Remembering 9/11 and the Beatitudes of Reconciliation

September 10, 2011 by  

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A visitor to this site Saturday (Sept. 10) asked about the Beatitudes of Reconciliation, written many years ago by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. As a quick web search will demonstrate, today they are widely quoted by many groups that focus on unity and nonviolence.

As we remember the awful tragedy of 10 years ago today, it is appropriate that we publish them here in honor of all those who lost their lives and those who were forever changed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Beatitudes of Reconciliation

Blessed are those who are willing to enter into the process of being healed,
for they will become healers.
Blessed are those who recognize their own inner violence,
for they will come to know non-violence.
Blessed are those who can forgive self,
for they will become forgivers.
Blessed are those who are willing to let go of selfishness and self-centeredness,
for they will become a healing presence.
Blessed are those who will listen with compassion,
for they will become compassionate.
Blessed are those who are willing to enter into conflict,
for they will find transformation.
Blessed are those who know their interdependence with all creation,
for they will become unifiers.
Blessed are those who live a contemplative life stance,
for they will find God in all things.
Blessed are those who strive to live these beatitudes,
for they will become reconcilers.

— Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas

Old friend visits for a double celebration

August 26, 2011 by  

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Sister Agnes Bernita Green, left, chats with Bishop Emeritus George Fitzsimons over dinner Friday afternoon.

The golden  jubilee celebration was a couple of months late in coming, and the birthday party was a week early. But old friends don’t quibble about exact dates.

• • • • • • • •

So on Friday (Aug. 26), the Sisters of St. Joseph invited Bishop Emeritus George Fitzsimons to the Motherhouse in Concordia, to honor him for his 50th anniversary as an ordained priest and to celebrate his upcoming 83rd birthday. The Sisters also wanted to thank the man who led the Salina Diocese as bishop for 20 years for always being a friend to the congregation.

Speaking in reference to the Gospel from that morning’s liturgy, the story of the Good Shepherd, Sister Marcia Allen, president of the congregation, said that although the Sisters “were not always docile, you were always patient, compassionate when we were grieving and always kind.”

Bishop Fitzsimons led the diocese from 1984 until his retirement in 2004, when he returned to a parish ministry in Ogden, Kan. But when Bishop Paul Coakley was appointed archbishop of Oklahoma City this past February, Bishop Fitzsimons was pressed back into service across the diocese.

He celebrated Mass with the Sisters before joining them for dinner. In addition to a stack of greeting cards that was several inches thick, the Sisters presented him with a birthday bottle of Baileys Irish Cream. Bishop Fitzsimons thanked the gathered Sisters for the gift, the cards and all their prayers. “It’s always good to be among old friends,” he said.

‘Working lunch’ focuses on events & work to be done

August 17, 2011 by  

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Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, right, offers a blessing after Sister Marcia Allen, left, welcomed participants to Wednesday's "working lunch" at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

At least a dozen local organizations and agencies will take part in Concordia’s first-ever Volunteer Fair, participants at Wednesday’s “working lunch” at the Nazareth Motherhouse learned.

And while plans for that event — designed to bring together groups that need volunteers and local residents willing to help — are being finalized, other new community events are being launched.

• • • • • • •

Nearly 30 people attended the lunch, which was the 15th gathering in a process that started in the fall of 2008 and hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph. In addition to identifying what participants see as the greatest needs in the community, the meetings have established smaller groups to seek solutions.

On Wednesday, a number of committees updated the larger group on upcoming events:

• Neighbor to Neighbor is hosting an open house this evening, from 5 to 7 p.m., to show off the just-completed renovation project that has doubled the space of the women’s center in downtown Concordia. The public is invited to stop by.

• A free showing of the 2004 movie “Hotel Rwanda” is set for Wednesday, Sept. 7, at the Cook Theater on the Cloud County Community College campus. Co-sponsored by the college and the Concordia year of Peace Committee, the 7 p.m. movie will be followed by a discussion led by Sue Sutton and Brenton Phillips.

• The Concordia Volunteer Fair is set for Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Motherhouse. Organizations and agencies, ranging from the Concordia Fire Department to the Brown Grand Theatre, will have displays, so local residents can find out more about how they can volunteer. Other groups that expect to have displays are Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Concordia POW Camp Association, the Salina chapter of the American Red Cross, the North Central Kansas Regional Medical Rescue Corps, Cloud County Museum, the National Orphan Train Museum, the Concordia School District, the city of Concordia, Manna House of Prayer and Neighbor to Neighbor.

• On Sunday, Sept. 18, the Motherhouse will host a Peace Fair, sponsored by the Justice and Peace Center of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Concordia Year of Peace Committee and Pax Christi of Salina. That even commemorates the International Day of Peace and will offer a wide array of free activities for adults and children.

• The next presentation in the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series will be Monday, Sept. 26. Concordia City Manager Larry Uri will discuss “Building Community” in his talk, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Motherhouse Auditorium. All the presentations in the Speakers Series are open to the public without charge.

Also during Wednesday’s lunch, Year of Peace committee member Patrick Sieben reported on the National Night Out events in Concordia Aug. 2.

Sieben said “probably hundreds of people participated” in more than 20 neighborhood parties across the city as a part of the nationwide event, which was sponsored locally by the Year of Peace Committee and the Concordia Police Department. “This was a good, fun thing,” Sieben said, “and we’re going to do it again next year.” The national event is always held the first Tuesday in August.

New discussion that came up Wednesday included an idea to help local nonprofit organizations come together to raise funds.

Holly Brown, the former director of Big Brothers Big Sisters who has just started work in the Sisters of St. Joseph Development Office, asked those at the lunch meeting whether they would be interested in something like a “Christmas Tree Lane,” in which local organizations could decorate trees that then would be used as fundraisers. The event could be held in conjunction with the annual Christmas Open House at the Motherhouse, she said.

Brown is leading a committee to consider the idea.

Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, also asked the group if human trafficking and its connection to immigration were topics of concern. “There have been recent news reports of trafficking in the Wichita area, and I don’t know how much people here know about it, and think it’s an issue here,” she said.

Allen along with several other sisters recently attended a national conference held in St. Louis where human trafficking was a main topic on the agenda.

After more discussion, most of the participants said they need more information about trafficking and its impact locally.

The final working lunch for 2011 is planned for Nov. 16, with the quarterly meetings scheduled through the first half of 2012. Everyone is invited to join the process; you do not have to a have attended an earlier lunch or other meeting to take part now. If you’d like to be added to the list to receive an email reminder of the next lunch, contact Sister Jean Rosemarynoski at





Nebraska native follows her heart home

August 12, 2011 by  

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Sister Pat Eichner in her garden at the home she shared with three other members of her congregation in Concordia.


With a master’s in business administration from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and five years experience as finance officer for her congregation, Sister Pat Eichner clearly has a head for business.

But her heart has always been in parish ministry.

Now her head and heart come together as she takes over as parish minister in Greeley, Neb., working with Father Don Buhrman.

For Sister Pat, it is also a return to her home diocese and a chance to be closer to her parents and siblings.

“When I started talking with (Sister) Marcia (Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia) about going back to parish ministry, I told her I wanted to go back to the Grand Island Diocese. My family is there, I grew up there.”

And that was just fine with Father Buhrman, who has been pastor of Greeley, Spalding, Ericson and St. Libory for two years. For most of that time, Father Sid Bruggeman was there to lend a hand as associate pastor. But when he was reassigned earlier this summer as pastor of St. Libory and the veterans hospital in Grand Island, that left Father Buhrman alone in Spalding as the only full-time minister to the three remaining parishes. (A retired priest, Father Jim Murphy, does help with Sunday Mass in Ericson.)

“Having Sister Pat here as a religious presence is going to be huge,” Father Buhrman said. “It means we’ll be able to do so much more in terms of pastoral ministry and adult education.

“And with her background in finance, it ensures that we are responsible and accountable in our parishes,” he added.

The 49-year-old Sister Pat is just as enthusiastic: “I get excited when I think about what I can do with the people there, the different programs we can introduce…

“Just being among the people again, that’s so important to me,” she added. “And, of course, it’s being back in Nebraska.”

Her parents Don and Mary still live in Sister Pat’s hometown of Ogallala, as do her sister and brother-in-law, Terry and Calvin Hoover, and their two sons. Her brother Tim, wife Becky and their four daughters live in Scottsbluff.

Sister Pat was received into the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia in 1986 — coincidentally, both she and Father Buhrman celebrated their 25th jubilees this summer — and then she served as a youth minister in Salina from 1991 to 1993. For the next six years, she had the same duties in North Platte, Neb., and in 1999 became the pastoral minister in Gothenburg.

It was during those years that Sister Pat got to know Father Buhrman a bit. “I worked with him on a youth retreat, maybe 15 years ago,” she recalled, “and we were in the same diocese, so our paths crossed.”

In 2006 — as she was working toward her MBA — the congregation’s Leadership Council asked her to come to Concordia to serve in the finance office.

Her five years here were a blessing, she said. “I’ve gotten to know the sisters here and to see the inner workings of the congregation from the perspective of the administration,” she explained with a laugh. “That’s an opportunity all the sisters living away (from Concordia) should have.”

But, she concedes, her heart was always in Nebraska, and with the people in the parishes.

She also relishes being the first Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia working in these parishes. Until November 2009, when Sister Roberta Semper died, Dominican sisters had always served the parishes.

“Through me, the people there will get to know all of our community,” Sister Pat said.

And she doesn’t expect any hesitation from the parishioners.

“This is a very welcoming diocese; that’s part of why I’m so excited about going back,” she said. “It’s a very comfortable diocese to work in; you’re in partnership with the bishop and priests there, and I’ll be home.”







Sisters bid farewell to Motherhouse chaplain

August 5, 2011 by  

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Sisters at the Motherhouse and from throughout Concordia and Salina spent an hour Thursday afternoon thanking Father Jack Schlaf for his five years of service as their chaplain.

• • • • • • • • • •

In particular, they cited his pastoral approach to the sisters, the depth and meaningfulness of his homilies, and his compassion and care for all the women of the congregation. Sisters also noted his service as a “fill-in” priest throughout the Concordia and Belleville areas.

And they joked with the man who in his five years at the Motherhouse became more than just a chaplain. “I’m ready to call you ‘Brother Father Jack Schlaf’ and welcome you as a member of our community,” said Sister Lucienne Savoy, drawing laughter and applause from the gathered sisters.

Father Schlaf’s last day as chaplain will be Aug. 15, and in retirement he plans to move to Colorado Spring, Colo. On Aug. 16, Father Jim Hoover, who has most recently been the parish priest in Wilson, Kan., will take over as Motherhouse chaplain.

Eulogy for Sister Redempta Eilert

July 26, 2011 by  

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VIGIL: July 26, 2011, at the Nazareth Motherhouse, Concordia

EULOGIST: Sister Bette Moslander


We are gathered here to remember and to honor Sister Redempta Eilert who died on July 25, 2011.I feel privileged to comply with her wishes that I give her eulogy. Sister Redempta entered the postulancy of our Congregation on Sept. 8, 1933, was received into the novitiate in March 18, 1934. She made temporary vows on March 19, 1935, and perpetual profession on Aug. 15, 1938.

Her extensive life review reveals the kind of woman we all knew Sister Redempta Eilert to be. As I read it I was struck by the comprehensive nature of her memories of her early life lived out in the midst of an extended and loving family in the Beloit and surrounding area. It chronicles life in rural America in the early to mid-20th century, a lifestyle known by so many of our Sisters. As her life review moves on it renders an account of life in a religious community prior to the Vatican II renewal as well as some of the painful struggles religious women experienced during the years following the Council. It is a detailed, clear and accurate account reflecting Sister Redempta’s disciplined and responsible approach to her long and productive life.

She was second of 13 children born to Frederic and Elizabeth Selting Eilert on Nov. 29, 1913 in Scottsville, Kan., a small rural community located not far from Beloit. She was baptized and given the name, Margaret. The Eilert family and the Selting family were always closely connected and as those of us who have known members of both families remember that those ties were strong and enduring even as women from each family entered our community.

The life review describes Margaret’s parents’ efforts to provide their growing family with the necessities of life relying on the produce of the family farm. Her father, Frederic farmed as did most western Kansas farmers, using horses and mules. When Margaret was about six year old the family acquired a Model T Ford and a few years later the farm work was made easier when her father could purchase a Caterpillar Tractor. “This changed the work pattern on the farm considerably,” she recalls.

Clearly the family was self-reliant and industrious and the children thrived. Both parents were strong supporters of Catholic education and both Margaret and her older sister, Gertrude, (whom we knew as Sister Frederic) attended the Catholic grade school in Beloit. The two girls often stayed with either the Eilert or the Selting grandparents and would walk 3 to 4 miles from their farms to get to school. As the girls entered  into the mid and upper grade school years Rev. Joseph Selting and his sister, Lena offered to take over the education of Gertrude and Margaret. The two girls moved into the parish house in Father Selting’s parish in Flush where they lived a strictly disciplined life and attended a school taught by the Benedictine Sisters.

When Margaret was 10 she contracted rheumatic fever and for several weeks suffered intense pain. Fortunately, her illness was correctly diagnosed by a doctor in Wamego, Kan. Early treatment resulted in a cure with no permanent damage to her heart and within a few weeks of bed rest she was able to return to normal school activities. Completing the eighth grade Margaret dropped out of high school for a couple of years but eventually returned and earned her high school diploma in three years. During her senior year Father Selting was assigned to a new parish in Horton, Kan. During that year Margaret lived with the Benedictine Sisters so that she could complete her high school. It was about this time that Margaret began to consider entering religious life.

The Benedictine Sisters offered her a scholarship at Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kan. Father Selting encouraged her to accept it and guided her enrollment in the basic freshman courses. It was during a college student retreat that she knew with certainty that she was called to religious life although to which community, the Benedictines or the Sisters of St. Joseph, was not clear. Margaret leaned toward the Sisters of St. Joseph whom her family knew better than the Benedictines and the decision was made when she received a letter from her sister Gertrude telling her that if she would come to the Sisters of St. Joseph, Gertrude would join her. They entered together on Sept. 8, 1933.

Redempta’s account of her early years in the community describes frankly the emphasis on work and busyness of life in the postulancy. She notes that the mistress of the Postulate was kind and helpful, but “seemed to believe that sanctity would be achieved through scrubbing and cleaning.” She accounts for the assignment of her name, Redempta,  that she came to love, although at the time she preferred the name of Sister Elizabeth Marie. She and Sister Frederic received the habit on March 19, 1934, at which time they and the other postulants were entrusted to Sister Isabelle, whom she describes as a “wise person with a sense of humor who tried to lead us into a life of prayer, silence and recollection.”

Her first assignment as a vowed religious was Marymount College to earn her 60-hour certificate. It was soon evident that Redempta’s leaning and talent was in the area of the sciences. The high schools and the college were in need of developing professionally competent teachers who could sustain the educational mission of the Congregation. Redempta was asked to return to the college and complete a major in chemistry. Her life course was thus determined. She commented that while initially she did not care much for chemistry she eventually came to love it.

Upon completion of her baccalaureate she was assigned to the high school in Boonville, Mo., where she taught General Science and Math and began to learn how to negotiate the give and take of forming a “reasonably peaceful community.” This one-year assignment at Boonville was her only year of mission life away from Marymount.  That summer she was assigned to attend the Institutum Divi Thomae in Cincinnati, Ohio, a research center in the sciences to prepare for teaching at the college. In the fall of 1942 Redempta returned to Marymount, having completed her master’s degree at the Research Center. In the ensuing years she enhanced her degree with a number of National Science Foundation grants gradually acquiring a solid body of knowledge about her field.

With great reserve and kindness Redempta describes her difficulties as she integrated into the community at the college and the faculty of the Chemistry department. She gradually established her self-identity as a member of the college faculty. Her frank account of interpersonal differences within the department reveal the normal conflicts that can occur between highly competent, professional women who are committed to the same high ideals and hopes but who take different approaches to methodology in the education of students.

In a kind of summary statement Redempta wrote, “As I ponder the 46 years that I spent at Marymount, there were moments of pain and moments of joy. Prior to Vatican II, when we were immersed in the letter of the law, many unreasonable demands were made on us.” She goes on to describe the pressures of serving on committees, responding to students extra curricular parties and activities, studying and preparing her classes while at the same time strictly observing the rules regarding lights out and early rising bells and a  heavy schedule of community prayer.

In her extensive description of the renewal years initiated by Vatican II, she offers her reflections on the radical changes that occurred; changes in the prayer life of the community, the wearing of the habit and the choice of ministries were difficult for her to accept initially. Gradually however she was able to accept the changes and to recognize the gains as well, always respecting those with whom she disagreed. Throughout these years she participated actively in the Senates and Assemblies and brought to the consideration of the members the values of her disciplined yet charitable positions.

Among the changes she found to her liking was the move out of the College with several of the sister faculty into a small group living situation in the summer of l969. She remembered the years of small group living as “years of genuine community living, built on mutual trust, love, tolerance and willingness to pray together and allow for individual differences.”

In 1988 she resigned from Marymount and moved to Concordia and lived in the community on South Mound. She spent her days at the Motherhouse serving at the reception desk or teaching GED students or harvesting the fruits of the large garden. In early spring of 1998 she moved to the Motherhouse. She records with chronological precision the gradual encroachment of the diminishments and losses of her health and strength as she grew older; a couple of transitory ischemic attacks, difficulties with her eye-sight, the death of her brother Al in a fire that destroyed the family home, of her brother Eddy in a wheat bin accident and the death of her beloved sister, Sister Frederic, after a period of deafness and demensia.

As Sister Redempta brings her life review to a close, she reflects on the way she saw her service in the community in the light of our apostolic mission. “Certainly I view my work at Marymount as a contribution to the field of Catholic higher education… I hope that as I taught and interacted with the students some of the peace and love and sense of values that a life of prayer and dedication fosters was absorbed by them…. I was a tiny cog in the wheel that was Marymount and its mission ‘to be a community of learners where persons of diverse ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnic heritages share in an ongoing search for truth in an environment conducive to human and Christian values.’”  She closes her reflections by listing a number of things for which she was grateful in the course of her life.

In these last years of her life Sister Redempta found it enjoyable to play a few hands of bridge after supper before she retired in the evening. She developed her own skill with the same patience and perseverance as she brought to the intricacies of chemistry. In fact she was engaged in card game when the sisters noticed that her response movements were not quite normal and called for a nurse who thought it best for her to come to third floor Stafford.  It was her last card game and she won — hands down.  By 9 a.m. she had won the prize — and that’s because God always has the highest trump.

It is not possible of course to do justice to the life of this woman but we celebrate her life that was fully poured out in the service of God and the dear neighbor. She was, without doubt a valiant woman, who lived her convictions and her dedication as a Sister of St. Joseph without wavering.
To make a memorial contribution in Sister Redempta’s name, click the DONATE button below:

What ‘wonders’ do you see in your hometown?

July 18, 2011 by  

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Susie Haver and Tammy Britt brought their trademark energy and humor to the Nazareth Motherhouse Monday evening as they encouraged their audience to see rural Kansas through new eyes.

• • • • • •

Using the “Eight Elements of Rural Culture” developed by the Kansas Sampler Foundation, the co-directors of the Cloud County Convention and Tourism office walked through each of the elements and how you can find them everywhere – if you’re looking.

The free hourlong presentation was the sixth of eight monthly presentations scheduled for the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series.

The “Eight Elements” were developed by Marci Penner and her father Mil, who founded the Kansas Sampler Foundation in 1993. “They traveled around Kansas visiting small towns,” Haver explained, “and they were looking at these places with different eyes.”

What the Penners saw were eight features or aspects of community life that attract visitors. Those eight are:

  • Art
  • Architecture
  • Commerce
  • Cuisine
  • Customs
  • Geography
  • History
  • People

Some elements – like the architecture and history of the Nazareth Convent — are easy to identify, Haver and Britt said. But it might be harder to identify the wonder of a local custom — like ordering a soda fountain drink at the Hodge Podge in Glasco. (That’s one of just 38 operating soda fountains in Kansas, Haver noted.)

The duo also offered some examples of their favorite places throughout the county: Dean Holbert’s general store on Highway 9 toward Beloit, Grassland Gardens in Miltonvale, Bob’s Toy Barn in Clyde, the stone arch bridge at Rice and the National Orphan Train Museum.

“Think about those places in terms of the eight elements and you starting seeing them differently,” Haver said. “The elements have really made a huge difference.”

So, too, have the energy and enthusiasm Haver and Britt brings to the tours they offer throughout Cloud County. Unlike most tourism officials, they serve as tour guides to accompany and assist large groups visiting the area.

They are also instrumental in organizing some community events, including the upcoming KS150 Quilt Fest planned for October. Information about their efforts is available at the Convention and Tourism office at 130 E. Sixth St., Concordia, and online at

The 2011 Concordia Speakers Series is an outgrowth of the Community Needs Forums that were held throughout 2009 and 2010 and hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph. More than 100 individuals and representatives of local organizations and agencies took part in those “working lunches” to identify concerns in Concordia and Cloud County, and then work toward solutions.

The two final speakers in the series are Concordia City Manager Larry Uri on Sept. 26 and Cameron Thurner, an outreach specialist for the Domestic Violence Association of Central Kansas, on Oct. 24.

KU grad student documents ‘green congregation’

July 18, 2011 by  

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From the July 11 issue of The Oread, the University of Kansas employee newsletter:

“In north central Kansas, a group of nuns is fighting for the Earth. Rachel Myslivy intends to tell their story before it’s lost to the ages.

Myslivy, research assistant at the KU Center for Research on Learning, has won a grant to document the environmental activism of the Sisters of St. Joseph at the Nazareth Convent and Academy in Concordia, Kan.”

To read the full article, CLICK HERE.

Tourism takes the stage for tonight’s Speakers Series

July 17, 2011 by  

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Cloud County’s head cheerleaders will bring their energy and enthusiasm to the next presentation in the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series Monday evening (July 18).

Susie Haver and Tammy Britt, co-directors of the Cloud County Convention and Tourism office, will discuss the “8 Elements of Rural Culture” with a focus on helping others see their hometown with new eyes.

Their talk will be the sixth of eight monthly presentations scheduled for the 2011 Concordia Speakers Series. It begins at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Nazareth Motherhouse, 1300 W. Washington St. Haver and Britt will give a 30- to 40-minute presentation titled “Finding the 8!”  There will be time for questions from the audience, and the session will end no later than 8:30 p.m.

There is no charge for any of the sessions and the public is encouraged to come to any or all of them. No registration is needed, but if you’d like more information, you may contact Sister Marcia Allen at 785/243-2149 or

The 2011 Concordia Speakers Series is an outgrowth of the Community Needs Forums that were held throughout 2009 and 2010 and hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph. More than 100 individuals and representatives of local organizations and agencies took part in those “working lunches” to identify concerns in Concordia and Cloud County, and then work toward solutions.

The two final speakers in the series are Concordia City Manager Larry Uri on Sept. 26 and Cameron Thurner, an outreach specialist for the Domestic Violence Association of Central Kansas, on Oct. 24.

Messages Home: Sleeves rolled up amid Montana flood damage

July 15, 2011 by  

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On Sunday, June 12, I completed six peaceful days in a spiritual retreat at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia, Kan.  That time to recharge turned out to be vital because by noon the next day I had received the expected phone call from the Red Cross and by 7 a.m. Tuesday, June 14, luggage in tow, I was headed to Montana for a 17-day disaster assignment.

At the airport in Bozeman, Mont., I joined seven other volunteers from throughout the U.S. who were awaiting the arrival of the “Red Cross shuttle” to the temporary headquarters in Billings.  We were joining about 60 other Red Cross volunteers who were scattered throughout the flood-ravaged areas of Montana. Volunteers were rotating in and out as they tended to managing the disaster headquarters, assessing damage from the massive May floods, opening case files to provide financial assistance, operating shelters for the flooded homeless, delivering and serving meals and supplies, warehousing, nursing, providing mental health services and on and on.

Many volunteers are retirees; some are unemployed; some are using vacation time to serve. Those who took on this assignment ranged in age from 18 to 75.

Eighteen-year-old Sean opted to waive his high school graduation party in order to be available for this disaster.  Thirty-one-year-old Martin was devoting his six weeks of vacation to his volunteer duties.  A veteran of three military tours in Iraq, Martin most recently responded as a Reservist in Japan — sleeves rolled up in the tsunami waters removing human casualties. Seventy-five-year-old Sue had just completed two weeks in Joplin, Mo., where she trained and supervised 10 four-person teams that tended to the needs of families who lost members to death in the tornado.

For me, at 65, this was my second summer responding to calls from the North Central Kansas Chapter of the Red Cross to volunteer as a Disaster Mental Health Counselor. In July 2010, I went to the Rio Grande area of Texas to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Alex.

This summer it was the Crow Reservation, south and east of Billings, and more flooding.

In the course of my 17 days, I physically re-located seven times. My luggage remained packed and ready for the next site to serve.

Since my primary role within Red Cross is that of mental health, I remain attentive to the pulse of those directly affected by the disaster, as well as the volunteers who are tending to the victims of the disaster.  What an awesome match for me as I continue to live the Gospels as expressed by my Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia: loving God and neighbor without distinction! It just seems so natural for me to show up, be present and keep my sleeves rolled up.

I traveled with another volunteer, Cheri, into homes for disaster assessment and to support her and the families as she opened cases.  While she was documenting the facts, I listened to human stories of loss, of waiting and of destruction. While we were driving to another home, I listened with Cheri as she de-briefed in readiness for the next assessment and potential case opening. She was in her first Red Cross assignment, and she said I helped keep her sane. We were a splendid team!

With the exception of my Red Cross peers, all of my interactions were with men, women and children among the Crow Tribe. The shelter and the homes we visited were all on the reservation; the interactions I had each day with flooded households included only the Crow. We volunteers were blessed to have a Native American liaison with Red Cross to assist in bridging gaps between the ways of “white privilege” and the Crow.

Another way to work at bridging those gaps is through the children. One such experience was a day when I was reading a book with — versus to — a child and responding to the child’s questions about my hair texture and skin color, while one of the adults in the family initially listened close by, That allowed the window of trust to open with the adult, and hands and names and hugs were more easily reciprocated when I eventually introduced myself to the rest of the family.

As I was saying my goodbyes on my last day, one of the tribal members told me, “Just when we get used to a person, they leave.”

Three weeks later, that man and his family of five remained homeless and were still living in the shelter, separated from the familiarity of their food and ways within their own home. Those same three weeks later, I am among the blessed to have a home to return to, with a heart filled with graced and priceless moments.

— Sister Loretta Jasper is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan. The Cawker City native holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., and a post-graduate certificate in play therapy from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.  For the past two years, she has worked in a government-funded program that provides support for military families where one parent is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. She will return to that job when school begins in the fall.

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