Eulogy for Sister Generosa Walker, Sept. 6, 1910-July 12, 2012
July 13, 2012 by Sarah Jenkins
VIGIL: 7 p.m. Sunday, July 15, 2012, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Jean Rosemarynoski
When Sister Generosa asked me to give her eulogy, I asked her if she had any special request or anything in particular she wanted people to know. She said she had only one request: Keep it short.
That was classic Generosa. The request came from her humility — not wanting to be the focus of attention — and from her consideration of others — not wanting people to be here too long. Those characteristics were thoroughly Generosa.
In her funeral directives, she said she would like a sister to be present at her deathbed to pray with her — but only if it was convenient; otherwise she understood.
The day before she died, I was visiting her and asked her if she was hungry. She said that she wasn’t but if I thought she needed to eat something then she would. Generosa — always willing, always gracious, always encouraging. Sister Anna Marie Broxterman was there also so she got some apple juice and a straw. Generosa was in bed so Anna Marie put her arm under Generosa’s head to gently lift her and make it easier for her to drink. Generosa drank a few sips and then it began to run down her chin. She looked at Anna Marie and said, “Sister, you gave it a very good try.” All those characteristics that endeared Sister Generosa to so many were just part of her DNA.
Sister Generosa was born on Sept. 6, 1910, on a farm near Mayetta, Kan. She was the fourth of seven children and the only daughter of Christopher Bartholomew and Mary Isabel Gooderl Walker. She was baptized Gertrude Cecilia at St. Francis Xavier Church in Mayetta.
Sister Generosa was preceded in death by her parents and her three older brothers — Oswald, Leo and Louis — and her three younger brothers — Orval, Christopher and Thomas. Oswald and Thomas both died shortly after birth and Leo died of diphtheria at the age of 3.
Generosa recalled that those were horse-and-buggy days and living on a farm they all worked hard. Her parents were loving, kind and generous not only to the children but to all people. Mayetta is near the Pottawatomie Indian Reservation, and this had a large influence on her life. She recalled attending church with members of the reservation and had a special fondness for Native Americans. As a young adult she returned to the reservation and taught there before entering the community. At times, with a twinkle in her eye, she would reference her “native American heritage.” From her own experience and from research, she compiled a program that she would give sharing about Native American culture.
She attended Cedar Vale Grade School. When she was 8 years old everyone in her family, except her brother Louis, fell ill to the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918. The epidemic was so devastating that more people died from the flu than were killed in World War I, which was just ending. Her father was especially critical but fervent prayer helped them all cope and they were grateful that all survived.
The family moved closer to Holton before her freshman year so she attended Holton High School and graduated in 1927 as salutatorian, ranking second highest in academic standing.
After high school she went to Plainview, Texas, for a year where she lived with her uncle, Raymond Gooderl and his wife, Ruth, while attending Wayland Baptist College. The following year she returned to Kansas and attended Marymount College in Salina, operated and staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.
After Marymount she returned to the Pottawatomie reservation to teach for three years and then entered the Sisters of St. Joseph. Her pastor wrote a letter of recommendation for her, in which he said, “I have known Gertrude since 1914 and wish there were a dozen girls like her in the parish, then I would have a good parish.”
She has reflected that she had felt for some time that God might be calling her to religious life. She believes the inspiration began with reading copies of the Sacred Heart Messenger that her mother saved. Later, it was the example of the sisters at Marymount that inspired her to ask to join them.
On March 19, 1934 she received the habit along with 15 other young women and was given the religious name, Mary Generosa. Sister Generosa shared that she and her band members — as those who entered together were called — all promised to say an extra decade of the rosary every day for perseverance. She chose to say the Fourth Joyful Mystery — the Presentation in the Temple. She continued that practice throughout her life and expanded her intention to include many others. She professed temporary vows on March 19, 1935, and final vows on Aug. 15, 1938. Of those 15 women, Sister Jane Guenette is now the only surviving member.
Sister Generosa often composed songs for various occasions. During the novitiate she wrote what she called a parting song just before the band made first vows. It was sung to the tune of Memories. Part of the words are:
Through your gate, novitiate, ‘ere long we ‘II pass from you.
Happy days, glad memories, have been your gift so true.
Fleeting years, smile and tears, we’ve watched them come and go,
offering each one through Mary’s dear Son, to fill them with heaven’s glow.
The day after her first profession she was sent to Aurora, Kan., during a dust storm to help Sister Clarence teach high school. Her teaching career spanned almost four decades and included assignments in Aurora, Park, Concordia, Tipton, Leoville, Junction City, Salina and Beloit, all in Kansas; and St. George, Ill., Grand Island, Neb., and Boonville, Mo. Teaching religious education during the summer months took her to many additional towns. She taught first grade through college, teaching mathematics at Marymount College during the summers. Sister Macrina reported that Generosa was an outstanding teacher who could turn her hand at almost anything — she could substitute for anyone teaching English, history, Latin, typing, music and more. She was also known to don an apron and whip up a delicious meal if that was what was needed or reupholster the furniture.
After she left teaching, she was a bookkeeper at St. Mary’s convent for many years and became adept at handling bank accounts, payroll, taxes and so on.
Sister Generosa was an avid baseball fan following the Royals closely. She could name players, give you all their statistics and recall scores of games. In one of her letters dated October 1985 she wrote with her inimitable mischievous humor, “Our favorite team, the Royals, have enthusiastic supporters here at Nazareth Motherhouse. They won the western division title after a victory over Oakland. Some sisters listened late into the night. What is this world coming to?” She often recruited participants to guess the outcome of the World Series and for the 1990 Series wrote of how sisters who listened to the “know-it-all broadcasters” gave the game to the Oakland As when those who either watched baseball or were the best guessers knew the Cincinnati Reds would take it, which they did.
Generosa had a delightful sense of humor and playfulness, much of it at her own expense. She tells the story of her brothers and their spouses — Louis and Rachel, Orval and Margaret, Christopher and Ethel — coming to visit her in November 1985 when she moved from Junction City to the Motherhouse. She said, “My room on fourth floor met with their approval and they agreed I have a splendid north view. I didn’t tell them that this was the neatest my room had looked since I moved in last July.”
And she was never bothered by her age. After her birthday she was “working on the next year” — for example, she was presently working on her 102nd year. While in her 80s she said that the increasing wrinkles were not premature but rather were earned! After all, she said, who would want to have a long, busy life without having something to show for it. She was just eight weeks shy of her 102nd birthday when she could have started working on her 103rd year.
She was so proud of her family. We kept up with the adventures of nieces, nephews and the greats and the great-greats! She beamed with joy when talking about any member of the family. One cute story she told was about spending a week with her brothers and their families. They were playing cribbage. She had learned from Sister Irmina that the “top hand” could yield 29 points and she casually mentioned to her brothers that she had achieved that once. She went on to say, “Well, my younger brother — you know how younger brothers are — took pencil and paper and verified this was possible by the point combinations he was familiar with. The very next day — wouldn’t you know it — HE got that hand — his once in a lifetime acquisition and of course, he won.”
Her huge volume of correspondence was legendary. She faithfully was in touch with family, community members, friends and numerous former students. When she received a card or letter, she said she would give it a little kiss and offer a prayer for the sender. A student she taught in first grade in Park, Kan., in the 1940s continued to write to her until his death a few years ago and then his widow starting writing because Generosa had been such an influence on her husband. So it was significant, and many people noticed it, when last Christmas and Easter for the first time she did not send out her usual mailings.
When she thought she was slow in responding to correspondence, she would ask with a sly smile, “Could one of my excuses for being dilatory be that someone with a family name of Walker might be expected to be slow?”
Sister Generosa was infinitely compassionate and prayerful. She was always concerned about anyone who was suffering in any way — from relatives, sisters, former students, current news stories — anyone, anywhere needing prayer and Genersoa was on it. She could not get enough of the spiritual life.
She tells of reading the life story of Padre Pio. She said, “It is so interesting and well written that it was difficult to lay it aside when it was time to retire. Sunday night I was going to read ONE chapter, which led to a second, then a third. I turned my alarm clock to the wall and took my wristwatch off so that I would not know how late it was! Do you think it was sort of ostrich-like?”
She had a special devotion to Mary and once when teaching in Leoville wrote a playlet for the children to perform called “Mary’s Titles.” The children acted out honoring Mary for the feast of Lourdes and ask if that is her favorite title. In the next scene they honor her as Our Lady of Fatima and ask if that is her favorite title. The playlet continues using Mary’s others titles — Queen of the Rosary, Immaculate Mary, and so on. The play ends with Mary saying she has no greater privilege than to be the Mother of God and that is the greatest title of all.
One of Sister Generosa’s favorite pleasures, besides playing Scrabble with Sister Margaret Schreck, was ice cream. Those who played Scrabble with her knew she had an impressive vocabulary. When describing something, if she could not find an adjective that fit she would simply make a new one — as in superscrumptiousdelicious for ice cream. She liked pre-Lent ice cream parties and often encouraged others to “bank up on the ice cream for Lent is coming!”
She did have a love of words and enjoyed learning for its own sake. One winter when Concordia experienced a heavy snow, she wrote, “We are grateful for each of the innumerable flakes it took to make our abundant snow.” She continued, “The largest number given in Webster is “vigintillion,” which is a 1 followed by 63 zeros! God must have used several vigintillions of snowflakes to accomplish all of this! Knowing that all the hairs of our head are numbered, and seeing the vastness of the universe, we know that God has no problem with figures!”
Another example of her fine mind and inquisitiveness was about rain after there had been a drought. She said, “We are grateful for this weather. God must have needed over a million gallons of water to help Concordia, as it takes 16 million gallons to give one inch of rain to one square mile. Sister Irmina and I figured that out then checked with each other to document the figures.”
Sister Generosa had a deep appreciation for creation. In our prayer tonight we read, “The season for singing has come. Turtledoves cooing can be heard in the land. Fig trees show their first buds, and the vines blossoms send forth their sweet fragrance.” That is fitting for Genersoa. She often wrote about nature saying things like, “some maples have been flaunting their colors and we rejoice in these colorful gifts from God.” Another time she wrote, “During a trip to the clothesline I heard a cardinal sing. I told him that I had time to listen so I was treated to a concert.”
Among the experiences that she counted as special treasures were her travels. When sisters could not travel alone, she was asked to accompany a sister on her home visit to Portland, Ore. She went to Wisconsin to observe retirement homes of other religious communities. Her brothers and their families invited her to go with them to the World Fair in Spokane, Wash., and another time to Arizona and again to South Dakota. The trip she considered the highlight was in 1975 when she, her brother Christopher, his wife, Ethel and Sister Viola went to Rome. They had a general audience with Pope Paul VI. She wrote a very detailed journal of her trip. Of all the travels she said, “God has gifted me with a very generous travel schedule. Thank you, God, for these wonderful creations on earth. What will Heaven be like?”
Through her various missions she was assigned chores and household task, which we refer to as charges. She speaks of this as “Martha-ing” after the biblical story of Mary and Martha. Generosa was an organist and shared those talents wherever there was a need. She considered herself, in her own words, a second-class organist who got most of the melody notes right, but others did not describe her that way. She sewed, mended, read to others, prayed and made it a point to offer encouragement and praise to others. She liked to keep busy and anticipate what the next need may be.
In writing to sisters who were on mission about deaths in the community, Sister Genersoa always made it a point to note what number the death was. She shared that there were only 70 graves when she entered community and she liked to keep track. Sister Generosa, just so you can continue keeping track, your death brings the total to 631.
I hope this fits your definition of keeping the eulogy short, Generosa, because there is no way that any length of time can do justice to your rich life teeming with such goodness and gratitude, brimming over with love and laughter, radiating faith and friendship, teaching us about humility, compassion and zeal. We thank you, Generosa, for your life among us and we thank God for the gift of you.
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Memorials for Sister Generosa Walker may be given to the Sisters of St. Joseph Health Care/ Retirement Fund or the Apostolic Works of the Sisters; P.O Box 279, Concordia KS 66901. Or you may make a donation in Sister Generosa’s memory online, through a secure server with PayPal, by clicking on the DONATE button below.