A century of kindness

By Laurette Kissel Faraone 

Special to The Message

Benedictine Sister Mary George Kissel visits with Bishop Joseph M. Siegel during the Sept. 23 party held in her honor at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Haubstadt. Sister Mary George celebrated her 100th birthday Sept. 18. See story and additional photos on page 7 of this issue. The Message photo by Tim Lilley

“Kindness is not an act. It is a reflection of the soul” (Author unknown).

Our dear aunt, Benedictine Sister Mary George Kissel, celebrated her 100th birthday Sept. 18. How wonderful! The world has been graced with her beautiful, kind and loving presence for a century!

The second oldest of seven children, Sister was born in Hornville, Indiana, to George John and Leona Barbara (Scheller) Kissel. She was given the name Mary Barbara at her Baptism in St. James Church in Haubstadt.

Hornville is a little community on the northern edge of Vanderburgh County. I don’t know if Hornville is even on a map; but I know the people who come from that community are very special. They are big-hearted and hardworking; kind and generous. They always have their sleeves rolled up so they can pitch in wherever they are needed. They are unafraid to plant both feet in the middle of another person’s storm, and are there to help even before a need is ever voiced.

Benedictine Sister Mary George Kissel

The people of Hornville are faith-filled and speak of God’s goodness in the way they live. Their example is their preaching. They are humble, but mighty. Their giving is quiet, but constant. Their faith is deep-rooted, grounded and down-to-earth, but not boastful – only full of love. And that love is radiated in their warm smiles and the twinkle in their eyes. 

The Hornville farm where Sister Mary George grew up was a down-home welcoming place where the seeds of love, hope and kindness were readily sown and grown; just like the seeds planted in the family’s large vegetable garden. On the family farm, the necessity of working together created the strength of the family. That strength, coupled with the family’s deep faith in God, sustained them. The sacred was in their every day. Each evening, right after supper, after a hard day of work, each family member would turn their chair and kneel down around the kitchen table. Then, before any farm chores were done and before the supper dishes were washed and dried, the family would pray the family Rosary.

In life, our priorities always bespeak the persons we are; and the seemingly simple rituals of saying the rosary together, of bowing heads in a grateful prayer before every meal, and of faithfully attending Sunday Mass each week were the priorities that wove this dear farm family together.

In 1938, when Sister Mary George entered the community of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, and in 1940, when Sister professed her vows, it was these dear cherished values that she carried with her. The motto of St. Benedict – “ora et labora” – had always been a part of this young girl’s life.  

After taking her vows, Sister began her teaching mission. Think of all the children she inspired in more than 70 years as a classroom teacher; a grade school principal; and in her work at The Reading Carrel, a reading clinic established in l975 by Sister Mary George.

The Reading Carrel came to exist because of a beautiful unfolding of God’s plan. It required much hard work and loving devotion, but it was a dream come true, a goal realized, for Sister Mary George. In l982, Benedictine Sister Margaret Carolyn Kissel, Sister Mary George’s sibling, became an assistant at The Reading Carrel. The two Sisters worked together for over 30 years.

At The Reading Carrel, children who struggled in school classrooms were individually taught, and encouraged to believe in and value themselves. Many lives were positively changed because of this special place. This is the kind of change that impacts generations. 

Saint Mother Teodora Guerin said, “Love the children first, then teach them.” This is what the two Kissel Sisters did. Not only did the children learn reading and comprehension, they also learned about God and God’s love through the two kind Sisters who chose to wear the habit as evidence they were servants of God. In referring to The Reading Carrel years, Sister Mary George says, “I loved every minute of it!”

Many wonderful chapters could be written about Sister’s life; and throughout every chapter, one thing would be certain. Sister was always constant in her kindness, prayer and care for others. This immense kindness was rooted in the cherished family values she carried with her always. It was these blessed values that she offered to every child, to every person, whose lives she touched.

Happy 100th birthday to dear Sister Mary George Kissel! We thank God for her life, and for a century of kindness! 

Laurette is a member of the Kissel family.