Bishop bids farewell to congregation

January 16, 2011 by  

Visiting the Sisters of St. Joseph at the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia for what will probably be the last time, Bishop Paul Coakley recalled his first visit six years ago, soon after he was appointed to lead the Salina Diocese.

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“I was touched the first time I celebrated Mass here because this is ‘Nazareth,’” the bishop told the sisters who had gathered for a farewell reception in his honor this afternoon. “Nazareth was the place Mary and Joseph found comfort, and I felt that warmth here. I was always welcomed here.”

Bishop Coakley, who will be installed as Archbishop of Oklahoma City on Feb. 11, has been a regular visitor at the Motherhouse since he came to Salina in 2005. This afternoon many of the sisters spoke individually with him, thanking him for his time here and to wishing him well in his new calling.

Sister Marcia Allen, president of the congregation, told him that our congregation was founded in the mid 17th century to serve in the way that Joseph did — with “cordial charity.” She went on to explain the 17th century meaning of the word cordial: a tonic to stimulate a weak heart. Today, she said, the sisters define “cordial” as a verb that means to activate, to animate and to invigorate.

“Those are qualities who have shown in your service here,” she told Bishop Coakley, “and it seems to me those are qualities that are important to an archbishop, too.”

To remind him of that definition and the cordial charity epitomized by Joseph, Sister Marcia presented Bishop Coakley with a statue of the saint — “and he’s working,” she noted wryly.

As is the sisters’ tradition, the congregation sang a blessing for Bishop Coakley, promising to be with him on his journey.

Earlier in the afternoon, Bishop Coakley spoke to the Salina Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, who were also meeting at the Concordia Motherhouse.

Bishop Coakley will formally say goodbye to the diocese in a special Mass of Thanksgiving and Farewell at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30, at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina. A reception will follow, and everyone in the Salina Diocese is invited.

Concordia chamber honors three sisters

January 15, 2011 by  

The three Sisters of St. Joseph who last year opened a center for women in downtown Concordia were honored this evening with the 2010 Kaleidoscope Award.

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The award was presented as part of the Concordia Area Chamber of Commerce “State of the Community” dinner. Making the presentation was Chrissy Henderson, who had nominated the women behind Neighbor to Neighbor — Sisters Jean Befort, Pat McLennon and Ramona Medina — for the award.

“They saw a need and they wanted to meet it,” Henderson said in making the presentation. “And whatever that need is — emotional, educational, spiritual — they are helping women and their children,” noting that she takes part in programs with her two children.

Neighbor to Neighbor opened in downtown Concordia in May 2010. Through the end of the year, the center had recorded more than 2,500 visits by women and their children from throughout the Cloud County area. A number of women are also fulfilling community service commitments by working at the center, and the sisters have recruited an array of volunteers to help provide workshops and other programs.

Sister Jean, Pat and Ramona were on hand to receive the award, but they had not been told about it in advance. All three were stunned by the recognition for their work.

The annual Kaleidoscope Award — in the form of a stained-glass plaque — recognizes a person or group who has “dedicated himself or herself to a project that advances Concordia, and … for exhibiting spirit in the pursuit of an idea, passion in the process and determination throughout the completion of the (project), seeking to improve the community.” Last year the award went to the Whole Wall Mural Committee.

Also last year, the entire congregation was honored as the 2009 Volunteers of the Year, receing the LeonGennette Award for Community Service.

That award recognizes the sisters’ work on a variety of projects, including Neighbor to Neighbor. Other projects cited were the Concordia Year of Peace, the Concordia Community Garden of Hope and the Community Needs Forum.

Eulogy for Sister Athanasia Weber, March 31, 1917-Jan. 12, 2011

January 14, 2011 by  

Jan. 13, 2011 at the Nazareth Motherhouse

By Sister Bette Moslander CSJ

We come together this evening, sisters and friends of Sister Athanasia, to remember and to celebrate the life of this woman, who in the course of her life epitomized the meaning of the metaphor, “a bundle of energy.”  Until the last couple of  decades of her life she was a woman always in a hurry, always creating a new production, always luring and cajoling others to enter into helping her with the next project, be it a May Day celebration, a musical stage production, or a grade school music recital. One can well imagine that had she not entered the convent she may well have become one of the great impresarios of Broadway. Instead she chose to be a Sister of St. Joseph in the little Kansas town of Concordia. I am privileged to share with you just a bit of her story.

Sister Athanasia Weber was born on March 31, 1917, the first child of Henry and Hazel Agnes Symonds Weber of Seneca, Kan. She was baptized Constance and was the oldest of four children, two of whom died in infancy. I know that Athie had many good friends here in Concordia and elsewhere, a few of whom are with us this evening. She will be missed by all of the sisters here at the Motherhouse and in the community. She was a woman whose presence will be missed.

Sister Athanasia’s musical interests and gifts were recognized early in her life. In her Life Review she noted that both of her parent’s families played for dances in the Seneca area. She was, naturally, encouraged, as a youngster, to take piano lessons and join the family bands. As her natural musical talent developed she often played duets with her mother, and accompanied her father when he played the flute. At an early age she recognized that God was attracting her to use her gifts in other ways and by the time she was 15 she expressed her desire to be a Sister of St. Joseph. She was acquainted with the community because her aunt had graduated from the nursing school staffed by the congregation.  Subsequently she entered the postulancy on June 1, 1932, received the habit Aug. 15, 1933, made first vows on March 19, 1935, and final profession on Aug. 15, 1938.

There was little doubt what ministry would be assigned to Sister Athanasia. She was a readymade music teacher. And it is a well-known fact that in the early days of the community music teachers were often the women who kept the local communities financially viable.  From the beginning the community was quick to put her musical gifts to work. Through the years she was assigned to a number of missions in Kansas: Concordia, Aurora, Salina, Beloit, Damar and Clyde. She also taught in Monett, Mo., Silver City, N.M., and Grand Island, Neb. She was so busy as a music teacher that it took some time before she completed her formal education, receiving a Bachelor of Music Education Degree from Marymount in 1952 and 10 years after that, a master’s degree in piano at De Paul University in Chicago in 1962.

Teaching music was her lifelong passion. Perhaps it would be better to put it this way — developing the musical potential of people was her great passion.  She taught a wide variety of instruments although piano and organ were her special delight.  Day in and day out she taught music; preschool children, primary, intermediate, secondary, college students, even senior citizens were numbered among her devoted students. The age of her students made little difference. For that matter promising natural talent made little difference. In Athie’s mind every person held the potential for becoming a Rachmoninoff or a Mendelsohn. And if it didn’t turn out that way it was not for want of Athie’s affirmation or persistence.

By the late 1940s and during the ’50s Sister Athanasia hit her stride and perhaps her most creative days. In 1947 she was assigned to Sacred Heart in Salina and there she staged a pageant with 500 students. The extravaganza was a remarkable achievement but it only spurred her on. In 1950 she moved to Grand Island, Neb., where again, now an experienced impresario, she put her creativity to work. She produced a pageant with 550 students which far exceeded the capacity of the little St. Mary’s auditorium. Nothing would do but relocate the program to the Liederkranz, a large concert hall a block away from the school. In her life review she remarks, “Sister Lucy and Michael Ann marched the students back and forth through the alley until their time to perform came around.”  Grand Island had never before seen such a performance. (And I seriously doubt whether it has ever again had such an experience.) I am sure that today many people in Grand Island remember “that sister” who produced “that program,” even if they do not remember her name.

Beloit was the next place to share Athie’s talents and the citizens there enjoyed a similar production. Needless to say sisters who were on mission with her during those years retain memories of what those days that required of them, the ultimate, in cooperation and energy. There was hardly anything Athie would not ask of her friends for the sake of a stage production. But then, “It was all for the greater glory of God,” so who could refuse.

In 1959 Sister Athanasia was assigned to Marymount College and it was there that I came to know and admire her tireless energy and total devotion to music and to her students. Many were the times that we, temporary professed sisters, were drafted into her productions either as singers, or stagehands. One job was as important as another. Life was never dull, always spinning along with some new idea, some new creation with Sister Athanasia on the faculty.

Athie treasured all of her students and now and then one became her life long friend. Howard Reed was an outstanding student and accomplished pianist. He has returned most every year for a visit and in fact spent last Christmas afternoon at Mount Joseph with her.

By 1963 Sister came back to Concordia as the Motherhouse organist and music teacher for the aspirants. In addition she developed a large clientele for private music lessons and over the years her students presented music recitals and concerts in the Motherhouse Auditorium and the Brown Grand Theatre and any other stage she could find.

Annually one or the other of her proteges or singing groups would win state or national recognition. Sister Athanasia was always proud of her music students and saw to it that the auditorium was beautifully decorated for the recitals, the students properly attired and the press releases prepared for the next day’s Blade-Empire. Nothing gave Athie more satisfaction than praise given to one of her talented young students. After Vatican II and the change of habit, she always came to her students’ recitals in a lovely formal dress befitting the occasion. Athie believed in beauty, she believed in music and she believed in the generosity and good will of people.

By 1980 Athie realized that she needed still another outlet for her artistic talents. Her mother had worked as a florist and that art form had always attracted her. She requested approval to begin a study program in floral designing and related artistic crafts. She received certification as a professional floral designer from the Cliff Mann Floral School in Denver in 1981. It was an achievement she put to work with the same energy and zeal that she used her musical gifts. Motherhouse residents will remember her arts and crafts room with its forest of silk and paper flowers and ferns and other craft materials. All of us remember her many musical and artistic contributions for Motherhouse celebrations, jubilees, assemblies and other special occasions.

Through the years Athie’s commitments to mission sounded a constant theme. She was committed to using her gifts of music and floral arts for the glory of God and the service of others and spoke of that in different ways. Her last mission commitment, signed by Sister Pat McLennon, sounded the same theme: “I will continue to the best of my ability to play the organ (for liturgy,) and deepen my prayer life and render service to the dear neighbor.”

Within another year or two even that gift with the organ slipped away. Slowly Athie, multitalented as she was, let go, recognizing that she could do little more than the routine business of living, coming to meals and to Eucharist, always with a smile, a greeting, a little bit of conversation. Over the years we witnessed Athie’s slow but steady decline in health and energy. Her body was no longer able to keep pace with her buoyant spirit. It was not easy for us to see that energy and talent slowly slip away, but her interest in others, her faithfulness to God and to her vocation never faded.

And finally, she moved to Mount Joseph in 2004 where the diminishment of her talents continued to take its toll. She relaxed into the adjustment to her new schedule. She has lived there for over six years and has gone through days of great darkness and days of deep peace. For a while she became an avid reader and for many months kept both the Motherhouse and the public Library busy. After some time she became something of a recluse, spending a good part of each day in her room. She died Jan. 12, 2011.

And so for now, Athie, we send you on your way to your God where you can hand over the great production of your life to the One who really made it all possible. Athie, you have served your God with energy, excitement, zeal and great creativity and yielded over all of that gracefully and peacefully. I am sure your arrival in heaven will necessitate some reorganization of the heavenly choir, but that there will be hundreds whose lives you have touched on hand to welcome you.  May your heart rejoice and sing with delight in union with the Loving God whom you have served so faithfully. You were a model for many of your students who saw in you a life of talent and generosity. And for us, your sisters in the community, you modeled dedication and devotion to the dear neighbor and a delight in a life well spent for God’s glory.

Chamber exec hired to head sisters’ new effort

January 6, 2011 by  

Cheryl Lyn Higgins

A native Kansan and former Chamber of Commerce executive has been hired to head the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia’s new Neighborhood Initiatives Inc.

Cheryl Lyn Higgins started her new job today (Jan. 6).

Higgins was most recently head of the Winfield (Kan.) Area Chamber of Commerce. From 1996 to 2004, she was executive vice president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in McPherson, and then served for three years as president and CEO of the Junction City Chamber. She also served as director of Project WIN/the Welcome Home to Heroes Foundation in Junction City.

In her new role with the Sisters of St. Joseph, Higgins will serve as coordinator of the nonprofit corporation created a year ago. The idea is for Neighborhood Initiatives, under Higgins’ direction, to coordinate works of service sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, projects initiated and sustained by the congregation and activities the sisters undertake in partnership with others. Higgins will be responsible for ensuring that all those projects complement each other and for seeking out opportunities for new projects and partnerships.

The logo for Neighborhood Initiatives Inc. symbolizes the many projects undertaken by Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

“She brings a wealth of experience in initiative, in collaboration and in leadership,” said Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Concordia-based congregation, as she introduced Higgins to sisters at the Nazareth Motherhouse on Thursday. “We believe she is exactly the person we need for this new idea.”

Higgins, who was born and raised in Winfield, Kan., and is a Catholic, said the coordinator’s position is a perfect fit for her. “It’s part of a personal journey,” she told the gathered sisters. “I share your faith, and I share your vision of the good works we can achieve.”

Higgins said she was particularly impressed with the sisters’ Neighbor to Neighbor center in downtown Concordia and with the congregation’s continuing work at bringing various aspects of the community together through the public forums that began two years ago.

“I get satisfaction in bringing people together and asking those questions: How do we improve the community? What would a better community look like?”

But, she noted, while Neighborhood Initiatives and her position are new, the concept is not: “It’s really the way our country was founded. There were many needs and few resources; we had to work together to raise a barn or build a school.”

Higgins attended Kansas State Teachers College (now Emporia State University) and completed the Kansas Community Leadership Initiative. She has also served as a board member for several statewide organizations, and was president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce Executives in 2007.

She has two grown children — a son who lives in Manhattan and a daughter in Galva, Kan.

Open House offers warmth in wintry weather

December 11, 2010 by  

Friends, family and neighbors flocked to the Motherhouse this afternoon despite the season’s first blast of wintry weather.

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Temperatures were in the low 20s, and made to feel much colder due to wind gusts of nearly 50 mph. But that was not enough to affect the warmth of the welcome offered by the Sisters of St. Joseph at their annual Christmas Open House.

In addition to the standard fare of cookies, punch and cider ‚ which, as always, were delicious — the sisters served up livve musical entertainment, with the Bent Wind Bent Wind Saxophone Ensemble of Cloud County Community College and the Concordia High School Chamber Choir.

The Saxophone Ensemble was directed by Patrick Sieben, who also plays in the quartet, while the choir was directed by Kevin Johnson.

The annual event was organized by the sisters’ Development Office and coordinated by Sister Loretta Jasper. During the Open House, sisters were stationed throughout the Motherhouse so visitors touring the building could ask questions and get more information about the historic structure and the Concordia-based congregation of women religious.

Music highlights annual Motherhouse Open House

December 5, 2010 by  

The Sisters of St. Joseph are hosting their annual Christmas Open House from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11.

Everyone is invited to stop by the historic Nazareth Motherhouse for refreshments, building tours and a chance to meet and visit with the sisters. Also, this year entertainment will be provided during the Open House by the Bent Wind Saxophone Ensemble of Cloud County Community College, directed by Patrick Sieben, and the Concordia High School Chamber Choir, directed by Kevin Johnson.

The Sisters of St. Joseph is a religious order of women who came to Kansas in 1883 and established the Nazareth Convent and Academy in Concordia a year later. Their first Motherhouse was at Fifth and Olive streets and is now Manna House of Prayer. The cornerstone for the current Motherhouse, at 13th and Washington streets, was laid in 1902 and construction was completed in 13 months. The 108-year-old building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

A gift of warmth on a chilly day

December 4, 2010 by  

A baker’s dozen gathered in the basement of K-State’s Catholic center this morning — but it was blankets, not baking on the menu.

• • • • •

Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia along with students from Kansas State University and Cloud County Community College, plus faculty from St. Isidore’s Church, which includes the Catholic Campus Center, took part in the project to sew blankets for the Manhattan Homeless Shelter.

The project was spearheaded by Sister Beverly Carlin, the congregation’s vocation director who is based in Manhattan, and Sisters Julie Christensen and Betty Suther, both of Concordia. Sister Betty often leads the popular quilting retreats at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia.

The “quilting crew” cut fabric, sewed pieces together and quilted it all for extra warmth.

Neighbor to Neighbor receives $20,000 grant

December 3, 2010 by  

For the second year in a row, Neighbor to Neighbor has received a major grant from the Kansas Health Foundation.

The center for women in downtown Concordia is the only organization in Cloud County to receive funding this year from the statewide organization.

The grant of $20,175 will help pay for programs at the center, which is operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and does not charge for any of its services, classes or workshops.

A year ago, Neighbor to Neighbor received a grant of $24,988 from the foundation to help with its start-up costs. The center opened at 103 E. Sixth St. in May.

The “Recognition Grants” from the Kansas Health Foundation are designed to help nonprofit organizations throughout the state as they do “meaningful work” toward “improving the health of all Kansans,” according to the grant announcement,

For Fall 2010, the foundation announced grants to 59 organizations across the state. Grants typically range from about $1,500 to a maximum of $25,000.

Meanwhile, Neighbor to Neighbor has also launched a fundraising drive to help pay to expand its services by renovating the second floor of its historic downtown building.

Since it opened this past spring, local women and their young children have made more than 1,800 visits to the storefront center. 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 construction began this week to double the center’s space and add 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.

As with renovation of the first floor, Motherhouse employees are doing the bulk of the work, which keeps the labor costs for the project low.

But Neighbor to Neighbor’s fundraising drive 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 McLennon, one of the three women who operate the center. “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 began Dec. 1, with the hope that people throughout the area will consider tax-deductible donations before the end of the year.

Greg Gallagher, facilities manager for the Sisters of St. Joseph, expects the work on the upstairs to be completed next spring.

To learn more about Neighbor to Neighbor, call the center at 785/262-4215 or visit any day. The center is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursday from 1 to 9 p.m.

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Handmade gifts attract shoppers to Motherhouse

November 27, 2010 by  

The annual Motherhouse Crafts Sale drew an early crowd this morning as shoppers came to support the Sisters of St. Joseph — and stock up on a wide array of handmade gifts.

Sisters Jackie Kircher, Leah Smith, Susan Stoeber and Cecilia Green work all year to stock the sale with knitted scarves and blankets, Christmas ornaments, holiday decorations of all types, jewelry, dolls and stuffed animals. And this year, the Neighbor to Neighbor center also had a table of gifts made by women taking part in programs at the downtown center.

In another part of the Motherhouse, the Relay for Life team was putting on a bake sale to benefit cancer research, and the Nazareth Gift Shop was open to ensure there were even more items available for eager shoppers.

Proceeds from the annual sale, always held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, help support the Sisters and their ministries.

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!

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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:


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