Sister Josephine Fritz has a favorite chair in the lounge at the retirement community, and its not the stereotypical rocking chair.
At 100 years old and sharp as ever, Sister Josephine has earned her spot. And she doesn’t just sit and observe — she’s busy crocheting baby blankets for clients of Birthright. Helping the agency is her way of showing the women served by Birthright that someone cares about their unborn children, so they will choose life for their baby.
“I look like a bag lady,” Sister Josephine said, laughing about the bags of yarn she totes on a cart she uses to balance herself as she walks.
At a celebration of her 100th birthday, the Sister of Good Shepherd received gifts of money which she used to purchase 102 “onesies,” lightweight one-piece baby outfits she delivered to the Birthright in north St. Louis County.
Her efforts continue a lifetime of helping women and children. Growing up in Detroit during the Depression, she watched her parents make many sacrifices. She wanted to be a Maryknoll missionary, serving in China or another foreign land, noting that “the Lord kept nudging me.” But she tested positive for tuberculosis — a spot on a lung — and “that was the end of my going to the missions,” she said.
She had driven past the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, heard good things about the community of apostolic and contemplative sisters and saw a movie “on the big screen” about them. “I saw a sister in a chicken coop collecting eggs. I thought it was a real sign from God that’s where He wanted me,” she said.
Of course, she added, it helped that she wasn’t asked about the tuberculosis test. “They took me in,” Sister Josephine said.
She began her religious life as an apostolic sister, making her final profession in 1945. Her teaching career began as a substitute in primary school classes, “a pinch-hitter,” she called it. Eventually she became a house mother for middle-schoolers, earning a reputation for being able to handle the the tough kids. Telling of one particularly unruly group, she said the students eventually settled down, got into their work and sports. They won several championships.
She recalled with a chuckle one time in a classroom when they were getting ready to say prayers. One girl wouldn’t stop talking. “I looked at her, and she said, ‘Stop yelling at me.’ I told her I hadn’t said a word, and she said, ‘You yelled at me with your eyes.’”
Another time a girl told Sister Josephine she was going to run away. Sister Josephine persisted in asking her what her next steps were until the girl admitted that “they’re supposed to catch me.”
Sister Josephine served as a teacher mainly in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. She returned to school, attending Saint Louis University and earned a master’s degree in social work.
She achieved her goal of serving as a missionary in 1979 when she was asked to serve in Guam. “I guess they didn’t know what to do with me anymore,” she said with a laugh. There, she helped open a house for abused women and their children.
“It hasn’t been boring,” Sister Josephine said.
At age 80, she began using a computer.
In 1987, after returning from Guam, she decided to transfer to the contemplative community after feeling drawn to that. It was there, in Baltimore, where she and other sisters formed a crochet club. She formed another club upon moving in with the contemplative sisters in St. Louis in 1995.
Sister Josephine, who teaches crocheting to anyone who is interested, is appreciative of the donated yarn that she receives. A few years ago Rose Vierdag, who serves as a liaison picking up the blankets from the sisters, posted an announcement in the bulletin of Sacred Heart Parish in Florissant around Christmas, asking for yarn in honor of the Baby Jesus to be donated to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. The response was gratifying.
Sister Josephine lives at the Masone Pointe Care Center with several other Sisters of the Good Shepherd where they attend Mass and regularly pray in the chapel. She prays the Rosary with another sister at the bedside of a fellow sister who’s in hospice care.
Mary Mattaline, a counselor at Birthright in North County, said the organization is grateful for Sister Josephine’s donations. She said of the donated onesies, “God has blessed her to live to 100 years old. And she wanted to do something for the babies. It was a wonderful, wonderful gift.”
All of the clients receive a gift when their babies are due, Mattaline said, “and those are the kind of donations we look forward to getting. With the generous donations of people like her we are able to support our women and their babies.”