A real band of sisters: 49 years (and counting)
We are drawn by the shared memories, by the connected past and more than anything by hearts that are not quite full until they are joined.
— Vicki Turner Bierberly
Nine women gathered at the Nazareth Motherhouse on a recent Saturday to mark the 49th anniversary of their entrance into the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia as novices. But it’s not that one shared fact that makes this group unusual; it’s that despite the different directions their lives have taken since Sept. 8, 1964, their hearts are still joined.
Today just one of the nine members of the “band” remains a Sister of St. Joseph. Another one left this community of women religious and then eventually joined a different congregation of sisters. By 1970 the other seven had left the Sisters of St. Joseph, and today they are married, most with children and grandchildren.
Four still live in Kansas, but the others are as far flung as California and Massachusetts. Six of the nine remain Catholic.
Over the years, they have maintained a connection to the Sisters of St. Joseph. But what has been even stronger — and what has brought them together for nine times over the years — is their connection to each other.
“We’re family,” explains Rose Robles of Houston, Texas. “When we were in the convent together, we became like family — and that just continued.”
“We lived through a tough time in the (religious) community, in the church, in the world,” Vicki Turner Bierberly of Manhattan, Kan., says. “We leaned on each other.”
And while that’s true — the band of 1964 entered religious life in the midst of the Second Vatican Council and what would prove to be one of the most turbulent times for the modern Roman Catholic Church as well as American society as a whole — it doesn’t explain why these former sisters are the only group that has continued regular reunions over the years.
Part of the answer may lie in their first reunion, organized in 1975.
At the time each of them left the convent, in the late 1960s through 1970, the congregation was still very structured and hierarchical; there was virtually no open discussion about sisters who might be thinking about leaving religious life. So a sister who asked the Mother Superior to leave might very well be gone the next day, with no time for goodbyes and no announcement of what had happened or where she went.
So when the band of 1964 gathered in 1975, they were able to tell each other their stories for the first time. That emotional reunion strengthened the bond that had begun in the convent.
“At that first reunion, we were able to integrate our experience in the community (of sisters) with our experience since we’d left,” Bieberly said. “We built a bridge that helped us understand the role our years as sisters played in allowing us to be the women we are today.”
Annette Burkhalter of Arvada, Colo., says that “bridge building” has continued through every reunion: “We are all so very different yet each time we learn more about each other and how our time as (Sisters of St. Joseph) has helped form who we are today.”
And who they are today — if the Saturday morning gathering was any indication — is a group of women focused on love, life and laughter.
The laughter, of course, began years ago. “We made jokes out of everything,” says Connie Tavanis of North Truro, Mass., of their first months and years at the Motherhouse. “We all seemed to have the same sense of humor.”
For their most recent gathering, almost all the memories brought more laughter.
The group has never really considered having a reunion anywhere else, Burkhalter said. One of the group, she noted, “has a second home in Las Vegas and has offered but it just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else than the Motherhouse.”
In fact, the next gathering for many of this group will be next year in Concordia, when Tavanis and others are organizing a weekend reunion for all former sister and all students of the Apostolic School. That event is planned for Sept. 19-21, 2014.
The 2014 reunion will give other former sisters and students at the Apostolic School the same kind of “reconnection” they have shared over the years.
“We hold a reverence in our hearts for that very real experience that was so different from that of most of our peers,” Burkhalter said. “We didn’t want to give up our connection to each other after we left and it draws us together to this day.”
One thought on “A real band of sisters: 49 years (and counting)”
How wonderful to see these bright, fun, intelligent women! I remember them well……as they were the group that entered after our band. They were postulants and we were novices….and, of course, I remember several who were aspirants with me in Nazareth-Apostolic School.
So many wonderful memories…….and those that bring laughter and a smile in my heart! Thank you ladies……for being a part of my life! A wealth of memories!