Already reeling from a fusillade of self-inflicted blows, the Milwaukee Archdiocese took a resounding haymaker to the gut with the death of Mary Ehrmann on March 2. For almost four decades my younger sister was an iconic teacher in the elementary grades at several area Catholic schools, and the number of lives she changed for the better is incalculable. In and out of the classroom she was always direct, challenging, entertaining and exasperating -- sort of like John Wayne in a pantsuit, only more dauntless and formidable.
Mary loved her profession so much that when she took a job at a Milwaukee public school many years ago it lasted just a few weeks because the weak-in-the-knees-and-brain principal insisted that her primary duty was to keep the students from killing each other. "I want to be a teacher, not a referee," she told him when she turned in her resignation.
She mightâ€™ve become a world-class golfer, but her favorite hole was the 19th. She unapologetically hued to her own path, even when there were neon warning signs. After surviving breast cancer she continued to smoke cigarettes, and it was cancer that took her down just four days before her 60th birthday. While her judgement was sometimes open to question, her heart never was.
Devoutly Catholic, Mary offered up her final months of intense suffering for "pagan babies." Her very last words to me were "I love you," but I cherish just as much what Mary told me during enervating end-of-life medical treatments whose side-effects included a condition requiring her to take a nuclear laxative.
If the results were all she hoped for, said my always funny and acerbic sister, "Iâ€™ll name it after you."
Your sister was a true original, a wonderful, caring, bright, funny person who will be missed. I've told that story about her leaving MPS a million times, as an example of great devotion over big bucks. If it is true that we do not die until the last person to speak our name crosses over, Mary will be with us for a very, very long time. So sorry for your loss--and ours.
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