Sister Mary Michel Schmitt, a teacher who was the first principal of the school her religious community started for children with special needs, died Thursday in the Ursuline Center, where she lived for several years. She was 93.
She was under hospice care for less than a week, said Sister Alice Marie Willman, of the Sisters of Notre Dame. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Sister Michel last taught at St. John School in Delphos, Ohio, and the assignment spanned the closing decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st. She remained busy as a tutor for a few years until her departure in 2007.
“She loved life. It wasn’t a drudgery,” said Sister Teresita Richards, who moved to St. John in 2001. “Every day was a new adventure.
“She was known to spontaneously burst into song and dance,” Sister Teresita said. “She was a happy person and made life fun.”
Sister Michel arrived at the school in 1984.
“The people in Delphos loved her to bits. They could talk about her all day,” Sister Teresita said. “She pretty much taught second grade her whole life, so she knew that age group well.”
Her students honed their reading and writing skills through Sister Michel’s instruction in phonics and cursive.
“She was very, very kind to the children,” said Sister Robert Clare Groth, who taught third graders in the late 1980s at St. John. “The parents were very happy with having her.”
Preparing students to make their First Communion was one of her favorite parts of the curriculum, and she was known for providing a mini-retreat for the girls in her classes, Sister Teresita said.
She was a fan of St. John High School sports, and during her tenure, the Blue Jays football team was state champions four times and conference champions seven times, and the basketball team won six conference championships.
Many of the athletes had once been in her class, and she made a point of attending home games and listening to away games on the radio, Sister Teresita said.
Sister Michel had degrees in education and special education from the former Mary Manse College and from St. Louis University.
In 1960, she began an extended assignment at Mary Immaculate School, started by the Sisters of Notre Dame on Secor Road, initially, to prepare children with physical disabilities to receive the sacraments of the Church, Sister Alice Marie said.
Sister Michel was principal for 11 years of Mary Immaculate, the school’s first, and taught an additional seven years there. The focus of the school became students with learning disabilities and other special needs.
“You have to reach them where they are. Michel was very good at it,” said Sister Mary Cyrilla Hellman, one of the first teachers at Mary Immaculate. “She loved these children, and that’s the important thing. She gave parents hope that we would develop their potential as far as we could.”
During 60 years as an educator, Sister Michel’s other assignments as a teacher or principal included St. Mary, Gesu, and Ladyfield schools in Toledo; Sacred Heart School, Fremont; St. Mary School, Leipsic, Ohio; St. Paul School, Norwalk, Ohio, and St. Wendelin School, Fostoria.
She was born Rita Jean Schmitt on Feb. 3, 1925, in Sandusky to Beatrice and Joseph Schmitt, the youngest of 11. The family moved to West Toledo, and Rita attended Blessed Sacrament School and Notre Dame Academy. In 1943, she began her formal training as a sister of Notre Dame, was invested in the habit of the community, and received the name of Sister Mary Michel.
She remained close with her siblings — and their children. For her 90th birthday, 30 nieces and nephews from several states arrived to celebrate with her.
“She kept in touch with them and knew what was going on in their lives,” said her sister, Mary Heferle, 96.
Surviving is her sister, Mary Heferle.
Visitation will be from 3-5 p.m. Monday at the Sisters of Notre Dame Center, 5900 Davis Rd. in Waterville Township, with sharing of memories at 5 p.m. and a funeral Mass at 7 p.m. Arrangements are by Urbanski Funeral Home.
Tributes are suggested to the Sisters of Notre Dame.
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