Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters
offer thoughts on the founding fathers of Victory Noll
HUNTINGTON — Father John Joseph Sigstein founded the community that would become Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters in 1922. Archbishop John Francis Noll was the main benefactor of the community, providing them with a home and motherhouse in Huntington. OLVM Sisters Valeria Foltz and Alma Bill discussed their memories and inspirations of the two men.
What do you remember about Archbishop Noll?
Sister Alma: From my earliest age, I was somehow afraid of the hierarchy. Living in a farming community, we saw the bishop only once every four years when he came to our parish to administer the sacrament of confirmation. However, after I entered Victory Noll and had the opportunity to meet [then-]Bishop Noll, and after hearing stories of his interest and generosity in the founding and growth of our community, my attitude completely changed. Perhaps it would be interesting if I recall some interesting incidents that “broke the ice.”
The Noll family had a cottage on Sylvan Lake, about 40 miles from Victory Noll. Every summer the postulants and novices would go there for a week of vacation. Invariably, Bishop Noll would come to spend time with us. When I saw him in his overalls, baiting our hooks for fishing, taking us for a ride in his boat, playing horseshoe on the porch — well, I was never afraid of bishops again!
I will always remember his humility, good humor, naturalness, kindness, care for people and deep spirituality — a profoundly human member of the hierarchy.
Sister Valeria: I remember that he had a deep faith in God and trusted God and he saw Christ in everyone regardless of whether they were rich or poor. He would come in once a month or so when we were novices and postulants. Victory Noll was a special place to him. It was like home for him. He did so much for the community.
What do you remember about Father Sigstein?
Sister Alma: I met Father Sigstein only once — briefly, the summer before he died. I had just returned from summer school at Notre Dame. As I walked across the front lawn, I met one of the sisters who was guiding him in his wheelchair. She stopped and introduced me. His message guided the founding and life of our community. The depth of his commitment to help the poor, his originality in outlining ways of ministry beyond the founding of schools and hospitals, his persistence in prayerful living, and his tireless zeal in breaking boundaries and inventing new options for service guided our lives.
Sister Valeria: When he came back to Victory Noll, I used to clean his apartment. He was a very quiet man, but he put a lot of life into this community. You can still feel his spirit here.
What about Bishop Noll inspired you?
Sister Alma: At the time when the hierarchy was sometimes viewed as “a notch above” the rest of us, Bishop Noll broke the pattern and proved his relationship with “every man — and woman.” He was someone who reacted fearlessly in defending the faith and generously in providing for the means of spreading the faith. At the same time, he never neglected the ordinary means of helping others.
Sister Valeria: He inspired me to have a great devotion for our Blessed Mother and to God. Our motto was “All for Jesus through Mary,” so he taught us to stay close to our Blessed Mother. He had a great love for the poor. He saw Christ in them. He inspired me through his kindness to others.
What about Father Sigstein inspired you?
Sister Alma: How a man with poor health forged ahead in providing for the needs of others, inspired people to begin years of service, found means to encourage new modes of ministry, and overcame many obstacles to realize his life’s work — is conclusive evidence of deep love, commitment, and service in the Lord’s vineyard.
Sister Valeria: Father Sigstein founded us to help the poor. His spirituality and his prayer life inspired me. He was a very holy man.
Describe how you witnessed Bishop Noll’s care for the poor and devotion to Mary.
Sister Alma: According to my experience, Bishop Noll’s care for the poor was demonstrated by his support for our community in our efforts to serve the poor in whatever circumstances we may find them. He originally founded the means for our living situation by managing the purchase of land and buildings for our motherhouse; he supplied the funding for Redlands, the large home base for sisters ministering in the Southwest; he provided advertising space in Our Sunday Visitor, the means by which many of our sisters first learned of our ministry; he constantly lent his support and encouragement by spending time with us at Victory Noll.
“Devotion to Mary” was one of the spiritual highlights of our dedication as Victory Noll sisters. From our early beginnings, we were introduced to this devotion by Father Sigstein, and it continued as our public demonstration of devotion.
Sister Valeria: I remember as a child they were building the basilica in Washington, D.C., and they ran out of money. Bishop Noll stepped in and led the way to raise the rest of the money needed to finish the building. I was in elementary school in Humphrey, Nebraska, and the sisters would have a jar for us to put in our coins to help complete the basilica. That’s how I got to know Bishop Noll, through Our Sunday Visitor asking us to send money. Sometimes it was only pennies, but we knew we had a hand in it.
Describe how you witnessed Father Sigstein’s care for the poor and devotion to Mary.
Sister Alma: Father Sigstein’s whole life story contains a constant account of his concern for the poor, and his efforts to provide for their care. From his early days in Chicago, when he worked with men suffering from the Great Depression, through his founding and growth of our community, his basic tenet of “care and concern” was evident. It governed every facet of our ministry. The section on “Devotion to Mary,” as recorded above, mentions our commitment and devotion to Mary. Upon our entrance, we were immediately introduced to this devotion, recited our Act of Consecration often, and held a monthly procession with rosary, as we carried the statue of Mary in procession. Our oft-repeated short prayer, “All for Jesus through Mary” and “Thanks to Jesus and Mary” indicated our commitment.
Sister Valeria: He had a great devotion to our Blessed Mother. He would say that when we find Jesus in the Scriptures also find Mary. That was important for us in our mission work.
How did Bishop Noll influence your spirituality?
Sister Alma: Bishop Noll was a well-known bishop throughout the country. Through his writings, his publication of Our Sunday Visitor, he strengthened the faith of the people and provided for their development and celebration.
Sister Valeria: We used to have talks with him in the summer we would go to his lake house. He was very fatherly and very understanding and kind and helpful getting us prepared for the work we were going to do. He was filled with knowledge of spreading the Gospel.
How did Father Sigstein influence your spirituality?
Sister Alma: Father Sigstein’s spirituality was deep and prayerful, always aware of the poor and their needs. In the early days, he himself provided classes on spirituality for those preparing for ministry.
Father Sigstein’s tenet of deepening spirituality influenced my technique of training catechists in the parishes where I ministered. In preparing them for the ministry of Proclaiming the Word, we studied Scripture together, considered world situations, studied child psychology, and advanced in knowledge and appreciation of the gift of the sacraments.
Sister Valeria: We want our charism to carry on, the work of Father Sigstein and Archbishop Noll and I think it will — the devotion to Mary, the kindness, helping the poor, and drawing people closer to God. Hopefully, when people come up here, that they can feel the spirituality. It’s kind of like holy ground. It was blessed by Archbishop Noll and Father Sigstein and their strong faith in God and our Blessed Mother.
Reprinted with permission from Visions magazine, November 2018.
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