Sisters of St. Mary of Namur conclude 117 years of service in Wichita Falls
WICHITA FALLS — On a day bittersweet yet ripe with opportunity for new beginnings, Father Alexander Ambrose, HGN, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church perhaps summed up best the mood of the day and the impact of four long-serving Sisters of St. Mary of Namur who will soon relocate to Fort Worth.
“You helped guide our people on the right path by praying for them to be God’s loving children,” Fr. Ambrose said. “You made a difference in the lives of people, and you helped save souls.”
Noel Filer, a former student of the sisters, agreed.
“Beyond strengthening us on our earthy journeys, I know that there are people in heaven right now because of you,” Filer told the departing sisters. “No matter what your physical address is you will always be home with us because you’ve taken up residence in our hearts and we will love you for always.”
Bishop Michael Olson on Nov. 27 celebrated a Mass in honor of Wichita Falls’ four remaining SSMN sisters: Sister Patricia Ste. Marie, Sister Clara Vo, Sister Ginny Vissing, and Sister Mary Jean Warmuth.
Bishop Olson, in a lighthearted moment, joked of the sister’s 117-year ministry in Wichita Falls.
“I have been duty bound to tell you that none of the sisters here with us today were part of that original group,” the prelate said.
Bishop Olson spoke too of the sisters' “quiet defiance” stretching from the founding of their order more than 200 years ago in Namur, Belgium, during a time of religious persecution and prohibition of religious congregations to their arrival in New York during the Civil War. The sisters tackled such challenges undaunted, going on to spread their ministry — establishing schools and mission endeavors along the way — to other states, including Texas, as well as other countries.
“The sisters in their quiet defiance to indifference have always called us to be faithful,” Bishop Olson said. “Their perseverance through the years has helped sustain our own perseverance.
He continued, “The sisters persevered through very challenging times in our culture and have come to remain faithful while also being mindful that this world is not all that there is. That our lives here are in preparation for the world that the Lord has prepared for us.”
At the behest of Father John Goessens of Henrietta, Wichita Falls Mayor Charles Bean, and others, the sisters established the Academy of Mary Immaculate in 1905, which was renamed Notre Dame High School in 1965. In between those years, the sisters founded a second school called Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1928. Notre Dame High School closed in 2021 after which the four remaining sisters remained active in parish ministry.
The sisters, Fr. Ambrose said, brought blessings meaningful and great help to Our Lady Queen of Peace before and after Notre Dame closed.
“They were all active in our parish for many years and brought wonderful benefits to us and the community,” Fr. Ambrose said. “Sr. Patricia Ste. Marie helped with adult formation, RCIA, and different Bible study classes we had. Sr. Clara Vo was in charge of flowers and decorating. She was also the cantor at daily Mass and helped [with the Mass]. Sr. Mary Jean Warmuth helped with a number of our charitable projects such as our Advent food drive that helps more than 150 families. She would oversee arranging and packing food donations and making sure they got to the different families.”
Sr. Vissing, Fr. Ambrose said, served for years as the parish’s DRE and music and choir director.
Filer spoke of Sr. Vissing’s positive impact on herself and countless other youth. Filer praised Sr. Vissing’s musical prowess but also couldn’t help but smile at those memories.
“We truly had our own singing nun,” Filer said. “I'll never forget watching Sr. Ginny playing the piano. As she felt the music we all wondered if she was going to bounce right off the bench while she played.”
2001 Notre Dame graduate Courtney Abubakar expressed gratitude for the sister’s role in her life.
“Anytime you saw them they were smiling and would be kind,” Abubakar said. “You knew they genuinely cared and the presence I got from them was very consistent and comforting. My Notre Dame education was foundational to my Catholic faith and life. I’m a teacher now because of a teacher I had at Notre Dame.”
During a post-Mass reception, the names of all the sisters who have served since 1905 were read.
Parishioner Joe Cluley characterized Sr. Warmuth as a “living example of Christ” and “one cool nun who is also on YouTube.”
A former Notre Dame student herself, Sr. Warmuth returned to teach at her alma mater in 1987 where she taught first grade, among other duties.
“She is known for her relationships with students,” Cluley said. “Many of whom return to visit her after first grade and even after graduating high school.”
Parishioner Hannah Jellison joked that she became Sr. Vo’s driver on demand and as such holds precious memories of their time together.
“It was my honor to have been given the chance to help you in your ministry and vocation,” Jellison told Sr. Vo.
Former Notre Dame teacher Jack Abel spoke of the impact Sr. Ste. Marie’s Scripture teachings had on students.
“You and your fellow students have been a gift to this church community and even beyond,” Abel said.
Sr. Warmuth spoke of work yet to be done.
“I loved working with the children and am sad to be leaving,” Sr. Warmuth said. “But we will all get involved in things in Fort Worth and wait to see where the Holy Spirit leads us next.”