It is a rare thing to count life-commitment milestones in multiples of 25. The Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Ill., are blessed with 10 such milestones this year for sisters who have been faithful to living the evangelical counsels for 25, 50 and even 75 years. The eldest jubilarian is Sister Mary Anton Uthe, who was born in Story City, on April 1 — Easter Day — in 1923. A week later, at Ss. Peter & Paul Church in Gilbert, she was baptized Alice Cecilia, the fourth of eight children born to Anton and Esther Reichart Uthe.
“I was born at home,” she said. “In those days the doctors came to the house. Doctor Rose was the doctor who took care of my mother.”
Her memories of farm life have faded a bit, but she is sure of this one thing: “The boys took care of things outside and girls took care of things in the house,” she said. “That is the way it was.” She confesses that she probably killed a chicken or two in her day, but that is as much as she will concede of her memories of the farm.
Her father’s brothers, Joe and John Uthe, lived nearby with their families. She recalls visiting with her cousins, but doesn’t remember that there was much time for play. Farm life in the 1920s and 1930s required the labor of the entire family.
Uthe found her way from Story City, to Illinois through family connections. Her mother grew up in New Berlin, just west of Springfield, and knew about the Dominican Sisters there. When it was time for Alice to choose a place to put down her roots in a religious community, her brothers took her on a little road trip.
“I visited convents in Springfield, Ill., and in Sinsinawa, Wis., and didn’t know which to choose,” she said. “The Holy Spirit sent me to Springfield,” she said, admitting that, to her teenage sensibilities, the buildings in Springfield seemed neater, newer and in better condition. And her grandparents lived there. Her decision was made. Springfield it would be.
Uthe said it wasn’t difficult to leave home. By the time she did, all her siblings but the youngest, Clarence, were grown. “I was never homesick,” she recalled. “My parents knew I was going and they were happy that I had chosen a life that would make me happy.” She keeps in touch with her two living siblings, Mary (William) Smith who lives in Boone and Clarence in Elma.
Seventy-five years ago, on Aug. 4, Alice made her first profession of vows as Sister Mary Anton. She began her ministry in tiny Kampsville, Ill., teaching primary students. An allergic reaction to a plant put her in the hospital for many months, so her stay in Kampsville was brief. The following school year she travelled to Chicago for a three-year stint at St. Edward School, launching more than 50 years of ministry as an elementary school teacher and principal.
She got around during those 50 years, educating children in Richmond, Mich., Duluth, Minn., and the Illinois communities of Algonquin, Michael, Bethalto, Hampshire, Newton and Mendota. Michael, located on Route 100 in rural Calhoun County, was such a small place that the sisters taught in the public school system there. For three years Sister M. Anton taught grade four to seven.
After earning a certificate in K-14 supervision, Sister M. Anton was qualified as a school principal. From 1969-1981 she taught and served as principal in Catholic schools in Bethalto, Ill., at the southern end of the state and at Hampshire in the northwest quadrant.
During the last years of her active ministerial life she spent at Holy Cross Paris, Mendota, Ill., first teaching computer and math classes to the students then eventually becoming a pastoral minister to the sick in the parish. Since 2003 Sister M. Anton has lived with her Dominican Sisters at Sacred Heart Convent in Springfield, where she fulfills a ministry of prayer for the needs of the world and enjoys watching baseball games.
First attracted her to religious life by the atmosphere of silence and time for prayer, Sister M. Anton says now that she has spent her life doing what the Lord wanted her to do. “It had to be the Holy Spirit,” she said, punctuating the sentence with a joy-filled, peaceful smile.