Neighbor to Neighbor needs to grow!

November 22, 2010 by  

In early May 2010, when three Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia opened the doors for the first time at Neighbor to Neighbor, we had no idea what to expect.

We knew there were women in Concordia and Cloud County who felt isolated and alone. We knew there were women living on the streets. We knew there were women feeling the increasing pressure of parenthood, a tough economy and an inability to make changes in their lives. We knew there were women who just needed the friendship of other women. Simply put, we knew there were women who needed the neighborly hand we were stretching out. But would those women take our hand?

Less than six months later, the answer is a resounding Yes!

• • • • • • • • • •

From May through October, women and their young children have made more than 1,800 visits to the storefront center at 103 E. Sixth St. The three sisters have been there to meet the needs of more than 80 individual women.

In addition five women have completed their community service commitments at the center, and another 17 women from throughout the community have stepped forward as volunteers.

But such success has a downside: The center that opened with community fanfare in May is proving too small to contain the growing array of programs offered and women taking part.

So beginning Dec. 1, Neighbor to Neighbor is growing up — literally.

That’s when construction is expected to begin to double the size of the 6-month-old center by renovating the second story into useable space.

When Greg Gallagher, facilities manager for the Sisters of St. Joseph, began planning work on the two-story building a year and a half ago, he knew that the project would be more resurrection than renovation — particularly on the second floor, which had not been used for anything other than storage for decades.

So when the first floor was cleaned out and the lath and plastic removed from the walls, that work was done on the second floor, too. The only other work upstairs was to remove the boards that had filled the three large windows facing Sixth Street and replace them with new vinyl windows.

Then the work upstairs stopped.

Downstairs, on the main floor, Nazareth Motherhouse employees completely refinished the 122-year-old structure, adding new plumbing, lighting, a heating and cooling system, interior walls, a complete kitchen, bathroom facilities, a laundry room, flooring and all the finishings.

When the center opened in May, it featured soft colors throughout — except for the vibrant paint of the children’s playroom.

It also seemed to offer ample space for the women who would be welcomed there by Sisters Jean Befort, Pat McLennon and Ramona Medina, the Sisters of St. Joseph who conceived of the center and now staff it every day.

From Monday through Friday, the sisters and volunteers offer classes and services that range from one-on-one tutoring for GED exams and book studies to providing a place to do laundry or take showers and classes in sewing, baking, lacemaking and household budgeting. Individual counseling services are also available as needed, as is help in navigating the social services maze. And, for some moms, the center has become a place to go with their young children, to give the kids a chance to play and the moms a chance to befriend other moms.

There is never any cost to the women taking part; all the programs are offered free, with funding coming from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, a handful of grants and individual donations.

“This is about one neighbor helping another,” as Sister Ramona explains it.

And the neighbors throughout Cloud County have responded — the center is often packed throughout the day.

So Gallagher and the sisters began working on a plan to bring the upstairs back to life, in much the same way as was done downstairs.

Second-floor plans call for an art room, a private counseling or small meeting room, two more bathrooms, lots of storage space and a kitchenette that will look out over a large play area for children.

Sister Jean emphasizes the word “large” in that description of the coming work: “With more and more children, they really need a bigger space,” she explains, “and this is the only way we can provide that.”

Again, Motherhouse employees will do the bulk of the work, which keeps the labor costs for the project low.

But Neighbor to Neighbor is launching a fund drive that will pay for materials and furnishings. A donation of $24.33 will pay to renovate one square foot of the upstairs space; a donation of $48.66 will pay for two square feet, and so on.

“We hope this will truly give people in Concordia and Cloud County a sense that they are investing in what we’re doing here,” said Sister Pat. “Neighbor to Neighbor is for the women of Cloud County, and this is a way for individuals to help us by paying for a piece of it.”

The fund drive is also beginning on Dec. 1, with the hope that people throughout the area will consider tax-deductible donations before the end of the year.

Gallagher expects the work on the upstairs to be completed next spring.

If you’d like to help support Neighbor to Neighbor or any of the sisters’ other ministries, you can make a donation through a secure server with Amazon Simple Pay, simply fill in the amount of your donation and then click on the Donate button:


Sale features handmade items (& hugs)

November 20, 2010 by  

Gray skies and chilly weather were not enough to keep Neighbor to Neighbor from filling up early for today’s Holiday Gifts Boutique. Most came to shop for handcraft crafts and homemade treats. Others came just to show support for the new center in downtown Concordia. And still others were there because they were the women who created everything that was for sale.

• • • • • • • •

The first-ever event at Neighbor to Neighbor gave the women who have been taking part in the center’s programs a chance to show off their handiwork and to help support the center. All the programs, classes, services and even hugs are free to the women who take part; funding comes from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, a handful of grants and donations from organizations and individuals.

Neighbor to Neighbor opened last May at 103 E. Sixth St. and is operated by three Sisters of St. Joseph — Sisters Jean Befort, Pat McLennon and Ramona Medina — and a growing cadre of volunteers. The center is designed to meet the needs of women and women with young children in Concordia and Cloud County by providing a safe place to spend time and the fellowship of other women.

In its first six months of operation, Neighbor to Neighbor had more than 1,800 visits from women who took part in everything from GED tutoring, English as a second language lessons and budgeting workshops to baking classes, individual counseling and conversation over a cup of coffee.

“Usually I just come in here for a hug,” said one woman at Saturday’s sale. “Today I’ll give back a little by buying a few things.”

Four women join agrégée orientation

November 14, 2010 by  

The Sisters of St. Joseph welcomed on Saturday three candidates and one pre-candidate into the process of becoming agrégée sisters.

• • • • • •

The four women were received at a special Mass in the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Nazareth Motherhouse, at the end of the congregation’s annual Assembly.

Three of the women are now agrégée candidates, beginning what is expected to be a three-year process of study and spiritual discernment with mentors from the Concordia congregation. Those three are:

  • Dian Hall of Cartersville, Ga.
  • Susan Klepper of St. Louis, Mo.
  • Beth Weddle of Concordia

Dee Morris of Fort Collins, Colo., is a “pre-candidate,” who will spend another year deciding whether she is called to become an agrégée candidate.

The term agrégée — pronounced ah-gre-ZHEY — comes from the French for “attached to” or “aggregated with.” It is a form of membership in the religious congregation that dates back to our founding in 17th-century France, when Sisters of St. Joseph were either canonically vowed “principal sisters” or so-called agrégée or “country” sisters. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia re-established — and revitalized — this form of religious life in 2006.

Today there are four women who have professed the vow of fidelity to God and to the congregation as “agrégées.” Another four are in varying stages of the process of deciding if this form of religious life fits them and their spiritual needs. Two of those four are expected to profess their vows as agrégées in June 2011.

Each of the new candidates has a mentor or mentors from within the congregation to help with her spiritual discernment. Those mentors are Sisters Helen Mick and Jodi Creten from Atlanta, Sisters Sylvia Winterscheidt and Loretta Jasper of Concordia and Sister Rosabel Flax of Ness City, Kan.

To learn more about the agrégée form of membership, contact Sister Bette Moslander at 785/243-4428 or by email at

Or, click on any of the links below to read recent stories about the agrégées who are now part of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia:

Two new Manna House retreats set for leadership

November 8, 2010 by  

Manna House of Prayer has announced two new retreats specifically designed for those serving in leadership in their religious communities.

• “Leadership in Uncertain Times” is set for Jan. 14-19. The program is designed for leaders of Christian communities, both lay and religious, and is tailored to meet the needs of those called to lead in the 21st century. Each day is devoted to a different facet of the mystery of Christ in the mystery of leadership.

The retreat’s coordinator is Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St Joseph of Concordia. She has worked for three decades with religious communities in Chapater preparation, Constitution development and leadership discernment. She holds a doctorate in applied ministries from the Graduate Theological Foundation.

Participants in this retreat will arrive on Jan. 13 and depart on Jan. 20. The cost is $600, which includes registration plus all meals and lodging at Manna House. For a downloadable brochure, CLICK HERE.

• “Life After Elected Leadership: The Journey Continues” is set for Feb. 24-March 1. Designed for leaders of religious institutes of women in the Roman Catholic Rite who will not be renewing their terms of office, this retreat will help prepare you for the last tasks in leadership and the next steps in your religious life.

The presenters will be Sister Marcia Allen and Sister Bette  Moslander. Bette is a past president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and holds a doctorate un religious studies from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame. She has also done post-graduate work at Lumen Vitae and Weston School of Theology.

The cost is $550, which includes registration plus all meals and lodging at Manna House. For a downloadable brochure, CLICK HERE.

For information on either of these workshop or to find out more about Manna House of Prayer, CLICK HERE or call 785/243-4428 or email

Sisters’ counseling center prepares for 30th anniversary

November 7, 2010 by  

Sister Faye Huelsmann, right, talks with Sister Pat Lewter, center, and CEC board member Pam Gardner at the HeArt for the Community fundraiser in October. The event raised more than $5,500 for CEC's low-income counseling services.

When Sisters Faye Heulsmann and Pat Lewter opened their home in 1981 to serve those with little access to professional counseling, they may not have realized they were beginning what 30 years later would be a vital community agency in Grand Junction, Colo.

As the Counseling and Education Center that grew out of the effort by the two Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the staff sends its thanks to the congregation for contributing to the CEC’s success.

Executive Director Penny Frankhouser credited “the perseverance of these two sisters” with the agency’s longevity and impact on the community. Today CEC serves more than 600 clients a year.

And, Frankhouser said, Sisters Faye and Pat continue to be a vibrant part of the agency, providing counseling services to children, individuals, and adolescent.  Sister Faye provides play therapy to very young children, and is considered an expert in her field. Sister Pat not only provides counseling at CEC, with her expertise working with troubled adolescents, but she is also a part-time school counselor at the Holy Family Catholic School.

In 1995, the CEC structure was changed, so it now has a community board made up of 11 business owners, professionals and members of the faith community in Grand Junction.

The board remains dedicated to the center’s primary mission: “Providing affordable professional counseling to families and individuals in need.”

Today CEC has a staff of more than 15 and an annual budget of nearly $250,000.

And, Frankhouser said, the need for affordable professional counseling remains as great; many Mesa County residents have been hit hard by the recently declining natural gas industry and widespread national economic instability.

With the guidance of Sisters Pat and Faye, the CEC has created a community of professional staff who believe in CEC’s core values: Affordability, dedication, meeting emotional needs and community.


Eulogy for Sister Mary Leo Zeman, Dec. 12, 1917-Nov. 1, 2010

November 4, 2010 by  

Eulogy for Sister Mary Leo Zeman CSJ

By Sister Bette Moslander, csj

Nov. 4, 2010, at the Nazareth Motherhouse

We are gathered here this evening to remember and to honor the life of Sister Mary Leo Zeman who died Nov. 1, 2010, at Mt. Joseph Senior Village.

Sister Mary Leo was the fifth of nine children of Frank and Barbara Vopat Zeman. She was born on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, 1917, at the family farm southwest of Wilson, Kan. Her parents named her Georgina Alice.

Georgina received all of her grade school education in a one-room country school. During the course of those grade school years Georgina suffered a serious attack of ruptured appendix and was near death. On that occasion her mother dedicated her to the Blessed Mother and Mary Leo said that as a consequence she always had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

Mary Leo attended high school at Wilson. Father McManus, the pastor, recognizing her ability, urged her to attend Marymount College when she graduated. She was vacillating between entering the Sisters of St. Dominic in Great Bend and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia when she came to a decision while making a retreat as a student at Marymount that she decided to enter the community of St. Joseph. Her parents supported her decision, so on Sept. 8, 1926, at the age of l8, she entered the Congregation. In her life review she reflects on her own spiritual growth and maturing under the guidance of Sister Sabinus and Sister Isabelle. She remembered her years in the postulancy and novitiate as happy and enriching years. She made first vows on March 19, 1928 and final profession three years later.

Mary Leo’s life review is typical of her simple, direct way of living her life — it captures in small vignettes, her life as the years unfolded.  She writes of her initial anxiety in teaching and her growing confidence in grade school classrooms. As was the custom of the time, Mary Leo spent the school year teaching; every summer was spent at Marymount working toward her undergraduate degree hour by academic hour. Mary Leo was being prepared to teach commercial subjects in the high schools and it was not long before she found herself assigned to high school class rooms.

In 1951 she was asked to go to Creighton University to begin work on her master’s degree, which she completed in 1957. She immediately was assigned as principal and commercial teacher in Beloit and later in Tipton and Junction City where the high school students enjoyed learning to be credible bookkeepers and secretaries. The late ’60s and early ’70s were times of great sadness for her. Her father died in 1969 and her mother a little more than a year later in January 1971. In her life review she speaks of recording her mother saying some prayers and singing a song in Bohemian so that she could relish that memory.

In June 1971 Mary Leo was elected to serve as Secretary General of the Congregation. It was a work she gave herself to with precision and generosity even though she missed teaching the lively high schoolers. When she had completed her four year term, in 1975, she applied for a position at Central Catholic High School, in Grand Island, Neb., as secretary to the principal. She loved her work at Central Catholic where she quickly became a favorite of both students and faculty alike. She served at Central Catholic for 15 years before retiring in the Grand Island convent where she continued to volunteer in the parish, visiting the shut-ins and counting the Sunday collections. One student’s memory of Mary Leo appeared in the UPDATE 91, a school news bulletin: “If you attended Central Catholic in the ’70s and ’80s, you undoubtedly have one of those fleeting images whenever you think of Sister Mary Leo. You might remember her smiling at you over the office counter, or how she scolded you for ‘wasting paper.’ You might remember her bending over the flowers in front of the school preparing for graduation, or defrosting the ice box in the teachers’ lounge. And how many of you remember her lunch bag? It appeared to be such a small bag. And yet out of its depths, Sister Mary Leo could produce a seven-course meal to the wonderment of all.”

In all Sister Mary Leo served in Grand Island for 28 years. It was during these years that Sister Mary Leo realized that she was slowly but steadily loosing her eye-sight and it was this that helped her decide to retire from active duty at her beloved Central Catholic.

In her life review Mary Leo poignantly describes her own spiritual journey during what she calls her greatest years of growth, 1971-1975. She made her first directed retreat in 1971 and after several eight-day directed retreats asked to make the 30-day retreat in Hales Corners. She continued this spiritual journey throughout the years she spent in Grand Island. The Diocese had encouraged and supported the Pentecostal and Cursillo movements. May Leo became deeply involved, serving on Cursillo teams. She commented that for her it was a beautiful experience of praying and sharing.  Her retreats and her work brought her much consolation and strength which helped her through the chaos of the post Vatican II renewal in the community. “That was a time of frustration for me,” she wrote “prayer, community living, clothing, ministry — everything was changing. It took me some time to sort things out and be at ease with it, but as the years have gone on I feel it was one of the greatest things that happened in the Church and in religious life.”

As the years moved on, other members of her family experienced a variety of illnesses and Mary Leo always made the effort to be with them at critical times. The aging process was taking its toll on her and those she loved.  Her reflections on her family reveal the deep felt affection and faithful love of a large, faith filled family. In her memoirs she had written about her 60th Jubilee and the reception that her family hosted in Wilson at the parish center. All relatives and friends were invited. It was a grand affair and Mary Leo remembered it with relish.

She retired from Central Catholic in 2000 and took up work with the RCIA program, giving talks to prospective converts and acting as a facilitator for small groups in discussing the Word of God. She also visited the elderly in nursing homes and in their own homes. She also answered the phone at the rectory one day a week and helped with the cooking in the convent. At the same time she was slowly losing her eyesight.

In 2003 Mary Leo returned to the Motherhouse when it became evident that the convent in Grand Island had to be closed. Here she entered into the life of the Motherhouse community and continued to cope with her increasing loss of sight. Through the years as the limitation in her eyesight was inevitable she adapted well, accepting this diminishment gracefully.

Interestingly enough, Sister Mary Leo wrote an essay for the West Nebraska Register in October 1988 on the Gospel story of the blind Bartimaeus. In that essay she describes how blindness can be a spiritual condition, more serious than the physical handicap. She praises Bartimaeus because he had the faith that he needed to be healed. This applies, she says, to the spiritual healing needed as well as to physical healing. In the end, she states that it is only with the heart that we can see rightly. Her own increasing blindness became a means of ever-greater faith for her. She never stopped praying for faith and for patience and gratitude.

Through the years, Sister Mary Leo filled out her mission commitment statements. Over and over she committed herself to a life in community that was a life lived out of love. Her overall concern that community life was in the words of Psalm 133: “… how good and how pleasant it is when sisters live together in unity. For there the Lord bestows his blessings, even life forevermore” In that framework she promises to live a life of kindness, of loving and sharing, knowing that this will enable her to be a person of joy and peace.

We will miss her! We all remember her pocket. She could pull from her pocket everything from soup to nuts, literally and figuratively. It was just a matter of fact that she would have anything required at any time: screwdrivers and bottle openers, flashlights and glue, notepaper and even a hammer and nails. Capacious and ready for any occasion: that pocket, later turned pocketbook, was just a metaphor for how she lived in the world: ready for anything that was of service to others — with characteristic generosity, patience, congeniality and humility.

Sister Mary Leo Zeman, we remember you with profound gratitude  and joy. May you rest in peace!

New life: Architect unveils next step in Marymount plan

October 28, 2010 by  

Dahx Marrs, in charge of operations and sales of the Marymount project, hands out materials before the start of a press conference Oct. 25 in the former college library.

By Doug Weller

The Register

The Salina business community was looking ahead when it helped support a new Catholic college a century ago.

Architect Donnie Marrs likes to think he’s doing the same with the continued development of Marymount College’s signature building, opened in 1922.

The business community in Salina, Marrs explained, not only contributed the land but raised more than $50,000 to encourage the sisters to build in Salina.

Donnie Marrs, a Salina architect who owns the former Marymount College administsration building in Salina, explains details of a model condominium unit under construction during a tour on Oct. 25.

Marrs and his son Dahx announced Monday (Oct. 25) they are ready to begin selling residential condominium units in the college’s former administration building. That has been his plan since he purchased the building from the Diocese of Salina in 1993.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia opened Marymount as a girls’ academy and women’s college and later as a co-educational college. The sisters turned it over to the Salina Diocese in 1983 because they no longer had the staff or resources to operate it. The diocese closed the college in 1989, prompted by mounting expenses and the inability to raise $5 million for an endowment.

Marrs’ plan calls for the construction of 22 condominiums in the south wing. Another 13 could be created in the north wing, most of which has been leased for commercial use. The Marrs family has lived in the central tower of the building the past 18 years.

“It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a piece of this building,” Donnie Marrs said. The project, he added, would “help perpetuate the life of this building.”

He called his eventual investment in the residential development, about $2.5 million, a “leap of faith” similar to what the sisters did when starting the college.

The condominiums will be from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet in size, Donnie Marrs said, although early buyers would have the opportunity to pick the locations and sizes.

The unfinished space will sell for between $95 and $125 per square foot, he said. Buyers would pay to finish the interiors to their specifications. In addition, they would need to purchase parking space in an underground garage to be constructed beneath the sunken garden immediately west of the building. Construction of the garage will begin once sufficient units are purchased.

A 1,000-square-foot unit, Marrs explained, would cost $95,000 to purchase, at the lowest price, and possibly another $50,000 to finish, depending on the owner’s preferences. Each parking space would cost $25,000. The total for that residence, with two parking spaces, would be $195,000.

Monthly condominium fees would cover utilities and insurance and property taxes on the building, which he estimated at $3 to $3.50 per square foot a year, or about $300 a month.

Dahx Marrs points to details on proposed floor plans for the residential condominium units to be constructed inside the former Marymount College administration building in Salina.

The building will have new windows; new water, gas, sewage and electrical service; secured parking and entrance; and use of other parts of the building, including the gymnasium, a roof garden and the surrounding grounds, Marrs added.

The condominiums will qualify for the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program, which rebates property taxes on the improvements.

Marrs explained that the owner’s $50,000 investment to finish the interior of the sample 1,000-square-foot unit would be exempt from 100 percent of the property tax for five years and then 50 percent for another five years.

Dahx Marrs said inquiries about purchasing units have come from alumni of the college and from people who live and work in the downtown area.

“The demolition is complete. We’re ready to build spaces for people who want to live here,” he said.

Almost all of the material being removed will be recycled, he noted. Wood trim will be refinished and installed as new floor plans are developed. The original wood floors will be refinished and the intricate tile floors will be preserved.

The buildings’s Chapel of the Immaculate Conception also is being preserved and has been off limits to development and commercial use, Donnie Marrs noted.

They have had numerous requests to operate it as a wedding chapel or reception hall, but the family has declined to do so.

“Our desire is that it exist in that present state,” he said, noting that condominium owners also would have access to the chapel.

For more information on the Marymount project, go to or look on Facebook for marymountks

New ‘Deepening the Mystery’ seminar energizes participants

October 22, 2010 by  

Sisters Pat Francis Centner, left, and Mary Hubert McQuinn talk about the just-completed "Deepening the Mystery" seminar at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia.

Sister Pat Francis Centner hoped to find answers to the questions she was asking herself “as a woman religious today.”

It was different for Sister Marie Orf. She was finishing her term on her congregation’s Leadership Team and felt a need to re-energize and reflect on her life as a woman religious.

But for Sister Evelyn Mee, as much as anything, it was just a month away from Baton Rouge, La., where life is still marked as “before Katrina” and “after Katrina.”

Yet each of these three sisters said they completed the 30-day “Deepening the Mystery of Religious Life” seminar at Manna House of Prayer accomplishing what they hoped for — and much more.

“We’ve been changed, each in our own way, by God in our time here,” said Pat, a Franciscan sister who lives in Prairie Village, Kan. “I want to take things I’ve learned here and integrate them into my life.”

The three sisters, along with Sister Mary Hubert McQuinn, echoed each other as they sat down to talk about their experience in this first-ever seminar, designed and presented by the staff at Manna House.

They were among 16 sisters who came from congregations across the eastern U.S. to take part.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia who staff Manna House hoped the intensive program would “make a significant contribution in awakening our awareness of both the mystical and the prophetic nature of consecrated religious life,” explained Sister Bette Moslander.

A part of that, added Sister Janet Lander, was just by providing “30 days to step back and refocus. Women get into their stride in ministry and works, and can lose sight of their original reasons for choosing religious life.”

Sister Marie Orf: "If we just keep saying 'yes' to Christ, he will take us with him."

And, noted Sister Marcia Allen, it was an opportunity to see the “traps of complacency and workaholism; we get so caught up in what we do that we forget who we are.”

That was one of the most important messages Marie Orf heard. As she prepared to return to her Sisters of the Precious Blood congregation in O’Fallon, Mo., she said, “I don’t want to go back the way I came; I want to be a lot more than do.”

Mary Hubert, also a member of the O’Fallon congregation, agreed: “I just want to go back and live what we’ve seen here: quiet service and love. I hope I can quietly re-enter my community and live by example.”

The women praised the Sisters of St. Joseph and lay staff at Manna House, both for their hospitality and service and for the example they provided by living what they teach.

But, Marie added, that doesn’t mean that the 30 days at Manna was a vacation. “It was work!” she said. “You had to be open to new ideas, new thoughts, new points of view. It was worth it, but you had to be willing to work at it.”

Yet it was a different kind of work — and one Evelyn very much appreciated five years after Hurricane Katrina dramatically changed her life.

“The worst of the storm missed us, but we took in the sisters who were forced out of New Orleans,” recalled Evelyn, who is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph. By the time the hurricane and flooding were over, her congregation had lost their New Orleans Motherhouse, novitiate building, infirmary and two smaller houses.

“It’s been five years, but for us, everything changed. I really needed 30 days of silence and prayer.”

Sister Evelyn Mee: "I going away with a much deeper appreciation of Jesus as a human; he, too, had to take that leap of faith."

The Manna staff worked out a individualized program for Evelyn, in which she took part in the first intensive week of the “Deepening the Mystery” seminar, then had a personal retreat with spiritual direction. Her free days coincided with the group’s, so she was able to remain connected with the program.

Pat Francis Centner had withstood a very different kind of storm before her month at Manna House.

She had spent the last 10 years caring for her mother and providing pastoral care in a parish. After her mother’s death, she said, “I was looking for a way to take time to discern my own vocation. When I got this brochure, everything was tied in to my questions as a woman in religious life today.”

That’s exactly what Bette Moslander and the other staff at Manna want to hear as they look back on the inaugural “Deepening the Mystery” program.

“With this, we were dealing with contemporary issues, and we challenged them,” Bette said. “But it seems they found the value we were hoping for in that challenge.”

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For more about Manna House…

The inaugural “Deepening the Mystery of Religious Life” seminar was from Sept. 13 through  Oct. 21 at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia, Kan.

For information about other workshops and retreats at Manna House, go to

Messages Home: What we talk about when we can’t talk about ‘it’

October 20, 2010 by  

Loretta Jasper, csj

Since January 2009, Sister Loretta Jasper has been serving as a family counselor under a program ­designed and funded by the U.S. government. She is now in her second year working with the children of military personnel at a Midwest Army base. To protect the confidentiality of the people she works with, she does not identify her location or any individuals. This is one of her “messages home” about her work.

We don’t talk about it anymore.

It affects many of the kids in the school where I work every day; it touches the teachers and staff who face many of the same issues. It is, in fact, my reason for being there.

But we don’t talk about it.

Instead, the top administrator at the school where I have worked for the past year believes that by not talking about it, everyone can just focus on academics and the students will thrive and achieve.

It makes my job — as a family counselor here to support and assist the children of military personnel who have served or are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — a challenge, to say the least.

But it — deployment, or upcoming deployment or just completed deployment — is no longer allowed as a discussion topic at my school.

So what about the kiddo who continues to wiggle and jiggle through the day, and gets in trouble for that?  Then there is the kiddo who is called to task for not listening or not following directions?  Or, the child who moves into an immediate rant when not selected for playing the drum in music, or being first in line.  Indicators of the effects of it include tardiness, fatigue, irritability, tearfulness, sadness, forgotten assignments, having no coat, being unkempt, and on and on…

The kids, of course, aren’t the only ones affected in a town that butts up against a military base. Many of the staff and teachers are spouses of active-duty soldiers who are deploying, deployed or returning from deployment. The effects of it they show include fatigue, stress, physical illnesses, depression and anxiety, to name a few.

And then there are those among us who know exactly what it is all about:  Retired military and their spouses among the staff and teachers who know from their own experience about the broader effects of this long war of multiple deployments, with physical or emotional damage to the soldier and physical, social and psychological impacts on the whole family.

These retirees are among the most concerned about the untended it.

So how do I create an opportunity to engage the heart in the midst of this line-up of challenges?

ACATAMIENTO: the vibrant zeal of the Sisters of St. Joseph!  I wait; I remain present and visible to each teacher, staff member and child. I wait for the invitation to engage and to interact beyond the hello, the hug, the compliment, the encouragement to move into the concerns related to the wiggles, the inattentiveness, the rants, the tardiness, and the stressors of the job.  When that door opens a little wider, then I am able to support and assist in mending the injuries of the heart and hearth.  The it then becomes a tangible topic of conversation.

How do I wait?  With patience and relationship building!

Each day I am present to each child who passes by me in the school lunch line. Each day I tie a gazillion shoes laces.  I help individual children learn sounds, letters, numbers or patterns; I cheer on a child’s choice of library book; and I model behavior asked of the teacher.  My presence and visibility to a teacher, paraprofessional and teacher aide who is over-stressed with job expectations (and daily life!) seems to be soothing for that person.

Days come and go with no mention of it.  What I do know is that the moment I miss a music class, or lunch, or reading time, I hear about it from the teacher, the aide or the child. I was absent (and missed!).

The dear neighbor has many faces, and there are many ways to serve. My role in this particular school remains: presence, visibility, and as I am invited.

What does Father Jean Pierre Medaille have to say about this in our Maxims?

Forgive all injuries and, to arrive at a greater perfection of Christian charity, gladly please as far as possible those who offend you and who displease you the most.  Do not be content at welcoming opportunities to serve when they arise; carefully and promptly seek them out yourself in order to imitate more perfectly your heavenly Creator. (MP I, p. 11)

UPDATE: Winning chili spices up October evening

October 14, 2010 by  

Bob Maxson’s “straight-up chili” — no cheese or chips on top, no sweets to finish it off — was the top votegetter in Thursday’s Chili for Charity. But everyone who showed up in downtown Concordia this evening received the prize of a beautiful October evening and a chance to support local organizations.

The annual outdoors Chili for Charity event drew eight contestants, which each offered a sample of homemade chili — some with fixin’s and others, like Maxson’s, unadorned. A few even sweetened things up with after-chili treats of mints, miniature cinnamon rolls and caramel apples. Maxson was serving his chili to support Breckyn Reynolds, the 2-year-old Concordia girl born with multiple heart defects. Representing the Sisters of St. Joseph were Neighbor to Neighbor and Helping Hands, the food pantry at Manna House of Prayer. The Neighbor to Neighbor chili makers were the defending champions from last year.

The event at Sixth and Washington streets was sponsored this year by the new Neighbor to Neighbor center, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and Cloud County Community College. Proceeds from the event make up the prize money, which is shared by the winners.

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