Living her dream to serve as a missionary in China lasted just a year, but Sister Mary Jo Schmidt, SDS never stopped learning and looking for ways to serve others. She died on March 1, 2014 at the age of 93.
Josephine was born to George J. and Agnes (Gremminger) Schmidt in Campbellsport, Wis., and moved to Milwaukee with her family as a child. After graduating from St. John’s Cathedral High School she worked in her family’s food market. Josephine thought seriously about marrying and having a family, but her strong desire to serve as a missionary drew her to the Salvatorian Sisters.
Josephine entered the Sisters of the Divine Savior in 1942 at age 22. Sr. Mary Joseph, later shortened to Mary Jo, received her nursing degree at St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Wausau, Wis. in 1947. She volunteered to go to China in 1948, but was forced to leave a year later when Communists came to power. Returning to Wisconsin, Sr. Mary Jo practiced nursing for 17 years at Salvatorian-sponsored hospitals in West Bend, Columbus and Wausau. She professed final vows in 1950.
Sr. Mary Jo earned her nursing home administration license through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and served 12 years as administrator at St. Mary’s Nursing Home in Milwaukee. During her time there she oversaw an extensive remodeling project. Sr. Mary Jo became a student once again in a conversational Spanish class at Milwaukee Area Technical College, and then immersed herself in Hispanic language and culture while on sabbatical in El Paso, Texas in 1986. That experience enabled her to serve the Milwaukee Latino community after she earned certification in natural family planning through Marquette University’s College of Nursing.
Sr. Mary Jo described her life’s ministry as “helping to lighten the burden of the poor.” She continually looked for ways to serve people in need: aiding the elderly through the Central City Interfaith Program; keeping vigil with dying residents at St. Mary’s Nursing Home; transporting residents to Mass in St. Mary’s chapel; and serving on the nursing home ethics committee, board of directors, and buildings and grounds committee.
Sr. Mary Jo was part of the original “dream team” that envisioned senior living apartments on grounds of the former St. Mary’s Nursing Home. Today, Hadley Terrace Senior Apartments is a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of the Divine Savior, providing safe and supportive housing for low-income, senior residents of Milwaukee’s central city. After the Hadley Terrace dedication in 1997, Sr. Mary Jo moved in and reached out to fellow residents, listening to their stories, organizing social activities and praying with them. Her outreach helped forge a strong sense of community among Hadley Terrace residents.
Sr. Mary Jo always held the needs of the poor in her heart, inspired by Matthew 25: 31-46: Jesus speaks of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the naked, and the imprisoned, saying that anyone who has extended kindness to them has done so to him. As a member of the Human Concerns Committee at St. Rose of Lima Parish, she oversaw the parish food pantry and clothing room, an outreach program for local working poor. She also served on the board of directors for SET Ministry, and served homeless people at St. Ben’s meal program.
Until her health declined late in 2013, Sr. Mary Jo remained active at Hadley Terrace and assisted in the finance office of the Sisters of the Divine Savior North American Province. She was preceded in death by her parents; her brothers, Fr. Terence, SDS, Francis and Jude Schmidt; her sister, Mary (George) Steudel and brother-in-law Herman Martinez. She is survived by her sister, Therese Martinez and sister-in-law, Dorothy Schmidt; her nephew, George Steudel, and niece, Charlotte Thessin, other nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews and her Salvatorian sisters and brothers.