Sister Grace McDonald, FSPA, 90, died Sunday, November 16, 2008, at Villa St. Joseph, La Crosse. She was in the seventy-second year of her religious profession.
Last December Sister Grace fell and bruised some ribs. It was on January 7 that she became a permanent resident at the Villa. Recently, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Her health continued to decline and she was anointed in early November. Sister Grace died peacefully at 12:39 on Sunday afternoon with Sisters Celesta Day and Marlene Weisenbeck at her bedside.
Sister Grace was born to John and Justine (Reimringer) McDonald on November 26, 1917, in Spokane Washington. Grace attended St. Xavier's School and, upon eighth grade graduation, enrolled at Marycliff High School where she completed her freshman and sophomore years. She entered St. Rose Convent on August 7, 1933 and completed her secondary education at St. Rose High School.
Grace was received into the novitiate on August 6, 1935, and was given the name Sister Justille. (She later returned to her baptismal name.) Sister Grace made profession of first vows on August 5, 1937, and final vows on August 10, 1943.
Sister Grace ministered as an elementary teacher for nine years and secondary teacher for two years in schools in Iowa and Wisconsin. After earning M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history, she taught in the history department of Viterbo College for eight years. Sister Grace was named President of Viterbo in 1960 and served in this capacity until her election as FSPA President in 1970. After eight years Sister Grace moved to Spokane where she was Provincial of the FSPA Western Province from 1978-1982. Following a year's sabbatical she served as Archivist for the Western Province for a year before being appointed FSPA Congregational Secretary. After two years Sister Grace became FSPA Archivist, a position she held for six years. From 1992 until the time of her death, Sister Grace was the FSPA Historian. She retired at St. Rose Convent in 2004 and to Villa St. Joseph in January 2008.
Community members, family, colleagues and friends will remember Sister Grace as an excellent teacher, a competent leader and a faithful community member. "She was able to give us (FSPA) a steady faith-filled perspective during turbulent times, was perceptive in reading the signs of the times and was open to renewal" was how S. Alice Kaiser described the gifts of S. Grace's leadership. One person described her as "a scholarly and wise Christian lady who derives supreme enjoyment from a good book and a good laugh…she is regarded as an understanding and charitable woman who means what she says, says what she means and is ever a pleasure to work for and to work with."
During her tenure at Viterbo College: majors in nursing, French and mathematics were introduced; a development program and long-range program were inaugurated; the campus turned co-ed; the north wing of Marian Hall was built; the construction of the Fine Arts Center was begun; and the number of lay faculty rose to twenty-three full-time professors.
Sister Grace was a member of the first La Crosse Diocesan Pastoral Council, served as President of the La Crosse Historical Society, was both Vice President and President of the Wisconsin Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, served on the Board of Directors of the La Crosse Citizens Planning Corporation and the local chapter of American Association of University Women. She served on the book review staff of both the Catholic and Wisconsin Historical Society. She was a member of the National Honor Society, Pi Gamma, Mu, and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Her many awards included the Viterbo College Distinguished Alumnae Award (1969), Outstanding Service to the Community Award by the Greater La Crosse Chamber of Commerce (1970), Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (Viterbo 1978), Pope John XXIII Award (Viterbo 1980), Cross of Merit with Silver Star from the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (1989).
Among her writings and publications are: "Franciscan Sisters in the USA" published in the Encyclopedia of American Catholic History (1998); "The Irish of the North Country", Wisconsin Magazine of History; St. Francis of Assisi: Committed to All (co-author and editor); and History of the Irish in Wisconsin in the Nineteenth Century. For the past several years Sister Grace had been writing the history of the FSPA from 1948 to 1989. The manuscript is almost ready to go to the publisher.
Sister Grace is survived by her Franciscan community; one sister, Gertrude Parker, Portland, Oregon; and nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents and four sisters: Alicia (Justine), Mary Catherine, Margaret, and Agnes.
Friends may call after 3:15 p.m., Wednesday, November 19, when her body will be brought to St. Rose Convent. A prayer service will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Mary of the Angels Chapel. Reverend Tom O'Neill, chaplain at Viterbo University, will preside at the Mass of Christian Burial on Thursday, November 20, at 10 a.m. in Mary of the Angels Chapel. Burial will be in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, La Crosse.
Memorials may be sent to Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, 912 Market St., La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601-4782.