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On the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi, after sixty-eight years as a Franciscan Sister of the Poor, Sr. Marie Heitkamp entered into new life with Jesus, whom she loved with her whole heart. During the last several years of her life, Sister lived at Mercy Franciscan Terrace and was a member of the local Community of Sisters who also lived there. As her body became more frail, her Franciscan family and her sister Dorothy Motsch and niece Judy Spagnoli came together around her to pray for strength for her journey into eternal life. The staff of Mercy Franciscan Terrace had grown to love Sr. Marie, confident that God would hear her prayers for them. Sister met the One who created her and called her to dedicate herself to His people on September 17, 2009, at 1:20 p.m., while the Sisters prayed at her bedside. Then at 1:30 p.m., they joined the residents in the chapel just outside her room to pray the rosary.

Geneva was the sixth of seven children born to Matilda Niekamp and Clement Heitkamp who made their home on the east side of Dayton, Ohio. She was born on November 28, 1924, and was baptized two days later. The Sacraments were important occasions in the life of Geneva, and in her later years she recorded that she made her First Communion on April 28, 1933, at the age of nine. Providing for such a large family at the same time the country went through the depression years was a challenge for the loving parents of Geneva, Grace, Arthur, Dorothy, Hugh, Norbert and Kenneth. Geneva attended St. Mary Grade School, graduating with her class in 1938. This was the same year that she received the Sacrament of Confirmation on February 20. Geneva attended high school at the Aspirancy on the property of St. Clare Convent in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Geneva chose to respond to God’s call to the religious life as a Franciscan Sisters of the Poor on January 6, 1941, just five weeks after her sixteenth birthday. When she received the habit of the Congregation and began her canonical novitiate, Geneva received the name Sister Marie as her religious name. Following her First Profession of Vows on September 8, 1943, Sr. Marie returned to her studies; she received her diploma from Our Lady of the Angels in 1944.

During her time as a junior professed member of the Congregation, Sr. Marie was missioned to mendicant ministry at St. Raphael Convent in Hamilton, Ohio, and St. Michael Convent in Steubenville, Ohio. She ministered to the poor by begging for food and other necessities and visiting the sick. At this time she also began taking college courses that would prove to be foundational to her future ministries.

On September 8, 1948, Sr. Marie made her Perpetual Profession of Vows. She continued in mendicant ministry at St. John Convent in Cincinnati, worked part time at Catholic Charities, and attended classes at Our Lady of Cincinnati College. From 1950 to 1959 Sr. Marie served as the Mistress of the Aspirants. She earned a BA Degree in Psychology from the University of Dayton and an MA degree in Clinical Psychology from Xavier University. In 1961, Sr. Marie pioneered the position of Vocation Director for the Congregation. Sr. Marie went to Rome in 1965 to learn the techniques for giving the Movement for a Better World Retreats and traveled extensively throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Jamaica as a member of the retreat team.

Sr. Marie was a life long student, always determined to gain whatever knowledge she could to help her minister more effectively. She earned a doctoral degree in special education (focusing on the emotionally impaired) from Wayne State University in 1978. Sr. Marie later attended the University of Detroit where she earned an MA in School Psychology in 1982. Sr. Marie used her educational background in a variety of ways, serving children with special education needs in a school in Detroit, Michigan.

Throughout her sixty-eight years as a Franciscan Sister of the Poor, Sr. Marie always valued and placed special emphasis on her personal and communal prayer life. Together with Sr. Elizabeth Tierney she formed a contemplative community know as Mary’s Dwelling Place located in the north wing of St. Clare Convent. With the death of Sr. Elizabeth and Sr. Marie’s failing health, this project ended in 2005 when Sr. Marie moved to Mercy Franciscan Terrace.

Sr. Marie left behind a detailed list of her many and valued experiences as a professed woman religious. In addition her life is reflected in a paragraph she left for us dated February 22, 1999 that she titled “A Photographic Directory Biography of Sorts:”

The three kings set out, and there went ahead of them the Star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the Child was. When they saw that the Star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. (Matt2:9-10) Like the three kings, I set out on a bus from Dayton to Hartwell Ohio on 1-6-41 to follow a Star. I can still vividly recall and hear the crunchy snow as I walked from the bus stop to 60 Compton Road around 6:30 PM and was so warmly welcomed by Sr. Belina at the switchboard. Since then I have experienced the manifestation of God’s loving providence and His love and presence unfolding in my daily life. My gifts were accepted, transformed, broken, shared with a waiting world and nourished. With the three kings, my life has been a search for God filled with hope, excitement and dreams.

As I recall my journey, it began with begging for the poor door to door for four years, which led to social work ministry, directing the aspirancy for nine years, being a vocation director, giving Better World Retreats with a team all over the country, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Then on to Detroit, Michigan, where I ministered as a school psychologist in the public schools and later as a clinical psychologist. Presently I am in pastoral ministry for the elderly. The story of the Magi is mine and is about recognition. Seeking is one thing, recognizing when we find it is another. It is about recognition of God and of ourselves in that light. When I looked into our dark skies for direction, I saw a Star. When I had the courage to risk and trust, I found Him. When I was wise enough to recognize God was with me, I was able to bow down and worship. The Star that led me and shone above me gradually began shining within me to be a light for the world. Like the Magi I have returned another way, for nothing will ever be the same.

Sr. Marie, you followed the Star that led you to know the presence of God in your life to the very end. We thank you for sharing that Star with us as we commend your spirit to the love of your life, Jesus the Christ, your staff of life on earth and now live on in His presence for all eternity.

Sister Arleen Bourquin, SFP