Lorraine “Jeanne” (Jeanne Wesley, Sister Jeanne, Sister Donna Jean) Wasielewski “Wesley” Obituary
Lorraine Wasielewski (aka “Jeanne Wesley”, “Sister Jeanne”, and “Sister Donna Jean”) passed away on April 28, 2019, at the age of 82. She lived a full life and touched so many souls during her time her on earth in Minnesota, Chicago, Wisconsin, and Texas, leaving a true legacy of love, compassion, acceptance, humility, and charity throughout her life.
A funeral mass will be held on Saturday, August 3rd 2019 from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM at the Church of Saint Casimir (934 Geranium Avenue East, Saint Paul, Minnesota). Reception lunch and casual “Celebration of Life” gathering to follow at a family residence in Stillwater, MN. All are invited to attend the mass or Celebration of Life lunch or share a memory of Jeanne here for her family. (Click on her picture or the "Memories" to see more pictures of Jeanne throughout her life).
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you do an act of kindness for another in Jeanne’s honor or, for a few dollars, have some trees planted in Chippewa National Forest in her beloved home state of Minnesota in her honor at the Arbor Day Foundation https://shop.arborday.org. Her family also treasures notes left about Jeanne here, either a candle tribute or a free sympathy message saying what you remember about Jeanne, as getting stores of what she was like before retirement is the greatest gift of all at this time.
Lorraine (“Jeanne”) was born to Thomas and Wanda Wasielewski in St. Paul, Minnesota, on March 9, 1937, the 5th of 6 children. She grew up very modestly during the Great Depression in a small 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home with great memories of a large holiday gatherings with many aunts, uncles, and beloved cousins. Her nickname was “Boots” because she always loved to wear cowboy boots. She also loved the playhouse her father built them, ice and roller skating, paper dolls, and getting a nickel so they could go to the movies on the weekend. She suffered from polio as a child and spent several months in an iron lung. She recovered full mobility, but post polio syndrome likely caused her some struggles in later life fatigue as she was known to be able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat in odd positions on the couch, chair, dressing room, or anywhere else, often with everyone laughing because it was mid-conversation.
As a child, she was generally quiet and compliant, but did tell a story of taking her father’s railroad employee pass as a 12 year old and, in her Catholic schoolgirl uniform, getting on a train from Minnesota to Chicago without telling anyone and with no address, to go “rescue” her beloved older sister, Irene, from working in a casino where she’d overheard the Chicago mafia were present. So even at a young age, her drive to help people far outweighed any thoughts of “What could possibly go wrong?”
At 16 years of age, Jeanne chose to honor her parents and the deep Catholic faith they had by joining the convent. She went through her training in Chicago and became a teacher at St. Florian, St. Stanislaus, Holy Innocents, St. Bruno, St. Linus, Christ the King, and possibly more. She earned her Bachelor’s and then Master’s Degrees from Loyola University while also teaching full-time. Though her students from later years formed life-long friendships with her and wrote letter upon letter about what a great teacher she was, she said one of her only regrets in life was that as a young teacher, barely older than the kids she was teaching and managing a classroom of up to 55 kids, she used very firm discipline to control her classrooms because she didn’t know any other way. She felt she’d missed a chance to show those students Christ’s compassion and love like she did as she matured as a teacher. Things definitely changed from those early days, though, as in doing some research on her life, her daughter discovered just how many lifelong friends she made during her time in the convent, maintaining contact and close friendships with a number of former students and their families for most of her life.
One of her favorite teaching assignments was in Hatley, Wisconsin, a very small farming community in Wisconsin where the town and church integrated like a family. One of the sisters she worked with there said they were so welcomed in to the community and relished watching and participating in all the sports with the kids including basketball, baseball, skiing, and even playing sports right alongside the kids in their habits! There are pictures of her in the memories section ice skating and playing baseball in her habit! She made several very close friendships in Hatley including some former students who wrote letters with her for life and even came to visit her each year when she retired in Minnesota and the student who later became the priest who baptized her daughter. Jeanne was even voted Lion’s Club Person of the Year for her work with the children and community, which was an unexpected and significant honor since she was Catholic and it was a Protestant organization. Jeanne, however, was very humble, and her family would not have known this if not for one of her friends telling them!
After several years as a principal, Jeanne realized it was time for a life change after 23 years in the convent and at 38 years old. A great relationship with one of the teachers she was supervising changed the course of her life as that teacher’s husband put in a good word for her where he worked at UPS as she was trying to find a job upon leaving the convent. SHE LOVED UPS!!! She identified deeply with founder Jim Casey’s philosophy of “Take care of your customers and employees and the profits will take care of themselves” and her extremely strong work ethic, creativity, integrity, and ability to get along with people made her a cherished executive assistant to many regional managers, many with whom she also developed lifelong friendships. She also worked as a Human Resources manager, where one of her employees said she was the best boss she’d ever had. Her daughter remembers her bringing home tons of work at Thanksgiving making labels on her typewriter for all the turkeys the company gave out to their employees for the holiday. Other claims to UPS fame may be the hundreds and hundreds of cookies she baked for the UPS drivers every Christmas and the fact that, for the rest of her life, she could NEVER see a UPS driver in the community without running after his truck to offer him money to buy a cold drink. She stayed in contact with all the friends she’d made over the years there and was feverishly proud of UPS and being a UPS retiree. For the rest of her life, she couldn’t see a UPS truck without smiling. Most of her daughter’s memories of her mom are from after she retired as she was only 15 years old at that time, so she is trying to piece together more about Jeanne from people who knew her during her life in the convent and at UPS. All messages and phone calls sharing an impression or memory of Jeanne from that time are such treasures to her.
In 1979, at the age of 42, Jeanne became the single mother of an almost 10 pound baby girl. She was just as incredible of a mother as she was friend, sister, and daughter, giving her whole heart to motherhood like she did with everything, and raised a daughter who will be forever grateful to have had such an amazing mom who did everything possible to give her a wonderful start in life. She and her daughter were extremely close and she spent the last 15 years of her life “snowbirding”, spending the summers in Minnesota and the winters with her daughter in Texas, where she loved their breakfast tacos and chili rellenos and hated their big city traffic.
Jeanne modeled her values of kindness towards all living beings and could literally NEVER see someone in need without trying to help at all costs. She helped more people than one could possibly imagine with her time, helping so many people move, creating resumes for people, helping foster many wayward animals, and she even volunteered with the Salvation Army with a devastating flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota, an experience she would talk about for the rest of her life with the way the flood victims’ incredible strength and positive outlooks in the face of tragedy touched her. She did so much for so many.
She also helped many people who hit hard times financially in any way that she could and she faithfully donated to charities every year and her church every week, always believing giving to God and others in need was a priority no matter what. She was the true definition of a giver and not a taker. She felt so much gratitude to UPS for the financial opportunities it provided for her to care for her daughter and so many people and charities in need over the years.
Jeanne could also always be counted on if you just needed someone to listen, no matter what your challenge, as she was one of the most compassionate, impartial, non-judgemental people one could ever meet, and she would answer her phone anytime day or night! A beloved lifelong friend said, “One of the things I loved most about Jeanne was that when I would come to her with a problem, she wouldn’t just take my side, she would try to help me understand what the other person may have been thinking or feeling and that helped me so much.” Jeanne never wanted anyone to know she was in the convent because she worried it would make them feel uncomfortable being open with her and she always wanted people to feel comfortable around her.
Jeanne said and lived the motto of “Judge not lest ye be judged”, and she truly felt compassion, care, and love for all people no matter their beliefs, words, or actions. She respected and accepted people from all religions and political parties, even if their beliefs were different than her own, she never looked down upon anyone, and she did not notice race, class, or anything else. In fact, to hilariously demonstrate this point, she once helped a police officer get his house spruced up for sale, unwittingly asking the “nice boys outside” across the street to help with painting, much to the horror of the police officer who knew them as clearly sketchy-looking drug dealers. Jeanne didn’t see that. She just saw “good people” in ALL people. Jeanne always saw the best in people and never lost hope for anyone, truly no matter what. Helping people with deep troubles doesn’t always work out the way one intends, but she never regretted trying, even if it backfired. She always believed that it was her responsibility to help others and what they did with that help was between them and God and not her place to judge. One could never find a more accepting, giving, or forgiving soul.
Growing up in the Great Depression to very frugal parents and living 23 years in the convent, Jeanne learned to be content with simple and thrifty living and believed strongly in being financially responsible. She believed in living below your means, prioritizing saving, and that it was important to teach her daughter that the world doesn’t owe you anything and you won’t always get what you want, but you should be grateful for what you have because it is more than many in the world have. She also modeled a very strong work ethic for your employer and one of her former bosses said she even came to work in a major snow storm despite being pregnant. Though it was hard balancing being a single mom and having a full-time career, both her co-workers and her daughter truly felt she gave everyone 100% all the time.
Jeanne wore the same old clothes for decades (a 40 year old nightgown from her mother was a cherished possession) and saved and reused tin foil, paper towels, scrap pieces of paper, etc. She never used her “good” items, because you saved those. It became a family joke that you had to be careful opening presents because she reused the same bows for 25+ years, and from her days of poverty in the convent, it also became a family joke that she would give blank cards so the recipient could enjoy them and then reuse them to give to someone else, completely missing that the personalized message was a very important part of a card.
Jeanne lived simply for most of her life because she believed priorities belonged in saving for retirement and that doing things was more important than having things. She ensured her daughter didn’t get more than 6 toys for Christmas so she wouldn’t get spoiled and learn to expect she would get everything she wanted in life, but even when money was tight, she made sure to get her involved in sports and activities she was interested in. She also saved up to take her daughter on vacation most years to make memories together, often to have time with other family members. Her family has many cherished vacations with lots of smiles to look back on fondly, including taking most of her family on a cruise for her daughter’s graduation from high school, giving time and memories as a gift. She even experienced visiting many beautiful and sacred sites in Europe when visiting with her sister, brother-in-law, and daughter, though we are sure she wouldn’t have gone had she known in advance that she couldn’t get her MUCH beloved Diet Pepsi, extra ice (or any ice), and American versions of desserts in Europe. One of the best times of the trip was when she gleefully hit the button for a Diet Pepsi at the end of the trip and out popped a can of Coke (picture in the memories). She also was so grateful to have an unexpected opportunity to visit Hawaii and cherished the time and memories with her daughter and sisters, especially since it was the only vacation with her oldest sister Irene before she got ill. As her daughter looked back through all the pictures of Jeanne, those vacations brought back so many fond memories that she believed her mother was definitely onto something with her priorities.
Feeling it her duty to stay informed, Jeanne religiously watched ALL the news programs and before the days of the VCR/DVR, her daughter remembers life being planned so one wouldn’t miss 20/20 with Barbara Walters, the evening news and world reports, 60 minutes with Andy Rooney, Nightline with Ted Koppel, CBS Sunday Mornings with Charles Kuralt, etc. She believed in judging politicians on their integrity, fiscal responsibility, and leadership, and would give respect where it was earned regardless of party lines.
Jeanne retired from UPS in 1995 and honestly, nobody probably enjoyed retirement more than Jeanne. She would frequently say, “I am so happy. I just wish so much that everyone in the world could experience happiness like this.” Upon retiring, Jeanne moved from Chicago back to her beloved home state of Minnesota where she was able to live among some of her biggest passions, nature and wildlife, living in several different beautiful homes that were on lakes, in the woods, and finally, a home on the lake AND in the woods that she designed herself, again thinking of others by building a lower level apartment where any relatives or friends would stay if they needed a place to go and some help. Anyone who knew her at this phase of her life knew how much her lake home in St. Cloud captured her soul and its serenity touched the hearts of anyone who visited.
Despite her friends saying she was always on the go earlier in life spending lots of time visiting friends and family and doing activities with her daughter, after retirement, she lived a quieter life and it was harder to meet new friends when she moved to Minnesota and didn’t work to meet people. Jeanne did make one more lifelong friend in a neighbor she met at that time, though, connecting her with the widow of her cousin. They had a beautiful marriage where they constantly referred to Jeanne as “Our Angel”, though true to form, Jeanne would smile and say, “Oh, no. God uses crude tools to do his work and he just used me to bring you two together!”
Jeanne was a person of true integrity, once making her daughter put a $20 she excitedly found in a store and expected to keep in the lost and found “Because it belongs to someone and that money may be very important to whoever lost it.” Jeanne thrived on finding ways to help others, learning, and she was also very funny in her own cute way, leaving a note in her daughter’s baby book with some horrible pictures saying, “Just in case you needed further proof that you were not a very photogenic baby.”
A person with simple wants, her daughter remembers that some of Jeanne’s favorite things were her family and friends, Diet Pepsi, sweets, animals, dumplings, butter (and LOTS of it), nature, sweets, comfy house dresses and robes, computer games (that she would call her family to help with as the timer ran out!), learning, helping others, sweets (a theme!), the men in her life (her Pomeranians Bandit, Quincy, and Max), being thoughtful to others, having a “hoochie” (cigarette) with family, travel, shopping for bargains, her Toyota Avalon, classical music, fried foods, feeding birds, true crime shows, and, as mentioned, helping others. Her faith was also a huge part of her life and she always went to church every Saturday evening.
Her passionate dislikes were vegetables, sushi, drinking water, and anything else that may be construed as recommended for “healthy living”, and yet, she lived a good long life with barely any medications, which was good because she hated taking pills. After complications with water on her brain, Jeanne moved down to Texas full-time the last 2.5 years of her life to be closer to her daughter. She spent the last 1.5 years in a memory care facility where she and her dog were loved by residents and staff alike. Staff would say how she would always invite them to hide in her room and watch crime shows with her because they were working too hard and needed a break.
If Jeanne had any faults, it was that she was a true giver and had a hard time taking help, not wanting to feel like she was a burden to or taking advantage of others. She was strong and independent and didn’t like inconveniencing others, so it was a hard transition from the freedom and self-sufficiency of having her own home and car to eventually living in a memory care facility once she started having falls and needed extra assistance, but in the end, she had some beautiful times there including an Oktoberfest where she was smiling and singing along to the live music accordion, drinking a Coors light and gushing about how many wonderful memories the music and that brand of beer brought up of family weddings from her childhood. Again, a “comfy dresser”, the facility got everyone dressed up in beautiful gowns with corsages for a Valentine’s formal event just months before she passed away, and her smile with all the people telling her how beautiful she looked was priceless as she’d always felt like the “plain one” in the family.
Jeanne passed away from complications from congestive heart failure and mid-stages of Alzheimer’s, though to the end it was a true gift that she remembered and cherished her family and friends from all stages of her life. Though she was clearly not feeling great, she did her best to be a good host to her relatives who came to visit her the week before she passed away, wiped out but asking when they left, “Do you think they had a good time?” That was Jeanne, always putting others before herself. Because of this, Jeanne had many friends she loved and kept up with for life, despite long distances between them. She seemed to lose touch with most people around the last 5-15 years when she started spending winters in Texas (no cell phones to keep her phone number consistent) and her brain challenges changed her behavior and abilities, especially her ability to stay in touch. If you were among her friends who kept in contact with her for many years or decades but then lost touch during that time, please know that she always spoke so highly of you, loved you, remembered you, and cherished you, even if her brain changes meant she couldn’t manage phone calls, letters, or emails like she used to to tell you so.
Jeanne’s faith in God was very strong, and before moving to Texas, she loved her small parish, St. Marcus, where she would go to mass every Saturday. Jeanne had strong faith that God, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary would be there for her when she transitioned from this life, and she passed away on April 28, 2019, with her daughter by her side and her beloved niece, Mary, on speakerphone saying the rosary to her like she and her sister Irene used to do together. She is preceded in death by her parents, brotherJerry and sisters Delores, Irene, and Corrine, niece Cindy Eskandary, and lifelong friend Anita Jambor, her daughter’s godmother. She is survived by her daughter, Donna Wasielewski, of Austin, TX, her sister, Jeanne Bertram, niece Mary Christiansen, brother-in-law Paul Glass, and other relatives, many lifetime friends, and #Momisms fans from her Facebook page (Donna Wasielewski’s mom and the daily Momisms) with years of her charming and funny quips. She is also survived by all the good she put into this world during her time here on this earth. When one of her schemes to help someone wouldn’t work out quite right, she would smile, shrug shoulders, and sheepishly say, “Well, on my tombstone it will say ‘She Meant Well”, and indeed she did.