She gave up her bed to a future saint and was an enthusiastic Green Bay Packers fan.
Sister Monica Fumo, a native of Kenosha, gave a life of faithful service to the Sisters of Charity of St. Joan Antida with a joyful heart and playful spirit, said those who knew her.
“She was always smiling and joking; not a typical nun,” said her nephew, David Aiello. “She was more real and understanding about social situations.”
“She was sweet and funny,” added David’s brother, Thom Aiello.
For five decades, Sr. Monica was a teacher, counselor and principal at St. Joan Antida High School, an all-girls school in Milwaukee.
“What struck me about her was her sense of humor; she was sparky,” said Marikris Coryell, current president of St. Joan Antida High School.
Watching Packers games with her fellow sisters was one of Sr. Monica’s great joys.
“Everybody needs a little break — a little fun; I’d say, joy, crazy laughter … it’s good for everybody,” said Sr. Monica during an interview for a Packers’ video program.
“She was really a mentor to a lot of people, including myself,” David said. “Whenever I had anything I worried about, she always had an open ear; she had good advice and was kind and gentle.”
After serving with the Sisters of Charity of St. Joan Antida for over five decades, Sr. Monica died May 18 in Milwaukee from coronavirus, COVID-19. She was 78. She is survived by nieces, nephews and friends.
Early life and Sisters of Charity
Sr. Monica, whose birth name was Judy, was born on Nov. 22, 1941, in Kenosha, the youngest child of Henry and Josephine Fumo.
Henry died when Judy was a toddler, and Judy was raised by her mother, grandmother and aunt. She attended St. James school and St. Joseph’s High School and attended Mt. Carmel Catholic Church.
Judy first encountered the Sisters of Charity at Mt. Carmel. She became interested in joining the order after a friend did so, taking her vows — and her new name Sr. Monica — at age 18.
She received her bachelor’s of arts degree from Mount Mary College, majoring in French and minoring in music with an emphasis in secondary education. She went on to get a master’s degree in administrative leadership from Marquette University.
After college, she was assigned to St. Joan Antida High School, where she began by teaching French and served as an accompanist to the choir.
Through the years Sr. Monica served as teacher, vice principal, principal and president. She was also an active member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish.
Dedication was strong
Sr. Monica’s dedication to the school was strong, Marikris said.
“She was very involved with the school choice and voucher system in Milwaukee,” Marikris said, “which helped many students attend St. Joan’s.”
“She really felt like it was important to make an impact with these young girls who have so many things they are facing,” Thom said.
Sr. Monica fully embraced teaching, Thom said. “Teaching is a big deal in my family; my mother, Josephine Aiello, taught at Holy Rosary.”
Sr. Monica also helped raise funds for the high school as well, supporting community events such as Run with a Nun and spaghetti dinners.
“As a teacher and colleague, Sr. Monica nurtured through unique relationships and made everyone feel so special,” Marikris said.
Sr. Monica’s interaction with students was often novel.
For a school rally in the 1990s Sr. Monica rode into the gym on the back of a Harley, wearing goggles and a black leather jacket over her habit. “She was short so they had a step-stool to help her get on it,” Thom said.
Avid Wisconsin sports fan
Sr. Monica’s fun side was especially evident as she supported Wisconsin sports teams.
“She was a huge Wisconsin sports fan, from Madison teams to Bucks, Brewers and Packers,” Thom said. “The Brewers offered her a suite to watch games.”
In 2018, Sr. Monica helped narrate “Hail Mary,” an episode of Packers Life, showing members of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joan Antida watching Green Bay Packers games together.
In the 22-minute video, (viewable on www.packers.com, under TV shows) Sr. Monica is seen waving a doll dressed in a nun’s habit with green and gold pom-poms as she cheers the team on and celebrates touchdowns.
“She was the most enthusiastic Packer fan I ever met,” said Sr. Jennifer Daul in the video.
One of Sr. Monica’s very good friends in the order was Sister Gabriella Nguyen. They shared a love of teaching, fundraising and watching Packers games together.
Sr. Monica and Sr. Gabriella were among several nuns who had been going to their church to read and record masses for remote viewing after churches were closed to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Sr. Gabriella, 75, died from complications related to the coronavirus two days before Sr. Monica’s passing.
This year’s Spaghetti with the Sisters, scheduled for Nov. 1, will be honor Sr. Monica and Sr. Gabriella, noted Marikris.
Unique life experiences
Before her retirement, Sr. Monica was a counselor who worked at the province level for the community. In this capacity, she traveled to Italy and France to attend chapter meetings.
“She had a lot of life experience, but didn’t take things too seriously,” Marikris said.
Among her unique life experiences was meeting Mother Teresa when the latter visited in Milwaukee in 1981 to receive Marquette University’s Pere Marquette Discovery Award. Mother Teresa stayed at the convent of the Sisters of Charity, and Sr. Monica, who headed up the convent at the time, gave Mother Teresa her bed and helped transport her luggage.
In retirement, Sr. Monica began translating a book of letters written by St. Joan Antida from French into English. “It was a project she was asked to do by the Mother Superior of the order in Rome,” David said.
She also continued fundraising for St. Joan Antida High School; thanking donors with personal, handwritten notes.
In the mid-2000s, the school established The Sister Monica Fumo Society, an organization recognizing the school’s benefactors. The society was founded “to honor Sr. Monica’s legacy at SJA and the deep relationships she had formed over the years with donors and community partners,” Marikris said.
“Passion was her strongest quality, and her belief in the mission of the school was her guiding force,” Marikris said.
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