“May simple pleasures bring warmth to your soul and laughter to your heart.” Sister Marie Ensslin, SDS, (formerly Sr. Mary Richard) inscribed that message in one of the many beautiful greeting cards she has fashioned over the years. The words reflect her desire to bring joy to others through her artistic handiwork and her appreciation for all of life’s blessings.
Sr. Marie enjoyed sharing her creative gifts even as a young girl. She liked to sing along as her father played the concertina, and later she performed in her grade school orchestra as she learned to play the accordion and violin. As a high school student, Sr. Marie returned to her elementary school to visit her former music teacher. Before Sr. Marie even mentioned that she was discerning a call to religious life, her teacher asked, “Which is it—School Sisters of Notre Dame or Sisters of the Divine Savior?” The Salvatorian Sisters who taught at her high school inspired Sr. Marie with their dedication and wholesomeness, and she was drawn to enter the Salvatorian community in 1951 after her junior year.
Sr. Marie loved teaching math. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Milwaukee’s Alverno College and later, a master’s degree in math from St. Louis University. Over the years, she taught math to junior high students and all subjects at lower grade levels. At Mary Queen of Heaven Elementary School in West Allis, Wis., Sr. Marie taught computer classes to first through eighth grade students. Her creative teaching style helped make learning fun and accessible for her students. She encouraged expressive outlets for students by introducing an extra-curricular rhythm band. She also established a square dance program and taught the children routines to perform for their parents.
Sr. Marie credits her students’ imaginations and aspirations as her source of inspiration throughout her education ministry. She laughs as she recalls her third-grade student named Larry, who dreamed of becoming a pro basketball player to raise money for his future mission work as a priest. He asked her, “Do you think I’ll make it to Pope?” Sr. Marie expresses deep appreciation for the positive example and support she has received from her Salvatorian family of sisters, brothers, priests, and lay members, as well as from her teaching colleagues.
As Sr. Marie celebrates 65 years of vowed religious life, she continues to express herself creatively, inscribing birthday messages to friends of the SDS Community who share their gifts to sustain the Salvatorian mission. She also reflects upon her influence as an educator, shaping the minds of students who passed through her classroom doors. But even the mind of a mathematician cannot calculate the fruits of so many years of service. Sr. Marie muses, “We often create more than we realize.”