delivered by Carol Wagner, RDC
Sr. Madeline Desel has been my teacher and friend, wisdom figure and Divine Compassion mentor, since we first met back in 1957. As first grade teacher, she loved our class so much she was promoted to be our seventh grade teacher at St. Frances de Chantal. Not wanting to let us go, or because we were such a handful - she then followed our huge class of girls to Preston HS in 1965 (280 on the back lawn our first day), and she posted our first grade pictures in our Sophomore homeroom class.
Madeline’s name was Sr. Mary Antonio back them. She loved my Austrian parents, because she was German, AND because my dad and brother’s name was Anton, AND because June 13, the feast of St. Anthony was her feast day and my dad’s birthday.
Thank you Sr. Madeline for the profound influence and shining light of Divine Compassion throughout my life!!!
I begin this reflection with a few emails from others who have known and loved her throughout her 90 plus years of life!
A former RDC who was a student of Sr. Mary Antonio’s 50 years ago wrote: Sister Madeline was a sweetheart, a dear teacher and an inspirational Sister of Divine Compassion.
Another former RDC wrote: She was so completely awesome, so many fun and funny stories, such a caring human being. I was inspired by her early on and it stayed throughout my lifetime, just the way she was, keeping it light, and of course that unfailing sense of humor.
Another message came from Madeline’s niece Jean in England :
When we all think of Aunt Madeline, we never think about her age or ailments, because she never let us. She was so dear to all of us.
I remember so clearly playing at Preston, in the gym, typing classrooms and art studio, under the watchful and playful eye of Aunt Madeline, sharing family holidays and so many special occasions.
Later, selling ice cream at the camp, raising money for the stair lift and badgering Sister Patty for work from Providence Rest, with a strong desire to contribute her multiple gifts and talents throughout her retirement until just last month.
For us, (the Desel family) Holy Family Convent was always a sanctuary. We are so grateful for Aunt Madeline allowing us to share our lives with so many inspiring women. We shared a lovely visit so recently and our fondest memory is hearing
her laugh across the room. It is so endearing that Jan, Christopher, William and Emily remember Aunt Madeline in the same way, soft spoken yet strong willed, supportive and considerate, compassionate beyond her calling.
Her nieces Anne & Paula shared these words: Our AUNT was:
Industrious patient conscientious hard working, humble generous thoughtful and smart!
Unwavering determined, just to make a start.
Dedicated, hardworking, enduring a lot,
without complaining or calling attention to herself,
When she decided to get something done, she got it done!
Madeline’s colleagues and co-workers added:
I will miss Sr. Madeline! A no-nonsense, straight-talking woman who also had a delightful, wicked dry sense of humor.
Intensely loyal to the people and institutions she cared about, the RDCs, especially those who lived with her at Holy Family Convent, and the entire Preston community.
A “good and faithful servant”, gentle woman, devoted, humble, and kind… my good friend!
Short and to the point is how she described things and how she wanted things described to her!
A worker bee, one who needed a purpose
Strong-willed and determined, tenacious, some might say stubborn…
Always looking to get the best bang for her buck,
which included many bus tours with Mary Ellen and some with Rita
having peanut butter and cheese crackers for lunch to cut down costs!
When I sat with Madeline’s sisters at Holy Family Convent this is what they shared:
Pat Hannon was so grateful that Madeline was so organized and astute as her assistant principal from1969-85, while Madeline was also the PHS finance director AND business class teacher all at the same time!
Dorothea said Madeline was first and foremost a community person! And she never ever had a complaint during her long illnesses…
But she loved the Mets and hated vegetables!!
Carmella spoke of Madeline as an excellent teacher of business courses as a white veil RDC, and then she said
Madeline taught me typing in college, and it was the lowest grade I ever got!
We decided that that is when someone made the decision to send Madeline from the college to teach first grade at St Frances de Chantal –
Perhaps because they thought she could handle the kids from the Bronx since she herself came from Brooklyn!
Lucille Bridgetts described Madeline as very trustworthy of her sisters and friends!
There were no complaints even when she was upset she had to stop driving, and she trusted Lucille to drive her to doctor appointments.
We reminisced how she picked up driving again just last year at Providence Rest when she pinned some of us to the wall with the motorized chair she was learning to drive.
In Providence Rest she also met some of the boys in her first grade class 50 years later – and she could name every one of the 60 children in the class picture they brought to show her.
We all know Madeline absolutely loved desserts, in particular ice cream and chocolate over healthy foods! Butter pecan ice cream was her favorite - but when not available she settled for Wednesday buy one get one free Carvel hot fudge sundaes, late night at Providence Rest!
AND just last week it was McDonalds dollar sundaes over the food pureed at Einstein Hospital or at home these last days on hospice.
The Desels insisted we focus today on Madeline’s favorite quote:
Whatever you ask for in prayer BELIEVE that you have received it and it will be yours,
Which she believed – even when the Mets were losing, or whenever life was difficult!
Whatever you ask for in prayer BELIEVE that you have received it and it will be yours…
Each of us have been touched deeply and blessed by Sr Madeline Desel –
who was filled to overflowing with Divine Compassion and love for each of us here, and all those she taught and mentored and knew so well…
For the all the children and adults, sisters, families and friends, she embraced in her 60 plus years as part of the RDC community and forever faithful in mission,
we celebrate the life and legacy of Sr. Madeline Desel today.
From her home in Brooklyn to Good Counsel, from St Mary’s Katonah to St Frances de Chantal elementary schools, as college professor to first grade teacher, from seventh grade at St Frances to Preston in 1965, Sr. Madeline was Sr. Mary Antonio to all of us those years. Sr Madeline was business teacher, assistant principal and finance director, office manager and administrative assistant at Preston for 50 plus years.
Later years Madeline was finance director for the RDCs and GED math teacher at Mercy Center in the South Bronx. From her wheel chair in more recent years, she was bookkeeper at PCC, and helped in soliciting donations and funds for all things Preston.
Madeline’s legacy lives on in the lives of each and all of us whom
she has taught and loved, mentored and embraced –
always welcoming us with her smile, and into her wide open arms
and heart of Divine Compassion the past 90 plus years!