November 2008: SISTER LEOLA BROWN
Keeping busy is a theme that runs throughout Sister Leola Brown’s life for in doing so, she knows that she is doing the will of God. At age 14, she left her family of nine and her home near Farmersville, IL, to enroll in St. Francis Convent High School, Springfield. After two years of being inspired by the Sisters’ example, she knew this was where she belonged. She decided to enter religious life as a Hospital Sister of St. Francis in 1937 and one year later received the habit and given a name of Sister Leola (a choice she submitted in honor of her sister, Lela) and assigned housekeeping responsibilities along with being the Sacristan, which fit with her work ethic.
Litchfield: a place to call home
“After about 20 years in housekeeping, I was excited about beginning my service as a nurse aide in 1968 at St. Francis Hospital, Litchfield. I loved it so much and stayed for 29 years,” she exclaimed. “It brought me joy in being with the patients and bringing them comfort – even those whom I visited and brought Holy Communion in the local nursing homes. In 1974, I assisted Father Edwin Bloomfield as he formed the hospital’s Pastoral Care department, and again I was given the gift of being with the people at St. Francis Hospital,” she explained. “Actually, one of my fondest memories was the time I was able to teach catechism at St. Mary’s School, Litchfield, to students preparing for First Holy Communion,” she said.
The Franciscan spirit
She returned to the Motherhouse in 1997, and until recently, she was in charge of the Motherhouse Dining Room’s decorations for religious Feast Days and holidays. Now, in her spare time, she continues to serve at the Convent Entrance several hours per week, in Holy Hours in the Adoration Chapel, visiting Sisters who are ill and dying, and also volunteers two days a week at St. John’s Hospital Pavilion in the Same Day Surgery department. In addition, she prepares a display for the Motherhouse Dining Room when a Sister celebrates a 90th (and above) birthday and also when a Sister dies. Another way she keeps busy is with yarn and a crochet hook. From 1999-2007, she has crocheted more than 950 baby afghans and baby caps for the Pregnancy Care Center of Springfield, Inc., and an additional 930 baby afghans and caps for the Pregnancy Care Center, Belleville. “All this loving work is for Pro Life, and I pray that every stitch is a step toward stopping abortion,” she said.
A family connection
“My early memories of Sister Leola, my aunt, were of my family’s annual visit to the Motherhouse. Ever since I can remember as a child we would do this, and the Motherhouse seemed so large and overwhelming to me. I remember how the bells would chime "Holy God" at 3 p.m., which meant that we would be served cookies and juice and then go to the church for Benediction,” Sister Ritamary Brown said. “Sister Leola has always been supportive of me and interested in my life, and having an aunt in this Community is a blessing because it strengthens me for my ministry,” Sister Ritamary added.
Prayer, Work and Baseball
Sister Leola is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. She listened to the games on the radio with her father, and she also enjoyed playing baseball with her brothers and sisters, even the other Sisters here in the convent. “I preferred playing 1st base because it kept me busy throughout the game,” she chuckled.
"As a young Sister, I often heard the phrase ‘Ora et Labora’ which means 'prayer and work.’ This has been my inspiration for the past 87 years. So the people who work for and with us should continue to carry on where we Sisters left off. While it may be overwhelming at times, it is important to remember that the patient is the priority. Have faith and trust in God who will take care of things,” she concluded.