Obituary: Sister Louanna Orth
Born and raised in the Wrightwood neighborhood of Chicago, Louanna Orth considered herself fortunate to know all four of her grandparents and her maternal great-grandparents. All but one of her grandparents were born in the United States, and her maternal grandfather was the only one who claimed a heritage other than German. From barons to stow-a-ways, interest in the stories of the older generations may well have nurtured Louanna’s life-long interest in history and politics. Louanna was raised Catholic but attributed many dimensions of her faith life to her Lutheran mother. Both her desire to be a teacher and sense of a call to religious life were present at a young age. Louanna had a vivid recollection of making a formal announcement of her decision to be a religious at the party following her First Holy Communion. She remembered quite clearly that her aunt promised her an Austin car for her 18th birthday if she did not enter. Louanna later said, “Since I have never learned to drive, it’s good that I never got the Austin car!”
During grade school Louanna thought she would enter with the Franciscans who were her teachers. Her great interest in Notre Dame University’s football team, though, led her to Notre Dame High School in Chicago. On registration day Mrs. Orth pointed out the large portrait of Saint Julie that hung in the main entrance. Mrs. Orth remarked on the fact that Julie was smiling and commented that she was not as “wrapped up” as the Franciscan Sisters were. That did it for Louanna. She decided to be a daughter of Saint Julie and enter with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The more she got to know the Sisters, who were her teachers during high school, the firmer her decision. However, when the time came for Louanna to fill out her application, her mother was totally opposed to her “foolishness.” Louanna decided to wait. She had worked afternoons, weekends and summers at a local bakery for three years. After graduation she took a job with Extension Magazine and started night classes at DePaul University. Louanna also volunteered at the Catholic Worker House. Her desire to teach, and to serve the poor as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur only deepened. Louanna entered the community in 1948. For two and a half years she heard nothing from her family. Finally, the mother of another Sister from Chicago went to see Mrs. Orth and told her how happy Louanna was. Mr. and Mrs. Orth visited Louanna the next month and from then on were at peace with her vocation. Louanna later said, “In retrospect, I know that all she wanted was for me to be happy.”
Known as Sister John Martha until after the Second Vatican Council, Louanna started her 43 year teaching career with 3rd graders. She taught 3rd, 4th, 7th and 8th grade until completing her undergraduate degree in Latin in 1959. The next 10 years found her teaching Latin in various high schools. Louanna found it satisfying because the subject had a built-in challenge: making students come alive with a ‘dead’ language. She felt that teaching History or counseling might be more fulfilling, and her superiors gave her permission to start a graduate program in American History. In 1970 Louanna was sent to Notre Dame High School, Chicago to teach in the Social Studies Department. She would spend the next 23 years there teaching American History and Government, and she would serve as Department Chair for 13 of those years. In addition, Louanna taught Adult Education classes at Wright Junior College in the evening for four years. She truly loved teaching and found it very satisfying, writing, “The children whether in elementary or secondary schools, were always such fun to be with. A day was never complete unless we had laughed together and they had taught me something. To this day I have a list of the names of all those loveable and loving students, and I pray for them in a litany-like fashion frequently.”
Louanna had the opportunity to participate in the Mini-ARC renewal program the summer of 1973. It included a pilgrimage to places important in the life of Saint Julie. It was a pivotal moment in her life that she called her ‘reintroduction’ to Saint Julie. “As a history teacher, I always had certain historical individuals whom I admired a great deal. Somehow, I had just never found the right woman to place next to Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. And there she had been ever since my freshman year!” Her growing interest in Julie and the beginnings of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur caught the attention of leadership. Might she be interested in serving as Archivist? Louanna responded, “Talk to me in five years.” Leadership did convince her to serve on the international committee formed to develop a three year cycle of renewal programs that would be offered in Namur starting in 1987. Louanna loved the work and made life-long friendships with the other Sisters on the committee. By the end of her life she would help lead thirteen pilgrimages to ‘Julie Land.’
The last renewal program had barely finished when Louanna was asked to help with another program. In 1990 the Sisters of Notre Dame would celebrate 150 years of service in the United States. Even though she was still teaching full time, Louanna did the research for a timeline that was created to mark the anniversary, wrote Notre Dame in the New World: A Vision Realized, and was one of the presenters during the celebration. Eventually Louanna said ‘yes’ to serving as Archivist for the Ohio Unit of the Sisters of Notre Dame. While still teaching, she participated in a two week training program at the National Archives, began to take applicable courses at a local college and reached out to other Notre Dame Archivists for advice. Louanna wrapped up her teaching career in the spring of 1993 and Notre Dame High School celebrated her contributions by inducting her into their Hall of Fame. She moved to Cincinnati and then headed to Britain for a five week internship with her British counterpart.
Louanna had hoped that her predecessor would truly retire, but that was not the case. Louanna did not feel free to really dig in, so she focused on what she could do: her research and creating a Heritage Room and Wall of Fame that would be open to visitors. She worked with a graphic artist, her brother Lee, and Mr. Dick Horn who was a local friend of the community. Louanna had always liked hands-on activities and had helped with maintenance at both Hartley and Notre Dame High School. She loved helping to build the cases for displays, painting, and figuring out the logistics of the displays. Louanna served on the planning committee for, and was one of three keynote speakers at, the 1995 Julie Gathering. She wrote In Her Own Words to mark the 250th anniversary of Saint Julie’s birth, and gave many presentations during area celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 2004.
Planning for the future of the province led to the 1999 decision to tear down the building that housed the Archives, Museum, Wall of Fame and Heritage Room. Louanna gritted her teeth, took apart and packed up over 150 years of materials. She chose critical records to be relocated to a temporary Archive and oversaw the storage of the rest. Louanna worked with planners to create a new Archive area, Museum and storage rooms in the renovated Julie Hall. She continued to write, research, answer requests for information and oversee her staff in the temporary quarters and put them all to work unpacking as soon as it was possible to move into the new space. Once again her brother helped build cases, and the graphic artist helped her re-do and extend the timeline in a new site. The dust had barely settled when Sister Dorothy Stang was martyred. Louanna went into action preserving Dorothy’s story, providing information to researchers wanting to tell her story, and creating the Sister Dorothy Stang Archive and the Dorothy Stang Room at Mt. Notre Dame.
As Archivist, Louanna wrote dozens of memorials for Sisters who died, numerous papers on Saint Julie and the charism and history of the Congregation, and the Lives of Our Foremothers articles published internally to the community. She taught a two week unit on Institute History to Canonical Novices, gave dozens of presentations to SNDdeN throughout the United States, to schools, parishes, Notre Dame Mission Volunteers, and archivists. She collaborated with other SNDdeN archivists on projects and planned, hosted and attended meetings of Archivists locally, nationally and internationally. Louanna worked on a memorial in the Mt. Notre Dame Cemetery listing all the Sisters of the Province who are buried elsewhere, helped create the Sister Dorothy Stang Memorial and worked to bring the remains of Sisters Superior Louise and Julie home to the Mt. Notre Dame Cemetery. She oversaw the accessioning of hundreds of documents and artifacts into the Archives as numerous houses closed, including her beloved Notre Dame High School. Perhaps Louanna’s favorite part of the job was taking visitors through the Museum and having the opportunity to share the Notre Dame story face-to-face. In her spare time she created a memorial garden for her predecessor, a Heritage Room at Notre Dame High School and volunteered extensively as a Trustee and Archivist for the Reading Historical Society.
Due to failing eye sight and energy, Louanna was asked to retire in 2013. Remembering what it was like when her predecessor did not leave the office, Louanna put everything in ship-shape order and moved to a smaller space in another part of the Mount Notre Dame complex in order to give her successor the freedom to do the job. Louanna continued research and writing as a free-lance archivist. Her work included the occasional Lives of Our Foremothers article and Notre Dame in the New World in honor of 175 years of service of the SNDdeN in the United States.
Louanna was an avid participant at local community, area, province and national meetings. She took a sincere interest in the Sisters she lived with and their families. Louanna loved to tease and was a great story-teller. She gave of her time to help Sister-students from Africa and Latin America. Louanna was a woman of deep prayer who made her way to Chapel for Mass even on days when she found it almost impossible to walk. She shared her faith through homilies on special feast days and numerous reflections delivered during funerals of her Sisters. Louanna religiously followed current events, especially politics, and looked for opportunities for true discourse on complicated issues. Louanna loved to read, loyally followed both Notre Dame football and the White Sox, found the Web a great source for researching information, was interested in photography and was known to be late for supper because she was watching re-runs of her favorite TV show: Castle.
Louanna described her life as “Having a great time most of the time!” When asked what had been most meaningful in her life as a Sister of Notre Dame, she replied, “To choose the ‘most meaningful’ aspect of my life as an SND is so difficult. There have been so many ‘meaningfuls’, like the wonderful sisters, students, colleagues and parents whom I have been privileged to know over the years…. I have truly come to look upon my life as one filled with the goodness of God, even as St. Julie would want me to have done.” It was with joy Louanna celebrated her 90th birthday multiple times with her family, friends and Sisters. How fitting is it that God graced her with a truly heavenly celebration of her 91st birthday. We give thanks for all the ways Louanna allowed the goodness of God to overflow through her life to touch each of us. We join Saint Julie and Louanna in proclaiming from our hearts “Ah! How good is the Good God!”
Born April 13, 1928 in Chicago, Illinois
Parents: John Charles Orth (born in Chicago, Illinois) and Alma Hattie Glomski (born in Chicago, Illinois)
Siblings: Leroy & James
Baptized May 6, 1928 at St. William Church, Chicago, Illinois
Confirmed May 25, 1939 at St. William Church, Chicago, Illinois
Entered July 26, 1948
First Profession: January 27, 1951
Final Profession: August I3, 1956
Notre Dame High School, Chicago, Illinois, Class of 1946
Bachelor of Arts in Latin from Our Lady of Cincinnati College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1959
Master of Arts in American History from St. Louis University, St. Louise, Missouri, 1969
Master of Education from the University of Southern Illinois, Carbondale, Illinois, 1978
1951-1952 Holy Cross School, Columbus, Ohio
1952-1955 St. Robert Bellarmine School, Chicago, Illinois
1955-1959 St. George School, Cincinnati, Ohio
1959-1960 Mt. Notre Dame High School, Reading, Ohio
1960-1962 Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio
1962-1965 Carroll High School, Dayton, Ohio
1965-1970 Bishop Hartley High School, Columbus, Ohio
1970-1993 Notre Dame High School, Chicago
1973-1977 Wright Junior College, Chicago, Illinois
1993-2013 Archivist, Ohio Unit Province Offices, Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
2013-2019: Ministry of Prayer, Free Lance Archivist, Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio
Died: April 13, 2019