APRIL 2003: SISTER THOMAS KUNDMUELLER
Sister Thomas celebrated her 50th Jubilee of Religious Profession in 2000; she continues as Staff Nurse at Bethany Place in Belleville, Illinois and baby sits for two youngsters, plus follows her favorite sports teams with great enthusiasm. What happened in her past to keep this woman so involved and alive at a time when many of her contemporaries have retired from their professional lives and become rather sedentary?
Sister Thomas was born in Cleveland, Ohio on Valentine’s Day, 1929. She was the oldest child in her family that grew to include three sisters and three brothers. Sister relates that her parents were self-sacrificing and provided a home filled with love and guidance. Since her parents were both avid sports fans, the children absorbed this interest as well. Anyone who knows Sister Thomas knows that she grew up rooting for the Cleveland sports teams and remains a loyal and staunch fan to this day.
When Sister was in high school, the family moved into a Franciscan parish, Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Cleveland. This was an event that would impact Sister for the rest of her life. She observed the Friars closely and was impressed by their cheerfulness and simplicity. After graduating from high school, Sister sought advice from the Pastor, Father Linus Koenemund, and from another of the Friars, Father Donulus Wunderlich. When she told them of her desire to become a nurse and a missionary, both of these men suggested that she visit the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Springfield, Illinois. Following a visit to the Motherhouse in Springfield, Illinois, she knew that the Lord was calling her to a life as a Hospital Sister of St. Francis. Her father supported the decision made by his eldest daughter but teased her about going so far from home when the Poor Clare Monastery and the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph were just down the street!
In spite of this good-natured kidding, she entered the Hospital Sisters on February 1, 1948. She completed her novitiate and professed her religious vows on October 4, 1950. Soon, she was enrolled in St. John’s School of Nursing. After completing her education there and taking a post-graduate course in surgery, Sister Thomas spent two years working in the surgery department at St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital in Effingham, Illinois.
Nurse and Missionary
Her next venture completed her desire to be a nurse and a missionary. In 1960, Sister Thomas’s missionary dream came true. She began a 10-year experience as a missionary with the Hospital Sisters in Japan. She relates that learning the Japanese language was a challenge but not a barrier to service with the Japanese Sisters. When Sister arrived in Himeji, the Sisters still worked in a barracks hospital so the move into the new St. Mary’s Hospital in Japan was a wonderful experience for all of them. Among Sister Thomas’s greatest memories are of those 10 years that she spent with the Japanese Sisters carrying out their healing mission among their own people.
Another of Sister Thomas’s cherished memories was being reunited with her parents and other family members at the airport on her first visit to the United States from Japan. She had not seen any of them for seven years, and the reunion was filled with love, joy and more than a few tears!!
New Ministry in Illinois
When Sister Thomas returned from Japan, she served as a bedside nurse at several of the hospitals sponsored by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Illinois for another 10 years. In 1989, Sister ventured into another area of nursing. She joined Sisters Mary Ellen Rombach and Carol Ann Baltosiewich in the newly established mission at Bethany Place in Belleville, Illinois, assisting people afflicted with HIV/AIDS. During her years of serving at Bethany Place, Sister has experienced the effects of progress in the medical care and social services made available for those afflicted with this condition.
In addition to serving at Bethany Place, Sister Thomas has taken on another role--that of baby sitter. She has been engaged in this work for about eight years. Molly was just three weeks old when Sister began to care for her. Younger sister, Hannah, will "graduate" from kindergarten in May, and Molly will make her First Communion in April. Sister Thomas feels that Molly and Hannah challenge her but also keep her "young at heart."
It is the combination of these experiences in her life that has given Sister Thomas a continued zest for living. Who knows what she will undertake in the next few years?