Interview with Sister Barbara Mardian
School Sisters of Notre Dame, Good Counsel Monastery,
Conducted by Carol Just (CJ)
July 27, 1998
Transcription by Lena Paris
Editing and Proofreading by Lena Paris and Acacia Jonas
CJ: Its a pleasure today to visit
with Barbara Mardian here in Good Council Hall in the city of
Mankato where the interview is taking place. I thank you very
much. I am going to ask you your given name and your chosen name.
BM: I was baptized Margaret Mardian
in then the church in Bowdle, South Dakota. And my chosen name
for sister....we exchanged our names the three sisters were received
together; Margaret, Barbara, and Christina. At the time we were
received into the convent the Provincial decided to exchange our
baptismal names among the three of us and since there were too
many Margarets already, they took the name Marina. So it was Barbara,
Marina, and Christine.
CJ: And you became Barbara?
BM: I became Barbara.
CJ: And you became Barbara even
though your given birth name is Margaret. Did that get a little
confusing for you?
BM: Very confusing.
CJ: I would think so. What is the
date of your birth and where were you born?
BM: I was born on a farm at Boodle,
South Dakota northwest of Boodle on March 10, 1914.
CJ: Were you delivered at home?
BM: I was delivered at home by
CJ: Do you remember who it was?
BM: No, I don't.
CJ: What is your father’s
name and where was he born?
BM: My fathers name was Anton E.
Martian. He had a cousin Ancel Martian so to distinguish between
the two he added the "E". He was born in 1885 in Baden,
Russia. He came over when he was about nineteen years old. There
was a second marriage. He was born of the second marriage and
had some older brothers. At that time there was an outbreak of
the Bolsheviks and somehow he didn't want to get involved with
it. He knew about some cousins that had come to America. He got
on a ship all by himself and came to New York and then to South
Dakota where his cousin lived. He got on the Milwaukee Road train
and came to Rosland. He expected to meet his sister who had come
to America sooner. She wasn't there so he went on to Hosmer, and
there his cousin met him. He stayed at Hosmer with his cousin
on his farm for a couple of years until he got married.
CJ: What a brave young man to say
good-bye to all.
BM: His mother was living, a younger brother and
two or three girls, all stayed in Russia. It seems to me that
some of his brothers maybe when they wrote on their passports
they weren’t familiar with writing in English, and so there
was a mistake. Some of them had a "T" and some of them
had a "D" but they were still valid with one brother
and a half brother. My father used the "D" to make it
look like a "T" by crossing it.
CJ: So your father came here on
his own, did he ever discuss the ship voyage?
BM: It seems to me not too much,
but I know when I was a kid, he used to get letters from his family
and they would read them out loud and we'd all have to listen
and they cried. He felt so bad and he also said, "Some day
I want to go back to Russia" but he never got back. He was
CJ: As a young man leaving all
that was familiar in coming here. Well you descended from are
a pretty strong person. When and where did your father die and
where is he buried?
BM: He died in 1960 and was 65
years old here in Aberdeen, South Dakota where they retired. After
the family had left the farm, he died in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
CJ: What was your mothers name
and where was she born?
BM: My mothers name was Regina
Heintz and her mothers name was Senger and she was born in Russia
and came to America when she was six years old. Her father came,
and it seems to me that one child died on ship on the way to America.
CJ: She lost her sibling on the
way over here.
BM: They must have come the same
route by New York. Then they settled north of Bowdle.
CJ: What county is Bowdle in?
BM: In Edmonds County.
CJ: Did your mother have any memories
of this ships voyage?
BM: No, I never asked her. Actually
her mother died and there were four children. She was born in
1890. She must have come over in 1896-1897 and settled in the
same area that my dad was in Hosmer, and was involved with his
CJ: Where did your mother die,
and where is she buried?
BM: Mother died in Aberdeen in
1970 and buried in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
CJ: Do you know the name of the
BM: Saint Mary’s Cemetery
CJ: When and where did your father
and mother marry?
BM: In Bowdle, and I don't know
how they met. They were married in 1910 in the Bowdle church.
I have their wedding picture.
CJ: Did you know your grandparents
BM: I knew one grandfather, my
mother’s father. He was retired in Aberdeen and we used
to visit him quite often.
CJ: How many brothers and sisters
in your family, and can you name their birth order?
BM: Sister Christine is the oldest
and was born October 8, 1910; Sister Christine is the one that
died and was born April 22, 1912: I was born on March 10, 1914;
Father Joe was born November 22, 1915; Father Pius was born June
15, 1918 and my youngest sister Adelaide, the one that just died,
was born January 19, 1923.
CJ: Big family! Did your father
homestead in the Bowdle area?
BM: At first, as I remember they
had a small farm which was south of Hosmer. Then later on they
bought a farm eight miles west of Bowdle. That’s where they
homesteaded and farmed all their life there.
CJ: Do you have any idea where
your ancestors come from in Germany?
BM: No, I wouldn't know.
CJ: Did your father or your mother
talk about any ancestral German villages in Russia, and did your
dad ever talk about his little village?
BM: He talked about it but I don't
remember any details. He often talked about it. When the family
got together, we always had a lot of gatherings with relatives,
especially Namesday. They always celebrated Namesday with a party
when all the relatives got together. They even had a dance all
the time. Seems to me it must have been a custom to celebrate
CJ: Did your father have any favorite
folk songs that he liked to sing?
BM: That I don't know.
CJ: Did he ever talk about life
in the village, stories, social events, harvest etc.?
BM: I know he talked about it.
I remember hearing it, but don't remember any details. He was
very much involved with the life in Russia and he talked a lot
about it a lot. He tried to keep customs. My father’s faith
was very deep. As I remember we kids had to line up at night and
say the "Our Father" in German.
CJ: Can you still say it?
BM: I couldn't say it anymore.
When they couldn't get to Mass on Sundays we would kneel down
and say the Rosary facing the crucifix. When there were thunder
storms we would sit in the parlor. He would read scripture from
the Bible. My mother would light a candle; she would take some
palm leaf and burn it to ashes and then sprinkle holy water. Every
night they came in our bedroom and would sprinkle us with holy
water the palm. Another custom was on New Year's Eve, we were
told, that as soon as we wake up any time during the night we
should come to their bedroom and wish them a Happy New Year. The
first ones got the most money, so all we went in there and wished
them a Happy New Year.
CJ: And then you would be rewarded.
What about Christmas traditions and do you remember the Christkindel?
BM: I remember that one real well.
CJ: Who was the Christkindel?
BM: I think my oldest sister was.
My mom had a curtain over her all covered up on top and had ribbons
CJ: It must have been majestic!
BM: Then you know mom said the
Christkindel was bringing us some. Other times I remember my dad
saying he had to go to the barn and check on the cattle. When
he came back we got little baskets of goodies. While you were
gone the Christkindel brought us these things. He had gone out
and pretended he went to the barn.
CJ: Did they ever talk about the
BM: Yes, I think so.
CJ: If you were naughty, the Belzenickel
would come and wrap your fingers or put coal in your shoes.
BM: No, we didn't have that penalty
CJ: You were all good children.
BM: No, we didn't have Saint Nicholas
or anything like that. That I don't think we did in our family.
CJ: You mentioned that your parents
would receive letters from the old country. What would happen
when the letters came?
BM: They read them and we all had
to listen. I was six years old, and then later on when I got older
they felt so bad because they were so poor. One time they took
gunnysacks and sent clothes over. Every time they wrote, they
were so poor; he would always feel so bad for them.
CJ: There were political happenings
in that region.
BM: I think that one of the sisters
joined the Bolsheviks or something like that and we felt kind
CJ: He had to feel pretty powerless
about that whole situation. One foot left in the old country,
while he was trying to raise a family in a new country and be
a success. What language did you speak at home?
BM: We spoke mostly German, Plattdeutsch
or whatever it was.
CJ: We all gained a dialect and
that region in Russia the Kutschurgan Enclave were from Baden.
They all had their distinct dialect, and I won't put a name on
it. Did your father and mother speak the same dialect?
BM: I think they used the same
CJ: You understood it and could
you speak it as a child?
BM: We always spoke it even after
we went to the convent. When my parents came to visit we always
had to speak German. My mother didn't know any English, but my
father could understand English somewhat and could speak a few
CJ: Your mother came here at the
age of six, but she never learned English.
BM: She went to school just including
the third grade. Then her mother died, and she had to stay home
and take care of the housekeeping.
CJ: What was your mother’s
BM: Regina Heintz.
CJ: Growing up in a farm family
each child had some chores. Do you remember what your chores were?
BM: We three girls were the oldest
in the family, and we had to do the milking of the cows while
my mother helped my dad in the fields. We girls did the milking
and cleaning of the house. I remember dishes - one had to wash
and one wiped, and I was suppose to sweep the floor.
CJ: And who took care of the smaller
BM: We took care of them, but I
don't remember too much about that.
CJ: What was there a discipline
philosophy that your parents had if one of the children wouldn't
behave? What did they do for discipline?
BM: I remember one time when my
brother had a birthday. He was demanding more than what he received,
and my dad spanked him, but they were very strict and very protective.
They wouldn't allow us much freedom. Of course, we all left after
the eighth grade for high school; so we didn't get into any more
CJ: Did you go to a rural school?
BM: It was about one-fourth mile
from our place. We went over the railroad track and across the
CJ: And you would walk?
BM: We would walk.
CJ: All eight grades, and were
you able to go to school for the full term?
BM: Yes, I did through the eighth
CJ: You didn't have to stay home
do housework, farm work etc.
BM: No, we didn't.
CJ: Were all the other students
in your school German-Russian?
BM: I don't think so. We were about
the only Catholic students in that school. There was another German
family, as well, but they were of a different culture than our's
CJ: How were they different?
BM: Their German accent was a little
bit different, otherwise their life-style was pretty much the
CJ: Do you have any special memories
of your childhood school---teachers etc.
BM: I remember the school real
well. How we all walked over there and how we played games and
CJ: Any favorite teachers?
BM: I don't remember their names
anymore. I know there was one favorite but I don't remember her
CJ: Was it was a secular school?
BM: It was all secular.
CJ: Was religion and church education
important in your upbringing?
BM: I didn't know too much because
we had very little. All the religion we received was when we went
to church on Sunday. We did get a two weeks vacation from school
before we went to First Communion. We had instructions from the
priest just once a week when we could get there. Outside of that
we didn't have much religion: but my father had a deep faith and
insisted on taking us to church and confession.
CJ: Do you feel it was your father
more than your mother who wanted you to have religious training?
BM: I think mostly he was, as my
mother was more on the quiet side. My father had such great respect
for priests and sisters. He thought they were out of this world.
CJ: Did he ever talk about his
religious training as a child?
BM: No, he might have but I don't
remember anything. As kids we were not interested in anything
like that, but I know he would have loved to talk about it.
CJ: So when you worshiped near
Bowdle was the service in German?
BM: Yes, German.
CJ: Probably was still German when
you left there.
BM: It was still German when I
CJ: In your religious community,
when you were still living at home, did everybody speak German?
BM: Yes, I think they did, as everything
CJ: Was worship conducted in Latin?
BM: It was Latin and then the German
was in German. Everything else was in German.
CJ: Were there any special festivities
connected with the church that you remember as a child like any
special holy days?
BM: I remember my First Communion.
My sister made her Solemn Communion when I made my First Communion,
which must have been in 1922.
CJ: Were your parents involved
in founding that congregation at all?
BM: I think they were.
CJ: What was the name of the church?
BM: Saint Augustus Church in Bowdle,
CJ: How did your family respond
or cope with death? Was it discussed when somebody was dying?
BM: Not too much.
CJ: For instance do you remember
when a relative died?
BM: Yes, I do. One night it was
dark when my uncle came to us and said that his son had died,
who was my fathers' nephew.
CJ: It was unexpected.
BM: Yes, unexpected.
CJ: So what kind of reaction did
your family have, and do you remember your reaction?
BM: I was quite young and I know
they felt bad about him.
CJ: How old was your cousin?
BM: He must have been a teenager.
CJ: So this was unexpected. What
kind of reaction did your family have and what was your reaction?
BM: I was quite young then, and
I know they felt bad about his death. They lived in Hillsview
where my uncle and aunt lived in a sod house. I remember visiting
them, where the sod house was quite nice inside.
CJ: Was it?
BM: The walls were finished off
and the sod house had a wooden floor, I believe.
CJ: When your cousin died how did
your family express their grief? Was there a great coming together
BM: I don't remember that at all.
CJ: Do you remember anything about
BM: No, I don't remember if I went
to it or not.
CJ: Did your church cemetery have
any iron crosses?
BM: It's been such a long time.
It seems to me I was out there when somebody died. My mother had
some relatives buried in Bowdle Cemetery, but I haven't been there
since I left after the eighth grade.
CJ: Did you as a child attend any
BM: I was at a wedding as a child
I when I went along with my parents. I must have been eight years
old, as I remember that wedding really well. The ladies were getting
ready with the food when I remember the dancing started. They
had ribbons for decoration. I remember dancers at my aunts wedding.
After midnight, she changed to a blue dress. Sometime a long time
later, I asked her when she was real old, is that really true
I remember something about you changing to a blue dress after
midnight. And she said that’s true.
CJ: Your memory is good, and did
she have a wedding dance?
BM: She had a wedding dance right
at the home. First they had their dinner, cleared the living room
and had the wedding dance right in there.
CJ: Were the fiddlers people from
BM: I think so.
CJ: Do you remember anybody singing German songs
at the wedding?
BM: That I don't remember as I
was only about seven or eight years old.
CJ: Did anyone in your family play
a musical instrument?
BM: No, we were so poor we couldn't
afford to get anything extra.
CJ: Did you have any games that
you played as children on the farm?
BM: I know we did. We played Anti-High-Over,
cricket and baseball.
CJ: Isn't it amazing how resourceful
children can be.
BM: We had a shovel as a sled to
slide down the snow banks. When we had much snow, then we would
slide down on the snow banks.
CJ: Any favorite childhood stories,
books, fairy tales?
BM: I don't think so.
CJ: How about folk medicine and
did your family participate in any or Brauche healing?
BM: No, I know my mother believed
in Chamomile tea, which she always gave us whenever we were sick.
BM: That grew right on the farm.
There were those leaves with blossoms, which she dried and used
them on us.
CJ: Did it work? Do you remember
any other folk medicine and are you familiar with
Varmouth (absinthe/wormwood) It was a plant they brought with
them from Russia that you would put in the chicken house to rid
it from lice.
BM: That I don't remember.
CJ: Any other home remedies that
BM: We know that Watkins [flavorings
and medicinal of Winona, Minnesota] (traveling peddlers) came
around, and they sold salve. They also sold liniment, which we
CJ: Was everybody in your family
delivered by a midwife?
BM: Yes, they were because I remember
when my sister was born. I was in rural school; when I came home,
I did not know that we were going to have a baby. I was nine years
CJ: Big surprise!
BM: The midwife was in the kitchen
while my dad was giving the midwife a shot of brandy before she
left. Then he said, "You have a little sister." I was
CJ: You hadn't even asked.
BM: But my two older sisters knew,
but I didn't.
CJ: Isn't that interesting. You
had three brothers also?
BM: My brothers, of preschool age
were taken to the neighbors, I think.
CJ: Do you remember your father
using any verbal expressions from the old country – any
phrases that he used?
BM: I don't remember; but every
time he started out in the field, he gave the horses, "In
Gottes Name" meaning go ahead and go. Every time he started
his work, he said, "In Gottes Name." ["A dedication"
of daily tasks to a holy God]
CJ: Very good. Even that demonstrates
his personal faith that he would start his chores and farming
and calling upon God or saying that this was in God's name. Did
your mother have any expressions in German that she used?
BM: I don't remember any, as she
was quiet and never said too much. She had a very gentle and kind
way about her. I used to comb her long hair; [which was traditionally
uncut for her entire life; and daily twisted large strands of
hair together up into a "bun"] ;and she liked that care.
When I left, she said, "Who is going to comb my hair now?"
CJ: Did you subscribe to any German
BM: My dad did, but I couldn't
read or write in German. None of us kids did.
CJ: Do you remember the name of
BM: No, I don't know.
CJ: There could be the Dakota Freie
Presse or Der Staats Anzeiger.
BM: That sounds more like it.
CJ: What kind of information would
he get from the newspaper, like news from the old country?
BM: I think that or political,
maybe some news. He was interested in everything and was quite
CJ: Is there a family member you
remember most in your childhood?
BM: I remember grandpa not too
well, but he was the oldest one. I remember my mother and dad.
CJ: Were there any women that homesteaded
in your community that lived alone and filed their own homestead
that you remember?
BM: Not that I know of.
CJ: Did women perform tasks outside
BM: I think they did as they couldn't
afford hired help. There were women that helped outside. I don't
think very many of them did. We were so poor that my dad couldn't
afford to pay anybody.
CJ: Now with your brothers being
younger with three older sisters: Does that mean your mother went
out and worked on the farm?
BM: She helped my dad, and helped
with the harvesting and things like that.
CJ: What about you? Did you get
to participate in gardening and milking?
BM: The milking and when we were
older. We used to shock the wheat and corn.
CJ: Do you remember any special
foods your mother prepared?
BM: She baked a lot of bread. She
made noodles, dumplings and kuchen, but she made it with bread
dough. When she made bread, she would never let us touch it not
even to knead it down. Once in a great while when she was in the
field, she would ask my sister to knead the bread dough down.
Mother always took care of the bread. Whenever she baked that
was all we had. Sometimes on bake day when the bread wasn't ready
by noon, she would make "fry cakes" called schlitzkuechle.
We would eat them with potato soup. She made many egg noodles
which we had with soup. Then we had Kase KnÀ? Àpfla
that she made quite often as we had cows for milk and cheese.
She made a cottage cheese cooked it, and we had butter and milk.
We girls had to "separate" the fresh milk which was
one of our chores. [to separate butterfat/cream from the "whey"/skim
CJ: Who washed the separator?
BM: We had to take turns; that
was always a chore. We kept the fresh cream in the cellar in cream
cans. Once a week it was taken to town and sold.
CJ: Did your mother sew your clothing?
BM: Yes, she sewed everything and
even sewed the suits for my little brothers. You should see the
pictures of them. She would go to the mercantile store, we had
a couple of them, which were run by two Jews. So we enjoyed the
Jewish food--especially sweet Halva. The Jews sold that, special
food, so we always had some. They had a general store, and mother,
would look at the dresses, came home cut a pattern to make all
of our dresses. Her mother died when she was nine years old, and
I don't know where she picked up dress making skills.
CJ: What about quilting or embroidery?
BM: I don't think she did that.
She made quilts by just sewing them together, but nothing fancy.
CJ: Now we are going to talk about
your decision to enter religious life. You went through eighth
grade at a rural school and then what happened after that?
BM: My sister, Marina, had gone
to Good Counsel to start high school. My sister and I were parting,
when all at once I had no idea what I was going to do. I said,
"Why don't I go to Good Counsel?" So I said to her,
“I think I’d to go to Good Counsel,” she said,
“Would you, well that's nice.”
CJ: Your sister was home for the
summer. You were separating cream and milk, doing the farmyard
chores and suddenly you thought about your future, by deciding
that you would like to go there. Had your sister spoken positively
about her experience?
BM: Yes, I think she liked it and
she was going to high school with the intention to be a sister/nun
at Good Counsel.
CJ: Now did you think that you
wanted to be a Sister.
BM: I guess I thought I would want
to be a Sister, ya know.
CJ: She was one influence. Were
there any other influences in your life that made you think you
would like to follow that direction?
BM: Not just then exactly. As I
started high school and as I was more acquainted at Good Counsel,
I began to value life more. I wanted to do something to be more
sure of eternal life.
CJ: So you felt the holy calling
and you were the second daughter.
BM: My oldest sister was home and
had come to Good Counsel in 1926 to grade school.
Because her eyes were so poor and there was no doctor that could
help her, they suggested she go home, as she would not be able
to be a sister/nun. She was home and helping on the farm while
the two of us went to Good Counsel. She was in her early 20s and
decided she wanted to be a sister/nun too. Then my dad said, "If
you want to be a sister, just go ahead." We can manage farming
alone, and she entered a year later.
CJ: What was done about the eyesight
BM: My dad had heard about some
doctors in Zeeland, North Dakota, I think. The doctor
did some surgery on her eyes in 1927. She prayed to Mother Theresa,
and the eyes got better. Then my sister went to Bismarck, North
Dakota (and stayed with my dad's aunt that came from Russia) to
get a certificate saying her eyes were cured.
CJ: So you never knew exactly what
the illness was?
BM: No, I don't know.
CJ: But she was cured. By this
time you and your sister Mariana were in high school?
Then as a junior, Sister Christina entered the candidature. I
was a junior. Somehow I was discouraged with school and thought
I wasn't doing well enough, as my grades weren't good. I wanted
to quit high school. Then they talked me into the candidature
as a home service sister is what I did. So I went to candidature
as a junior and did housework. That is what I did all my life,
and also did the cooking at the Good Counsel for the sisters.
CJ: How wonderful, that's an important
role. Nurturing, feeding and making sure they got what they needed.
BM: I enjoyed it very much and
just loved to cook. I had big jobs. For three years I was in Rome
and did general-aide cooking there. It was very exciting and I
liked Italian cooking very much.
CJ: What did you think when you
were notified that you were going to Rome?
BM: Well I asked. We have a certain
program where we could ask to work in another country. I volunteered,
before I interviewed and really wanted to go. This was in 1972.
I was one of the first ones that went over, at the beginning of
the program. I didn't know what I was going to do. I thought I
was going to help out in the dining room. When I arrived there,
they put me as head-chef of the kitchen, when I had to do all
the shopping and meal planning. Normally we were about twenty-six
nuns of thirty nuns in our community: Two-thirds were American
sisters and one-third were European sisters. We used three languages.
One per week: Italian, German and English was used for prayer
service. Normally we talked English. Most Europeans could understand
CJ: You went to the market place
and did grocery shopping.
BM: After I was more acquainted,
I went alone in Rome on the bus. When I had a free day, I went
alone and toured some architectural ruins. It was exciting!
CJ: How exciting a young girl born
in a NO MORE HEARD ON TAPE!
SIDE TWO OF TAPE
CJ: The time in the Vatican, was
that the highlight of your career?
BM: Yes, I think so...working there
in Rome. Then while I was over there we could have vacation every
August and we could travel and go some place. One year I went
to El jeers. We had some sisters over there and I went there for
two weeks. It was interesting to be with the Arabs. Then we went
down to the town and did some shopping.
CJ: What are your memories of leaving
home to enter the convent or attend high school? That first leaving
home, what was that like?
BM: Well I know it must have been
an awful shock, because I was not really prepared for everything
like that. My mother and father were quiet. Most of my instruction
when we came to Good Council was the way of life for young girls.
CJ: Did you take a train?
BM: Yes, we took the train from
Aberdeen. My father and mother took us to the train in Aberdeen
and I remember my mother kissed us goodbye. We cried.
CJ: What did you take with you?
BM: Well I think we took our clothes,
we had to have uniforms and a trunk we shipped with it.
CJ: How did you land at Good Council?
Were there Sisters of Notre Dame in your community?
BM: No, the first girl that wanted
to be a sister went to the priest in Bowdle. There were Sisters
Ipswitch and Aberdeen, but we didn’t get out much and just
knew that they were there. Once in awhile they came to church
to plead for money or whatever. Well this Sister was a relative
of mine, a cousin, from Hosmer. She came and wanted to be a Sister.
Father Keffler was the pastor. He said there are the Bendictants
at Ipswitch and Presentation Aberdeen. But I have two Sisters
that are Notre Dame Sisters in the Milwaukee Province. Now this
was like in 1925. Now Mankato was opened in 1912, so his Sisters
were from Debuque, Iowa. He was in the Souix Falls Diocey. So
he said they are in the Milwaukee Province, but now they have
a mother house in Mankato. She said she’d go there and started
going to Mankato. When the rest of us wanted to be Sisters we
went to Mankato.
CJ: What kind of reception did
you have when you got here?
BM: The train came and left Aberdeen
and we traveled all night and arrived early in the morning. One
of the Sisters met us at the depot and took us.
CJ: Were you scared?
BM: Yes, I think so.
CJ: Was it like being in foreign
country when you got here, it would have been so different from
what you were used to?
BM: Oh yes, it was different. I
guess all the Minnesota girls were more worldly and we mixed in
and got to be like them in time.
CJ: What was the typical daily
schedule here when you were a young girl?
BM: I think we went up there together
and then we went to mass and breakfast. Then we must have gone
to school classes at 8:00-8:30 and then dinner; after dinner school
again till 3:00. I think we had a little recreation or something
and then we had study period till supper time. After supper we
usually just took walks or played games.
CJ: There was a lot of girls. About
how many in your high school class?
BM: I think there were about....I
was in the girls with the intention of being Sisters. Now the
Borders in the big building they were different. We were more
secluded and restricted in many ways. We didn’t get out
much or anything like that. We were about 30 or so, probably 8
or 10 in a class.
CJ: Ok. Were there things you were
encouraged to do, to strive for?
BM: I don’t remember that
CJ: How did you continue communication
with your family once you were here?
BM: We had every Sunday we could
write home. We had a certain time. We took a walk after dinner
and had a period were everyone wrote letters home.
CJ: And they could write to you?
BM: They could write to us.
CJ: Did you keep in touch with
anyone else from back home?
BM: Not really. I don’t think
CJ: Did you ever go home for vacations
BM: In high school we did. We went
home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Because of this
distance we didn’t go home until June when school was out.
CJ: That was a long time to be
gone. Were you homesick?
BM: Oh yes. I was homesick.
CJ: Did you comfort each other,
you and your sister?
BM: Well yes, I think we did.
CJ: Did you ever question your
decision to become a Sister?
BM: A little bit. Sometimes when
there were disappointments. The first years in the convent were
very strict and hard. The goal was the harder it is the more merit
you get. There were many penalties that were hard for human nature.
It was hard but we accepted it because we knew. I know that the
dress was hard, but we got used to it. I remember first day when
we got it on reception day by evening my shoulders just ached
from the weight of the cloth because it was so heavy. The thing
around the face was hard to get used to. I remember one time I
was sick in bed for two days an then when I got up and put it
on I felt so uncomfortable. After you wore it awhile you didn’t
mind it, but if you had it off awhile you noticed.
CJ: What are the steps and the
length of a Postulant?
BM: Usually there was like Postulants
were two years; one year in the mother house and one year out
on mission. Then there was an Avishat for one year and took your
vows for three years and then other vows for three years and then
your final vows.
CJ: That’s a lot of vow taking.
At any of those times did you ever think maybe I made the wrong
BM: No, I never did.
CJ: What was the ceremony like
when you took your final vows?
BM: It was similar to the first
vows but was more private. None of our families were there just
a private ceremony with our sisters.
CJ: But you had a sister here and
by then did you have your other sister there?
BM: Yes, we were all together.
We could have our families in the afternoon, but could not be
there for the ceremony.
CJ: You have had your entire career
here, except for the time in Rome?
BM: In Minnesota, I was in St.
Paul about 30 years.
CJ: What did you do in St. Paul?
BM: I was different places and
at different missions at schools. I was at Sacred Heart, St. Agnus,
St. Francis, St. Matthew, and a little bit at St. Andrews. We
all had big schools there.
CJ: And your job there was the
same as it was here?
CJ: How would you stay in touch
with your family back in South Dakota, through letters and mail?
BM: The first years we were limited
to visits. We could have visits three times a year, but because
of the distance my family came once a year. We could write to
them once a week and get letters.
CJ: By the time that Vatican II
into effect, you had already been a Sister thirty years?
BM: Oh yes.
CJ: How did Vatican II affect your
BM: I was happy about it. It was
a relief because a lot of the customs we had put a damper on life.
It was just a lot of things to do.
CJ: What was the best thing about
BM: We were so restricted. We could
not eat with our families or stay in their homes. After that we
could visit and eat with our families. Our visits to home were
limited occasions anymore. We could go to anyone in the family.
CJ: You still did have your parents
back there and sister and her family.
BM: No, I think my parents were
dead by the time the changes came. When we first entered we could
have only two home visits; one the death of the father and one
the death of the mother. That went on 10-20 years; then it was
lifted to every 5 years and then lifted to anytime. It gradually
gave more freedom.
CJ: Was it difficult to adjust
to giving up the garb.
BM: A little bit at first. It was
so inconvenient. It was a relief to give it up. We had took a
modified form for our headpieces in 1962. That was a little more
convenient than the original starch one.
CJ: How did you perform duties
in the kitchen with that garb?
BM: I don’t know...it was
so hot in the summer time. All I could think about was the night
when I could take my clothes off. The hardest part was we took
hours and hours of time starching the linen. It had to be so stiffed
and it was my job. We starched them about three or four times
and iron them to get them straight. It was so much work.
CJ: It was so amazing that you
were able to do your job.
BM: Besides all that laundry.
CJ: That laundry was a fulltime
BM: There were a lot of them that
had two sisters; one did the laundry and one did the cooking.
We didn’t have the modern conveniences of washers and dryers.
CJ: So Vatican II was a good thing
for you in terms of rest and more freedom. What about giving up
BM: It was a little bit hard at
first, but I liked it OK.
CJ: Do you think that the Vatican
II made a big difference for women in Catholicism?
BM: I think so. I think it made
them a little more aggressive.
CJ: Then ten years after Vatican
II you were able to live for three years in Rome. Did you ever
come back to the states after that?
BM: No I was there two and a half
years and then I came back and then I went back for another six
months to help. So I was home for about two or three years and
then went back for the half year.
CJ: I’m looking at a newspaper
article from The Bishops Bulletin, December 1994 and the headline
reads “Jubilees beginning to be old hats for Mardian clan”.
It shows a photograph of you and your two sisters and your two
brothers who entered the priest hood, your parents and baby sister
who stayed home and raised a family. You and your sisters took
your vows at the same time?
BM: Yes we did. At that time in
the early 30’s during the depression they were so poor that
the provincial decided that they allowed it to have us take our
vows together. That way our parents would not have to make a trip
every other year for the celebration, because it was so far and
the times were so hard.
CJ: What a thrill for your mother
BM: It was a thrill.
CJ: While this was happening your
brothers were entering priesthood.
BM: They were still in grade school
but the first year they went to St. John’s University. Father
Pius did he started and then two years later Father Joe decided
to go to St Johns. So they started high school and went to philosophy
at St. Johns and finished up at the St. Paul Seminary.
CJ: When first one of you and then
a second, then a third, daughter leaves to enter the religious
community and then your father has two sons who ideally could
stay home and help with the farm and they decided to enter priesthood.
What did your father do about help on the farm?
BM: My sister helped and I think
they got some hired help. At that time they had such a season
of drought and everything was so poor they didn’t do much.
I remember when they came one time to visit us in 1934, they said
“It was so dry and it was just a pity too see to the cattle
or anything.” I think this happened in the late 1920’s
and early 1930’s the opportunities were not as much then
as they are now. So when you finished grade school when you wanted
to do something and our parents didn’t want us to go to
public school, so when we decided to go to Catholic High School
they didn’t oppose it. There wasn’t anything else
to do in those days, you know, except getting married.
CJ: We’ll include this article
that you have graciously given to the state university. I’ll
put this with our information. I believe you have some photographs
to go with this, and I want to thank you for giving us your time
and for sharing your story with us. Once this is transcribed you
will receive a copy of it for you to review and make any corrections
you might make. We’ll also be certain that you get your
BM: Thank you.