Entered Life: July 8, 1923
Entered Religious Life: August 8, 1942
Entered Eternal Life: July 10, 2018
Sister Irene Ellen Howell, IBVM was born on July 8, 1923 to Ellen McCoy and Charles Wesley Howell in Payment on Sugar Island, Michigan. Irene was the eldest of six children and attended Loretto Academy, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Throughout her life Irene was blessed with a loving family; her brothers and sisters, many nieces and nephews and the next generation. Upon graduation, she entered the IBVMs on August 28, 1942. After entrance to the community Irene continued her education receiving a BA in Education and a MA in Guidance and Counselling as well as certificates in Education and Theology.
For 75 years, Irene ministered to God’s people. She first taught in elementary schools in Chicago, Detroit and Phoenix. Later she became a guidance counselor at Loretto Woodlawn in Chicago. Irene’s great joy came when she was called to share the Gospel in word and action with her Native American people at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Assinins, Michigan. It was in this holy place that Irene celebrated her Native American ancestry and spirituality. Throughout her 16 years in Native American ministry she worked side by side with her cousin, Father John Hascal, OFM, who shared their devotion to their God-given ministry.
Writing about her experience of living alone far away from the community houses Irene wrote, “Although I am alone I am never lonely. The loving support, concern and prayer of the IBVM Community enables me to bring the Love of Jesus to this remote area.” Irene’s Native American name was “Strawberry Woman,” the woman with a big heart, who loved her God and God’s people. Her greatest Joy was to serve the Lord each day in whatever way she could to spread the Gospel.
Although Irene lived alone for 16 years, when she returned to Loretto Wheaton, her commitment to community living was obvious. Irene attended and enjoyed daily Mass and a myriad of community events- meetings, parties, prayer services, cookie decorating, as well as the annual egg coloring for Easter. Irene became an inspiration to all who knew her. Her quiet peaceful presence, her joy of country music, her appreciation of beauty, which she expressed in her dreamcatchers and “butterflies” folded with arthritic hands, and her deep spirituality, made Irene the woman she was. The last two years of Irene’s life were spent living at Presence Resurrection Life Center in Chicago, assisted by a caring staff and loving IBVM Sisters.
Irene lived and died with the spirit of Mary Ward’s maxim: “Happiness comes in placing God’s Will first.”
–edited from the Loretto Archives Book of Life.
July 8, 1923, – July 10, 2018