In September of 1944, Srs. Mary Bede Kurth, Monica Crnkovich, and Kathleen Vargo arrived in L’Erable, Illinois. This small farming village in the northeastern part of the state was the first headquarters for the work of the sisters there. Their home was the former rectory, and was located across the street from the town tavern. Soon the headquarters was moved to a convent a few miles southwest to Ashkum.
The people were of French Canadian descent. Since Sr. Bede knew French, she was accepted by the people. This was great blessing for the home visiting and teaching tasks of the sisters. The people in the villages embraced the sisters as “our own sisters.”
Agriculture was the primary occupation in all the villages. There were no Catholic schools in the area, and the sisters taught in nine villages: Joliet Diocese: Ashkum, L’Erable, Clifton, and Gilman; Perioa Diocese: Crescent City, Watseka, Marlinton, Cabery, and Cullom.
There was no release time granted to the children for instruction, and the sisters taught after school, and on Saturdays and Sundays. In several villages permission was granted to use the public school classrooms after school hours, but most of the teaching was done in sacristies, choir lofts, and churches.
1. The Catholic Church of the Assumption. 2. Ashkum grade school
The Askhum house chronicle for 1945 recorded that the sisters had traveled over seven thousand miles; they had contacted an average of 440 students weekly, either personally or by correspondence courses.
In 1958 eight hundred students were rerolled in elementary and high school classes, and the situation demanded more personnel. However, the need for teachers in the Catholic elementary schools superseded the needs of Ashkum, and the sisters left the villages of Illinois to do regular classroom teaching.
Sr. Mary Bede was a legend in Ashkum. Known for her strict enforcement of the Holy Rule of the Community, and quite a few rules of her own making, she seemed an apt superior for younger sisters just entering the apostolate. Many a chuckle survives from the experiences of the young missionaries, as they adjusted to Sr. Bede’s interpretation as to the finer points of religious life. Ashkum is remembered as a rich apostolate of grace and loving acceptance.
1. The Longbranch in downtown L’Erable 2. Clifton,St Peter’s Church
Gilman, Illinois Crescent
1. Watseka Iroquois County Court House 2. Cabery