Sr. Louismarie Premazzi plays ukulele during the dedication of a new Marian prayer garden Dec. 8 at Our Lady of Peace Retreat. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Sr. Louismarie Premazzi plays ukulele during the dedication of a new Marian prayer garden Dec. 8 at Our Lady of Peace Retreat. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

BEAVERTON — A sprightly ukulele-playing nun is the newest member of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows here.  

Sister Louismarie Premazzi, 58, has returned to serve in her native Oregon after 14 years in a New Mexico cloister.

A nursing home resident once told Sister Louismarie: “Since I met you, I have a different view of Catholic sisters.”

She was born in The Dalles into an Italian-American family that named her Tina. Her father, a soil engineer who worked on Columbia River dams, was a meticulous man with flaws. His World War II service had left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, so he drank to soothe the angst and at times became violent. Tina dealt with the strife by going inside herself.

Her mother was devoutly Catholic. The children were expected to attend Mass, but Tina had no interest in youth group. She kept mostly to herself. “I was a studious type growing up,” she says.

She attended St. Mary School in The Dalles and then went on to public high school, since there was no Catholic option in the area.

It was on to Mount Hood Community College, where she stopped practicing her faith, but always believed there is a God. After graduation, she landed a job as a legal secretary in downtown Portland on the 33rd floor of the U.S. Bancorp Tower. She spent more than a decade away from faith.

As she moved toward age 30, she began to wonder if there were more to life. By preference, she lived simply, taking the bus and dressing without ostentation, for example. At the time, she did not understand her habits for what they were — a response to God’s overwhelming generosity and an act of solidarity with the poor.  

She sensed a need for change and so moved back to The Dalles. In the course of searching for an apartment and a job, she spontaneously uttered a prayer for help. That got her talking to God again after a long silence. “The Lord started working on me,” she says.

Over the years, she met friends with strong Marian spirituality. It dawned on her that Mary is still active in people’s lives today and is not simply a historical artifact. “That got this thing started in my head: There is more than this material life.”

In her apartment, she put together a prayer site with statues and candles. She went to Mass daily and prayed the rosary. Before long, she felt she had a relationship with the Lord.

On the job search, she started looking at churches and learned that a Presbyterian accountant in town needed a secretary. She worked at the office for eight years among people who lived out their Christian values. That gave her a taste of evangelical life, which solidified her re-conversion. Her shyness began to fade and she started initiating conversations. 

At her parish, St. Peter in The Dalles, she began leading Holy Hours and a rosary group that brought the prayer to a local nursing home. People who were not Catholic started to get interested. The manager of the facility said that the residents who attended the rosary were sleeping better and generally seemed more peaceful than before.

“Mary is peace,” Sister Louismarie says.

Her spiritual director, a retired priest, began to sense that she might have a vocation to religious life. She was afraid of the idea, but explored religious communities, including monasteries. A trip to a Marian apparition site in Betania, Venezuela, gave her courage to give the life a try.

“I kept trying to find reasons not to go,” she says. “They all melted away.”

At 39, she entered the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, a cloistered New Mexico order that prays for the well-being of priests. For 14 years, she devoted herself to intercessory prayer and everyday tasks of the monastery. Attracted by nature to poverty, she would live in such an austere way that her superior on occasion would say, “Sister, we are not Franciscans!” The comment would prove prescient.

Her religious name — Louismarie — pays homage to the Blessed Mother, of course, but also to St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, an 18th-century French priest and confessor who fostered devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“He is an unconventional saint,” Sister Louismarie says. “And I have some things in common with him. He had a good sense of humor. He liked music. He was very much in love with Our Lady.”

In 2013, as the Handmaids were planning a move to Tennessee, Sister Louismarie began to sense a call to apostolic religious life outside the cloister. Her superiors allowed her to leave and explore. She returned to Oregon and moved in with her blood sister in Estacada. The modern world had passed by, so Sister Louismarie had to learn about computers, email, mobile phones and text messages.

To support herself, she took a job at an Oregon City nursing home. She loved the work and the people. They loved her back. Days were filled with laughter. She could not wear a habit, but did get to string a crucifix around her neck.

Soon, it became clear that she loved the active life and also had an abiding Franciscan spirit. One of the communities she visited stood out: the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows, who operate Our Lady of Peace Retreat in Beaverton. Sister Louismarie kept returning to the retreat house and convent for visits.

After much prayer and serious talks, she asked if she could join. The Franciscans welcomed her joyfully and she professed vows in April.

“Franciscan is my true calling. It’s been that way from the start,” she says. “It just took some time.”

Sister Louismarie has a sense of being home at the Beaverton convent and retreat house, where many people come to energize their relationship with the Lord. She senses “light spirits” at the place and she lives moment by moment, open to God’s nudging.

“My hope for the future,” she says, “is that God can be known and loved and that we can radiate the love of the Lord and his mother to all we meet.”