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Feature Articles

Inspiring Beauty
By S. Regina Kusnir

S. Marie Adelaide Bodde left a living legacy in the art that continues to bring inspiration and beauty to others.

S. Marie Adelaide Bodde was born Aug. 20, 1882, and grew up in Detroit, Mich. There she met the Sisters of Charity and entered the Congregation in 1902. She freely offered her gifts and talents until she died at the age of 80 in 1963. Gifted in the arts, many of S. Marie Adelaide’s works are displayed throughout the Motherhouse.

S. Mary Bodde is the niece of S. Marie Adelaide and offered some reflections:

S. Marie Adelaide’s visits to the Bodde home were anticipated with delight. She would come to Detroit for artist conventions and gatherings and would always tack on a couple of extra days to visit the family. S. Mary, one of five nieces and nephews, relished the visits of this warm and captivating woman. They called her “Aunt Adelaide.” Adelaide was her baptismal name; Marie was her religious name.

S. Mary Bodde knew S. Marie Adelaide Bodde as “Aunt Adelaide” and says it was early visits with her aunt that influenced S. Mary to enter the Sisters of Charity in 1945.

It is likely that these visits influenced little Mary who always knew she wanted to be a Sister. Of all the orders of religious serving in the Detroit area, the Sisters of Charity seemed to be the most human: They connected with the lives of the people they met and made them feel good about themselves. S. Mary Bodde joined the Sisters of Charity in 1945.

As a young Sister, S. Marie Adelaide was assigned to become a music teacher. Her brother, John, had taken violin lessons and when he learned she was teaching music, he sent her his violin. A number of years later, S. Marie Adelaide sent the violin to Mary, a sophomore in high school. Weekly, after classes at the local Catholic school, Mary would take a 15-minute lesson at the public school. She brought the violin to the Community when she entered, but having little time for practice, she knew others would benefit more from it, so she turned it in. The violin was then used for music students at the Mount.  

S. Marie Adelaide used her artistic talents to make greeting cards for others. And, though we don’t know what kind of impressive doodling she did, we do know that S. Ernestine Foskey, who attended the Cincinnati Art Academy from 1910-’12 and studied under such notable teachers as Frank Duveneck and Clement Barnhorn, saw some of S. Marie Adelaide’s drawings and suggested that she be educated in art. She took lessons from an artist at the Chicago Art Institute. Following her studies, she ministered at the Academy of Mount St. Joseph and the College of Mount St. Joseph.

The College was blessed to have S. Marie Adelaide teaching art for 57 years. She was one of the early teachers at the College that was founded in 1920. She loved teaching the hundreds of students that came through her classes. Students learned the fine arts of lettering, pottery and china painting, each of which had their own intricate designs and identified the skill and patience of the budding artists. In the era around the 1920s, china painting was a specialty art. It was a time when women often painted their first set of china for their trousseau. This was a far cry from the wedding registries of today.

Just about midway in her career, S. Marie Adelaide had her niece, S. Mary Bodde, in class. From 1941-1944, S. Mary enjoyed a number of semesters learning the fine art of lettering from her beloved aunt. 

S. Marie Adelaide was a friendly, loving individual who possessed a great sense of humor. The fact that innumerable students kept in touch with her, often coming from out of state to visit, attested to her ability to reach the hearts of others. Her lifelong dedication to teaching art to others drew out of them their own inner beauty and cemented relationships that reached far beyond the classroom.

Artists continuously fine tune their talents. In her later years S, Marie Adelaide perfected the art of illumination. This form of art requires the artist to create distinctive lettering and design. Often gold leaf was applied to add beauty to the manuscript. It is said that only exceptionally skilled illuminators can successfully apply gold leaf. S. Marie Adelaide was such an illuminator.

S. Marie Adelaide prepared many an altar card using the art of illumination. Today a number of these cards are on display in the sun porch of the Motherhouse. S. Mary recalled that when her aunt was using gold leaf in the summer, it was very challenging, as the humidity affected the application process.

Art is an expression of both gift and the inner spirit. Perhaps it is the external expression of inner beauty.  S. Marie Adelaide was a gracious and loyal person. She had a personal interest in her students and in her Sister friends. A true people-person, she was noted for her correspondence. Friends, students and acquaintances were recipients of her handmade greeting cards.

Besides the greeting cards she made for others, she would take orders for cards and would sell them. Congregational leaders knew the value of her specialty cards and often called on her, sometimes at a moment’s notice, to make cards for special individuals or occasions. Her impeccable lettering was often enhanced with roses. S. Mary noted that drawing roses was her aunt’s specialty. Seeing a card with her roses easily identified her as the artist.

God was a special friend of this loving, friendly soul. S. Marie Adelaide was very careful with her prayer times. She saw to it that her schedule allowed time for prayer. Prayer rooted her life and allowed her to touch the hearts of others. 

S. Mary found her aunt to be an encouraging person in community. S. Marie Adelaide’s influence also brought another young woman, who was known as S. Mary Adelaide, to the Sisters of Charity. It seems that with family, acquaintances and members of the Community, she was a warm, attracting person who found delight in others.

S. Marie Adelaide was in her 80s, and S. Mary was a young Sister, when she died. She left a living legacy in the art that continues to bring inspiration and beauty to others.