Mother Rita Brunner

Mother Rita Brunner, beloved leader, enters eternal life

LOWELL, MI (04-24-2014) - A faithful follower of St. Francis and in likeness to him, Mother Rita Brunner, FSE "entered eternity singing" (Transitus of St. Francis Service). In her last days she was often heard singing the hymn, "Jesus, for Thee I live; Jesus, for Thee I die. Jesus, Thine am I in life and in death." Mother Rita died at the Franciscan Sisters' Canticle House on April 24th at the age of 99.

Mother Rita BrunnerMother Rita had a profound love of the Church's liturgy and musical heritage. As one of the foundresses of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, Mother Rita was known in the Community as the "Mother of Franciscan Prayer." She bore witness to the gift of contemplative prayer in the Franciscan tradition, and mentored younger Sisters as they strove for holiness of life through personal and communal prayer. Beloved by her Community for her simplicity and pureheartedness, Mother Rita had an unassuming nature which, to the newcomer, belied the greatness of her spiritual leadership. Her unmitigated love of the Church and of religious life motivated her to play a significant role in the foundation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist.

Mother Rita entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, La Crosse, Wisconsin, on August 31, 1934 and professed her perpetual vows on August 6, 1940. As a teacher and principal, she was missioned to schools in La Crosse, Halder, and St. Mary's Ridge, Wisconsin, and Festina and Roselle, Iowa. In 1962 she was sent to Santa Ana, El Salvador to teach and direct the Madre del Salvador Parish School, a mission very close to her heart. In 1966 she was called back to the United States to serve as the first Provincial Superior of the Southern Province of the FSPA Community. In 1970 she was named Provincial Superior of the newly formed Provisional Province in FSPA.

As a recognized leader, Mother Rita, along with Mother Rosemae Pender, Mother Ann Marie Kerper, Sister Grace McDonald, President of FSPA and Sister Celesta Day, Vice President, met in Rome on November 5, 1973 with the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for Religious when the decision of the Sacred Congregation was given for the foundation of the new Community, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist to begin on December 2 of the same year. Mother Rita served on the General Council of the new Community from 1973 to 1999.

Mother Rita BrunnerIn 1972, Mother Rita moved to Lowell, Michigan and founded the Franciscan Life Process Center where she directed the Franciscan Pre-school for many years. She also cared for a large orchard on the 230-acre farm, site of the Franciscan center. Together with Mother Mary Ann Schmitz, Mother Rita, as Superior, oversaw the developments of the center and the Community. In her later years, Mother Rita, true to her being "Mother of Franciscan Prayer," offered daily hours of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for the needs of the Community.

Born on July 23, 1914 in Lima, Wisconsin, Mother Rita, the oldest child of her parents, Mary and Joseph Brunner, was named Anna Marie. As a child, Anna Marie helped with work on the family farm, milking cows and tending the garden. She enjoyed playing volley ball and softball and sleigh riding in the winter. The family attended Holy Rosary Church in Lima where she received the sacraments of Baptism, First Reconciliation, First Eucharist and Confirmation. Her youngest brother, Gerald and his wife Veronica Brunner live in Lima. Her sister Margaret Poeschel and her brothers Raymond, Edmund and James Brunner pre-deceased her.

In 1931 she graduated from Sacred Heart High School in Lima. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in History with a minor in Education from Viterbo College, La Crosse, in 1946, and a Master of Arts degree in History with a minor in English from Marquette University, Milwaukee, in 1954. She attended St. Louis University for post-masters study in 1962.

Mother Mary Ann Schmitz and Mother Rita Brunner
Mother Mary Ann Schmitz (left) and Mother Rita Brunner, co-foundresses of the Franciscan Life Process Center, Lowell, Michigan.

Funeral arrangements are under the care of FSE Funeral Director Sister Patricia Glass and the Gerst Funeral Home, Lowell. A wake will be held in the Annunciation Chapel of the Franciscan Life Process Center, 11650 Downes St., Lowell, on Friday, May 2nd, from 4:00-7:00 p.m. The Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist celebrate the Annunciation (March 25th) as Mother Rita's feast day, given her life-long openness to respond in obedience and joy to the will of God as Mary did when the angel announced to her that God wanted her to be the mother of Christ. The Annunciation Chapel was named in Mother Rita's honor when it was dedicated. It includes photos of each of the Franciscan Sisters' chapels around the world as a way of union with the Community's Mother of Franciscan Prayer. The Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Mary Church, Lowell, on Saturday, May 3rd, at 10:00 a.m. Burial will follow in the Franciscan Sisters' cemetery, Lowell.

Mother Rita is survived by her brother Gerald and his wife Veronica Brunner, her brother-in-law Willis Poeschel, her sisters-in-law Lorraine Brunner and Marion Brunner, many nieces and nephews, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, the Franciscan Brothers of the Eucharist and the Franciscan Apprentices around the world.

Memorials are welcome for the chapel being built at the motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Meriden, Connecticut.

Portrait and photo with children: ©2009 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Photographer: Jim Judkis.