment was to St. Mary’s School in Ottumwa where she would stay for three years, taking additional classes at Marycrest College during the summers. She left us a wonderful history of those years in a story of convent life in pre-Vatican II days. Teaching, Mass and scheduled prayers, meals, classroom work and preparation, “charges” (household duties such as chapel work, cleaning shared living spaces) and recreation filled the days. Ages of sisters there ranged from 23 to 90. Sr. Micheline was the youngest, and the oldest, Sr. Alberta Braun, assisted the superior in her classroom. Classrooms were self-contained so she taught all subjects except music. Meals and recreation conversation included stories of “earlier days on mission” when water and coal might be brought in for classroom stoves. Of particular interest now is the story she heard of the sister who died during the 1918 flu epidemic. She was waked with a glass cover over the coffin on the porch of the Dunlap convent, before being taken to Ottumwa by train for funeral and burial.
From that school in which Humilities had taught for a very long time, she went to St. Pius X school in Rock Island, the newest school “on the block”. This was a new parish, built “up on the hill” and, eventually with a very modern church. It was a contrast to Ottumwa as they had a new school and convent, with private rooms and the “luxury” of a bathroom between rooms. Living in a residential neighborhood of parish families with children meant that, when snow covered the hill behind the convent, children rang the doorbell for the sisters to come out and play. That meant pinning up habit skirts and hopping on toboggans to fly down the hill. Sr. Micheline had one of two eighth grades, here departmentalized, so she taught only “modern math” and social studies. She took classes at Marycrest, as well, and received a B.A. in English in 1965.
Sr. Micheline taught social studies for one year in Phoenix at Bourgade High School, another new mission for CHMs. Then it was back to western Iowa, St. Albert High School in Council Bluffs for two (2) years. She came “home” to Regina High School in Iowa City, in the Diocese of Davenport, from 1970 to ‘74. She taught government and social studies, and received a Teacher Excellence award there.
But it was at Montini High School in Lombard, Illinois, where Sr. Micheline served a total of twenty-five years on the faculty. It was a Christian Brothers school; she taught history, social studies and government classes, and was Chairperson of the Social Studies Department.
In an article printed in a community publication, Sr. Micheline said that teaching is a perfect setting for justice education. Her efforts involved not only the students but also faculty and staff. She used a CHM Seed Grant to support outside experiences that complemented the class work for “Justice in the Modern World”, an elective class for juniors and seniors. She also started a Justice Resource Center of books, periodicals and audiovisual materials, made available to the entire school community. Working with student groups as Social-Justice Coordinator, they sponsored a leadership workshop of student senators, a senior-freshmen welcome and orientation, and assemblies on alcoholism and child abuse. A weekly mission collection was divided among all of the religious faculty whose communities could use it as they wished. Faculty and administrators were included on a faculty justice committee that studied and made recommendations on how school policies, actions, structures and activities related to Christian social values. Issues addressed by this group included the apparent double standard in the dress code for boys and girls, and the size and scope of the school’s homecoming activities. Future efforts toward more interdisciplinary classes generated more use of the Resource Center. During her tenure Montini High School achieved a 98 percent graduation rate, a high mark among Chicago area high schools.
Sr. Micheline had experience as an Intervention Counselor in the substance abuse program at Hinsdale Hospital, in Hinsdale, Illinois, after treatment there for her own addiction. She applied this experience to facilitating support groups for students from single-parent and/or blended families, and the Friends Helping Friends Program.
At the Montini reunion in 2005, Sr. Micheline received an Educator of the Year Award. The publication described memories of her as “an outstanding Social Studies teacher who was uncompromising in her instilling of knowledge, study habits and ethics in her students.”
After Sr. Micheline’s mother died, her father relocated to a nursing home in Illinois and Sr. Micheline visited him faithfully until he died, often discussing mineral properties he owned in Oklahoma. Her brother worked at a regional airport in Aledo, Illinois. She had family time with Tim and Diane and their two daughters, Kelly Harrouff and Nicole (“Niki”) Masano. She was thrilled when her first great niece was born on her birthday.
Sr. Micheline’s teaching ministry ended abruptly as a result of a stroke suffered in 1999. She returned to Humility Center in Davenport and, after recuperation, became Assistant Archivist with Sr. Joan Sheil. In fact, they created the CHM archives over a decade or more. As a “history person”, she said she enjoyed the work, overseeing “historical documents, memorabilia and school and community photos dating back to the foundation of the order….” She wrote and read many “tributes”, like this one, at the vigil services for deceased sisters. She also pored over seed catalogs each year and had a variety of flowers in boxes on the second-floor balconies. Residents and visitors admire the unusual iris, among other varieties of flowers she planted in St. Joseph Court.
Sr. Micheline’s quilt square is colorful and symbolic. She says the yellow flower represents her heritage as a daughter and granddaughter of florists, and the American flag refers to her career as a history and government teacher. Herky the Hawk, of course, represents the fact that she was a “die-hard Hawkeye fan” and was known as the “Hawk-eye Recruiter” on the Montini campus.
During her 60+ years as a CHM, Sr. Micheline served on many committees and attended AA meetings. She was Chair of the Finance Committee and, therefore, was a member of the Cabinet when Sr. Ann Therese was President. She also served on the Marycrest College Board of Trustees, the CHM Charitable Trust Committee, and seemed to be a regular member of the Election Committee.
Sr. Micheline was very active and involved at Bishop Drumm Retirement Center. Her latest assignment was as president of the Resident Council, leading meetings as residents discussed various issues. Whenever Jennifer would do 'trivia' with the sisters, she always made Sr. Micheline count to FIVE before she gave the answer! She knew all the answers and Jennifer was trying to give others a chance! Jennifer observed, “She was 'sharp as a tack', and never lost her desire to teach and learn. She will be dearly missed by sisters and staff at Drumm.”
Some of us recall Sr. Micheline, just days before her last hospitalization, participating in ZOOM sessions in preparation for upcoming community elections. Now she directs us from her vantage point in heaven, where her voice is restored to its full volume and she continues to speak with authority.
Sister Mary Rehmann, CHM
Memorials may be made to the Congregation of the Humility of Mary.
Click here for an article featuring Sr. Micheline from the June 17, 2007 Iowa City Press-Citizen
Sr. Micheline is pictured here 5th from left.