Seek Truth • Make Peace • Reverence Life


Sister Mary Annette Glendening

The two Glendening sisters were very much alike—almost like twins. Although Sister Mary Annette was the older, her younger sister, Sister Mary Faith, preceded her in death. Both Glendening sisters entered eternity in January, although four years apart. Sister Mary Faith died on January 20, 2008, and Sister Mary Annette died on January 26, 2012.

The daughter of Joseph and Sybil (Zbanek) Glendening, Sister Mary Annette was born in Lake Orion, Michigan, on May 7, 1922, and baptized Faith. She was preceded by her brother Douglas, and followed in 1924 by her sister Fern, the future Sister Mary Faith, and later by another brother, Vernon.

Her father, Joseph Glendening, was from Winnipeg, Canada, and of Scottish descent. Although he professed no religion, other members of his family were staunch Protestants and anti-Catholic. The family left Canada, and settled in Lake Orion, Michigan. Because the parents put much emphasis on education and the choosing of a worthwhile profession, Joseph became a pharmacist. Of his three brothers, one became a chemist, another an optometrist, and the third a lawyer. His sister married a bacteriologist.

Sister’s mother, Sybil Zbanek, came from Bohemian and German ancestry, and grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. When she was a baby, her father died in an accident. Her mother, who was a nurse, worked in a hospital, and a neighbor took care of Sybil. With the mother’s permission, the neighbor had Sybil baptized in the Catholic Church. Sybil had no further contact with the Church until she was a junior in high school. At that time, one of her friends persuaded her to attend St. Joseph Academy in Cedar Rapids. There, she studied the Catholic faith, made her First Communion, and became a fervent Catholic. Upon graduation from high school, she enrolled in a business college in Detroit and found a secretarial position. St. Aloysius Church was near the office where she worked, and she began attending daily Mass.

Joseph Glendening was also in Detroit. He was working as a pharmacist in a drug store near St. Aloysius Church. In due time, he and Sybil met and eventually decided to marry. He knew that his family would disapprove, but he agreed to be married by a priest. After their marriage they lived in Lake Orion, not too far from his family, and four children were born to them.

They lived across the street from St. Thomas Chapel. Since there were few Catholics in Lake Orion, Masses were not celebrated often, except during the summers for residents in nearby cottages. Sybil Glendening took care of the small church, and when Masses were celebrated, Faith – who was taking lessons – would play the organ, Sybil would sing, Vernon would serve the Mass, and Fern would pray in one of the pews. During the year, they frequently made up the congregation. Faith and her younger sister Fern became fast friends.

Sister Annette wrote, “From the time I was little, my mother always told me how wonderful the nuns were and how they gave up their lives for God.” This impressed her, and she decided that she would some day be a nun. There was, however, no Catholic school in Lake Orion, so the children attended a public school, and received most of their religious education from their mother.

When Faith was in sixth grade, the family moved to Grand Rapids for a year, and then to Oxford, Michigan, where the children attended a Catholic school in Pontiac for a short time. There, Faith met the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters and loved them. Thoughts of becoming a sister became stronger. When the bus that took them broke down and could not be repaired, they were forced to return to the public school.

Besides piano lessons, Faith also took clarinet and French horn lessons and played in the school band. She loved music, and decided that she wanted to teach it.

Unable to resist his family’s influence, Joseph Glendening left his wife and children when Faith was in her teens. There were visits and contact with him, however, and he finally became a Catholic before his death in 1974. When her husband left, Sybil Glendening moved to Detroit and found work. She enrolled her children in St. Theresa School. There, Faith met the Adrian Dominican Sisters and soon determined to become one of them. Shortly after graduation in June 1940, she entered the postulate in Adrian on June 23. Fern followed her into the Congregation a year later.

With her group, Faith received the habit and her religious name on January 7, 1941. She professed her first vows on January 8, 1942. On Fern’s reception day in December 1941, Sister Annette felt that Fern honored her by becoming Sister Mary Faith.

After profession, Sister Annette’s assignment was to study at Siena Heights College in Adrian. She studied for four months, but in May 1942 she was sent to St. John School in Albion, Michigan, to replace the Sister-musician there who was ill.

The school year beginning in September 1942 saw her at St. Agatha in Gagetown, Michigan. She described this mission as “a tiny farming community in the Thumb of Michigan.” There, as in most of her assignments, she served as musician as well as teacher of the primary grades. Sister Faith was in Bad Axe, only eighteen miles away, and the two managed to have frequent visits.

After three years in Gagetown, both Sisters Annette and Faith were sent to St. Mary School in Rome, Georgia, where Sister Annette remained for eight years. Again, she taught primary students. During the summers she studied at Siena Heights College in Adrian, from which she received a bachelor’s degree in 1948, with a major in music and minors in Latin and English.

In 1953 both sisters were sent to Jacksonville, Florida, but not to the same school. Sister Annette was assigned to Assumption School in South Jacksonville, where she taught on the kindergarten and primary levels for six years. The two sisters, however, were able to see each other frequently. In 1955, as a result of summer study, Sister Mary Annette was awarded a master’s degree in music by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

In 1959 Sister Annette received “the shock of my life.” She was brought back to Michigan and appointed superior and principal at St. Luke School in Flint. Filled with trepidation, she began her six-year term, which she fulfilled successfully. From then on, she remained in Michigan. When her term in Flint ended, she was sent to St. Michael in Grand Ledge, where again she was principal, but for only two years, and to St. Brigid in Detroit for three years. These years included a period of sorrow in September 1969, when she and Sister Faith joined their siblings at the funeral of their mother.

She taught at Adrian Catholic Central Elementary School in 1970, but the school closed in 1971. While looking for another position and considering an offer, Sister Annette played for a large Mass at St. Joseph Church in Adrian, and was offered the position of parish musician there. This included teaching music and giving piano lessons. Sister Faith was teaching at St. Joseph Academy in Adrian, and so Sister Annette found this a welcome offer. She accepted it. The yearly piano recitals which followed were publicized in the Adrian newspaper, the Daily Telegram.

Within a short time, there was an opening for a parish minister at St. Joseph Parish. Sister Faith left St. Joseph Academy, and applied for the position. She was hired, and so the Glendening sisters began over thirty years of service to St. Joseph Parish. Their picture and a description of their ministry appeared in the autumn 1974 issue of In Between, a publication of the Adrian Dominican Congregation. Upon the occasion of their Golden Jubilee in 1991, an article about them, and their picture, appeared in the Daily Telegram.

In 1977 both sisters were injured in an automobile accident while on their way to the Morenci, Michigan, hospital with Communion for a sick parishioner. A long article in the parish bulletin revealed the shock and concern felt by the pastor and people of the parish, and stressed the love felt for them and the need for their presence. Upon recovery, they both resumed their service to St. Joseph Parish. In 1998 the death of their brother Douglas, who lived in California, brought a period of sadness to them.

Both retired in 1999, but continued to serve as volunteers at St. Joseph Parish until 2002. At that time, they moved into the Dominican Life Center at the Motherhouse, first into a Regina apartment, but later into the Maria Building. With her walker, or in her Amigo (electric wheelchair), and displaying a beaming smile, Sister Annette, with her sister, was often seen in the Maria halls and dining room. She ended her autobiography by writing, “God has been very good to let Sister Faith and me live together for so many years. What return can I make to the Lord for His many blessings to me?”

Sister Annette never fully recovered from the trauma of her sister’s death in 2008, coupled with the death of her brother Vernon soon after. She joined them in eternity on January 26, 2012, at the age of eighty-nine.

A wake-remembrance service was held for Sister Annette in St. Catherine Chapel on January 30. Sister Jo Gaugier, Prioress of Holy Rosary Mission Chapter, extended sympathy and welcomed all those who had come to bid Sister Annette farewell: her niece Beth Wronski and husband, her nephews Douglas and Gregory and their wives, and the many friends, including her many Dominican friends. She summarized Sister Annette’s life and ministry, and added:

In the most active days of her life Sister Annette enjoyed cooking, too, especially baking, and is remembered for baking “perfect” hot cross buns during Holy Week by a sister who lived with her at St. Brigid Convent in Detroit. In 1999, at age seventy-eight, Sister Annette still taught piano to thirty students and presented annual recitals on into the 2000s.

Elizabeth Heard, Maria chaplain and Sister Annette’s friend, shared the reasons why Sister Annette had touched her life and changed it.

The first reason was because she seemed so alone. Without Sister Faith, she was a ship floundering in the sea. I believe that in these last years I was able to give her some of the ballast necessary to keep her from floating too far or being too alone.

The second reason was her innate innocence. …It is hard to believe that someone could be in her eighties and still be so innocent, so untouched by the negative things of this world.

The third reason was her love for all living creatures, especially dogs. That was a strong love we shared in common.

The fourth reason was her understanding of God’s complete forgiving love.

The fifth reason was her uncanny sense of humor. She could make me laugh like no one else, and she had this sweet giggle that came out and made everyone around her laugh as well. She looked at life, most of the time, from a sense of wonder and saw the happiness in life.

Elizabeth also shared stories. She spoke of the bags of candy in Sister Annette’s room, candy that she would give to her piano students; of the snacks that she loved to eat throughout the day and sometimes in the evening hours, since she was not a big eater at meals; of her love for Coca Cola. She also repeated a couple of stories that Sister Annette had told her of incidents that had happened in some of the places where she taught.

One of them concerned a time in Florida, when an alligator had been seen near the playground so the children were kept in. Sister couldn’t find one of the boys and feared that the alligator had gotten him. She wanted to go out to look for him, but wasn’t allowed to do so. Later she discovered that he hadn’t been in school that day.

Sister Annette’s funeral liturgy was celebrated on January 31 in St. Catherine Chapel. Father Robert Kelly, OP, was the presider and homilist. Father James Lothamer, a previous pastor at St. Joseph Parish, concelebrated.

Sister Annette has now joined her beloved sister, Sister Faith; her parents; and other siblings in eternity. We can imagine the wonder of that reunion, and we rejoice with her.