Sister Mary Jo Loebig OCD

Funeral Homily

St. Anne Catholic Church

Eldridge, IA

February 15, 2014

Rev. Edmond Dunn, Homilist


                          Fourscore and one year ago, in the rural farm community of Wesley, Iowa, a special gift was given to the Victor and Viola Loebig family. Mary Jo joined a spirited family and she loved them dearly. Early education came at the hands of the Franciscan Sisters, so it was understandable when she felt she was being called to serve God as a religious, she became a Franciscan. The charism of Saint Francis seemed to fit this bright, inquisitive young woman, and from an early age the beauty of creation, the care of the earth and of all God’s creatures captivated her. She was an avid gardener for many years.

              Yet another side of her also developed. Sister Mary Jo found a fascination in science – chemistry, math and physics. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in chemistry from Cardinal Stritch College, and a Master of Science degree in chemistry and math from Notre Dame, she taught those topics at the secondary level for several years.

              Later she would become fascinated with Carl Young and Sigmund Freud and the intricate workings of the mind, the meaning of dreams. What is it that makes us wonder and search and long for? What is this “veil that veils all peoples,” as the Prophet Isaiah says, “the web that is woven over all nations?” Mary Jo was a life-long learner, a seeker of Mystery beyond the horizon.

              Then it seemed that Saint Francis’ call to serve the poor was beckoning her. Mary Jo came to Davenport as a part of the Humility House of Prayer, and began to work with Father Mottet – and others, among the poor and minorities for justice.  Mary Jo could identify with the familiar stanza of Emily Dickinson, “If I could stop one heart from breaking, I shall not have lived in vain.”

              Then came another call from the learning side – a master’s degree in religion and psychology from the University of Iowa. She just did not stop!

               A course in Clinical Pastoral Education opened a new door in Sister Mary Jo’s thirst for living and sharing the compassion of Christ Jesus. And about this same time another call. A call not to the active life, but the contemplative life, the life of Carmel. Again with the psalmist, “Come,” says my heart, “seek God’s face”. Do not hide your face from me. Indeed, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”

              At Carmel in the Heartland, Sister Mary Jo found her true home. She was a genuine Carmelite… but also admitted she still had a little bit of Franciscan in her! Be that as it may, all that she had experienced and done before, she was able to share with her Sisters in Carmel. She made real the little poem, “I am part of all that I have met. Yet all experience is an arch, where through there gleams that yet uncharted ground, whose horizons move forever as I move.”

              In my meeting with Mary Jo over the years, I always felt that I learned more from her than I was able to give. Often she would share an idea that was forming in her mind for the next article in Journey and Joy. From Saint Theresa, Saint John of the Cross and Saint Therese the little flower to Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx and Teilhard de Chardin (the scientist!), all were fodder for her mind. And, of course, the poetry of Jessica Powers – Carmelite and Poet, was never far from her thoughts.

               For many years Sister Mary Jo served in served in leadership roles in the community. She also contributed her gifts and talents to the formation of new members. With her darting eyes and welcoming smile, she knew how to make people feel at home.

              From Clinical Pastoral Education she learned to listen, and listen and listen. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Sister Mary Jo was a peacemaker. She worked ceaselessly to keep the community together and happy. She was able to share her gift in music to enhance the community’s worship. Her art and her poetry and creative writing ability came through especially in the publication, Journey and Joy, a journal that she was instrumental in starting and that she edited for many years. Here again Sister Mary Jo was able to coax and encourage each of the sisters to share their insights in for articles or meditations for the sake of other Carmel communities as well as many other appreciative readers.

              In one issue, from back in the summer of 2006, I found a piece that Sister Mary Jo wrote that captured her thinking and perspective. In her obituary, it mentions her compassion for others. In this article she expresses this in a very moving way. Referring again to Emily Dickinson stanza on “stopping one heart from breaking”, Sister Mary Jo writes, “I have become aware of the unspoken burden and unexpressed suffering that many people carry around with them, day in and day out, without anyone ever knowing about it. If only we knew!” Then she adds that all the intercession on the community’s “Prayer Board” is a testimony to this, as well as the many telephone calls they receive and the visits to their door. “This means,” she says, “that all of us, no matter who we are or where we may be, are called to mediate the compassion of God.”

              She closes the essay with an instance she experienced when she was involved in Clinical Pastoral Education and visiting patients in the hospital.

 “One day while on duty, I came upon a tall man pacing back and forth at the end of a hospital corridor. When I attempted to engage him in conversation, he simply pointed to a room nearby with the door closed. His wife was there in a diabetic coma and probably would not make it. The medical staff was working on her. A short time later, I entered another room where the same man was looking down at his wife, who was laying very still, with eyes closed. I joined him. Both of us looked down at the woman. Being new at the practice, I searched within for the appropriate word. I found none. So I stood quietly beside him and said nothing.  That day, I learned the compassion of presence.”

              In the past couple of months, the Carmelite sisters here went each day to the nursing home to be at Sister Mary Jo’s side. Her words were few, if any, yet the sisters never left her alone. The one thing they all noted was the strength with which she would grasp their arm. In a real sense, on both sides, this was the compassion of presence.

              The community of Carmel missed Sister Mary Jo’s presence when she had to go to the nursing home. Her presence after today will be missed even more. Sister Mary Jo’s message to us – and we are confident she can speak clearly now, would be something like this, (again from Psalm 27) “I believe that I shall enjoy the Lord’s goodness, in the land of the living.”  Indeed, in our faith we can proclaim with Sister Mary Jo and Saint Paul, “We are confident that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

              “May the Lord God wipe away the tears from all faces.”

              And, Sister Mary Jo, we know that with Saint Therese of Lisieux, you will “spend your heaven doing good on earth.” Some would claim your have already begun.      May God bless you all.


Rev. Edmond Dunn, Homilist


Sister Mary Jo was born in Wesley, IA, March 30, 1932, to Victor and Viola (Doughan) Loebig. In 1949, she entered the Sisters of St. Francis, Milwaukee, WI, where she made her final profession August 12, 1955.

Also In 1955, she received her B.A. in chemistry from Cardinal Stritch College, Milwaukee. In 1964, Sr. Mary Jo received her M.S. in Chemistry and Math from the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN. She spent several years teaching chemistry, physics, and math on the secondary level. From 1970 to 1973, she was a core member of the Humility House of Prayer in Davenport, during which time she taught math at Assumption High School. In 1975, Sr. Mary Jo received a Master’s degree in religion and psychology from the University of Iowa, Iowa City, following which she did a year of pastoral work in St. Patrick’s parish, Fremont, NE.

In 1976, Sister entered the Carmelite Monastery in Eldridge, IA, and made her solemn profession with the contemplative community in 1981. She served many years in leadership in her community and also contributed her gifts and talents to formation of new members, and with art, writing and music. She also served as a spiritual director for a number of people in the larger community. Her desire to be of service, her compassion toward others, and her upbeat approach to life, were gifts to her community, and she was also an avid gardener for many years.

Survivors include her sisters, Ellen (Ed) McManus, Wilmette, IL, and Kay (Larry) Cook, Arnolds Park, IA, her sister-in-law, Marie (John) Loebig, and 13 nieces and 13 nephews. Sister Mary Jo was preceded in death by her parents, her brothers Merle, John, and Elry, and her sister Rita (Ken) Rasmussen.