Sister Raphael Speichinger, a Sister of St. Francis of Savannah, Missouri, professed her first vows in June 1949. She just celebrated 69 years of religious life!
Many and varied have been her ministries: teaching, formation director, seamstress, provincial superior, and vicar to name a few. But what most people think of first are her gifts and talents in the kitchen.
Everyone knew where they could find Sister Raphael on any given day (or night)! Sister Raphael was usually in the kitchen, tending to the needs of the hungry. Whether it was the feast day or birthday meal, the Christmas or Easter specialties, or the once-a-month pan of tuna casserole and a tasty dessert for the poor at St. Joseph’s Food Kitchen, Sister Raphael would unfailingly prepare it.
With the arrival of Spring, for years Sister Raphael could be found in her garden planting a variety of vegetables and tending the asparagus and rhubarb patches. Many hours were spent tending her garden and harvesting its produce, along with the fruits and vegetables that were given to the Sisters. Sister Raphael set for all of them an example of stewardship as she took care to use or preserve for future use, the fruits of the earth.
She was very mindful of not letting things go to waste. So when produce showed up at the kitchen door from someone’s garden, or the local orchard called regarding peaches or tomatoes, she quickly responded that she would be glad to accept the gift. Enlisting her volunteers to peel, core, and stem, she then proceeded to can tomato juice, applesauce, beets and peaches, or to make jellies and radishes.
When she was not preparing a meal or canning, Sister Raphael was often found baking bread, cinnamon rolls, or pies. The aroma of fresh pastries baking would permeate the upper floors of the building and put everyone on alert for the anticipated treat. Once Sister Raphael had discovered what someone liked in the way of foods, especially baked goods, it was not uncommon to see guests departing the convent with a loaf of their favorite bread, or some other delicacy she had prepared.
Baked goods prepared by Sister Raphael also became one of the most sought after items at the Sisters’ annual Friends of La Verna fundraiser. These Bakery Baskets, containing a variety of breads, rolls, jellies and relishes, were the object of rather aggressive bidding wars between some very determined individuals.
Due to health problems, her days in the kitchen ended two years ago at age 91. Now Sister Raphael enjoys quiet days in the infirmary, and she attends Chapel with the rest of the community as often as she is able. She remains interested in current affairs, and loves to sit in her new electric chair (thanks to a grant from SOAR!) watching CNN or EWTN or smiling at the antics of the convent dog. We know she is having a good day when she is able to deliver one of her classic “comebacks.” She endures chronic pain with patience and looks forward to the time when she will “graduate from the school of life on earth.”