Like many young women of the ‘50s, Mary Virginia Honish felt drawn to religious life from being taught by Catholic Sisters, including Sinsinawa Dominicans at St. Robert’s School in Shorewood, Wisconsin. While most girls from St. Robert’s went on to high school at Holy Angels Academy, the second daughter of Marian and Francis Honish wanted to attend the new Divine Savior High School on 100th Street and Capitol Drive. The city bus only went as far as 60th Street, so Mary Virginia rode Divine Savior’s school bus “Christopher” the rest of the way.
The Salvatorian Sisters’ influence inspired Mary Virginia to enter the SDS community right out of high school. She joined the Sisters in 1955 and was received into the novitiate in 1956 with the religious name Francis de Sales. She professed first vows in 1957 and just days later moved to Schofield, Wisconsin to teach a class of 57 second-graders at St. Therese School.
Sr. Virginia returned to Milwaukee to attend Alverno College, and later earned her master’s degree in school administration from UW-Milwaukee. She dedicated her life to education, including 11 years as principal at St. Pius X in Wauwatosa, Wis. For 15 years, Sr. Virginia took time off from teaching to serve in Province leadership as a Team member and then as Provincial Leader.
In 1991, Sr. Virginia was tapped to serve as academic administrator at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, and in 1997, as principal. She retired as principal in 2009, and a year later the Archdiocese of Milwaukee honored her with a Vatican II Award for more than 30 years in education ministry. Soon after, Sr. Virginia responded to the call to coordinate assisted living services at our Salvatorian Sisters Residence in Milwaukee. She also serves on our sponsorship coordination team.
Sr. Virginia was among the first of our U.S. Sisters to take part in our ongoing language immersion program teaching English to our African Sisters. During weeks spent in Tanzania, she felt the despair of the local people struggling to grow crops to feed their families and sell at market. Upon return to the U.S., she launched a letter-writing campaign, endorsed by the U.S. Provincial Team. Rallied by her SDS community and many generous people, Sr. Virginia’s grassroots project raised more than $70,000 in less than six months to buy a new tractor for the villages served by our Tanzanian Sisters.
After 65 years of vowed religious life, rarely does Sister Virginia find time to look back on her life. In fact, when she thinks about her days as a school administrator and leadership team member, she jokingly questions if that was really her. “Time flies by; I don’t keep thinking about what has been, I just keep going.” Sr. Virginia isn’t slowing down anytime soon as current coordinator at Salvatorian Sisters Residence and ardent supporter of the Green Bay Packers.