Sister Rose Martin Weldgen, the most recent member of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Assisi to sit on the SaintA board, has left her post for health reasons. She leaves behind legacy of caring, commitment, and – as she will readily admit – a bit of lunacy.
Sister relishes her sense of humor, what she calls her gift from God. And in addition to her intelligence and thoughtfulness, which always were in abundance, many will remember her for her wackiness, particularly at fundraising events.
“I made up my mind that, because I have a great delight in acting humorously, I’d use that gift from God and do everything I could to make the projects we were working on fun. I’d wear a funny hat when everyone else was dressed up, or carry crazy signs. People put up with me and they laughed about it. They bet on me coming dressed uniquely, which I always did.”
Sister Rose Martin did these things because, being a member of a religious order that takes a vow of poverty, the Order of St. Francis of Assisi (OSF), she had little money to give, and she was dedicated to fundraising.
“It bothered me that I can’t write a check and give a lot of money. But I always wanted to be involved, at least to be present and to encourage and give thanks, to do whatever I could do within reason.”
Her efforts included writing letters to potential donors and bringing together anyone who knew a sister who had worked at the former St. Aemilian’s to socialize, and perhaps donate.
She can readily recite the history of SaintA, which goes back to 1850, when children who were orphaned by cholera were put into the hands of a priest who turned to the newly arrived immigrant sisters to start an orphanage. Over the years, more than 300 OSFs worked and lived at St. Aemilian’s.
Sister Rose Martin herself lived on site for about nine years back in the 1970s and ‘80s – a time when she was famous for organizing on-site Halloween dances – complete with a live band and beer — with all the sisters in all the orders within a mile radius of the place. But despite being an admitted, joyful partier, she is very serious about SaintA and its mission.
“Being on the board really resonated with me because St. Aemilian’s was our first mission as a newly formed congregation. I considered serving on the board a privilege, because our sisters had served here for so many years.”
When she first started on the board, Sister Rose Martin asked her predecessor sister for all the handouts she had received during her tenure. It turned out to be a lot of paperwork.
“This was before she cleaned out her closet! She had a lot of notes, but I was glad she handed them over to me.”
Sister also read all of the St. Aemilian marketing materials she could get her hands on to see how things had changed in the years since she had lived there, when the agency was primarily serving boys with emotional challenges in a residential setting. This diligence continued through her 10 years on the board.
“I always read everything they sent before the board meetings. I very seldom missed anything. But I’d call (President) Teri (Zywicki) a couple days before the meetings and say, ‘Give me some more insight. This is what I read, tell me more about that.’ She’d just expect a call from me.”
Having been an educator almost all of her professional career, Sister Rose Martin couldn’t help putting in her two cents when things weren’t clear.
“All those abbreviations!” she said about the jargon she found in board communications. “I was a teacher, so I knew you’ve got to put words with them!”
But her manner was always gentle, and, of course, humorous. So, she’d get it right back.
“Some of the other board members would tease me about how I’d get after them if they used the wrong words. They’d say, ‘You better get it right or Rose Martin will tell you it’s not in the right context or clause!’ ”
Despite all the laughing and teasing, Sister Rose Martin has great respect for her fellow board members and SaintA leadership.
“I’m very proud of their insights, their dedication and broad-minded philosophy,” she said. She noted “all the quiet work done behind the scenes” to connect the agency with government officials and agencies that could help it. And she mentioned all the training of staff and foster parents to help them understand that the children the agency serves “have a lot of problems, and people need insight into what’s going on.”
“The direction is always so clear, and the leadership always recognized the efforts of every board member and every contributing person on the staff, even the cooks in the kitchen who’d prepare those breakfasts we had at the start of every board meeting. And I loved those breakfasts!”
Because of all the hard work and dedication, SaintA has seen so much growth since its very beginning, she said.
“They’ve grown and blossomed and reached out so broadly it’s hard to even keep track of all their involvement. A number of times I’ve stood up and thanked our board and the leadership for carrying on the torch of love and respect that the sisters started. … We were always on the same path, and you don’t always have that.”
She said this board is one of the most impressive of the many on which she has served.
“It was really heartbreaking for me to come to this decision (to leave),” she said. “I’ll miss all the fun of teasing and being made fun of for the way I dressed at events…. But I have much confidence in SaintA, and I especially appreciate that they will name another sister to carry on with the board.
“I want everybody to know that we sisters are very proud of what you’ve done. You’ve carried the torch and you never let it burn out. You just re-fueled it.”