Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis
“I believe that within us there is a little voice with a gentle nudge,” said Sister MaryAnn Falbe. “Once we open ourselves to it, we experience God in wonderful ways.”
Growing up in Belleville, IL, a path to religious life was not on her radar, although she was often recruited by family members who had already answered their calling to religious life. Instead, she “had a great time” growing up: went to school, had a job, considered a career being a nurse and an airline stewardess, and went to five senior proms in four years.
While in the sixth grade at St. Theresa Catholic Grade School, she and her best friend began volunteering at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Belleville. “The Sisters’ occasional coaxing about joining their Community didn’t mean much to me,” she explained. But their example did.
As a 16-year-old student at the Academy of Notre Dame, Belleville, she accepted a part-time job in the pharmacy at St. Elizabeth’s, and something changed in her perception. “I began to think about religious life. The example of the Hospital Sisters made a positive impression on me.” This impression came about in an unusual way. “One of my brothers worked in the hospital kitchen, and since our schedules varied slightly and dad picked us up, I waited in the kitchen for him. I guess Sister Joan Winkler (manager of the dietary department) felt I was too much of a distraction to the other young men and women in the kitchen, so she occupied me by meeting with me in her office.” Those meetings, combined with the overarching impression made upon her by the other Sisters, eventually led MaryAnn to accept Sister Joan’s invitation to visit the Motherhouse. And during her senior year in high school, God’s gentle nudge became a bit stronger, and she received her postulant’s veil in the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Chapel on September 8, 1962. The next day, she arrived at St. Francis Convent to join her 24 classmates in the convent.
Her early years in religious life offered her a unique opportunity. “Vatican II had begun, and my first three years of living within this community were traditional and were followed by enrollment at Marillac College (St. Louis) where we were in a diverse academic environment interacting with faculty and students from other religious communities. This was also when we began experimenting with the changing of our religious garments and for some, returning to their baptismal name. While the world was changing quickly, our spirituality was evolving too.”
Sister MaryAnn earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Marillac College (St. Louis) and a master’s degree in nursing from University of Wisconsin (Madison). She holds two certificates: spiritual direction and law and religious life. Her assignments have taken her to sponsored hospitals in Springfield, Litchfield, Green Bay, and Decatur. In addition, she served the Archdiocese of St. Louis as the parish health ministry coordinator for St. Charles County and the director of Catholic Community Services for Catholic Charities. “In my experience at Catholic Charities, and in recent years in serving as a spiritual director, I treasure the encounters I’ve had with people. It is so rewarding for me to experience how people have placed their trust in me and opened themselves to experience God and better understand his love,” she said. She has also served in community leadership roles as a Provincial Councilor and on the HSHS Board of Directors, and several of its committees, from 2003-2011.
The gift which comes from interaction is the common thread throughout her life. From the rides back and forth during high school on public transportation, private and public college classrooms, inter-religious community living, professional encounters, and international experiences - all have presented her with an opportunity for learning. “We meet people at a certain point in our life – where journeys meet – and I am always conscious that it is my opportunity to bring joy and learn from those I meet,” she said. The little voice within has brought her to a deeper realization of God’s presence and, in turn, our presence to others.