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Sister Mary Laura Wingert, SND (Joan Marie Wingert); February 12, 1942-February 26, 2024

Joan Marie Wingert was the oldest child and only daughter of Wayne and Mary (Zettler) Wingert, born on February 12, 1942 in Canton, Ohio. Together with her four brothers, Joan enjoyed a happy childhood in the family home, surrounded by acres of farmland and woods to play in. Both parents came from German farming families. Joan’s innate love of nature and care for the earth found deep expression in her spirituality and in her art.  At St. Joseph and then at St. Joan of Arc Parish School, Joan made lifelong friends, joined the choir, and took clarinet lessons. High School at Canton Central Catholic brought college prep courses along with marching band and chorus. As an upperclassman she was treasurer of the Art Club and secretary-treasurer of the band; she also wrote and directed the Variety Show.

In 1960 she became a freshman at Notre Dame College, South Euclid, Ohio. With a major in Art and English, she planned a career in fashion design. She met Sister Mary Howard Watkins who became an advisor and close friend. Joan had never seriously considered a religious vocation, but gradually was aware of God’s call. Prayer and discernment helped her reach a decision: Joan entered the Sisters of Notre Dame as a postulant on September 8, 1962. At investment she received the name Sister Mary Laura. With a bachelor of arts degree from Notre Dame College, Sister Laura began her 35-year teaching career at St. Stephen High School, Cleveland in 1965. Assignments at Cleveland Central Catholic, Cardinal Gibbons HS in Raleigh, NC, and at Notre Dame Academy, Chardon followed. She earned a master’s degree from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, and an Advanced Catechetical diploma from the Middleburg Institute. She studied Native American Arts in New Mexico.        

Sister Laura taught at Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg, Virginia in 1966-67; returning in 1980 she spent the next 21 years in ministry there. “I hope to empower each student to choose the reflective approach to life that the arts engender,” she wrote, “and to grow in appreciation and respect for the power of creative expression within each one.” Her students learned drawing, painting, ceramics, crafts, graphics, and related arts. She directed and staged plays, initiated inter-departmental art/environmental activities, and produced art exhibits featuring works by students, faculty, and alumni.

Her profound impact on her students is evident. “My memories are filled with not only deep kindness and sharp creativity, but with her cheeky sense of humor and down-to-earth spirit,” one woman wrote. Another who kept in touch through the years shared a good laugh with Sister Laura: “I failed your portrait class. But I became a professional makeup artist: I do faces! I think of you so often!”  For many, the art room was a sanctuary, a place of acceptance and creative energy. Both boarders and day students attest: “You taught us so many things that had nothing to do with school…you helped raise us into beautiful, strong women.”

Since moving to the SND Center in Chardon in 2001, Sister Laura has been involved in many activities. She was a volunteer at WomenSafe, and a member of the Steering Committee and a speaker for the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking. She had time to devote to her art. “I was given the gift of working as a clay artist,” she said. She showed and sold her work at area exhibits, craft shows, and the Gallery. She enjoyed photography, painting, fiber arts, needlecrafts, and flower arranging, generously teaching and encouraging the sisters to participate. In 2018, using clay she collected from the building site, Sister Laura created 60 unique vases to commemorate the opening of Notre Dame Village in Chardon. Vases were presented to those who designed, planned, and constructed Notre Dame Village– meaningful gifts from the land and from the heart. Sister Laura lived with simple trust in God, through joy and sorrow. “O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay and you are the potter. We are all formed by your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, March 8, at the Sisters of Notre Dame Center. Visitation will be from 9:30-10:15. Mass will be live-streamed. Go to Click on the Chardon Regional Center. 

To make a gift in memory of Sr. Mary Laura Wingert, please click here.

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