From the time she was a little girl, Sr. Gabriel Mary Spaeth wanted to be a nun. She grew up on a farm about 30 miles north of Milwaukee and attended a school run by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. “I admired their personalities and their kindness,” she said. “You’d see the fun they had between themselves. Their whole-hearted goodness made me want to be like them. And I wanted to be a teacher.”
She entered the School Sisters’ convent in Milwaukee in 1947 at age 15 and professed vows in 1953. Spaeth finished high school, graduated from Mount Mary College and then earned a master’s degree in education and administration at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. During her 68 years as a School Sister, she taught nearly every grade level and worked as a school administrator. During a four-year term with the community’s leadership team, she worked on health care issues.
That’s when she met David Snowdon, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota who was researching aging. Their connection launched a long-term relationship between the School Sisters and medical researchers that continues today and ensures that the women would continue their educational mission for decades, even long after they die.