By Prioress Sr. Phyllis McMurray, OSB
“Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
The story of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus is not only relevant to this Easter season but also it is so appropriate to the life of Sister Veronica. Sister Veronica loved the scriptures and when she spoke of the scriptures, her heart burned with a passion that was contagious.
Margaret Ruth Shunick was born in Monmouth, IL on February 20, 1923, to Richard and Sadie Cavanaugh Shunick. She was one of six children who were raised mainly by her mother as her father died at the age of 43. At that time, the children ranged from 4 to 16 years of age. Gertrude (Sister Bernadette) was the oldest, followed by Vera, Rosemary, Margaret Ruth (Sister Veronica), Richard, and Thomas.
Margaret Ruth was baptized at Immaculate Conception Church in Monmouth, IL, where she attended the parish elementary school. She graduated from Monmouth High School in June of 1941 and entered St. Mary’s Convent in September of the same year. She received the name Sister Veronica at her reception as a novice in 1942, professed first vows in 1943 and made final vows in 1946.
Sister Veronica received a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Saint Ambrose College in 1957 and a Master’s degree in Art in 1964 from the University of Notre Dame. Among other summer courses, Sister Veronica participated in a summer session at the Art Institute in Chicago and a Renaissance Seminar in Humanities and the Arts in Italy.
Sister Veronica served 18 years as a teacher and/or administrator at St. Mary’s Academy, Nauvoo; St. Mary’s School, Moline; St. Roch’s School, LaSalle; St. John’s, Bradford; and Holy Family and St. Boniface Schools, Peoria. She served as Community Supervisor of Schools for the Sisters of St. Benedict for six years and as Associate Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Peoria for one year. In 1969, she became head of the Art Department at St. Mary’s Academy in Nauvoo where she served until 1995. Known for her beautiful woodcuts, pottery, and a variety of works of art, Sister Veronica continued using her creative talent in her retirement sharing her ability with all of us in preparing the art and environment for the Monastery Chapel.
“Happy the one who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding! For her profit is better than profit in silver, and better than gold is her revenue; she is more precious than corals, and none of your choice possessions can compare with her.” (Proverbs 3:13-15)
Sister Veronica was a woman of prayer and a woman of wisdom. She loved the wisdom literature in the scriptures. In her Bible, she had paper clipped together the pages which encompassed the book of Proverbs through the book of Sirach. I had the good fortune to do group lectio, a reflective reading, with Sr. Veronica and several of our Sisters. We used a concordance to find instances where “wisdom” was mentioned in scripture and then we used those verses for lectio. It was a graced experience. She lived the joy and peace that comes from an understanding of wisdom.
Sister Veronica’s sense of humor carried over into her prayer. She had an asterisk next to one verse in Sirach that read, “A fool’s chatter is like a load on a journey, but there is charm to be found upon the lips of the wise.” (Sirach 21:16)
In addition to prayer, Sister Veronica knew well her priorities. Community was a priority. In 1972, she wrote that very important to her was the authenticity of our lives as religious women. “We must be what we profess to be. We must be genuine…Our Christian life in community must show clearly that the focal point of our lives is Christ. To be genuine we must be women with a vision – a vision that impels us to love and service, a hope that thrusts us into eternity.”
Sister Veronica’s family and her Irish heritage were priorities. She loved her family very much and enjoyed family gatherings and visits. Over the years, she did a great deal of work on the genealogy of her family and has left her family a rich treasure of information.
Sister Veronica’s love of art and passing on that love to her students were priorities. Art appreciation was a requirement for all St. Mary’s Academy students so no one could evade Sister Veronica’s influence. In a written note to Sister Veronica, a student wrote, “I remember the peace and calm you displayed. You truly practiced a quietness and willingness as you served the Lord. You shared more by your actions than you may imagine. I want you to know I have never forgotten your gentle spirit. You always encouraged me to have faith in myself and my abilities.”
One student who is now an artist wrote, “Please tell Sister Veronica that she has a student who has carried her great spirit and words of wisdom with her throughout her life. I remember her each day. “
And from a student from Mexico, now an artist: “Sister Veronica was a great teacher and a great person. She taught me art in a way I had never been taught before. She helped me see that Art was and is my passion.”
Sister Veronica also spent time with our “twin” Benedictine community in the Philippines teaching the Sisters there to paint with water color. They wrote:
“Truly a woman of wisdom and grace was dear Sister Veronica. We knew first-hand her quiet generosity and serene patience in teaching us ”beyond” the art of water color. We all here are very grateful that Sr. Veronica, a real-life Benedictine, came to enter our monastic life. She will be remembered at our Holy Masses and Divine Office. Very special thanks to your Community for sharing her with us!
A description of how Sister Veronica lived her life was written inside the front cover of Sister Veronica’s bible. It was a verse from the Prophet Micah:
“You have been told…what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
How fitting that God called Sister Veronica home during the Easter Season! She believed in keeping the joy of Easter in our hearts all year long. She said, “Easter is a sign of God’s glory and gentleness. We must quiet ourselves to really appreciate the gentleness. That quiet will help gentle us, too.” Her advice to us written in our newsletter was, “Take time away from your daily affairs to just “be,” whether strolling through the neighborhood or sitting on the sofa in your living room.” (Connecting Point, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2004) Sister Veronica was a prime example of one who enjoyed drinking in the beauties of nature. She did love goodness, and walked humbly with her God.
Each of us has special memories of Sr. Veronica. A special memory that I have is a lesson I learned from Sr. Veronica during a visit to her classroom. She was teaching the students that we still have freedom even though we have limits. Sister Veronica gave each student a piece of paper that was about 8 inches wide and 20 inches long. She told the students that they had to use only charcoal to draw a picture. Then she said, “Now you can draw whatever you like!” It wasn’t just an art lesson. It was a lesson for life.
I will miss Sr. Veronica. What you have written here is so wonderful. Thank you. God blessed us by letting us know her and learn from her.
Ann Schumacher Mason
“Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.” Deuteronomy 16:17
You give as you are able in words of encouragement. Your gift in writing has always been a source of strength, comfort and perspective for many.
Sister Veronica used her abilities in art and many of us stood back in surprise as she helped us tap into abilities we did not know we had. Many of us know that we have talents nurtured through Sister Veronica’s passion to teach and create an artistic confidence in us. Those talents are some of gifts we left SMA with.
Every day we are given opportunities to make the most of the gifts He has given us while doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with thy God in a Sister Veronica kind of way.
I am thankful for my years at SMA and will always have a special place in my heart for the Sisters that “raised me” making it possible for me to give as I am able.
Sister Veronica enjoyed family gatherings so I am sure she enjoyed the many reunions as she entered into His presence. Sister Mary Joe was right there waiting!
There are countless of us “girls” still loving you and sharing in the loss of your dear sister.
Thinking of you and sending thanks for all the Sisters who did so much for me. I appreciate you and this is a good time to tell you I love you too! Leslie Olmsted Crone
Sister Veronica was truly a wonderful example to young women who came in contact with her. Not just for art but for life. I will always remember her, as will my daughter Deb Walsh, who e-mailed me with the news. She was a gentle, lovely person and left her mark on many students. Thoughts and prayers to her family and the community. I have several of her woodcuts, thanks to a reunion at the convent this year, and one from my years at St. Mary’s which will always remind me of her.
I know Sr. Veroncia when I was in the “Little Girls”,, and she was the prefect of the Juniorettes,,a tall willowy lady with a sense of humor,, and very torlerant of the “Little Girls” that did take tap dancing and would practive in the hallway, (smile) and always made sure the those of the “Little Girls” were in their practice room to practice their paino lessons ,, little rooms off the Juniorette lounge, She hunted me down a few times,, and this goes back almost fifty years ago,, And she did keep an eagle eye on the “Little Girls” when we played on the swings nest to Joe Hall as well on the OCean Wave,,Sr Veronica along with Sr, mary Stephan always looked out to make sure we were safe and rush if any one of us ever fall or appeared to be hurt,,
She left great memories,, and will be missed,
It is a beautiful Reflection from Sister Phyllis, as she said for me she was the best teacher in the world, I loved how she taught us art, I remember her giving us the carbon chalk and gave us mirrors, and told us to draw ourselves… that was a wonderful experience, she taught us some art history by putting in all the classroom posters from famous painters, I remember the painters, she loved MONET by the way… and thanks to her I had an idea of what was art before I became a painter… I wished I had more time with her, I can imagine all the wonderful things she could taught me, she was just one of a kind… Thank You Sister Veronica, Im very happy I went to St. Mary´s and met you and all of the wonderful Sisters I met… I loved so much Sister Mary O, Sister Martha and Alberta, I love and miss Sister Kathleen, Sister Marlene ( I miss your apple Cyder), Sister Phyllis, Brother Bill, Elizabeth Durbin you are so special to me and have you in my heart… Thanks for everything you taught me, about Love, about God, and about Life… We will keep in touch, with lots of love from Monterrey, México,
I was a student at St. Mary’s 1986-1989 and have very fond memories of Sister Veronica. My love for the arts was instilled by her and think of her often. I still have my still life charcoal drawing of the bald eagle from her class room! I still dabble in art and painting and only wish I had more time as an adult to speak to her and learn more of what she had to teach, not only about art but also about life.
I loved Sister Veronica dearly. She was such an inspiration. She saw the budding artist and drew me out to realize my true potential. Tho I am not a professional artist, I am in my own way an artist of many facets. I owe all I have ever created in the art world, to Sister Veronica. She was ever patient,ever understanding, and always a friend. I think of her every time I create anything. I do remember her saying once, and with passion, I might add, that” Doing a paint by number, is like Rousseau tracing a picture of a tiger! ” That will stay with me forever! Thank you, Sister Veronica, you were loved so much more than you could ever have known. Now you have the most wonderful and Holiest of subjects and landscapes! GOD BLESS you!