When we posed the question to our Salvatorian Sisters, “Why do you do puzzles?” we found out many of them just can’t get enough of the perplexing pastime. While some of their responses were short and straight to the point, others captured poignant personal memories.
Many sisters started doing jigsaw or word puzzles in childhood, which led to their love for such play as adults. Sister Margaret Hansknecht pinpoints 1945 as the year she started doing jigsaw puzzles. Like many Salvatorian Sisters she picked up the hobby from her parents. Likewise, for Sister Jenada Fanetti. “When I was a child I remember a puzzle was always on a small table. My mother enjoyed putting puzzles together, so we children caught a love in doing so. I remember spending significant time by the puzzle table trying to fit a piece in the right place.”
Puzzles gave the sisters something to do as kids, as most didn’t have TVs to mindlessly watch after school or on weekends. Sister Beverly Heitke remembers bringing out puzzle boxes when she wasn’t allowed to play outside on frigid days. Sister Joan Wagner and her sibs received a puzzle from Santa every year to fill the long cold days of winter break. Sister De Paul Schafer also had fun with puzzles over Christmas break, and remembers once as a teenager, she stayed up until 3:00 a.m. working a puzzle.
Deciding when to give it a break still challenges Sister Jane Barman today. “Puzzles are so relaxing that sometimes I didn’t know when to quit and go to bed.” While it is relaxing, Sister Marion Etzel mostly enjoys the sense of victory when it’s completed. In fact, many of our sisters do puzzles for the joy it brings when they find the right word or piece. Sister Jean Marie Hauck, sums it up nicely. “Puzzles are a calming, non-threatening challenge, but give you a sense of accomplishment.”
It seems the only thing sisters find threatening about puzzles is the number of pieces in the box. Only three sisters claim to have tackled puzzles with more than a thousand pieces. Sr. De Paul holds the record at 3,000, with Sisters Mary Lee Grady and Mary Jo Stoffel runners-up at 2,000 each. That big one still holds a special place in Sr. Mary Jo’s heart. “The puzzle I enjoyed most was that of an angel with 2,000 pieces that I did with my brother the year I took care of him. We did a lot of laughing as we put it together. It’s now framed and hangs in my sister-in-law’s home.”
A few other sisters talked about their biggest or most complicated puzzle. Sister Janice Hartman’s ultimate challenge pictured an old porch with a wicker chair and a parrot on a swing above lush plants and trees.
Sister Liz Christensen says, “The most challenging — and fun, because I wasn’t sure I’d ever finish it — was a jigsaw in the shape of a wolf that had a picture of other wolves inside it. It was the only puzzle I did that I photographed.”
Tips & Tricks for Doing Puzzles like a Sister of the Divine Savior
- “Put numbers on the back of each piece, so puzzles are easier to do over and over.” ~Sr. Jean Marie Hauck
- “If you buy a $2.00 puzzle from Goodwill, you may not have all the pieces. Don’t let that stop you from completing the challenge.” ~Sr. Jean Schafer
- “Consider doing word puzzles. They challenge my brain. As I become more forgetful in my old age of 81, I see this as both fun and a necessity.” ~Sr. Liz Christensen
- “Do puzzles sporadically. Lay all the pieces out on a table and put them together when you need to pass time, focus on something else, or de-stress.” ~Sr. Beverly Heitke
Sister Jean Schafer shares how a tricky puzzle taught her some great life lessons. “I remember a time I worked on a jigsaw puzzle while serving in Rome. It was a used puzzle, and as I sought the border pieces, I realized the cover picture of the puzzle had been cut smaller and did not show the full picture. I pondered that reality as I worked at the puzzle. It was a lesson for life—how life ‘being put together’ step-by-step does not always follow the outline and image we thought so clear. Life, like puzzles, can provide many surprises and challenges as we move forward.”
Along with life lessons, puzzles offer companionship too. Sister Grace Mary Croft, who enjoys word puzzles like Jumble says, “Sometimes I seek the Dictionary or one of my community companions who is nearby when I need help.” Hands down, her housemates enjoy word puzzles more than jigsaw. Online word puzzles have even helped our sisters stay connected with one another from afar. Sister Judy Sullivan in Milwaukee relies on Words with Friends to keep in touch with Sister Jean in California. Although a hacker warning has put their game on hold for the time being, they’ll resume playing when the app is fixed.
Likewise, housemates Sisters Mary Lee and Mary Jo bond over their love of jigsaw puzzles. When Sr. Mary Lee was younger, she was so into them that her family gave her a puzzle board so she could do them anywhere. Eventually, other activities took their place, but she resumed her childhood hobby when she moved in with Sr. Mary Jo. Sr. Mary Lee says there’s much more to puzzle play than just joining the pieces. “The time together is a unique bonding experience of accomplishing something that we both like, as well as time for conversation and enjoyment together.”
Just as puzzles keep Salvatorian Sisters connected to one another, they also help our sisters connect with people they serve. Sr. Jean recalls, “When Sister Sheila Novak and I had our SDS Hope House for women coming out of human trafficking situations, we found doing puzzles was a healing activity to calm the spirit and bond the women together even when they could not speak a common language. Finding pieces and building the picture day-by-day was a way to feel the progress they were also making on other levels of life. One of our friends would bring us many boxes of puzzles. Choosing which one to do next was also part of the fun and anticipation.”