Interview with Sister Kathryn Mayer
(KM) & Sister Margaret Vander Heyden (MV)
Conducted by Betty Maier (BM)
Transcription by Lena Paris
Editing and Proofreading by Lena Paris & Jay Gage
BM: It's a pleasure to visit with
two interviewees. We are in Mankato, Minnesota and this interview
is taking place in the Good Council of Sisters of Notre Dam, and
I have first with me, am going to go by age. Sister Margaret Vander
Heyden where are you originally from?
MV: Originally from Faribault,
BM: The second interview is Sister
Kathryn Mayer and you are also originally from
Mankato, Minnesota. And well acquainted with Good Council for
18 years up here.
We are going to interview the two of them at one
time; so we hope that you will be able to recognize them. Once
in a while I am going to ask and identify the name, so that you
can keep them straight. They have both been here at Good Council
for how many years?
MV: Since 1932.
BM: Where did you get your training
MV: Shall I begin?
BM: Let's start with the basics
like we do with everybody and then we will get into that.
First of all Sister Margaret I would like your name that you were
MV: Margaret Vander Heyden.
BM: Were you known as something
MV: When I was received into the
(024) I have been named Sister Mary Zeraid. (sp)
BM: So some people might know you
by that name.
MV: I went by that name (022)
BM: How many years were you there?
MV: Two years.
BM: What years?
BM: And Sister Kathryn…
KM: I was Genevieve, short Gen
all my life down here. I was born here and went to school here
at the age of 17 right into high school and then I did some (027)
and then my sister career began. This was in Saint Mathews in
St. Paul were I stayed for 15 years until I finished. Then I was
sent to my old home town and I taught at the academy of Good Council
for about 12-15 years. Then I went back to St. Paul again and
became high school principal at the school. Then I came to Strasburg.
BM: You did.
KM: St. Anthony's which was a ritzy,
outstanding high school.
BM: North Dakota.
KM: And a completely new faculty.
It was astounding, but I really didn't know what I was getting
into. I remember after we got off the train, and I think Father
Remley (sp) was there to pick us up, and I saw a sign "Strasburg
Home of 800 friendly people."
BM: So were you two together then
KM: I was there two years also
and got the thing going. Got the Presentation the first year,
which is something. We were proud of it. All of us were experienced
teachers even though we had nothing in the school building, except
one lab table that could not be used. You got what you needed,
the first few two years and we loved it. There were hard times
but they were good times too. We had a grade school and that has
been intensely (045). But we came back at the request of the people
of Strasburg, I was told, so we were sent. We have a motto, "Notre
Dam you are called a vocation, you are sent" and that was
it. Indeed it was.
BM: Sister Margaret where did you
enter the convent?
MV: I entered the convent here
in Good Council in 1932 and then I was (052) for four years. Usually
two years, but I was there four years as I had only one year of
high school. I had finished my high school and a year of college
and did my year of practice teaching during that four year period.
Then I went to (055) a beautiful year and enjoyed that very much.
After that I was sent out west to Spokane, Washington.
BM: That was a long way away.
MV: That was a long way. My first
trail ride, my first time out of Minnesota. It was a very enjoyable
trip to see the mountains. I just love the mountains.
BM: What did you do there?
MV: I taught at Saint Josephs School
which was a poor area and Notre Dame had the school. I had the
5th and 6th grades. Just to give you an idea of the colleges he
had there. My classroom was very small which had 24 double desks
in it and I had 48 students that first year. I couldn't do any
separating. That was my first year of teaching outside of my practice
year and that was done in a new career.
But I didn't know what was going to happen and I
was in my craft room just before 8 am.
The bell rang which means to go over to Mass; so she had us all
lined up two and two in (068) church. While I was getting mine
lined up to go to church, and a woman and a young boy stopped
and came into the room and the mother turned to me and said, "I
would like to enroll my son in the 6th grade here." He's
a naughty boy and I don't know what to do with him. This was in
the presence of the boy. The last thing I heard some years ago
that this boy ended up in the penitentiary. I tried to do my best
to the many, that was in Spokane, Washington.
I spent four happy years there then I was transferred
to Twela (sp) which is sixty miles north of Spokane. That was
a lovely place and I really enjoyed it very much. It was right
up in the valley surrounded by mountains. There was a high school
and a boarding school for grade 2. There was just two years of
high school and when the school closed they all went to public
From there I went to Colten (sp) and that was ninety
miles southeast from Spokane, and I loved it there too. That was
out in the farming area where we had nineteen acres of farmland.
There were animals: cows, pigs and chickens and it was very delightful.
In all I spent 23 years in Washington, then I came back to Strasburg.
During the time before that, I was sent to get a library degree
and received it in Portland, Oregon.
BM: That came in handy.
MV: Because we received accreditation.
We had in our library in Strasburg. Every book was taken out because
it was public school property except the religious books. Let
me tell you this: At Christmas time the principal came and he
said, "Sister I would like the 200" and I said sorry
sir over my dead body. We just had our library complete. Every
Saturday a group of us would work at books, and we got books from
so many sources.
A dear mother who was another provincial.(sp) At
this time Sister Bernardia (sp) said you may have permission to
ask anybody anything, but don't steal anything. So we go to our
folks first, our friends because we needed things. Whatever we
needed we made a list and it worked out very well.
BM: So after 1962 where did you
two go then?
MV: When I left I went to a school
in Waterloo, Iowa. I didn't know the reason why, but a brand new
school with 1600 students and they received their students from
seven parochial schools, and I was to be the liaison (sp) with
the Notre Dame. We had many Notre Dames and we were in one Notre
Dame Convent there, so I was sent there to teach and to be the
liaison with the blessed sacraments to students that was there.
BM: What state was that?
MV: That was Waterloo, Iowa. When
I got there were 1600 students and I didn't know one, I had three
English classes: religion, the year book, journalism, and the
newspaper and counseling.
BM: How long were you there?
MV: I was there two years until
I was called here, and then what awaited me here was the principal
of the (115) of Good Council over there in that big building.
They knew everything, I won't go into that too much but the second
year a call came from Rome.
Ackoven (sp) was suppose to send to the International House someone
for public relations, so I was called. “Sister Kathryn you
have the credentials. We don't want to take you from the school,
but you have to move shortly. Do you want to stay here or do you
want to go to Rome?
My answer was, "I want to go to Rome."
I was there for half a year and worked in public relations and
then, now hold your breath" the pope Paul VI said that the
American bishop wanted his newspaper in English. They had five
or six other additions already. Because I was a journalist I was
invited, an English major, I was invited to work in the Vatican
and to found and edit with a wonderful Irish priest from Ireland
to edit the English edition of (129). We began it in 1968, and
worked together beautifully. We began poorly with a joint office,
but we worked through it. It just happened that our talents just
blended. Father was a great preacher and was very skilled in learning,
and I was a journalist by profession and it really worked out
BM: How long did you do this?
MV: Twenty years and just loved
it. Then I was seven years too old. In the Vatican there is an
age limit, so when you reach the age of 65 the men had to stop.
Religious 70! I was 77 then. The secretary of state called one
day and said, “ I think Sister Katherina has reached the
age level.” Father (139) said, “ I think they made
a mistake in her birth certificate. It lasted two more years and
then they had trouble in that they couldn’t find another
Notre dame to take my place. It was kind of unusual to find someone
with languages and journalism, etc. It was time for me to come
BM: And that was what year?
MV: I was there from 1966 until
1986. I came home in 1986. Two years later I celebrated my 80th
birthday. I still had a lot of leasure and energy didn’t
BM: You did.
MV: Now I am going down—I’m
going to be 89. The Lord was so good to me I just want to shout
BM: I can’t believe this.
We’ll have to get another picture of you to prove this.
MV: I can give you one with the
pope. I was there for two popes, Pope Paul and Pope John I and
I still have respect for Pope John I. They were all wonderful.
BM: And you have a picture with
John Paul I.
MV: The first thin he said was,
‘I want to meet all my employees.” And he came to
every office. He is a wonderful man and now he is failing, but
he will live to the millennium and I hope so.
BM: Sister Margaret, after you
were called back here and you had been to Strasburg then where
did you go?
SM: Then I went to Saint Agnes
High School in St. Paul. Even though I had gotten my library degree
they allready had a libriarian at Saint Agnes; so I was asked
to teach in the home Economic department and had four years of
that. Then I had a home room and a religion class. The home room
students were my religion class.
MV: Did I say something about the
Strasburg connection with the (162). She has two sewing machines.
I think her brother gave her one. What she did was making those
lovely uniforms. They had white blouses and maroon skirts and
westkits. They looked darling! I didn’t know that they wore
uniforms then. By that time they had a stove and she went into
the cooking part besides teaching that. We all taught several
subjects. I was the principal there and thought I’m going
to make this a new school, another Saint Agnes. We talked about
a name and I tried to make the people feel like they were pioneers
in the school. Anyway I said, “How would you like the name
of Saint Benedict School?” They liked that. Later on we
had a very nice faculty for one thing and a good curriculum.
BM: So that is when you were first
certified after that first year. Wonderful, sometimes that is
not so easy to do. I am going to back up and I need to get your
name and the date of your birth?
SM: I was born October 16, 1911
and baptized Margaret Mary.
BM: And your last name is Vander
Heyden (SP) You were born in Fairbault.
SM: Fairbault, yes, at home the
second child of the family, one brother who was older. I was the
BM: Any other siblings?
SM: Yes, there were nine of us
in all. Six of us are still living. But my darling mother didn’t
stay with us very long and died in 1925. I had just had my fourteenth
birthday and I tried to keep the family together as much as I
could but it didn’t work.
BM: It was your dad.
SM: Dad was still living and was
a barber. Barbering in those days was practically nil as far as
making money was concerned. It was during the depression so that
crops that year were not good and had very little to live on.
So we separated the following February.
BM: Where did the children go?
SM: The children all went to different
relatives or friends. Some had hard times getting adjusted, but
I was considered old enough to take care of my brother and I.
He was fifteen and I was fourteen. I went from place to place
as a hired girl and some places I earned $2.50 a week which amounted
to ten dollars a month. That wasn’t very much to live on.
I stayed in Fairbault for about six years. My aunt was housekeeper
at the Assumption Parish in St. Paul. The girl she had helping
her left; so she asked me to come there and work with her. I stayed
there for four years.
It was during that time I got acquainted with the
Notre Dame Sisters. I did not know there was such an order and
my dear sister Phidaelus (210) who was home service sisters but
she had charge of the sacristy at the Assumption. There was so
much work in that sacristy. Everyday were hundreds of vigil lights
that had to be cleaned and changed with new candles. They were
near the funeral parlor and all the funeral flowers were brought
over here so I helped her sister Phidaelus (sp) with that.
BM: You know that’s the hub
of Saint Paul, so you can imagine the work.
SM: Then sister Phidaelus (sp)
we would talk with each other and she never mentioned religious
life to me. But I did accredit her for my vocation. She was such
a dearest soul quiet, gentle, and I just loved her. We can a mission
in April and one of the priests in that mission was speaking one
evening in the ’Blessed Mother’. There was something
in there but all of a sudden I felt a tap on my arm and I heard
the voice, “You go to the convent.” So I talked to
sister Phidaelus (sp) she talked to the superior at the assumption
and they contacted Mother Adrenia (sp). Mother Adrenia came to
St. Paul and talked to me a few minutes and I said I would like
to go. “Do you love children?” I said, “ I love
them” She said, then we will make you a teacher. I was almost
twenty-one years old at the time, but I went to the convent.
BM: That’s why you didn’t
have a high school education since you were working and providing.
SM: After mother died we stayed
together until February and then my dad had an action and sold
the little stuff we had. With some of that money he sent me to
(236) Academy for one in Fairbault for one year. The tuition then
was $50 a year including everything. I spent one year there and
then I went to St. Paul.
BM: What was the nationality of
SM: My father came from Holland
and my mother was German. Her dad, my grandfather, came from Germany.
My grandma was born in Fairbault also, so my mother was pure German.
BM: And what was the name of your
SM: My father was George but really
was Gerard. When he came to America at twelve years of age everybody
called him “George” so he went by George.
BM: and your mother?
SM: My mother’s name was
BM: Where did your father come
THERE IS A SWITCH IN CHARACTERS
KM: My father came from Wilhelm
(William) (250) on the Rhine and his last name was Mayer. It was
Maier in the beginning as it was in an all German settlement.
My brother was a druggist and sort of inherited the best drug
store in Mankato because of the two proprietors it was Lambs Drug
Store. In the summer my brother would work there and the two,
a roommate, it was interesting because the Lambs went on vacation.
The mother and father who owned the drug store were killed in
a car accident. The children lived, but one was crippled for life
and I don’t know about the other one.
So here was the drug store. The two dads, my dad
and Frank’s roommate helped them and the two young men took
over Lambs Drug Store. They kept the place for two years. Then
they couldn’t do it anymore. He worried about prescriptions
because he specialized in prescriptions. Frank took over and it
became The Mayer Drugs.
BM: So you have one brother and
KM: We had a beautiful family.
My mother had a little joke and this is it: “It have six
daughters and each one has a brother.”
BM: What was your mothers maiden
KM: She was Kathryn Millias and
came from Koblenz, north Germany. My dad came from (279) on the
BM: How did they meet?
KM: They met here in Mankato. My
mother came by herself and my mother had a brother living here.
BM: Who influenced you?
KM: I was influenced by my family
who were religious and they had a good family. I was the second
youngest we had a good middle class family. So we didn’t
have any troubles and trials, but I was influenced by the Notre
Dame Sisters. I came from Peter and Paul that had eighth grades
there all Notre Dame nuns. They were strict but we learned and
then the Jesuwins (sp) from the time we were in the second grade
would come every week to give us instruction. Then when I came
to Good Council I had the same wonderful nuns and I just loved
everyone of them.
BM: I forgot to ask you when you
KM: October 10, 1999
BM: You were born here in Mankato.
KM: I am the sixth in line and
the seventh was my sister who came after and she died three years
ago so I am alone. Her husband was a wonderful man and wrote to
me every two weeks. He was a Kernal (sp) in the Army. She was
married in Frankfort. She was in college two years and then my
mother wasn’t too well so she said, “I’m coming
home” and I’ll be around Mankato then I will be with
her. My mother died the next year. In the meantime she was working
around Mankato and was very intelligent.
My dad died from loneliness and died the next year.
Then she said, “I’m joining the Wax.” The Lord
pointed this out to her I am sure, she joined the Wax and being
the type of girl she was she just went up the ranks. I learned
all the ranks from her. She was in Eisenhower’s headquarters
and she was there for the signing of World War II; that is where
she met Archie.
BM: What was her married name?
KM: It was Gauthier a very common
name in the south, and he was from the Louisiana area.
BM: A word for French.
KM: He was a fine man. He missed
my sister so much and wrote to me every two weeks and would send
me pecans and the kind of candy that I liked. He died suddenly
about a month ago. So all the sisters and brothers have passed
away and all had happy lives.
BM: Well that’s good.
KM: We were blessed.
BM: Deciding of the religious life
at the young age did you realize what you were leaving behind?
KM: When I graduated from here
I had a four year scholarship so I was getting ready. My brother
was still at Crate (sp) University and my dad said, “You
worked hard and we’ll get you through.” But my mother
said, “ I hope you won’t get a job and you will be
gone and we won’t see you for so long.”
So I went to Mass every day and I attributed my
vocation to my home and going to mass. One day I came out of Mass
and here was the Superior of the Convent. We had twenty-four nuns
there. She said, “Did you every think of being a nun?”
That’s all I am thinking of lately—just like that.
She said, “I am going back to the sisters and we are going
to start a Novena (348) and we are going to pray.” You choose
what’s right and so that happened. I went through three
days of H E L L!! Temptations and struggle.
I wanted that peace, I waited for her the next day
and I said, Well now you can stop the novena, because I am going
to enter the convent. The next Sunday my mother and I walked up
the steps and came to see the mother in the dorm. Mother knew
my mother when they started talking. I wondered where I came in?
So the dorm mother asked me what I wanted. I said, “I would
like to be a sister.” Well she said, “You can’t
have those nice clothing any more.” Then I said, “That
doesn’t matter.” Well, I know your mother, your father
and your family we welcome you.
BM: Isn’t that great! But
you had three days that were very difficult.
BM: I have a question for you.
How did you blend in at Strasburg with the German-Russian population
KM: I didn’t have any difficulty.
The students were very friendly and I really enjoyed my time with
BM: The students went to their
own church. A lot of them went to Saint Bensville. (Sp)
KM: I looked through the 1976 books,
because when we split—Catholic verses/public school. The
Welk’s were in there too. We even had a concert with Lawerence
and one of his singers, Joe Pheney (sp) along.
BM: You covered so much that I
think I will have to go back to when you entered the convent.
Did you communicate with you family and friends after you done
KM: I loved it so much and I knew
BM: So you were at home and that
was very difficult. Sister (402) did you communicate with your
KM: We were allowed to write one
letter a month and I asked Sister (405) do you know my father,
brothers, and sisters who live in different locations and I said,
“Could I write more often to them?” She allowed me
to write two letters a month; so I wrote one to my father and
one to , change thoughts, to my brothers and sisters. Some of
them were very small. The baby was only sixteen months old when
mother died so we didn’t know too much about her. She was
taken by my aunt and uncle.
BM: Did you keep communication
lines open to them though when you were in the convent?
KM: Then we were permitted to have
visitors once a month. Some of them came once a month so
we kept communications open as much as we could.
BM: So you got to know the children
as they grew up?
KM: I felt so at home there. My
sister was a junior in high school at the academy. And I knew
all the academy girls. They were always cheering when we met the
bus, but we had rules we had to follow.
BM: Was there some things you were
encouraged to do and some you were not encouraged to do?
KM: The only think Sister (430)
said, “I think you are getting a little clicky.” Because
all those that went to the academy there were eight from our graduating
class that entered. Eventually we became a little “clicky”
so we stopped it. I just loved it there. We had our first year
of college there. We had a choir, food and put on two plays. I
got all the costumes from my friends. I had contact with them.
My birthday was coming and I got a telephone call on Sunday. Sister
(443) all my girlfriends are down there then I took off. I didn’t
hear her say fifteen minutes. We sat there for two and a half
hours at a good party all afternoon. When I came back she just
looked at me and said, “Fifteen minutes!”
BM: Did you get in trouble for
KM: No, she was very understanding
and she knew we liked it in the convent. She was just wonderful.
BM: Was there anything else you
could think of?
KM: Well, I didn’t know of
any of the candidates and knew nothing about Good Council. That
was my first trip up there when I had a letter from Sister (459)
to welcome me in, telling me what the entrance fee was. I had
no money, so the sisters at the Assumption got a suitcase and
a trunk for me. I remember they paid $2.95 for the suitcase and
$6.95 for the trunk. I had that trunk all those years until I
came here to retire now. Anyway they gave me the things I needed.
I can say that she was special.
BM: You have a fantastic memory.
KM: There were times when we didn’t
have any money in our pockets either. I tried to do as much as
I could while I was working at the Assumption. I started out there
with $20 a month and later on a got a $5 raise, but I continued
to give my little sisters the things they needed.
BM: I want to go back to Strasburg,
North Dakota. During the two years you were teaching there. Did
you interact with the community a great deal? Did you get to know
the parents, their homes?
KM: I remember the first home school
meeting. I wanted to make it a little thin (482) so we invited
them to come and they came. We had a nice assembly sitting there.
I talked with them and told them how glad we were to meet them
and that Father had fixed up the school very nicely, and they
were welcome anytime to come and see us. Well, the listened. They
were so nice when we sat around having coffee, but they didn’t
talk much. We got along well and what is she going to do there.
We worked together and that’s just my nature. The people
were so good to us. They would bring us packages of meat, sausage,
break, rolls. They were really good to us. When we had to raise
money like for a fair she made the best hamburgers I ever ate.
I got the kids together before, we’ve got to get some pies
and I’ll tell you how to do it. We are going to Bismarck
and go to the jewelry store first and tell them that we are having
a big fair, and have you got something that we could sell or use
for a raffle? They were amazed and I would tell them where to
go next. We came back with so much stuff. The next day a boy came
to me, a Rath boy, I remember he’s (512) sister. I brought
you a pig for the fair. What will I do with the pig? We’ll
keep it until the fair and then we’ll raffle it.
BM: That’s wonderful
KM: The ladies used to come into
the home economics department and tell us about the different
things the people of Strasburg liked; the kinds of food and then
I tried to include those as we set up this fair. One of the ladies
came to me early on the day we had the fair and she said you want
to get a lot of people coming over. It was a very successful fair.
BM: It must have been quite an
END OF TAPE