Sister recalls 37 years in the classroom
Sister Rita Marie Bechel entered St. Rose Convent August 15, 1939 after graduating in eighth grade, at age 14, from St. John’s School, Plum City, Wisconsin. As an aspirant she attended St. Rose High School and graduated on May 27, 1943. As a junior, Mother Engelberta Kamp asked her to go to Big River, Wisconsin, to teach first through fourth grades from February to the end of the school year, May 1942. Sister Imagene, who lacked the physical energy to continue that year, remained at Big River, resting and helping Sister Rita Maria write weekly plans for each grade, create seatwork, correct papers and prepare report cards. Sister Rita Marie remembers the surprise visit of Father Deany, superintendent of schools, while she was teaching fourth graders long division at the blackboard!
The following summer after a three week vacation in her home in Plum City, she was tutored at Villa St. Joseph in English Literature.
As a high school senior (second semester), Sister Rita Marie sought more music in her life beyond singing hymns from the St. Rose Hymnal and Mount Mary Hymnal, voiced masses and more in the St. Rose Choir. She asked Sister Agnetis Heinz, choir director, to study organ. Sister Rita Maria started lessons on the red organ, and the next year—her novitiate year—she began lessons on the pipe organ and learned how to play the foot pedals. Music, especially organ, has been a mainstay of Sister Rita Marie’s life and faith ever since. Organ lessons continued on the pipe organ every summer at St. Rose of Viterbo College, now University, even after she received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education with a music minor on July 27, 1956 (from Viterbo). Music always lifted her spirit and has brightened her life with joy.
Sister Rita Marie's teaching career went on to span 37 years. With exception of four years, she taught grades first through fifth, which entailed hard work, studying teacher’s manuals and preparing classes.
On July 16, 1983, Sister Rita Marie responded to Sister Muriel Stork’s request to help feed meals to sisters at Villa St. Joseph. In September, Sister Lucilda Meyer, Villa organist, one of her former organ teachers, had her back on the organ bench playing for Saturday Masses and at other times. On April 2, 1984 she started as receptionist—a ministry she served for 25 years. On February 3, 1986, she followed Sister Charlene Dernbach as Villa sacristan, a ministry she holds today. She played the organ until 2011 when she was hospitalized for congestive heart failure and pneumonia for 10 days. She continues to enjoy Viterbo Bright Star Series and the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra.
Sister Rita Maria concludes: “I’ve grown through all my experiences—that’s the faith struggle, trusting in and relying on God’s help day after day. Religious life has been rewarding for me. I still choose it every day, as I faithfully renew my vows of poverty, consecrated celibacy and obedience for life.”
About Sister Rita Marie’s 37-year teaching career
Calmar, Iowa – grades 3 and 4
Mallard, Iowa – grades 1-4
La Crosse, Wisconsin – grades 1 and 2 (St. Mary’s)
St. Lucas, Iowa – grades 3 and 4
Balltown, Iowa – grades 3-5
La Crosse, Wisconsin – grades 3 and 4 / 2 and 3 (Holy Cross)
Lyndon Station, Wisconsin – grades 3-5
Balltown, Iowa – grades 1-3
Ashland, Wisconsin – grades 1-3 (Holy Family)
Eau Galle, Wisconsin – grades 1-2
Mosinee, Wisconsin – grade 2 (four years) and 3-4 (four years) (St. Paul’s)
Plum City, Wisconsin – grades 3-4 (two years), grade 4 math and music departmental and grades 5-8 (one year) and 3-4 (2 years) (St. John’s)