February 2007: SISTER RENELLE BRUEGGEMANN (entered eternal life on April 1, 2011)
The story begins in Aviston, IL
On July 13, 1922, Herman and Frieda (Lueke) Brueggemann were blessed with the birth of their first child, Clara. It was a joyful day in Aviston, IL – a community not too far from Breese, Highland, and Trenton – and God continued to bless this family with two more daughters and two sons.
Mr. Brueggemann, a WWI veteran, had two careers: first as a butcher and later as an engineer at Scott Air Force Base; his wife raised the children and managed the house. First and foremost, the family recognized how God had blessed them and they showed their appreciation through sharing with others. Whether it was giving garden vegetables to the local priests and sisters or providing food to a stranger, Clara and her siblings learned the message of St. Francis who said “for it is in giving that we receive.” This spirit of giving also became the foundation for Clara’s interest in being a nurse.
God had a plan for Clara and began to make it known to her when she was ten years old. The Maryknoll Sisters visited her classroom and showed a vocation movie that seemed to interest Clara. She was impressed by their charitable works and told her mother that this sort of lifestyle interested her. Religious life was not uncommon in this family.
Clara had an aunt, Sister Rosetta Lueke, who was a member of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis. On several occasions, Clara and her family visited Sister Rosetta and the other Sisters at St. Francis Convent in Springfield. The fact that these Franciscan Sisters were nurses actually drew Clara closer to them.
Taking the step toward Religious Life
And so on February 2, 1946, Clara responded to God’s call and entered religious life. Several months later, she was asked to submit suggestions for her religious name. However, the Sisters asked that it begin with the letter “r” (at that time it was a Community tradition that Sisters who were related had names that began with the same letter). After the first set of names was rejected, Clara remembered a name from a Sister she had met from another Congregation and submitted “Renelle.” “I turned it in the day before the deadline and was relieved it was approved,” Sister Renelle said. “I was concerned that I might get a name that I didn’t like – maybe even Rapunzel,” she said with a chuckle.”
Did I make the correct decision?
“I had enjoyed my life so far and fellas had interested me,” she said. “If I got married and things got rough, I would have thought that maybe I should have entered the convent. So I made the decision to listen to God’s voice,” she added. But the young man she was dating was not pleased. “I told him that I’d give this idea of being a Sister seven years (the Formation period before professing Final Vows) but after two years he visited me at the Convent. He asked if I was sure that this was what I wanted. I told him yes and that I hoped he would find a really nice girl. He later got married and had six daughters,” Sister Renelle said. And the rest is history.
Education and work as a nurse
After earning her GED while at the Convent, Sister Renelle graduated from St. John’s School of Nursing and earned her bachelor’s degree from Quincy University. She continued her post graduate education in communicable diseases at Cook County Hospital and obtained a master’s degree in nursing from Marquette University.
Her life-long wish of being a nurse has been realized in her hospital service at St. John’s (Springfield), St. John’s School of Nursing (Springfield), St. Vincent (Green Bay, WI), St. Elizabeth’s (Belleville), St. Nicholas (Sheboygan, WI), St. Joseph’s (Highland), St. Anthony’s Memorial (Effingham), and Sacred Heart (Eau Claire, WI).
During the formative years of HSHS, Sister Renelle also served as the secretary and treasurer of the Boards of Directors of all the System Hospitals.
Currently, Sister Renelle is a Patient Visitor at St. Nicholas Hospital. Mary Brasseaux, Executive Vice President, wrote that "The retired priest who says Mass at the hospital often refers to Sister Renelle as a saint and I agree with him. She is patient, kind, tolerant and quick with a smile which is often accompanied by a twinkle in her eye.”
“I always felt I was doing what I wanted to do and I what I was being called to do. I never have regretted my decision of Religious Life. It took me a long time to make the decision (I was 22 when I entered the community) and I am grateful to God for His guidance. Most of all, I thank God that I have been able to contribute in some way through my work and through being active. My vocation is of being of service to others and this all started through the encouragement of my parents and by their example,” she concluded.