VAN BUREN — Seventy years ago the Kiene family arrived in Arkansas and has made its impact on St. Michael Church in Van Buren ever since.
On Oct. 7 the parish will honor the three sisters who remain in the parish: Mary Lou, 85; Rose Anna, 84; and Alberta, 81.
“We left Kansas because our Daddy’s health was poor,” Alberta Kiene said, explaining that the Arkansas weather was better for his health. “We brought a big 18-wheeler cattle truck filled with rakes, hay balers and farm equipment.”
Like Noah, Albert Kiene brought one pair each of chickens, pigs and cows, along with his wife Rose, three sons and three daughters.
On Oct. 2, 1948, the family attended Mass at St. Michael Church for the first time, joining their aunt, uncle, cousins and 15 other families. They quickly found an extended group of friends there as they helped the small parish grow. Their mother found a home in the Altar Society. Their father served as an usher and built a crèche that the church used each Christmas until moving to its new home on Pointer Trail in 1983. The six children were active in the Catholic Youth Organization.
“Our CYO group visited the Fort Smith radio station every Sunday night,” Alberta Kiene said. “Our group recited the rosary on air, and sometimes I led a decade.”
They were the only Catholic students at Alma High School.
“I remember the principal saying he was a little worried about how Protestants would react to us,” Rose Anna said.
The girls’ parents would only allow them to go to weekend athletic events and school trips if the chaperones guaranteed to bring them to Sunday Mass.
There were lots of chores each day on a 200-acre farm, and the sisters remember milking cows and feeding animals before making the two-mile walk to school each day. When they graduated from high school, they continued to help with the farm while beginning their careers. Mary Lou Kiene was a meat wrapper, Rose Anna Kiene became a bookkeeper at a bank and Alberta Kiene was an office manager, first at Crawford County Hospital and later at the Holt-Krock Clinic.
Their three brothers married, and the sisters, who remained single, eventually became aunts to seven nephews and five nieces. They continued to live with their parents on the farm, caring for them. Their father died at age 86, and their mother died just three months short of her 100th birthday. Two of their brothers have also died and the remaining brother Tony lives in Barling.
“Right before my mother died, St. Michael’s had a big party for her,” Alberta said. “The City of Rudy gave her trophies for several years in a row, honoring her as their oldest resident.”
The sisters held weenie roasts and hayrides for young parish families for many years, but as the parish grew their impromptu celebrations were replaced by large parish events, such as the festival held on St. Michael’s feast day, Sept. 29.
Four years ago they sold the farm and moved to a new home, relocating their statues of St. Francis of Assisi and the Blessed Mother to tranquil garden spots and setting up a vegetable garden.
“Rose Anna’s the cook, Alberta does the cleaning, and I’m the gardener,” Mary Lou Kiene said.
Every Wednesday they attend Mass before going to the Altar Society meeting. Pastor Father Rick Hobbs said their faithfulness has always impressed him.
“Their dedication, easiness and openness have always stood out,” he said. “They are faithful members of the Altar Society and the Golden Club. Family is a big part of their lives, and they show the same faithfulness to their extended parish family.”
The sisters began singing with the parish choir when they first moved to Rudy and still are active participants in the church’s funeral choir. In the pre-Vatican II era, they began singing in a choir loft, looking down at the congregation below and blending their voices with organ accompaniment.
“When we renovated the new church recently, some people wanted a choir loft,” Rose Anna Kiene said, “but most wanted the choir to be in front of the church. If we had built a loft, our former organist and some of the choir members wouldn’t have been able to climb the stairs.”
Finishing one another’s sentences, the three sisters agreed that what has meant most to them in their 70 years at St. Michael has been “the people we’ve grown up with who have been part of our lives.”
“We watched their children and grandchildren grow up here,” Rose Anna said. “There is a real family feel to the parish, and people who have been here a long time have remained close.”
The sisters will be honored during a special 10 a.m. Mass and brunch Sunday, Oct. 7.
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