Sister Eleanor Ewertz of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), 84, who taught for 15 years in the Jefferson City diocese and later served as diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, died peacefully on Sept. 20 in St. Louis.
The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Sept. 26 in the SSND Sancta Maria in Ripa Chapel in St. Louis. Burial was in the SSND Motherhouse Chapel.
“Sr. Eleanor was an excellent educator and organizer,” said Sister Constance Schmidt, a fellow School Sister of Notre Dame.
“She had a great love for the people of Africa,” Sr. Constance continued. “As a retreat/spiritual director, she companioned individuals in their journey to God.”
Sr. Eleanor taught at St. Peter School in Jefferson City from 1961-67, at St. George School in Linn from 1967-70, and at Immaculate Conception School in Loose Creek, where she was also the principal, from 1970-76.
She then served as superintendent of schools for the Jefferson City diocese from 1979-86.
She also served as a parish organist and choir director at each of the parishes where she was missioned.
Erin Vader Ed.D., current diocesan school superintendent, spoke of Sr. Eleanor’s legacy here.
“Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Sister, I am well aware of the impact she has had in my life, and in the lives of so many,” said Dr. Vader.
She’s especially grateful for the role Sr. Eleanor played in strengthening Catholic education here.
“The 40 schools of the diocese continue to thrive due to her hard work, and the hard work of all the School Sisters of Notre Dame,” Dr. Vader stated.
Sr. Eleanor later ministered to a generation of college students in the western African nations of Ghana and Sierra Leone.
She returned to the Jefferson City diocese in 2016 to minister part-time as a retreat and spiritual director.
Answering the call
Sr. Eleanor was born on Feb. 24, 1939, in St. Louis, a daughter of John and Eleanor Ewertz.
She had SSNDs as teachers from kindergarten through high school.
“I was inspired by the people who taught me,” she told The Catholic Missourian in 2010. “They helped make me who I am.”
During a silent retreat in her senior year, she realized God was calling her to religious life.
She felt drawn to missionary work and planned to join Maryknoll. Then, she met an SSND who had just returned from a mission in Japan.
“I asked her if I could go to Japan if I became a School Sister,” she recalled. “She said, ‘Probably not right away, but you could tell them it’s what you’re interested in.’”
Sr. Eleanor entered the SSND congregation in 1957, made her profession in 1959 and was given the religious name Sister Therese of Lisieux — in honor of the Church’s patron saint of missionaries.
She professed final vows on July 30, 1965.
She later returned to her baptismal name, as many sisters did in the years after the Second Vatican Council.
Names and faces
Sr. Eleanor’s dream of becoming a missionary came to fruition in 1986. She went to Sierra Leone to teach at the Women’s Teacher College in Port Loko.
She then became a parish administrator in Mange Bureh in the same country, working also as manager of schools for eight surrounding villages.
After a sabbatical, she was missioned to Sunyani, Ghana, to teach English and religion at the Notre Dame Secondary School, which at that time had 600 students.
She also served as vocation director in Ghana, meeting with each girl who was interested in joining the SSNDs. She then served as postulant director for the young women joining the congregation there.
She later returned to Sierra Leone to teach religious studies and English at a Catholic institution now known as the University of Sierra Leone.
She came back to the United States in January of 2015, during the deadly outbreak of Ebola fever.
“When you can put names and faces on those who have died, it touches you deeply,” she wrote at that time. “Some are small children, parents, grandparents, university students.”
Her longtime acquaintances in this diocese recognized and respected the influence the people of Sierra Leone and Ghana have had on her.
“They have helped me learn to live more simply,” she said in 2010. “They have helped me understand the meaning of hospitality — what it means to welcome someone into your home and make them feel like they’re part of your family. The Sierra Leonean people do that very well.”
Together on a journey
In the next phase of her life, Sr. Eleanor turned to providing spiritual accompaniment with a heavy emphasis on a shared journey, dialogue and listening to God.
“I really enjoy doing spiritual direction and retreat work, which I did for many years in Africa,” she stated in a 2016 interview. “I enjoy accompanying people on their spiritual journey and helping them develop a deeper appreciation for God in their life.”
As her health began to fail, she was missioned to Veronica House at The Sarah Community near St. Louis in January 2020 and to Anna House in January 2023.
She was placed on hospice in early September 2023.
She died peacefully around 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 20.
“May she now rejoice in her new and eternal life as she is welcomed by her loving God,” said Sr. Constance.