Sister Mary Michael Dittoe, SSMN, educator and musician, dies at 99
“I’m grateful God has embraced me all these years. I just pray that some way or another I’ve helped to spread the Kingdom of God.”
Sister Mary Michael Dittoe, a Sister of St. Mary of Namur for 81 years who spoke those words at her 70th jubilee, did that and more. The long-time educator and skilled pianist passed away December 8, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as members of the congregation sang Salve Regina outside her infirmary door. She was 99. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Born in Dallas but raised in Wichita Falls, Frances Winifred Dittoe became a boarder at St. Joseph Academy in Sherman after the death of her mother. In 1941, she joined the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur following in the footsteps of three Dittoe aunts: Sister Marguerita, Sister Florence, and Sister Marie Vincentia.
Armed with a degree in music education, the graduate from the American Conservatory in Chicago spent 40 years teaching elementary school students in Fort Worth, Denison, Beaumont, Dallas, and Houston. Sister Mary Michael taught piano and classroom singing wherever she was assigned.
One of her fourth-grade students at St. Ignatius Academy was Sister Rosemary Stanton, who is now part of the leadership team for the SSMN’s western province.
“I remember her as very kind and gentle in the classroom and while teaching me piano,” she commented.
Growing older, the late sister never lost her love of music or her quiet, humble inner strength.
“During the last few years, what struck me was her smile and song,” Sr. Rosemary continued. “Sr. Mary Michael always sang along even as she had less strength. Her peaceful, beautiful smile spoke of what inhabited her deepest heart.”
After decades developing young minds, Sr. Mary Michael spent a year at the Magnificat House in Houston where she helped create communities for homeless people. From 1993 to 2005, she joined friends Sister Rita Claire Davis, SSMN, and the late Sister Ann Vincent Kucirek, SSMN, in pastoral ministry at Santa Rosa Parish in Knox City and St. Joseph Parish in Crowell. The trio offered catechetical instruction, taught English as a second language, directed the choir, and played the organ for liturgical services.
Bishop Michael Olson reflected on her legacy to immigrants and to students across the Diocese of Fort Worth.
“Sister Mary Michael offered her entire life to Christ,” he said. “She taught English to Christ present in the immigrant from other nations. She prayed to Christ for His people striving to be faithful.”
Mario Aguayo remembered his former religion teacher at Santa Rosa Parish as someone who helped instill confidence in a shy, timid child.
“Sr. Mary Michael was so encouraging that I started believing in myself and went from performing in the children’s choir and Christmas plays to becoming the lead altar server,” recalled the Lubbock resident. “She truly taught me the importance and joy of serving the Lord through my Catholic faith early in childhood.”
Today, Aguayo’s children are preparing for the sacraments and volunteer as altar servers in their parish. He added, “Sister definitely meant so much to me and my family.”
The educator’s strong faith also inspired Jeannette Navarrette Casillas when she was a young catechesis student at St. Joseph Parish in Rhineland.
“At one point I thought of becoming a nun, but I ended up going to college and having a family,” explained the registered nurse who now lives in San Antonio. “She was always there with the other two sisters to give support. If we needed someone to talk with, they always gave great advice.”
The sisters often visited the home of her parents, Lupe and Marcelino Navarrette.
“All the sisters were sweet, but I remember Sr. Mary Michael as being very kind, quiet, and soft-spoken. I have good memories of her from my CCD years.”
In her later years, Sr. Mary Michael attended adult education classes at Tarrant County College and added knitting to her list of talents. When her eyesight failed and she could no longer knit, the good-natured senior member of her congregation passed the time with “lots of praying,” she told people with a smile.
Sr. Mary Michael is survived by a cousin, Mary Dittoe Kelley, and members of her community.