Vita of Sister Maurice Kleman
It was the Lord’s Day, March 6, 1921. Warren G. Harding was President of the United States. In the burgeoning city of Toledo, Ohio, in a modest little home on Raymer Boulevard, a fourth child was born to “Mama,” Margaret and “Daddy,” Joseph Gerhardt, now familiarly referred to as George, a wood worker at Gendron Wheel.
Speedily the precious gift of God was sacramentally regenerated into God’s household by Holy Baptism, administered by Reverend John P. Haupert in Sacred Heart Church, with Uncle Lawrence and Cousin Ruth as sponsors. The child was given the name Irene (Peace). Could it be a prognostication of her future invitation to follow St. Francis as an Instrument of Peace?
Irene was shortly followed by another baby sister and the five happy youngsters grew and blossomed – as they liked to tell – in a perfect environment, flanked with Riches and Comfort, and Blessings as their neighbors. All the Kleman children attended Sacred Heart (their parish school) and subsequently various Catholic high schools.
Following her sister Leopa, then Sister Mary Gerardis, S.N.D., Irene attended Notre Dame Academy and Prep School for two beautiful and edifying years. In August of 1936, however, Sister Mary Gerardis invited her Franciscan cousin, Sister M. Therese Maas, to her religious profession. Sister M. Therese with her companion, Sister M. Bernadette, eagerly responded and enjoyed the liturgy and every nuance of Notre Dame hospitality. Irene, meanwhile, has been totally captivated by the visiting Sisters. They radiated the beauty, simplicity, joy and freedom of St. Francis. That very day Irene became a Franciscan at heart!
Suddenly, however, confusion shattered her peace of heart! Who could be really sure of what God wanted of her? Doubt, fear, worry invaded her soul. How could she ever tell Sister Gerardis? How could she tell her Notre Dame teachers she was considering transferring to St. Francis Convent School for her junior year? But grace won out; and in September, 1937, St. Francis, Mother Baptista and Sister Stanislaus welcomed the young renegade with open arms.
In January, 1938, just crossing from Chapel to Oratory with aspirants, Theresa and Laurene, Irene Kleman joined the postulancy of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Charity of Tiffin, Ohio – to live in religious modesty, humility, and poverty, to learn to meditate, to study, to labor, to obey. Better one day in Jesus’ courts than a thousand elsewhere.
The six months of postulancy literally flew by! January melted into May and five postulants, kneeling before Mother Baptista and her Council asked for the Holy Habit of St. Francis so they might “further sanctify themselves in this community” – never doubting that Mother would say “Yes!” – which she did!
Sixty days of solemn preparation – instructions on the Holy Rule, retreat, penance and prayer punctuated with apple parties, bean parties, chicken parties, conversation and joy.
August 11, 1938: In bridal array, five postulants approached the altar begging Holy Mother church’s approval of their request. Monsignor O’Hare accepted their avowal that each had come of her own free will, without constraint or undue influence, and gave to each the holy habit of Penance and Charity – and a new name: “Irene Kleman, you shall henceforth be called Sister Mary Maurice.”
That invitation into a life of love perdured. Housed in the Novitiate for two years, the Novices were nurtured, taught, encouraged, guided and edified by Sister Cecilia Wonderly and later Sister Lucina Weis. There was much work, prayer, play, and always love.
On August 12, 1940, Mother Baptista presented Sister Maurice and five companions to Bishop Karl Alter to receive their vows in the name of the Church. Sister prayed earnestly: “Lord, give me the grace to do all you demand of me. Demand of me whatever you will.” In 1943 the Sisters added “forever” to the vow formula and Bishop Alter added: “With this ring I espouse you to our Lord Jesus Christ. Keep your vows faithfully, and I promise you happiness in this life and eternal joy with your heavenly spouse.”
“Whatever You will” can hold multifarious surprises! Sister Maurice’s higher educational career began at the college of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois.
She plodded for three years as an English major and graduated in June, 1943, “Summa cum Laude.” She then spent two summers at 56 Birckhead Place in Toledo taking supplementary undergrad classes at DeSales College and Ursuline Mary Manse.
Preparing for an undreamed future, Sister Maurice was next challenged, honored and humbly grateful to be chosen to attend summer school at the University of Notre Dame. There she earned and MA in English in 1947 and the same degree in Theology in 1955. (That may have been the occasion of Monsignor O’Hare’s admonition: “The only degree that counts is the Degree of Sanctity!”) Those were wonderful summers imbibing the theology of grace and of St. Bernard.
Sister Maurice’s first teaching assignment took her to Mother of Sorrows School, North Auburn, Ohio, grades 5,6,7,8 – the same year her brother and sister-in-law, Maurie and Marguerite, became Brother Leo and Sister Mary, TOSF! Future elementary school assignments included St. Mary’s, Edgerton, Ohio and St. John’s, Waynesville, North Carolina.
Between St. Francis Convent School, St. Mary’s High School, Sandusky, and Central Catholic High School, Sister Maurice spent 15 glorious years in secondary education. She delighted in exploring the beauty, logic, and simplicity of our native English language with its nominatives, possessives, and perfect passive participles; but literature like Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur” or Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven,” inebriated her, made her “puddle jump happy!” Then she followed with a brief season of teaching Mary Manse College extension courses in the Novitiate.
The summer of 1958 was for Sister Maurice a dry-run experience to teach the trainee to be a directress! She was assigned to prepare a group of Junior Sisters for perpetual profession. With love they reviewed the tenets of basic training, strove to rekindle the fervor of first love, prayed, played, and achieved!
She cherished the years of serving as Directress of Novices, her “second novitiate,” trusting the Father willed somehow, to use her to help lead a new generation of benignant lovers to happy espousal with Jesus, via labyrinthian ways of canonical classes, prayer, parties, work and “tea.”
Thence, the Franciscan “chess queen” was moved to six years’ secretarial work at the Motherhouse in Tiffin, followed by a brief attempt at missionary/retreat work in Maggie Valley, North Carolina.
The apostolate of service next called Sister Maurice to St. Anthony Villa, Toledo, in 1979. This commission proved to be most satisfying and rewarding, besides bringing her close once more to her beloved family! Despite the Villa’s closure in 2000, she remained a “villa’n” at heart. On January 17, 2001, the new female chemical dependency unit at St. Anthony Villa was named “Kleman Hall” in honor of her 20 years of service to St. Anthony Villa.
Sister Maurice spent her final active years volunteering at St. Pius School as teacher’s aide and since 2012 she has resided at St. Francis Home and has served as a minister of prayer and presence.
Preceding her in death are her parents, Margaret (Romaker) and George Kleman; her brother, Maurice Kleman; and her sisters, Thelma (Brown), Sister M. Gerardis, SND, and Rita (Wilhelm).
Sister Maurice was welcomed home by Sister Death on July 24, 2015.
She is now enjoying, in her own words, “her first grand Community-Kleman-Recker Reunion in heaven.”