‘Riders on the Orphan Train’ highlights reunion

June 11, 2011 by  

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Music and storytelling were the orders of the day Saturday as descendants of Orphan Train riders and other visitors came to the Nazareth Motherhouse as part of the Ninth Annual Orphan Train Reunion in Concordia.

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The reunion began Friday morning, with most events at the Morgan-Dowell Research Center, which is part of the National Orphan Train Complex and Museum in Concordia. But late Saturday morning the program shifted to the Motherhouse, with the Sisters of St. Joseph as the hosts. The morning program of  “Riders Stories” was followed by lunch and then a special presentation of  “Riders on the Orphan Train.”

The presentation combines music with photographs, audio and video, and was created by Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster, both of Austin, Texas. Moore, an author and musician, included a reading from her upcoming novel about the Orphan Train as part of the program.

Before the program began, two descendants of Orphan Train riders shared short stories. Judye Ruffo of Lincoln, Neb., talked about her mother, Ann Harrison, who at 102 was not able to come to Concordia for the reunion. Harold Dupre of Opelousas, La., told the story of his father, who was one of about 100 orphans who were sent to Louisiana in 1907.

Between 1854 and 1929 an estimated 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children were placed out during, what is known today as, the Orphan Train Movement. The name is derived from the children’s situations, though they were not all orphans, and the mode of transportation used to move them across 47 states and Canada.

When the orphan train movement began, it was estimated that 30,000 abandoned children were living on the streets of New York City.

The National Orphan Train Museum is housed in a renovated 1917 Union Pacific depot located just a couple of blocks north of downtown Concordia. To learn more, CLICK HERE.

To learn more about “Riders on the Orphan Train” by Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster, CLICK HERE.




Small garden in Hays, Kan., has a big mission

June 7, 2011 by  

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A volunteer helps install the 4-foot fence donated by the St. Joseph Knights of Columbus.

Alton Ashmore gingerly handles the tomato plants he donated for Saint Joseph's Garden in Hays, Kan.

HAYS, Kan. — Don’t mistake this unassuming patch of earth on Ash Street for so many other unloved neighborhood lots. This small patch — roughly the size of a smallish bedroom — has been tilled, composted, fenced, planted and now watered with tender loving care. And the fruits of its harvest will benefit the Parish Food Pantry of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

When Sister Janet LeDuc, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, moved into the Ash Street house last summer, she almost immediately realized that its yard would be the perfect place for a small community garden.

So in early March she mailed a letter to parishioners asking for their help. Donations of time and materials came in from both individuals and groups: The St. Joseph Knights of Columbus put up the simple 4-foot fence, Northwestern Printers donated a waterproof sign and others showed up to till, then re-till and add compost and new soil. Just after Easter Father Gilmary Tallman and Sister Janet gathered with several of the volunteers for a blessing of Saint Joseph’s Garden. And not long after that, Alton Ashmore arrived, tomato plants in hand.

Providing fresh produce to the Parish Food Pantry is just half the mission of the small garden, Sister Janet said. Her other hope is that the project builds a community of people interested in gardening as well as local self-sufficiency, sustainability and service to their neighbors.

June 5, 2011 — Jubilee Mass & Program, by Dottie Moss

June 7, 2011 by  

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Jubilarians mark special day with music, memories

June 5, 2011 by  

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The first order of business on Jubilee Day was a formal portrait of all 15 jubilarians.

With a special Mass, music and memories, 15 Sisters of St. Joseph celebrated their 850 years of love and service in Jubilee celebrations Sunday.


• • • • • • • •

The day began with Ascension Sunday Mass, celebrated by Father Jack Schlaf, in the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Nazareth Motherhouse. But the focus was on the 15 women celebrating the anniversary of the date they were received into the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

• • • • • • •



• • • • • • •

The annual jubilee celebration is timed to coincide with the congregation’s June Assembly, so as many Sisters of St. Joseph as possible are in Concordia to take part.

The “matriarch” of the 2011 jubilarians is Sister Margaret Ann Buser, who celebrates her 75th anniversary, while Sister Pat Eichner was the youngest julibarian as she celebrates her 25th anniversary.

After a gala dinner with family and friends at the Nazareth Motherhouse, the Jubilarians were honored with a special program that featured a “singalong” with songs from each of their reception dates as well as news headlines and congregational highlights from those years.

The Jubilarians honored Sunday were:

Sister Margaret Ann Buser

Sister Margaret Ann Buser, who was born in Halstead, Kan., and was received into the congregation on March 19, 1936. Sister Margaret Ann was a teacher for many years in towns throughout Kansas, and in Silver City, N.M., and Grand Island Nebraska. She also worked for 11 years with the Marriage Tribunal for the Grand Island Diocese and then another decade with the Stephen Ministry there. She came to live at the Motherhouse in 2004.

Sister Marquita Murguia, left, and Sister Rose Moos

Sister Rose Moos, who was born in Hays and received on March 19, 1941 (70 years ago). She taught at schools in Kansas, New Mexico and Nebraska from 1945 through 1971. She then served as a school librarian in Leawood and Salina, Kan., before moving to Wakeeny, where she was the religious education coordinator and was served as a senior companion. In 1994, she returned to Concordia to serve for three years as the assistant to the administrator of St. Mary’s Convent, before moving to the Motherhouse in 1997 where she continues to serve sisters as a seamstress.

Sister Marquita Murguia, who was born in El Paso, Texas, and received on March 19, 1941 (70 years ago). She was a teacher from 1943 through 1972, serving at schools in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Then she returned to El Paso as an art teacher at St. Joseph’s Hospital there. Since 1988, she has been artist in residence in the El Paso Diocese, working in a variety of mediums, including encaustic paintings, acrylics, sculpture and jewelry.

BACK ROW, from left: Sisters Rosalyn Juenemann, Anne Martin Reinert and Geraldine Milke. FRONT ROW, from left: Sisters Francis Margaret Otter, Cecilia Green and Leah Smith

Sister Cecilia Green, who was born in Herndon, Kan., and received into the congregation on March 19, 1951 (60 years ago). She was a teacher from 1954 to 1975 at schools throughout Kansas and then spent a year in parish ministry for several small Kansas towns. In 1977, she retuned to the Motherhouse where she continues to serve today as sacristan and as a driver, mail carrier, maintenance worker and gardener who is also responsible for decorating for special events and holidays.

Sister Rosalyn Juenemann, who was born in Leoville, Kan., and received into the congregation on March 19, 1951 (60 years ago). She taught school from 1953 to 1973 in Chicago and a number of Kansas schools. From 1973 to 1987 she served in parish ministry in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and then in Greenleaf and Clay Center, Kan. Sister Rosalyn returned to the Motherhouse in 1987 as coordinator of sisters’ services, and then was elected to the congregation’s Executive Council. She was later a pastoral associate or parish minister in Colby, Junction City and Chapman, Kan. Since 2006, she has lived and served in Plainville, Kan.

Sister Geraldine “Gerry” Milke, who was born in Hays and received into the congregation on Aug. 15, 1951 (60 years ago). During her long career in nursing, Sister Geraldine served in hospitals in Salina, Atwood and Manhattan, Kan., Belvidere, Ill., and Grand Island, Neb. In 1996 she returned to Concordia as a nurse at St. Mary’s Convent and the Nazareth Motherhouse. She retired from nursing in 2008, but continues to serve sisters as a part-time Motherhouse receptionist.

Sister Francis Margaret Otter, who was born in Clayton, Kan., and received into the congregation on Aug. 15, 1951 (60 years ago). From 1953 to 1995, she taught first grade and primary grades in Chicago; Concordia, Manhattan, Junction City, Herndon, Oakley and Plainville, Kan.; and El Paso, Texas; and was responsible for starting Montessori kindergartens in Leawood and Salina, Kan. After retiring from teaching, Sister Francis Margaret was the religious education coordinator in Plainville, Kan., until 2004. Then she came to the Motherhouse, continuing to serve in a wide variety of ways: giving tours, leading the Rosary and Litany, distributing mail, preparing food trays for sisters, helping with recycling and handcrafting items for the Nazareth Gift Shop.

Sister Anne Martin Reinert, who was born in Seguin, Kan., and received into the congregation on March 19, 1951 (60 years ago). She served as a nurse in hospitals in Manhattan, Kan., El Paso and Concordia from 1952 to 1983. Then she moved to Junction City, Kan., where she served as a nurse at the hospital and at St. Clare House for Women and Children until 2002. Sister Anne Martin then returned to Concordia as a nurse at the Motherhouse for several more years. In 2008, she began her current mission as community life coordinator for the sisters who live at Mt. Joseph Senior Village in Concordia.

Sister Leah Smith, who was born in Junction City, Kan., and received into the congregation on March 19, 1951 (60 years ago). She taught school from 1953 to 1974 in Salina; Chicago; Silver City, N.M.; Gladstone and Lake Linden, Mich.; and Grand Island, Neb. Then she returned to Concordia where she served as receptionist at the Motherhouse for six years. Beginning in 1980, Sister Leah’s primary service has been as an artist and craftswoman working from her home in Concordia.

BACK ROW, from left: Sisters Marilyn Wall, Janis Wagner and Carm Thibault. FRONT ROW, from left: Sisters Jodi Creten and Judy Stephens

Sister Carmella “Carm” Thibault, who was born in Damar, Kan., and was received on Aug. 15, 1961 (50 years ago).  She served in the Registrar’s Office at Marymount College from 1962 to 1969 and then taught school in Leawood, Kan., and Fairbury, Neb., for 11 years. In 1981, she returned to Concordia to assume a variety of vocational duties for the congregation and then served as a staff member at Manna House of Prayer until 1995. Sister Carm then served for eight years on the congregation’s Executive Council and as a regional coordinator. In 2004 she moved to Salina as a pastoral minister at Sacred Heart Cathedral, and she continues that service today.

Sister Janis Wagner, who was born in Walker, Kan., and was received on Aug. 15, 1961 (50 years ago).  She was a music teacher from 1963 to 1968 in St. George, Ill., and Park, Kan., and then served as the area religion coordinator for a number of northwestern and western Kansas parishes. In 1971 she moved to Salina and served in the religious education office of the Diocese, and then in 1973 went to Manhattan, Kan., as religious education coordinator and music teacher. She served in a team ministry for several small Kansas parishes from 1975 to 1977, and then spent a year as a campus minister and organ instructor at Marymount College and a year serving in the Office of Worship for the Diocese. In 1989, Sister Janis became pastoral associate and music director for the St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Salina and remained there until taking on the same duties in Manhattan and Ogden, Kan., in 1994. From 2005 to 2007, she returned to the Motherhouse as liturgy coordinator, and then served as pastoral associate and music minister in Clay Center, Kan., from 2007 to 2009. In late 2009 she returned to the Motherhouse, again as liturgy coordinator.

Sister Jodi Creten, who was born in Escanaba, Mich., and was received on Aug. 15, 1961 (50 years ago).  She was a teacher in Silver City, N.M., Chicago and Boonville, Mo., from 1963 to 1980. She then returned to the Motherhouse, first to assist with renovation projects and then to serve as director of Stafford Hall from 1984 to 1987. In 1989 she was named resident services coordinator at St. Thomas Manor in Eastpoint, Ga., and a year later began providing elder care. Since 2001, Sister Jodi has served as a caregiver with Home Instead Senior Care in Atlanta, where she lives.

Sister Judy Stephens, who was born in Denver and was received on Aug. 15, 1961 (50 years ago).. She taught primary grades in Chicago and Silver City, N.M., from 1963 to 1968, and then served in a religious education cooperative program in Clyde, Clifton, Clara, Morrowville and Washington, Kan., until 1973. After that came two years on the initial development team and as a part-time admissions counselor at Marymount College. Then Sister Judy moved to New Mexico, where she served as a youth minister in Bayard, Central and Hurley from 1975 to 1979. She spent the next four years as a pastoral minister in Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico, before returning to Concordia and Manna House of Prayer in 1983. There she worked with Central American refugees in the Sanctuary program, and then in 1990 and 1991 she served with the Guatemalan Education Center, Salina. From there, Sister Judy moved to a farm in Tescott, Kan., where from 1991 to 1999 she began a new ministry in ecology/preserving the land and growing organic food. From 1991 on, she also served as a medical interpreter with Catholic Charities of Salina. Then, in 2008, Sister Judy was elected to the congregation’s Leadership Council and she moved back to Concordia for those duties.

Sister Marilyn Wall, who was born in Aurora, Ill., and was received on Aug. 15, 1961 (50 years ago).  She was a schoolteacher in Fairbury, Neb., Manhattan and Salina from 1965 to 1969, and then taught biology at Marymount College until 1975. In 1977, she became a social worker at St. Hospital in Concordia and remained there until 1981 when she was named a spiritual director and associate retreats director at Manna House of Prayer. In 1987 Sister Marilyn was elected to the congregational Executive Council, and served in that role for four years. Then, from 1991 to 1994, she served in parish ministry in Salina and with the Office of Laity for the Salina Diocese. Her parish ministry continued in Oberlin, Selden and Leoville, Kan, where she served from 1994 to 2002. Then she moved to Washington, Kan., and continued parish ministry there and in Morrowville, Hanover and Greenleaf, Kan., until 2009. She now lives in Wilson, Kan., and serves as a pastoral associate there and in Dorrance and Holyrood, Kan.

Sister Pat Eichner

Sister Pat Eichner, who was born in Ogallala, Neb., and was received into the congregation Sept. 7, 1986 (25 years ago). After serving as a youth minister in Salina from 1991 to 1993 and in North Platte, Neb., from 1993 to 1999, Sister Pat went to Gothenburg, Neb., where she served as pastoral minister from 1999 to 2006. Then she came to Concordia where she serves as finance officer for the congregation.

Congregation welcomes newest agrégée sisters

June 2, 2011 by  

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Two women who couldn’t seem more different spoke with one voice Thursday afternoon when they became the newest Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan.

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In a Mass at the sisters’ Nazareth Motherhouse, Jan McCormick of Chapman, Kan., and Sharon Hayes of Kansas City, Mo., professed their vows as agrégées – a new form of membership in the 128-year-old congregation of Catholic women.

Jan McCormick

The 57-year-old McCormick graduated from Chapman High School and immediately went to work. But after nearly a decade, she enrolled at Cloud County Community College in Concordia and eventually graduated from Marymount College in Salina with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with an emphasis on chemical dependency. During her two years in school in Concordia, she met several Sisters of St. Joseph. But it was at Marymount — then operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia — where she really connected with them, she said. And when she went to work at St. John’s Hospital in Salina — then also operated by the sisters — she came to know even more about them.

By 1999, McCormick had moved back to Chapman and there she met Sister Carolyn Juenemann who was starting a CSJ Associates program. “I joined it, and it was life-giving and there was a real connectedness,” McCormick recalls.

She went to work in the Army’s substance abuse program where she is now a risk reduction analyst, yet her real passion was her deepening commitment to her CSJ Associates group.

Sharon Hayes

Meanwhile, Sharon Hayes had only a passing knowledge of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Hayes, 65, had felt called to religious life very early. Born and raised in Denver, she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. (The two congregations, along with nearly 20 others in the U.S. and Canada, share a history but are today separate and autonomous.)

Just out of high school, Hayes joined the Carondelet sisters and then attended Fontbonne University in St. Louis and then Avilla College in Kansas City, with majors in nursing and minors in psychology and theology. She went on to the University of Arizona to earn a master’s in science in physiology and nursing.

Then, after seven years as a Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, she made the decision to leave the congregation.

“For Catholics, the 1970s were crazy,” she says now. “The Church was modernizing but that meant tremendous upheaval in religious life. I left to search…”

It also meant a career in nursing, with ever increasing responsibilities, and a life in the Kansas City area.

And while no longer a member of the Carondelet sisters, “I stayed very close to members of that community for all those years,” Hayes says. “In some ways, I was always part of them, and they were always part of me. I didn’t know the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan., but the broader Sisters of St. Joseph connection went back to when I was about 6.”

Unbeknownst to Hayes, the Concordia sisters had come up with something that would make that connection even stronger.

Over several decades, the Sisters of St. Joseph who shared roots in the original 17th-century French congregation — which includes both Concordia and Carondelet — had been studying their early history. In Concordia in about 2005, there was particular interest in a form of membership called “agrégées,” a French word that means attached to.

An agrégée — pronounced ah-greh-ZHEY — was a woman who undertook the same work and mission as the original Sisters of St. Joseph in LePuy, France, but for various circumstances could not take the traditional three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Instead, she made a single vow to be faithful to the congregation and to God.

After deep study, the Concordia sisters introduced agrégée membership and accepted the first candidate in 2006. Sister Rosabel Flax of Ness City, Kan., became the first professed agrégée in 2008, and three others soon followed.

Several of the Concordia sisters talked with Jan McCormick about agrégée membership, “but I didn’t know if I wanted to give up my Associates group,” she says with a laugh.

Ultimately, McCormick decided to become an agrégée candidate, to see if she was called toward religious life. But she remained unsure — until the fall of 2010.

McCormick had spent a couple of years as the driving force in organizing the St. Joseph Orphanage Reunion that was held last October in Abilene, and at the end of an exhausting and exhilarating day at St. Andrew’s Church, she finally knew the direction she needed to take. “That was the turning point,” she says. “I knew then that these were the women I wanted to be part of.”

About the same time McCormick had starting planning that orphans’ reunion, Hayes was attending a retreat with the Carondelet sisters in St. Louis. It was December 2008 and Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Concordia sisters and one of the “pioneers” in creating the agrégée form of membership, was giving a presentation on two programs offered at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia. Both of those programs focus on the history and original mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph — and both explain agrégée membership in depth.

Hayes signed up for the spring program on the spot. “I’d never heard of the word  ‘agrégée’ before, but I loved what I heard. It was consistent with how I lived my life,” says the retired nurse who now volunteers as a medical advocate.

On Jan. 1, 2010, Hayes became an agrégée candidate.

As candidates, each has a mentor for study and prayer. They have also worked with Sisters Better Moslander and Marcia Allen, who were principally responsible for designing the agrégée orientation program.

And McCormick and Hayes worked together to plan a vow ceremony that fit both of them.

“When Sharon and I first started talking about it, we knew we wanted it to be simple,” McCormick said on the day before the ceremony. “We wanted a weekday Mass without much hoopla.”

“We’ve done what we’ve done our whole lives without ‘credentials,’” Hayes added. “I’d rather walk the walk louder than I talk the talk.”

That, says Moslander, reflects the true origins of the agrégées, as well as the potential for the newest members of the Sisters of St. Joseph. “It’s a different kid of religious life for 21st century Catholic women,” she said. “We and the people they serve are truly blessed.”

With Hayes’ and McCormick’s professions Thursday, there are now six agrégées and five candidates among the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

To learn more about the agrégée program, CLICK HERE for more information.

Student finds a home in new program at Manna House

June 1, 2011 by  

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Community college student Cindy Ponce weeds a flowerbed in front of Manna House of Prayer on a recent sunny morning.

Twenty-year-old Cindy Ponce has only one complaint after living among the Sisters of St. Joseph at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia for five months.

“There’s no one my age,” says the Belize native who’s studying business at Cloud County Community College. “I would like to have friends here to hang out with.”

It’s a mild complaint, one very much overshadowed Ponce says by all the good things about living at Manna House, but still one the sisters there have taken to heart. And it explains, in part, the creation of a new program to begin late this summer.

The sisters and staff at Manna House are turning one wing of their landmark building at East Fifth and Olive streets into St. Joseph Scholar House, a residence hall for women students from the local college.

“Cindy was living with us, and we were thinking about ‘community’ for her,” explains Sister Julie Christensen, at 29 the youngest member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and one of the women who live at Manna House. “This just felt like something we could do.”

Sister Julie’s “this” is a program that focuses on education, service, leadership and “being your best person,” she says. At the same time, it gives young women students of all faiths — many, like Ponce, away from home for the first time — a chance to grow and learn about themselves without many of the distractions prevalent in dorm life on campus.


When the opportunity to attend Cloud arose, Ponce was living with her parents and three siblings and attending Sacred Heart Junior College in San Ignacio, Belize, a tiny country tucked below Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula with Guatemala to its east and the Caribbean on its west.

She had gotten to know Christa Schmidt, a young woman from Axtell, Kan., who was working in Belize, and then met Christa’s parents, Giles and Roxie Schmidt. The elder Schmidts sponsored Ponce to come to the United States to attend Cloud, where their younger daughter Abby is also a student.

But living in the dorm at Cloud was too expensive, so the Schmidts worked out an arrangement with Manna House: Ponce has been there since January, and helps with chores and other shared tasks.

The cultural adjustment was not that difficult, Ponce says. Belize is the only Central American country that has English as its official language, so that was not a barrier for her. And she comes from a big family — another three siblings had already left home — so she was used to sharing her quarters.

She was also familiar with Catholic sisters. As a Catholic herself, she says, “I knew some sisters (in Belize) and I thought they’d be like that.” But she recognizes that some people may still harbor stereotypes about women religious. She says some of the other young women she’s met while at Cloud may be hesitant about even coming to visit her at Manna House, “but I tell them, ‘They are way more different than what you think!’”

Ponce says it took her just a couple of weeks to get over feeling like a “guest” of the sisters. “It didn’t take long for me to adapt to being here,” she recalls. “I just told myself this is home.”

And as she got more comfortable, she got to know the Manna House sisters and staff better. “I guess I didn’t expect them to be so funny, so caring and so loving,” she says now. “Yet I always have my own space. Whenever I want to do something on my own, there’s always a place for it.”

That’s the kind of experience the sisters hope other young women will have as residents of St. Joseph Scholar House.

There are rules — maintaining a grade-point-average of 3.3 or higher, sharing some chores (including cooking and kitchen duty), making a commitment to community service, as examples — but there are also the benefits of always having a quiet place to study, of being a part of a small community of women who care deeply about each other and of sharing a college experience with fellow students who are equally interested in their education and their place in the world.

There is also a benefit of cost: The fee for St. Joseph Scholar House is $1,800 a semester, compared to $2,150 for the least expensive dorm package at Cloud.

“We have so often worked with people in mid-life and older,” says Sister Betty Suther, administrator of Manna House. “This shifts us to younger people and allows us to share what we have with them.”

For Cindy Ponce, it seems to be working. She decided to take a break from classes this summer and is staying on as a volunteer at Manna until school begins again in August. She helps with meals — including making her favorite Belizean dish, rice and beans with chicken — plus working in the garden at the Nazareth Motherhouse, weeding the flower beds that surround Manna House and doing whatever other tasks the sisters need.

She has another two semesters at Cloud before she decides whether she’ll continue at a four-year school or return to Belize to begin a career.

Until then, Manna House is home. “Sister Betty met me when I first got here and welcomed me; she told me to make myself comfortable,” Ponce recalls with a laugh. “I am still welcomed and still comfortable.”


To learn more about St. Joseph Scholar House, go to www.mannahouse.org or call Sister Julie Christensen at 785/243-4428.


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Eulogy for Sister Viatora Solbach, Dec. 6, 1921-May 26, 2011

May 31, 2011 by  

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VIGIL: May 29, 2011, at the Nazareth Motherhouse

EULOGIST: Sister Mary Reiter

Mary Catherine Solbach was born on a farm near Clifton, Kan., on Dec. 6, 1921. She was the second oldest of 14 children. Surviving are four sisters — Edith, Carolyn, Mary and Marilyn — and three brothers — Charles, Vernon and Mark.

The Sisters of St. Joseph had been very good to her mother in childhood and Mary Catherine expressed the desire to become a Sister early on. After grade school her parents sent her to Marymount Academy for high school. When she completed her sophomore year, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia on Sept. 8, 1939, and received the habit and the name Sister Viatora on March 19, 1940.  She made final vows March 19, 1944.  Of the original band members, only Sister Liberata Pellerin remains.

After finishing high school at the Motherhouse, Sister Vi went to Marymount College to prepare to teach. She taught in the grade schools for 20 years mainly in Kansas, but also in Chicago.

After leaving the classroom, Sister Vi felt strongly that the Sisters of St. Joseph needed to establish a prayer house. She joined a prayer committee to study the issue, and a proposal was presented at the 1968 Chapter. After much discussion it was felt more study was needed before the next chapter. The commission presented the proposal again.  It was tabled but they proposed sending someone to live in a prayer house and study more about it.  So at the next chapter, the Senate approved the proposal and asked for volunteers to begin the ministry. The convent in Clyde became the first Manna House of Prayer with Sisters Viatora, Faye Huelsmann and Pat Lewter accepting this ministry.  Father Vering was a real help to them. Sister Anna Marie Broxterman also helped.

Sister Vi spent three years there, then was elected to the Council for four years. At the end of her term she was asked to be Motherhouse Administrator. Later Sister Marie Kelley came to help her.

She then went to St. Louis University to be trained in pastoral ministry. After much prayerful discernment, she went to St. Xavier’s Church in Junction City, Kan., as Pastoral Visitor and Eucharistic Minister to the sick and homebound. For three years she served and really appreciated this ministry.

In her own words:

“Also of importance during this time was my introduction to Kevin Wilmott, a black graduate from Marymount, who was teaching at St. Xavier’s High. He introduced me to Lemoine Davis who was a counselor at the public high school and noticed that black students who graduated could not get jobs and often got into trouble with the law. Lemoine established his Blue Doe Energy to provide jobs for them.  Kevin also had a group of men and women, black and white, who were interested in justice issues, the Kanza Life Community of which I became a member.  Later a St. Francis Shelter was established to house transients at night so they would not be on the streets.

The Kanza Life group picketed the Municipal Building and post office to make the city aware of the injustice that the city would not hire a black firefighter. After three months of picketing, the city hired a black firefighter.

Sometime later we did a sit-in at the Chamber of Commerce for Human Rights Board.  We were reported to the bishop, the pastor and finally to our president, Sister Marcia Allen. She told them that she didn’t know about it but added, ‘We support it 100 percent.’  Some weeks later a Human Rights Board was established.”

Later Sister Vi said, “We need a place for homeless women and children.” The Kanza Life community looked for a suitable place in the impoverished part of town, Kevin and Lemoine found property with three old houses. They said they could fix them up but needed money.  Sister Vi wrote to the St. Joseph Foundation for a loan of $20,000. They also asked for and received a grant of $10,000 to renovate two houses. That became St. Clare House of Hospitality.  In the meantime Sister Vi visited 36 of 41 pastors in town and asked if their churches could help them. She was asked to speak to the ministerial alliance and the church circles and also various organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Seratoma Clubs and officers of wives at Fort Riley. So money began to come in. Others sponsored projects to raise money for St. Clare House.

Sisters Mary Esther Otter and Anne Martin Reinert early on had accepted Sister Vi’s invitation to come and work on this new venture. They completed the two-story house but ran out of money to complete remodeling the little house close by. They opened to guests on March 17, 1986.  They lived and worked in cramped quarters for two years until they received a grant from SRS to complete the projects.

When the convent closed that spring St. Clare House was not ready to be lived in, so Eleanor Nolan invited them to live with her. In the summer of 1987 Marrayne Schatter, a native of Los Angeles, came and worked with them for three years.

Due to Sister Viatora’s declining health and the fact that the Crisis Center of Manhattan was so crowded and needed a facility in Junction City, St. Clare House of Hospitality became a “Crisis Center Facility.” The transition took place July 1, 1994.

The St. Clare House, in its 8½ years of operation served nearly 1,500 women and children as a place of shelter and safety. Many women were able to be directed to public housing, social services, job training and job services.

I would like to quote a passage from a letter to Sister Viatora written by Kevin Wilmott in May 1994:

Receiving the last newsletter of St. Clare House brought me to reflect on our relationship. I hope you know how much you have meant in my life. You joined our organization at a time when I was desperately needing support. Your support not only was very beneficial to the group … it acknowledged that I was doing the right thing. You joined us when no one else in the community of your stature was willing to stand with us.

How we sacrificed against the will of the community to achieve our goals. What the spirit of St. Clare House was founded upon. To me, St. Clare House is a monument to our efforts. We achieved this totally outside the system, even against the opposition of our own church. You, Sister Mary Esther, Sister Ann and Marrayne are what gave St. Clare House its life.

St. Clare House was built with a belief in revolution and radical Christianity. St. Clare House is a beacon of light in a community marked in darkness.

Sister Vi, it was an honor to work with you. You have enriched my life and helped me to become who I am today.

In 1990 the local ministerial alliance bought the former convent and Open Door was established in 1991 where the homeless were housed on second floor.  Some of the sisters worked there for some time.

Sister Viatora moved to serve as parish visitor in Ellis and Plainville for a few years before retiring to the Motherhouse in 2003. She moved to Mount Joseph senior Village in 2007 and died May 26, 2011.

Sister Viatora wrote:

“There is so much to be grateful for; so many people to thank for their love, support and encouragement, all of which has been so important in calling me to grow in all that I needed to be, who I am and where I am now.  Great is our God, who has been with me forever, providing me with good parents and wonderful brothers and sisters and calling me to be a Sisters of St. Joseph – a congregation of which I am so blessed to be a part and my companions along the way.”

Sister Vi, like your mother, you have been a kind and compassionate woman ever faithful to the Gospel of Jesus.  We will miss your beautiful smile and your example of peaceful contentment.

Memorials in honor of Sister Viatora Solbach
We extend our sympathy to all of Sister Viatora’s family and friends. She will be missed greatly.

‘Working lunch’ focuses on wide array of events, projects

May 26, 2011 by  

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A full roster of upcoming community events, projects and services greeted participants of Thursday’s Community Needs Forum “working lunch” at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

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The hourlong  session was the 14th in a process that started in the fall of 2008 with informal lunches at 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.

Upcoming events announced included:

National Night Out on Aug. 2, which will be co-sponsored by the Concordia Year of Peace Committee and the Concordia Police Department. Patrick Sieben, a member of the Year of Peace Committee, told that lunch group that the goal of National Night Out is to have neighbors organize small block parties to get to know one another, and to get to know the police officers in their area. By doing that, citizens can help reduce crime in their neighborhoods while strengthening neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships.

Some 15,000 communities around the country and on U.S. military bases around the world will take part in National Night Out this year.

As a part of the local effort, neighborhood organizers are being recruited now. Anyone who wants to learn more about being an organizer for his or her neighborhood can call Concordia Police Chief Chris Edin at 243-3131 or email him at policechief@concordiaks.org. Interested volunteers are asked to contact Edin by May 31. And, Sieben added, “If you become a community organizer, you can be president,” drawing laughs from the crowd.

Community Volunteer Fair on Sept. 10, which will be hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph at the Motherhouse. Every organization that uses volunteers in its work will be invited to have a display at the fair, and the public will then be invited to come to learn more about all the opportunities available. This first-ever Concordia event is designed to bring together people who would like to volunteer with the agencies and organizations that need that help, Sister Jean Rosemarynoski explained.

Organizations, agencies and groups that seek volunteers are asked to register before Aug. 12, by contacting Rosemarynoski at 243-2113, ext. 1225, or sisterjean@csjkansas.org

• The fourth annual golf tournament to support Big Brothers, Big Sisters, which is set for June 11 at the Concordia American Legion course. Director Holly Brown has more information on that, as well as a first-ever auction planned for September, at 243-1620.

Other participants gave reports on a variety of new and ongoing projects:

There’s a new weekday bus service from Belleville to Salina, with stops in Concordia and Minneapolis, reported James Quillen of OCCK Inc. Service is available to the general public with no eligibility requirements, and passengers are charged 10-cents per mile per ride, making the cost roundtrip from Concordia to Salina $10. For the schedule or more information, call toll-free 1-855-KS-RIDES (1-855-577-4337).

• Gardeners have claimed all 27 plots in the Concordia Community Garden of Hope, at the northeast corner of the Motherhouse property, according to Sister Betty Suther. This year Motherhouse staff expanded the garden to include another section toward the south edge of the property, which will be used by Concordia school students. The schools received a $4,500 grant from the Kansas Green Schools Program to purchase composting bins and create a compost program at the community garden.

• The second-floor expansion of Neighbor to Neighbor is well under way and should be completed by summer, reported Sister Jean Befort, one of the three women who operate the women’s center in downtown Concordia. The work to double the space at the year-old center began in December, and a fundraising drive to pay for the project began at the same time. “The numbers just continue to grow,” Befort said. “We very much need that additional space.”

• Our Father’s House, a new Christian program for men and families, is closer to reality, reporter Cameron Thurner, noting that the idea grew out of early discussions at the Community Needs Forums. A volunteer board is leading the effort and working with the First Christian Church in Concordia, she said.

• The newly published “A Year of Peace in Concordia, Kansas” and “Another Year of Peace” T-shirts are still available for purchase, said Sister Julie Christensen. The T-shirts are $13 while the books — a compilation of Year of Peace columns published in the Concordia Blade-Empire — are $2 a copy. Year of Peace polo shirts are also available by special order. The items are available at the Nazareth Gift Shop in the Motherhouse, at Manna House of Prayer or by calling Sister Julie at 243-4428.

The next “working lunch” is planned for Monday, Aug. 15, at the Motherhouse. Anyone interested is invited to attend; you do not have to have taken part before to join the conversation now.






Faith & Sharing: A 22-year Memorial Day tradition

May 24, 2011 by  

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Many people view the long Memorial Day weekend as the kickoff to summer and plan for barbecues and family get-togethers. Others continue the annual ritual of remembering loved ones by placing flowers on their graves and cleaning up around their tombstones.

But Sister Christella Buser will mark this Memorial Day weekend as she has every one for the past 21 years: By gathering up people to join her in a Faith and Sharing retreat.

This year’s weekend is at the University of St. Mary campus in Leavenworth, Kan., and Sister Christella will be one of four facilitators leading the 42 participants from central and eastern Kansas.

The idea behind Faith and Sharing retreats grew out of L’Arche, founded in 1964 by Jean Vanier as a community where developmentally disabled and physically challenged adults and “assistants” would live and work together. The Federation of L’Arche International today has more than 130 communities in 30 countries, including L’Arche Heartland in the Kansas City area, which Sister Christella helped found in the late 1980s.

Vanier held the first Faith and Sharing, an annual Gospel-centered retreat, in 1968 in Toronto, Ontario, and in 1990 Sister Christella was instrumental in bringing the retreat to Kansas.

This year’s participants will include L’Arche community members and others from Concordia, Belleville, Salina, Overland Park, Olathe, Lawrence, Leavenworth and Kansas City. The theme for the 2011 gathering is “Grace: Weaving the Colors of Our Life.”

The weekend’s other facilitators are Sisters Ann Lucia Apodaca and Lucy Walter, both Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, and Father Kevin Cullen of Rockhurst College in Kansas City. Sister Julie Christensen, a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia, is among the volunteers.

“There will be a dance, art projects, classes, music, performances and a Mass,” explains 86-year-old Sister Christella as she gets ready for the weekend that begins Friday morning with a van trip to Leavenworth. “People tell me this is the best weekend of their lives.”

The participants stay in a residence hall at the Leavenworth college, and the retreat continues through late Sunday morning.

Employers learn how to find B.E.S.T. workers

May 19, 2011 by  

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Neighborhood Initiatives coordinator Cheryl Lyn Higgins talks to local employers at a luncheon Thursday at the Neighbor to Neighbor center in downtown Concordia.

Local employers learned Thursday about a new program that may help them provide free training to their workers and allow workers to learn basic skills to become better employees.

The details of “Basic Employability Skills Training” — or B.E.S.T. — were unveiled at a luncheon hosted at Neighbor to Neighbor in downtown Concordia and presented by Neighborhood Initiatives Inc., a new office of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

“This is about allowing your employees to get better, and about finding people who have the basic skills you need,” said Cheryl Lyn Higgins, coordinator for Neighborhood Initiatives and the organizer of the lunch.

Higgins was instrumental in creating B.E.S.T. when she was president and CEO of the Junction City Area Chamber of Commerce. As the Iraq War began in 2003, that area was preparing for a massive influx of people with the return of the 1st Infantry Division headquarters to Fort Riley in 2006.

An estimated 33,000 people were expected to move to the Junction City/Wamego/Manhattan area, and that population boom drove quick economic expansion that meant countless new jobs. But, Higgins said, “We had more jobs than qualified people.”

The state Department of Commerce and local chambers of commerce were recruiting workers from other areas, but, Higgins said, “We realized we needed to raise the basic skills of the people already here.”

Faced with that challenge, a group from the state and the local chambers — including Higgins — developed B.E.S.T., which she calls “a patchwork of other programs and ideas that business said worked for them.”

B.E.S.T. is a series of eight classes that cover everything from punctuality and dependability to customer service and workplace ethics. Classes are generally about an hour to an hour and a half long, and participants receive a certificate of completion for each class.

Thursday’s lunch was designed to gauge local interest in offering B.E.S.T. classes for current employees or potential workers.

“Another carrot the Department of Commerce is offering if we can generate enough interest,” Higgins told the group, “is to bring their big mobile unit here,” which would help employers connect with workers seeking jobs and help job-seekers with skills like writing resumés and filling out applications. The mobile unit would be parked at Cloud County Community College, to work in conjunction with the Career Center there.

Judging by the comments and questions at Thursday’s lunch, there should be enough interest. Participants from OCCK Inc. said they believe the training could be very beneficial for their clients, while several employers said the completion certificates could be a valuable tool in screening potential workers.

Employers who would like more information may contact Higgins at 243-2113, ext. 1215, or at clhiggins@csjkansas.org

Higgins said this program is one of many she hopes Neighborhood Initiatives will be able to offer. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia created her office in January, she said, “because we are looking for ways to serve the communities in which our sisters live and minister.”

Higgins is also working on community projects in Ellis, Kan., Grand Junction, Colo., and El Paso, Texas, with Sisters of St. Joseph there. The local congregation has about 140 members, with about half of those living in Concordia. Others live and serve in 10 states and in Brazil.

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