Jubilarians: What was it that made 1959 ‘bands’ different?

May 29, 2009 by

The women who were received into the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia in 1959 gathered for a group photo with Bishop Fredrick Freking at the Motherhouse. Sisters who are deceased are noted with an asterisk (*); women who left the order are noted with a pound sign (˚). All left to right, BACK ROW: Marilyn Yantz#, Elaine Meyer#, Veronica Roy*, Donna Otter, Mary Margaret Miller#, Betty Suther, Bishop Freking, May Lou Stromitis#, Marcia Allen, Madonna Readey*, Mary Jo Thummel, Mary Lou DeMay#, Diane Brin. MIDDLE ROW: Bernardine Divel*, Faye Huelsmann, Jean Befort, Philomene Reiland, Rosemary Farrell, Virginia Pearl, Polegia Bloomenradar#, Shirley Meier. FRONT ROW: Bernita Heier#, Anna Marie Broxterman, Nancy Meade, Patricia McLennon, Marilyn Stahl. Of these 25, three have died, seven left the order and 15 remain as active Sisters of St. Joseph.

The women who were received into the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia in 1959 gathered for a group photo with Bishop Fredrick Freking at the Motherhouse. Sisters who are deceased are noted with an asterisk (*); women who left the order are noted with a pound sign (#). All left to right, BACK ROW: Marilyn Yantz#, Elaine Meyer#, Veronica Roy*, Donna Otter, Mary Margaret Miller#, Betty Suther, Bishop Freking, May Lou Stromitis#, Marcia Allen, Madonna Readey*, Mary Jo Thummel, Mary Lou DeMay#, Diane Brin. MIDDLE ROW: Bernardine Divel*, Faye Huelsmann, Jean Befort, Philomene Reiland, Rosemary Farrell, Virginia Pearl, Polegia Bloomenradar#, Shirley Meier. FRONT ROW: Bernita Heier#, Anna Marie Broxterman, Nancy Meade, Patricia McLennon, Marilyn Stahl. Of these 25, three have died, seven left the order and 15 remain as active Sisters of St. Joseph.

The year 1959 was not exceptional, as far as anyone here can remember.

There wasn’t a particular push to recruit for religious vocations. There was nothing on the world stage — or even the smaller Kansas stage — that would make religious orders particularly attractive. There was no high-profile individual who might have attracted the attention of a diverse group of women to make a commitment to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

And yet that year 25 women were received into the order in ceremonies at the Concordia Motherhouse.

On Saturday, the remaining 15 sisters from the “band” of 1959 will join family and friends to celebrate their 50th year as Sisters of St. Joseph in a special jubilarian Mass, dinner and party at the Motherhouse where they first entered the order. They will join other jubilarians in the celebration — there are six sisters marking their 75th anniversary, one marking her 70th, five with 60 years each and one celebrating her 25th year.

But the women who mark their golden anniversary in 1959 have, as a group, always stood out, in part just because of their number. Two years earlier, in 1957, just nine women were received into the order. In 1958, that number was 15. A year after 1959’s spike there were 19 in the 1960 “band,” while in 1961 there were 16.

Sister Shirley Meier

Sister Shirley Meier

“There were a lot of us,” says Sister Shirley Meier with a chuckle. “But I didn’t realize there were that many more.”

As in other years, in 1959 sisters were received into the order at two separate times. In March 1959, 16 women entered — including the current president of the order, Sister Marcia Allen.

“We were a very diverse group,” says Sister Patricia McLennon of her March 1959 band. “There were 16 of us, with a wide age range.”

Sister Pat McLennon

Sister Pat McLennon

The oldest was Madonna Readey, who at 48 “seemed very old to us, and very worldly,” Sister Pat recalls, noting that many in the group were just out of high school. There was also a broad range of education and life experience in that band.

That was not the case with the nine women who were received into the order in August 1959. Although they were from different hometowns, they had all just graduated from the sisters’ apostolic high school in Concordia, which they had attended together for four years.

For the March band, their different interests and backgrounds brought them together and made them close. For the August band, their shared interests and similar backgrounds kept them close.

As the years have passed, there was more than just their total number that could draw attention to the bands of 1959. Also worth noting was their shared commitment to the Sisters of St. Joseph and the missions they have taken on over the years. As the 1950s gave way to the massive changes both in the church and society in the ’60s and early ’70s, a remarkably few sisters from the bands of 1959 left the order.

From the original nine in the 1957 band, for example, five — or 55 percent — left the order. Of the 15 in the 1958 band, the number who left was 10, or 66 percent. Of the 1960 band, 13 of the original 19 — or more than 68 percent — left the order. Of the 16 who were received in 1961, 11 — again slightly more than 68 percent — left for the secular world.

But of the 25 women received in 1959, just seven — or 28 percent — left. (Another three are deceased.)

“We came at a time of habits, schedules and obedience,” says Sister Pat. “But we began asking questions, and our superiors were listening to what we were asking.

“We lived the old style,” she adds, “but not for very long. It was long enough to understand and appreciate, and yet not so long that we had a hard time letting go of it.”

Sister Jean Befort

Sister Jean Befort

When upheaval and rediscovery came in the wake of Vatican II in the mid-1960s, “We had been in long enough to get a solid foundation in the older ways,” explains Sister Jean Befort, “but we were the ones excited about the new possibilities.”

Over the next two decades, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia closed or divested themselves of the schools, hospitals and other institutions they had operated over the years — including St. Joseph Hospital in Concordia (now Cloud County Health Center), St. Mary’s Hospital in Sabetha (now Sabetha Community Hospital), Saint John’s Hospital in Salina (now Salina Regional Health Center) and Marymount College in Salina. The sisters, who now had permission to shed their habits for secular clothing, found themselves refocusing on their order’s original calling, to serve in smaller ways, regardless of the need.

“Our whole lives in (our) community have been about change and transition,” explains Sister Pat. “We were the innovators, and we knew we would be the leaders.”

Sister Anna Marie Broxterman

Sister Anna Marie Broxterman


Today, two of the sisters from the 1959 band — Anna Marie Broxterman and Mary Jo Thummel — serve on the order’s Leadership Council, along with band member Sister Marcia, who is doing a second stint as president. (She served two four-year terms beginning in 1987 and was elected again to the post, which in an earlier era would be called Mother Superior, in 2008.)

“Ours is a group that is constantly looking outward, to see what happens next,” explains Sister Pat.

“Our early years were an interesting time,” adds Sister Anna Marie with a laugh that acknowledges the understatement. “And each year as we have reached outward more and more is even more interesting.”

Comments

3 Responses to “Jubilarians: What was it that made 1959 ‘bands’ different?”

  1. Bette Moslander on June 12th, 2009 8:54 am

    This story is a wonderful coverage of the 50th Jubilarian band for this year, 2009. Thanks Sara for the care with which you untangled the historical and cultural events of the time of the entrance of this band. In the light of the current Roman Apostolic VIsitation it is important to put the whole vocation question in context of what is going on in the world around us.

  2. Anne M. Reinert on June 5th, 2009 8:27 pm

    It is interesting the diverse ways of those who stayed are leaders. May the Holy Spirit of love continue to guide and direct each one in your own unique way.

  3. Sister Francis Margaret Otter on May 30th, 2009 2:28 pm

    And then there was one young woman who after a year at Marymount was very interested in becoming a foreign missionary, a Maryknoll missionary to be exact. We didn’t have a mission in Teresina, Brazil in 1959. Her mother said, “Donna, a missionary goes so far away. Why don’t you join where your other sisters did?” Donna waited. Donna prayed. And then Donna entered where the other two did in Concordia, Ks. eventually becoming a foreign missionary in Teresina, Brazil. God doesn’t give up, if we remain faithful. Yes, the 1959 group of CSJ’s are a special group.

Feel free to leave a comment...