Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Green Bay, WI

Enriching the lives of God's people through prayer, presence and hospitality

Sister Mary Samuel Brunner brings beauty wherever she goes

By Renae Bauer

On the outskirts of the city of Shawano sits a pale, daffodil-yellow bungalow that is home to Sister Mary Samuel Brunner. As I pull into the driveway, Sister smiles from her lawn chair that she shares with her 4-month-old puppy named Comfort who is nestled on Sister’s lap. The air is warm, the sun is shining. Orioles and woodpeckers flutter to and from the bird feeder hanging in a budding tree in the front yard. The towering pines insulate us from any urban noise. Honestly, I can’t imagine a nicer place to be.

Sister Mary Samuel is intimately familiar with Shawano and its surroundings. From 1996 to 2015 she was the pastoral worker for St. Francis Solanus Parish in Gresham and provided liturgical music for St. Michael Parish in Keshena. Shawano County is also where her parents, Arthur and Elinor, farmed and raised their four children: Dave, Tom, Mike and Mary Jo, as she was known then. On the farm is where Sister learned and embraced faith, simple living, and relationships.

“I love people,” she says with joy. “Not a day goes by without someone stopping by,” illustrating her unshakable belief in humanity’s interconnectedness.

Even though Sister officially retired from parish ministry about four years ago, she continues to minister to people using her creative gifts. She plays the piano for some weekend liturgies at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Cecil and Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano. When possible, she helps families plan the music for funeral liturgies -- something she’s very comfortable doing. She says life on the farm taught her that with every beginning comes an ending. “We saw life on this earth as temporary; we learned to deal with death. ... Hopefully, I’m helping people with their grief.”

Another ministry Sister Mary Samuel still provides is to people who are homebound or living in nursing homes. She brings her hand-painted antique replica dolls along on her visits as conversation starters. “I share the dolls in hopes that people will enjoy their beauty and encourage them to talk about childhood memories and stories of their own dolls.”

In addition to being a musician and doll maker, Sister also sews, decorates eggs in the drop-pull style, dabbles in pen and ink drawing, and the list goes on. When asked where her artistic gifts come from she’s quick to credit her lineage -- “It’s in our genes,” she says -- and the people whose company she’s kept. Over the years, she has deliberately sought out people who are experts in their fields or masters of their art, a lesson passed down from her parents. She says immediate and extended family, Sisters, teachers, co-workers, priests and the people she encounters each day have made her creativity possible. “All these people have enriched me,” she adds.

And from her yellow home Sister shares her life of simplicity, joy and creativity with those she meets along the way. She knows who -- and whose -- she is.

PORCELAIN DOLLS: Sister Mary Samuel makes and paints with nearly microscopic precision porcelain dolls. These two are based on a mold by doll maker Jean Nordquist. For scale, the eggs in the basket and at the dolls' feet are about the size of peas.


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