February 5, 2010

‘Supercentenarian’: At 110 years old, Emelie Weil says Catholic faith has sustained her through life’s challenges

St. Charles Borromeo parishioner Emelie Weil of Milan celebrated her 110th birthday on Nov. 20, 2009. During 11 decades, she has acquired skills in nursing, playing the piano, painting, tatting and basket weaving. When she was complimented on a beautiful handmade basket on Jan. 17, Emelie smiled and replied, “Flatter me like that and it will go to my head.” (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

St. Charles Borromeo parishioner Emelie Weil of Milan celebrated her 110th birthday on Nov. 20, 2009. During 11 decades, she has acquired skills in nursing, playing the piano, painting, tatting and basket weaving. When she was complimented on a beautiful handmade basket on Jan. 17, Emelie smiled and replied, “Flatter me like that and it will go to my head.” (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Mary Ann Wyand

MILAN—Three centuries, 10 popes and 20 presidents.

At 110, St. Charles Borromeo parishioner Emelie Weil of Milan has lived during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

She was born on Nov. 20, 1899, in northern Kentucky and has lived during 10 papacies and 20 presidencies.

Throughout 11 decades, Emelie said on Jan. 17, her Catholic faith has sustained her through many difficult life challenges.

She has earned the distinguished title of “supercentenarian,” and even survived a broken neck from a fall down a stairway in her former home at age 98. Now she uses a wheelchair and has a hard time hearing, but is still very astute.

One Internet source notes that there are as many as 300 people age 110 and older throughout the world out of 6.7 billion people, but the Gerontology Research Group in Los Angeles maintains an international list of only 75 living supercentenarians age 110 and older.

For the past 10 years, Emelie has lived with Bob and Marilyn Weil, her son and daughter-in-law, on their cattle farm located among gently rolling hills at the end of a scenic country lane near Milan, the home of the 1954 state high school basketball champions made famous by the movie Hoosiers.

“I have a wonderful family,” she said, smiling at two of her great-grandsons as her primary caregiver, Marilyn, placed a pork roast, mashed potatoes, green beans canned from the garden, a tossed salad and peach cobbler on the table for their Sunday night dinner.

Father Francis Eckstein, a retired diocesan priest who lives in Milan and brings Communion to Emelie on first Fridays, was invited to dinner.

Outside the dining room windows of the spacious farmhouse that Bob, a retired veterinarian, designed and built, the winter sun was setting behind the western hills as the rosy dusk colored the evening sky.

Yet another day had passed in Emelie’s amazing life. Her 110th birthday last November marked the 40,150th time that she awakened to a new morning.

Emelie still opens her well-worn prayer book and picks up her rosary each day to spend time in conversation with Jesus and Mary as well as pray for her late husband, Stephen, who was the love of her life.

“Every day, I say prayers,” she said. “I love Jesus and Mary.”

Emelie was 21 and an accomplished pianist when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, and gave women the right to vote. She met her future husband a year later.

After completing nursing school, Emelie worked as a registered nurse in Chicago, New York and Cincinnati. Many years later, she worked at Drake Hospital in Cincinnati and was promoted to nursing supervisor.

“I always wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “I like to help people.”

In 1932, a decade after they met, Stephen Weil and Emelie Seissiger were married when she was 32. He owned a trucking company, and she became a devoted mother.

But their happy life together was not destined to last very long.

Stephen died of pneumonia in 1943 after only 11 years of marriage, leaving her at age 43 with seven children to raise by herself. One son, John, died at 10 months.

Antibiotics were scarce during World War II because medicine was rationed for the war effort, and a severe respiratory infection claimed his life in a few days.

Their oldest child, Mary, was 10 years old at the time and their youngest child, Rita, was only 2 months old.

Emelie raised her children on a 15-acre farm at Mount Healthy, Ohio, now part of Cincinnati. She returned to nursing when Rita was in high school, and encouraged all of her children to go to college.

She misses Mary, who died a few years ago, and John, who died as an infant, as well as Stephen, a former Maryknoll missionary priest who still lives in Nicaragua. Ruth, Ann, Jane and Rita live in other cities, but are able to stay in touch with their centenarian mother.

It’s been 67 years since her husband’s death, and Emelie said she misses him more than ever and is looking forward to seeing him again in heaven.

She often wonders why God hasn’t called her to his heavenly kingdom.

Looking back at her miraculously long and healthy life, Emelie said she loved raising her children. She enjoys spending time with her 25 grandchildren and 39 great-grandchildren.

During her lengthy retirement, Emelie has kept busy painting colorful pictures of flowers, birds and other nature scenes, which her family members recently preserved in a self-published book.

She is an expert cook, taught her children how to prepare tasty German foods, and still peels potatoes to help her daughter-in-law in the kitchen.

With Father Eckstein there for dinner, the conversation turned to Catholic topics.

Pope Leo XIII was the shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church during the year of her birth. He was elected on March 3, 1878, and died on July 20, 1903.

He was succeeded by Popes St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Pope Pius XII was her favorite pope. His papacy lasted from 1939 until 1959.

President William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States, served from 1897 to 1901. He took the oath of office two years before her birth.

Ronald Reagan, who served from 1981 to 1989, was her favorite president.

She is reading a large-print edition of former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s book, Going Rogue, and likes to watch Fox News on cable TV to stay informed about national and international events.

Historical conflicts during her lifetime include two Russian revolutions, two Balkan wars, two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

Emelie said she was happy to see the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, which led to the reunification of Germany.

She prefers to talk about God, her loved ones and family history.

During her childhood, she walked two miles to school and then home again on weekdays. Her father owned a grocery store next to their home in Kentucky. Emelie and her seven siblings helped with chores, including making German-style sauerkraut in 50-gallon barrels.

Emelie is proud that her father donated money to the Catholic Church to buy land for a new parish in the Diocese of Covington, Ky. Decades later, she donated land to the Church in Cincinnati.

Her love for God and the Church has been passed on to her family.

The dinner conversation turned to the Jan. 12 earthquake which devastated Haiti because one of her great-grandsons, St. Charles Borromeo parishioner Chad Meinders, works in construction and is preparing for a mission trip there to help with relief efforts.

He said his prayer to God for the mission trip to Haiti is “Lord, show me your will and show me the way.”

That prayer also describes Emelie’s long life, which has been rooted in her devotion to God and strengthened by a lifetime of generous service to others.

“Emelie always wonders why the Lord lets her stay here,” Father Eckstein said. “I tell her it’s because she says a lot of prayers, and she’s praying to keep the rest of us in line. For 110 years, she has kept the faith. That’s pretty fantastic.”

To find happiness in life, Emelie said, be faithful to God.

“I haven’t done anything that anybody else couldn’t do,” she said. “Just say your prayers, and do the best you can.” †

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