Harriet Holles, BVM (Agneda)

Harriet Holles, BVM (Agneda) died Saturday, June 17, at Marian Hall in Dubuque, Iowa. Wake will be from 9–11 a.m. on Wednesday, June 21, in the Marian Hall Chapel followed by a prayer service at 11 a.m. Funeral liturgy will be at 1:30 p.m. Burial is in the Mount Carmel cemetery.

She was born in Ladysmith, Wis., on March 23, 1933, to Harry and Agnes Fandel Holles. She entered the BVM congregation Sept. 8, 1953, from St. Walter Parish, Roselle, Ill. She professed first vows on March 19, 1956, and final vows on July 16, 1961.

Sister Harriet taught elementary school in Seattle and Clinton, Iowa; and ninth grade in Glendale, Calif. She was a college math teacher in Chicago; Dubuque, Iowa; and Conception, Mo. She served as director of religious education in Springfield, Mo., and in spiritual formation on the college level in Conception, Mo. She was also a self-employed spiritual director.

She was preceded in death by her parents and sisters Alice Laura Holles and Geraldine Helen Holles. She is survived by nieces and nephews and the Sisters of Charity, BVM, with whom she shared life for 63 years.

Sister Harriet Holles, BVM (Agneda)
Funeral Welcome
Marian Hall, June 21, 2017

Good afternoon and welcome to the celebration of life of our Sister Harriet Holles.

Harriet Ann Holles was born on March 23, 1933, in Ladysmith, Wis., on her maternal grandparents’ farm. She was the first of three daughters of Harry and Agnes Fandel Holles and was followed by sisters Alice and Geraldine. Geraldine died at the age of 18 in a car-train collision; Alice died in 1991. Harriet’s father worked as a waiter in Chicago hotels where he met many celebrities and delighted in talking about his encounters. Her mother, who the oldest of nine children, began at an early age to help raise her siblings and do household tasks. Harry and Agnes met when she moved to Chicago to work as a maid for wealthy families. Agnes was a woman of deep faith and only agreed to marry Harry, a Lutheran, if he converted to Catholicism. Together they created a home where faith was foremost.

Harriet attended Catholic schools, but it was only after meeting the BVMs at Mundelein College that she considered a religious vocation. Two years later, on Sept. 8, 1953, Harriet entered the congregation. She received the name Agneda upon her reception on March 19, 1954, professed first vows on March 19, 1956, and lived 63 years as a BVM. “Religious life has been a vibrant and growth-filled choice for me,” she remarked during her golden jubilee. “I am thankful for the wonderful companions and the multitudinous opportunities. It is with a full and grateful heart that I celebrate vowed living.”

Harriet began her teaching ministry with elementary students at St. John in Seattle and St. Mary in Clinton, Iowa, and secondary students at Holy Family in Glendale, Calif. However, for most of her professional life, she taught mathematics to post-secondary students at Mundelein College, Clarke University, and Loras College.

After Vatican II, Harriet felt drawn to learn more about spirituality, especially prayer. While waiting for a study grant, she spent one year in parish ministry at St. Joseph Parish in Springfield, Mo. “It was providential that I waited,” Harriet said. “I taught adult theology classes, I worked in liturgy, I brought communion to people in their homes, I visited the hospitals . . . all things I had never done before. It was a wonderful preparation.” She completed a theological studies certification at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and later she earned a master’s degree in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.

In 1967, after reading about retreats directed by small groups of sisters at a time when preached retreats by priests were prevalent, Harriet, along with Sister Barbara Kutchera, BVM (George Mary), invited four additional BVMs to share in this renewal experiment. Together they designed and implemented a retreat at Clarke University, with then chaplain Father James Barta joining the group for daily Mass and a reconciliation service. Afterward, the participants continued as a prayer group with the four living members, including Harriet, last meeting this past March.

Harriet created many prayer services for the BVM congregation through the years. After the BVM Constitutions were approved, she gave retreats on them from Chicago to Dubuque to Fort Dodge, Iowa, and offered sessions to novices. “For the ongoing formation of BVM opportunities, guidance, affirmation and companions, I am so very grateful,” commented Harriet. She also served on retreat teams at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, Wis., as well for other women religious groups and gave several retreats at the Centre for Spiritual Renewal in Kumasi, Ghana.

Her work as a spiritual guide eventually led her to Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo., where she combined her talents as a math instructor and a spiritual advisor. A seminary yearbook dedicated to Harriet praises her as “a person who has enriched our lives in the subtle mysteries of God, the Church, mathematics, and, most especially, ourselves in our walk with the Lord . . . Sister Harriet is one of these special ones who has gifted our community with her love, humor, concern, and her unique gift of the feminine perspective.”

Harriet continued to combine mathematics and spirituality for the next 20 years at Clarke University and Loras College. She excelled in creativity, innovation and depth in her teaching and presentations in both disciplines. In “retirement,” Harriet made herself available as a spirituality resource person and taught spirituality classes at the Roberta Kuhn Center where she presented the “New Universe Story” developed from her lifetime of learning.

Harriet was an ardent reader and a serious thinker, as was evident in her well-marked copy of the BVM Constitutions. Numerous tabs marked significant passages of underlined text and notes filled the margins, sometimes including a “YES!” all in capital letters with an exclamation point when she wholeheartedly agreed. Her copy was literally falling apart from her intense study.

While Harriet appreciated good films and theater productions and visiting places of interest, her relationships with a wide range of people were central in her life. She enjoyed offering hospitality, preparing delicious meals, and relishing in good conversation. It was her positive interaction with lay women and men that, in her words, “kept me off the streets!”

However, her most treasured relationship was with God. “God has done incredible things in me,” Harriet commented. “I continue to be astonished at how a fearful child born on a cold day in a Wisconsin farmhouse has grown in wisdom and grace, as well as age.”

St. Paul wrote, “For God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in [Harriet’s] heart to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ.” Filled with this knowledge, she guided many into a deeper relationship with their God. She has blessed us with her presence, her gifts and her humor for which we are deeply grateful. With joyful hearts, we celebrate that Harriet is now “gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord.”

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