In the heart of Missouri, two blood sisters, Genevieve and Pauline, were born to Peter and Cecilia Stieferman. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century the family moved to Okarche, Oklahoma. Genevieve joined the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in 1912 while Pauline entered in 1917. They were given new names in the religious community, Sister Mary Aquinas and Sister Petrona. Petrona had completed her bachelor’s degree in 1929. Aquinas not only had a bachelor’s degree but by 1933, when Sacred Heart Junior College was founded, she had completed a master’s degree in Botany from Wichita University; a pioneer since her degree was the first one to be earned at the university. Both sisters were vital to the founding of Sacred Heart Junior College and worked in various capacities over those 20 to 30 years.
Sister Petrona, the younger of the two, in many ways ran the college; she was the Librarian, the Registrar, and the founder of the Alumni Association, the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, and connected these organizations to Catholic Action endeavors that were just beginning in the Wichita diocese under the leadership of Rev. Leon A. McNeill, the first president. Since McNeill held many diocesan positions including superintendent of Catholic schools, he did not have the time needed to run the college on a day to day basis. In 1961 McNeill eulogized Sister Petrona: “Only those who were closely associated with Sacred Heart College in the early years can appreciate the significant contribution Sister Petrona made to its development.” He also stated, “Sister Petrona had a quick, original, and fertile mind. She could generate more ideas about things to be done in a given area than all the rest of us together. She possessed courage of a high order and never hesitated to embark boldly on any project that had the approval of “the powers that be’ Her driving energy, unceasing labor, and resourcefulness in choosing means to accomplish her ends left us breathless at times, but they added up to an almost sure formula of success. She had unusual talent for enlisting willing workers and filling them with enthusiasm. Everyone who worked with her now looks back on the experience as one of the most thrilling of their lives.” Maybe she was truly the first COO of the college, Chief Operating Officer!
Sister Aquinas spent 27 years as a biology instructor at the college; she also served as the Dean of Women in the late 1930s. As World War II ended she became the moderator of the College Alumni Association and served in that role for almost 25 years. She was known and loved by so many of the alumni and their families. When visiting with early alumnae of the college, they always recall her efforts on their behalf; she visited their homes, invited them to campus, penned many a letter, and organized many family gatherings on the campus. She possessed a strong determination to do the things she thought had to be done. She had much concern for others’ needs and tried to fulfill them whenever she could. In her retirement years she had time to devote her skills as an artist; several homes of alumnae including those of the Adorers have been blessed to have been gifted by one of her landscape paintings and some of her large murals. Her works illustrate a peacefulness and hope-filled world blessed daily by God.