By Bill Boessen
St. Thomas native Sister Cecilia Lackman of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary will celebrate her 60-year jubilee during a Mass of Thanksgiving at 10 a.m. on Sunday, March 26, in St. Thomas the Apostle Church in St. Thomas.
A reception and open house will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the parish hall. All are welcome.
Sr. Cecilia’s journey through life, like most, is one of challenges and blessings, sprinkled among the everyday happenings of life.
At a young age, she learned that you can sometimes take a challenge or hardship and transform it into a blessing.
Her life story is a testament to that truth: A young child’s plea and promise to God at a very young age blossoms into a fulfilling life of over 60 years of service to God and His people in imitation of the Blessed Mother and St. Francis of Assisi.
“I have been richly blessed in my life and it continues,” she recently wrote. “As our Mother Foundress always said, ‘continue courageously!”’
Helped by her family
Sr. Cecilia was born on Nov. 22, 1942, in St. Thomas, the eighth child of Stephen and Clara (Luebbering) Lackman.
She was baptized in St. Thomas the Apostle Church several days later and given the name Cecilia Gertrude.
She was raised in a large family with 11 siblings in the small, rural town about 17 miles southwest of Jefferson City.
Farming was the primary occupation of her father, who owned and ran a large dairy farm.
In 1946, Cecilia was stricken with polio at the age of 3 years and 10 months.
This illness impacted her life and that of her family in many ways, but it also served as a catalyst that would eventually lead her to a religious life.
While running the farm, her parents had to cross the Osage River by ferry every other day to drive her to Jefferson City for treatment.
Her brothers and sisters worked with her daily, helping her pedal a tricycle that would strengthen her diseased muscles.
Because of this illness, she was unable to walk from when she was 4 until she was about 6.
Her brother Joe would carry her piggy-back to school for the quarter-mile trip from home each day.
A day came when Cecilia was 4 that she will never forget.
One cold, wintery day, her family was butchering hogs, which was a common practice of most families living on farms at that time.
She remembers lying on a cot in the dining room, near a window, watching her brothers and sisters playing outside.
Her mother and her godmother, Gertie Hoecker, were making homemade sausage in the kitchen nearby.
When Cecilia got off the cot and tried to crawl as well as she could with her lame leg, she remembers Mrs. Hoecker panicking and quickly picking her up and returning her to the cot.
At that moment, Cecilia realized the true impact of her disability and how it could make her life very different from that of other children her age.
She then remembers turning to God, promising that if He would help her walk again, she would in turn become a religious sister.
Through a strong will, determined effort and lots of lots of physical therapy, along with many prayers from family and friends, God granted Cecilia that wish.
She, in turn, kept her promise to God by answering His call to religious life.
Medical lab work
Cecilia was familiar with St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City, run by the Sisters of St. Mary (SSM), later known as the Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary.
Her two older sisters, Rosemary and Norine, worked at the hospital. Cecilia’s mother sold eggs to the sisters and gave them feed sacks, which the sisters used to make bed sheets, pillowcases and towels.
In addition, two of Cecilia’s sisters, Frances and Virginia, left home at age 14 to enter the convent of the Sisters of St. Mary in St. Louis.
So it is this familiarity that drew Cecilia to the Sisters of St. Mary in accepting her religious vocation.
On Jan. 12, 1957, at age 14, Cecilia entered the convent in St. Louis.
The sisters operated a high school at that time, and Sr. Cecilia’s class was the last to graduate from St. Mary of Angels High School.
Sr. Cecilia was then asked by her congregation to attend Saint Louis University (SLU) to study medical technology.
During college, she worked part-time in the Clinical Laboratory at St. Mary’s Health Center in St. Louis.
By the time she graduated from SLU, she was quite proficient in performing most laboratory tests in the subspecialties of the laboratory sciences.
She loved this type of work and found it very satisfying and rewarding.
A leader in her field
Sr. Cecilia was eventually appointed assistant supervisor of the laboratory at St. Mary’s in St. Louis from 1968 until 1972, when she became the director, a position she held for over 35 years.
At that time, she oversaw about 100 staff members in the large laboratory, which was the core lab for about five SSM hospitals in the St. Louis area.
In 1978, she realized the importance of obtaining a master’s degree, so she applied for admittance and was accepted into a master’s program specifically designed for clinical professionals, at Central Michigan University.
This program was one of several in the country in which students could take several classes a year while still working full-time as a lab director.
In 1985, she was awarded a master’s degree in management, having completed her studies over a seven-year period while managing and directing the laboratory at St. Mary’s in St. Louis.
During her professional career, she also held various positions on the local, state and national boards in the laboratory-science field and management.
She was one of two lab directors who helped establish Missouri’s first local Laboratory Management Chapter.
She also established a program for families with limited means to provide a proper and respectful burial for babies who died in the womb or who were delivered prior to full term.
In December 2007, Sr. Cecilia retired after 50 years of service at St. Mary’s in St. Louis.
She enjoys retirement, keeping busy with astronomy, music, origami and reading, especially the works of Kahlil Gibran.
She is looking forward to returning to the place of her baptism, healing and discernment and catching up with friends and family members in and around St. Thomas.