One must wonder what thoughts went through the mind of Sister Jerome Gehringer when Mother Clementine Zerr chose her to accompany her, with two other Sisters, to establish a central house in Wichita, Kansas.
While Sisters had traveled from Ruma, Illinois, for the past nine years, responding to invitations from the diocese to teach in parish schools, they had continued to return to the central house in Ruma during the summer months. Consequently, little was known about the area or its possible future in the life of the Adorers. Sister Jerome Gehringer, no doubt, undertook the journey with anticipation, certainly some fears, but overall with abundant trust in God’s will for the future work of the community in Kansas.
Sister Jerome Gehringer was born Elizabeth in St. Mary’s, Iowa, to Rosa and Joseph Gehringer on November 14, 1870, the year in which the Adorers arrived in America. She joined the community of Adorers in Ruma in 1895 and made her vows in 1897. Already in 1895, she began her ministry of teaching in schools in Illinois.
With growing requests for Sisters in other Catholic parishes in the Wichita Diocese, Mother Clementine had begun to search for a location for a central house in Wichita.
In October, 1901, she purchased a building in an area known as College Green from Bishop Hennessy. The Bishop had intended to have the house cleaned, but when the four Sisters arrived on April 2, 1902, they took up the task of cleaning and furnishing their new home. Sister Jerome described her duties during the first several months as cleaning, repairing, gardening, cooking, feeding chickens, milking cows, and purchasing needed supplies by riding the streetcar or driving the buggy.
The Sisters named the central house St. John’s Institute and began both a girls’ academy and a boys’ school and home. The farmers in the area contributed apples, potatoes, chickens and other supplies.
Often the police would bring wayward and/or homeless boys to St. John’s, and Jerome was particularly eager to give them a home. She later said that, at one time when some boys were being dropped off, she told the policeman, “We’re glad to help the boys and give them a home, but try to bring us a barber’s scissors and a comb or two so Sister Virginia can keep the boys presentable and clean.” The scissors arrived before the week was out.
After helping to establish the Central House, Sister Jerome continued to teach at the boys’ school, and at other parishes throughout the area. When the Wichita Province was established in 1929, Sister Jerome returned to the Central House to serve as provincial treasurer for nine years.
From 1938 to 1941, she was sent to St. Francis Hospital in Carlsbad, New Mexico, as superior for the community. She returned to Wichita in 1941, and spent the remaining years of her life at the provincial house, sewing, mending, and serving her Sisters in whatever way she could.
She lived to see the completion of the new provincial house in 1959 and lived there until her death in 1964.