Remembering Sister Mary Frances Schermerhorn, OSB
Updated: Jul 29, 2021
Our dear Sister Mary Frances died on July 6th after a brief illness. Born in Chicago, on April 11, 1930, Mary Frances was the third child (of eight) and first daughter of Harry M. and Margaret (Farrow) Schermerhorn. The family lived in St. Timothy's Parish Chicago and then moved to Wilmette where she graduated from St. Francis Xavier parish school before attending and graduating from St. Scholastica High School in 1948. Mary Fran attended St. Teresa's College in Winona, Minnesota for one year before entering the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago on September 18, 1949. On March 19, 1950, she and seven postulants received the habit and new names. She was given the name Sister Ellen Marie, coincidentally the name of her close friend and tennis partner, and on March 26, 1951 professed first vows and her perpetual vows on June 25, 1954. Her 70 years of active ministry, were mostly in education as a teacher and principal. She earned a Master’s in Education and Supervision at Loyola University Chicago. Sr. Mary Fran taught in schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado: Queen of All Saints, Chicago; Mother of God, Waukegan; St. Hilary, Chicago; St. Lambert’s, Skokie, and St. Scholastica High School, Chicago. She served as principal of the schools at St. John Nepomucene, Chicago, and St. Lambert’s, Skokie. Multi-talented and dedicated to her community, she supervised the Food Service for St. Scholastica Monastery, Chicago, and served as Treasurer for St. Scholastica Academy, Cañon City, Colorado; and as Treasurer and Business Manager for St. Scholastica Monastery and High School, Chicago. Since the early 1990’s she served as teacher and Finance Officer of the British Infant School, Skokie. Sister Mary Frances will be remembered for her remarkable accomplishments in education and dedication to her community. She was soft spoken, perhaps appeared to be very serious, but had a fine sense of humor and a playful spirit. She passed into the loving arms of God and the Sisters who have gone before her are there to welcome her. We invite you to learn more about Sister Mary Frances in the following biography written by Sister Benita Coffey, OSB.
Sister Mary Frances Schermerhorn, OSB-1948 St. Scholastica High School Senior Portrait.
Mary Frances was born on April 11, 1930, the third child and first daughter of Harry and Margaret Farrow Schermerhorn. She was baptized on May 4th. Her older brothers were Harry and John. Mary Fran’s brother Bob was born next, then came Peg, Tom, Nancy, and Dick.
The family lived in St. Timothy’s Parish in Chicago and enjoyed the closeness of their large family. At a young age, Mary Fran was given the nickname Dolly. When she was in third grade she became a poster child, so to speak, appearing on big signs in grocery store windows that advertised Rice Krispies. From her childhood she was a gifted athlete and a bright student. She played second base, as the youngest player on the Alton All Stars softball team during the late years of World War II.
When Mary Fran was in eighth grade the family moved from Chicago to Wilmette, Illinois, where she then graduated from St. Francis Xavier parish school. St. Scholastica High School was the choice for her secondary education. In those years, she continued to be involved in sports and was known to be one of the most versatile athletes.
Sister Mary Frances sliding into home (left) from the 1946 St. Scholastica High School yearbook and as basketball "team player" with "The gleam in their eyes means sure victory" caption from her senior yearbook 1948.
Tennis was important to her but her sophomore yearbook published a picture of her tagging in to “home plate” and had the caption, “Slide, Mary Fran, slide!” Throughout her life Mary Fran was someone who made and kept good friends because she herself was so open and interested in others. In the 1947 yearbook, she is one of three, identified as the Leaders of the Junior Class.
During her senior year, while her enthusiasm for sports continued, she was also the Business Manager of the yearbook. After much thought, she decided to apply to St. Teresa’s College in Winona, Minnesota and was accepted.
On her 1948 graduation from St. Scholastica High School, the yearbook had typical things to be remembered. Always being a “team player” and a member of the yearbook, Mary Fran suggested that rather than using a photo of her in one of the games, in which she excelled, show a locker room scene with an interclass team smiling and talking. The caption read “The gleam in their eyes means sure victory.” So, like Dolly it was, to take joy in doing things together.
Seven postulants who received the habit on March 19, 1950, along with new names including Sister Mary Frances, (Sister Ellen Marie) second from the left, and Sister Benita Coffey, third from the left.
The next fall Mary Fran settled into college life. It was the first year away from home and provided a distance from direct contact with Benedictines. We can only surmise that she had time and space to think seriously about her future. The summer of 1949, she finalized her decision that she would be a religious Sister and she applied to the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago on September 18, 1949.
She became the seventh of the postulants who received the habit on March 19, 1950, along with new names. When asked her preference for the religious name she simply asked for anything that would have her patron be the Virgin Mary. She was given the name Sister Ellen Marie, the name of her close friend and tennis partner, Ellen Marie McGill.
Those novices professed their first vows on March 26, 1951. Sr. Ellen Marie was sent the following fall to teach for a year at Queen of All Saints in Chicago, before joining the faculty at Mother of God in Waukegan where she taught for three years. Further assignments in Chicago were St. Hilary’s as well as St. John Nepomucene. Outside the city she served at St. Mary’s in Pueblo, Colorado and later at. St. Lambert’s in Skokie, Illinois.
Sister Mary Frances Schermerhorn, OSB, educator in Illinois and Colorado.
She earned a B.S. in Education as well as M.Ed, both from Loyola University in Chicago. She studied accounting at Southern Colorado in Pueblo and held certification in both Illinois and Colorado.
Her skills for organization and ability to work well with adults as well as students were early recognized and she accepted the responsibilities of both House Superior and Principal at St. John Nepomucene, and later at St. Lambert. At St. John’s she had to assume the most difficult task of having to inform the parents and parishioners of the closing of the school, which she handled with grace.
Her next teaching assignment was at St. Hilary’s where she was also involved in the Parish Council. Her experience and expertise made her a valuable asset to their Education Committee. By this time, with new Vatican II understanding of the significance of baptism, she was again going by her baptismal name, Sr. Mary Frances.
Sister Mary Frances, OSB in Cañon City Colorado at the chapel groundbreaking ceremony.
Next, she was asked to be Superior and Principal at St. Lambert’s for two years. This was Followed by her assignment to the faculty at St. Scholastica, Chicago, for five years. During three of these years, she was also the Kitchen Supervisor in the Monastery. In 1978 she returned to Queen of All Saints for three years.
In 1981, Sr. Mary Frances was appointed to the position of Treasurer at St. Scholastica Academy in Cañon City. She handled this responsibility for seven years while she also taught Math at St. Scholastica.
In 1995, she was the Community’s Treasurer, serving on the Council of Benedictine Sisters of Chicago and performing the financial tasks entailed in the work of the Business Office.
Sister Mary Frances Schermerhorn at the St. Scholastica High School Walkathon in 1989.
The longest steady period of her life of service occurred during the past 21 years when she officially “retired” in 2004. From that time forward, Sr. Mary Frances has been working with Sr. Hilary Halpin, overseeing finances of the British Infant School, as well as serving actively as the assistant teacher for the young children.
Sr. Mary Fran’s remarkable accomplishments also include many summers teaching vacation religion classes in Alamosa, Colorado, and working at Camp San Benito in Cañon City where she gave swimming instruction.
Sister Mary Frances, OSB (left) with students from the British Infant School and Sister Hilary Halpin, OSB (right) pictured at the Skokie Fire Station on their fieldtrip in 2018.
Very close with her family, Sr. Mary Frances followed with interest the career choices of all her nieces and nephews. She was soft spoken, perhaps appeared to be very serious, but had a fine sense of humor and a playful spirit.
Sr. Mary Frances had planned to celebrate her 70th Jubilee as a Benedictine Sister on July 11th, but died on July 6th after a brief illness. Her family along with her Benedictine community celebrated the Mass of Resurrection at the Monastery on July 13th followed by her burial in All Saints Cemetery, in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Schermerhorn family photo at the 24th Annual Testimonial Dinner on June 6, 2018.
Sr. Mary Frances was preceded in death by her parents and her brothers Harry, John, Robert and Thomas. Her siblings, Peggy, Nancy Van der Bosch and Richard now mourn her death along with in-laws, many nieces, nephews, and cousins. She is survived by the Sisters of her Benedictine Community who celebrate her moving on to eternity while missing her faithful presence.
Sister Mary Frances, OSB pictured with Sister Hilary Halpin.
To read the reflection given at her funeral mass by Sister Jane Smith, OSB here.