Connelly captures hearts, brightens days of Sisters at motherhouse

Sister Madonna Fink (center background) laughs as Sister Sue Miller gives Connelly a hug.

by Doug Weller
Special to The Leaven

LEAVENWORTH — Carol Schmidt didn’t hesitate when the opportunity arose to bring a little joy into the lives of retired Sisters of Charity here.

“All the things I enjoy doing — playing the piano or the organ — these Sisters taught me to do,” she said.

And so, every Wednesday, she and her husband Ben arrive at Ross Hall at the order’s motherhouse to lead a sing-along and show off their dog Connelly’s newest tricks.

“We wait for them to come in the door, and then we rush in,” said Sister Lillian Maguire, one of about a dozen residents at the Sisters of Charity nursing facility who gathered recently with the Schmidts.

Carol, who grew up in Leavenworth, has long known members of the congregation. Sister Mary Bridget Mullen, who sat in her wheelchair next to Carol’s piano, was Carol’s fourth- and fifth-grade teacher.

After graduating from the University of St. Mary, which the Sisters sponsor in Leavenworth, a Sister of Charity mentored Carol in her job as a science teacher. Later, Carol became a Sisters of Charity associate — nonvowed, laymen and women who support the congregation’s mission.

Giving back now, Carol said, is the least she can do.

At the motherhouse, the Schmidts took to their volunteer role quickly, even donating an electronic keyboard that Carol plays.

Soon after they acquired their dog, a toy poodle and bichon frise mix that bears Carol’s maiden name, Ben began teaching Connelly tricks.

“When I mentioned to my good friend Sister Mary Vincentia [Maronick] about bringing her to the motherhouse, the next day she had set it up, and I said, ‘Sure.’ We’ve been coming ever since,” Carol said.

Connelly’s eagerness to pirouette, roll over, squeak a toy and jump through a hula hoop on Ben’s commands prompts laughter and applause.

“She knows all the Sisters now,” Ben said of the dog, and she even will hop onto inviting laps.

The Schmidts’ — and Connelly’s — visits are a highlight of the week, said Jill Kruse, the activities director at Ross Hall.

The couple has developed close friendships with the Sisters, even remembering their birthdays, Kruse added.

The Schmidts, members of Sacred Heart-St. Casimir Parish in Leavenworth, were both longtime teachers in the city. Carol taught junior high science for 30 years, and Ben taught history and coached at the high school level for 35 years.

The couple met while teaching, not long after Ben’s career in the U.S. Army brought him to Fort Leavenworth from his native Pittsburgh.

Although Carol taught science, she has been a lifelong musician. She learned to play piano as a young girl, then started playing the organ in church as a sixth-grader.

“And I’m still at it,” she said, noting she is an organist for her parish.

Each Wednesday, after Connelly’s display of tricks, Carol distributes song lyrics to the Sisters, pulls out sheet music from a tote bag and begins to lead the group in a sing-along.

The couple’s enthusiasm is reflected in the delighted expressions of those gathered.

“These Sisters of Charity are always ready for a party,” Carol said with a laugh.

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