Prayers on Wheels

April 26, 2021 by  

Sister Janet LeDuc enjoys a fulfilling, yet difficult, ministry as a Hospice minister for Meadowlark Hospice, headquartered in Clay Center, Kansas.

“I love what I do. My goal, if I can do nothing else, I’d like to be a healing presence of compassion and care that can let people know that God loves them very much on their journey. And he is truly with them,” Sister Janet said.

Sister Janet has devoted her life to a ministry in health care. She entered the health care profession as a nurse in 1968, and became a certified hospital chaplain in 1978.

“And then I went back to study holistic health. In that experience I really found the love for working with the aging, the sick and the dying,” Sister Janet said. “And so over the years, especially since 2003, I’ve been involved with hospice, and I was on a hospice team and a palliative care team.”

Sister Janet was working at Mt. Joseph Senior Village in Concordia taking care of aging sisters, but was volunteering for Meadowlark Hospice. They were interested in her working full time, but at that time it wasn’t possible.
And then, it finally all came together. Sister Janis Wagner told her that she was moving back from Clay Center to the Motherhouse, so her house was available, and no sisters were at Mt. Joseph. She dropped by Meadowlark Hospice to talk to the director and discovered that their staff chaplain had just retired.

“I went home and prayed about it and thought about it and called the leadership team and now here I am in Clay Center,” she said. “I was already attending the Meadowlark meetings and being tested (for Covid). And now I’ve been more fully involved with the team. My heart has always wanted to be in hospice full time.”

Now instead of being in just one facility, Sister Janet often finds herself on the road.

“Instead of walking the halls of the hospital, I’m traveling through the community to be present with people in their homes or facilities, nursing homes, or wherever they are,” she said.

From left: Amy Burr, BSN, RN, and Program Director for Meadowlark Hospice with Sister Janet LeDuc, Hospice Chaplain, and Audie Hartman, RN, and Patient Care Coordinator for Meadowlark Hospice. They are all a part of the team at Meadowlark Hospice, which serves five and a half counties in the north central Kansas area.

Meadowlark Hospice serves multiple counties. She said her longest regular trip is an hour drive. But that can change at a moment’s notice.

“I have an average of eight clients at a time, so I choose when I travel and can do my own scheduling unless they call me unexpectedly. Then I move and I go there right away. And I never know.”

Amy Burr, BSN, RN, and Meadlowlark Hospice Program Director said that Sister Janet’s flexibility and willingness to respond wherever she can makes her a valuable part of the hospice team.

“I don’t think there is any person on our team that is ever hesitant to give Sister Janet a call because they are never fearful of ‘oh will she be able to do it, where is she at?’ You know that when you call Sister Janet and you need a prayer, even if she’s driving down the road where ever. She pulls over and has the prayer or whatever is needed for the patient at that time. If she can get to them she gets to them.”

And even a prayer can make a big impact.

“One instance is a family that she went and prayed with and she just absolutely prayed from her heart what she was feeling for that family. It was so beautiful how she did it, they contacted us and wanted a copy of the prayer that she read,” Burr said.

The only problem was, there was no written prayer. Those were Sister Janet’s thoughts at the time. There was no written prayer to copy.

The role of a hospice chaplain is important, not just to the patients but also to support the hospice staff.

“It’s a very important piece of what hospice is able to provide. We’re not just the sliver of the pie where we go in and make sure that people are comfortable. We’re making sure that people are comfortable on all levels,” Burr said. “And that’s emotional, spiritual, physical and all. And having that piece where people allow her to come into their homes and provide that comfort is very important in end of life journeys.”

Audie Hartman, RN, and Patient Care Coordinator for Meadowlark Hospice, said that having Sister Janet available as a chaplain, even sometimes just by phone, helps. She shared a particular story where she was in the field and was able to reach Sister Janet to assist her via her phone.

“I am not a spiritually strong person. I don’t feel comfortable praying. I don’t even know what to say, so I had that conversation with her at one point and she was able to provide me with resources and some songs I could play at the bedside. So that was very helpful, but then also being there for me that day when I was at a bedside, and it was a Covid unit and the family couldn’t get in.”

“They were on the other side of the window and I was in the room holding her hand. Sister Janet was on the phone praying for her. It was just a very sad, beautiful moment all in the same breath,” Hartman said.

Covid restrictions have caused unique problems for hospice caregivers. Many times they are allowed in the facility, while a family member is not. And sometimes they have to find a new way to communicate completely.

“With Covid at nursing homes — I’ve done it through the windows, I’ve done it through a phone speaker, and that was an effective way, but through a window doesn’t work. I think we all know that,” Sister Janet said. “And one of the greatest crosses to bear is that I may have the privilege to go in, but a family member can’t go in. So I always try to be careful what I say or I don’t say because I feel that one member of the family should be able to go in. I think how it would be if it was my family member. I’m grateful hospice can go in. But how painful that is. That is very painful.”

But acknowledging the family’s pain makes Sister Janet more effective.

“That’s what Janet’s done well during Covid. She’s acknowledged that their families cannot be with their loved ones and be there. She is very much abolishing that idea that hospice care is not just for that patient and she reaches out to those families as well and provides that support, that conversation that they need to have,” Burr said.

And that family support is part of the care that hospice provides. They provide bereavement care for family members for a full year after a death.

Sometimes that means meeting a family member in their home, or meeting them at a restaurant. Whatever makes them comfortable.

And sometimes the care comes in the form of a card.

“I never thought that a card with a prayer in it could be so powerful,” Sister Janet said.

But she was approached by a family member at a funeral who said that the prayer came at a time when they were very low and she will never know how powerful that message was.

“Well that helped me. Never underestimate the power of what you are doing. The power of sending a card,” Sister Janet said. “I just feel this ministry isn’t a ministry in isolation.”

Meadowlark Hospice serves Clay, Cloud, Republic, Washington, Marshall and the western part of Riley County.

The Interdisciplinary Group meets every other week to assess situations and address concerns.

And the end of the meeting, Sister Janet prays over the team.

“At the end of the meeting we have stones and we speak the names of everyone who died to remember them,” Sister Janet said.

“It’s a journey of mystery for all of us. We do it all together,” she said. “I feel honored and very happy to be a part of the hospice team and glad to do what I can.”

Consider becoming a CSJ Associate

April 19, 2021 by  

Front Row Left to Right: Mary Denise Carleton, Myrna Shelton, Susan LeDuc, Susan Riordan, Nancy Welsh. Back Row Left to Right: Rosalita Flax, Mary Kenworthy, Amber Charbonneau, Bill Riordan, Dawn Knipp Desbien.

  Sisters of St. Joseph Associates are Christian women and men of all ages and from all walks of life. Associates experience: the joys of participating in small faith communities, a closer association with the Sisters of St. Joseph, growth in their spiritual life, meaningful opportunities to serve God and the dear neighbor, and communal support in living the mission in their daily lives.  If you have this desire we invite you and all Christian men and women to join us in our mission.

If you would like more information or are considering becoming a CSJA contact us at:

•  Catherine Seitz, Seven Dolors , Manhattan, KS  (785) 564-9282                               

•  Gerry Parker, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Salina, KS (785) 577-1650

•  Susan LeDuc, St. John the Baptist (Clyde) Concordia, KS (785) 249-3313

•  Dawn Knipp Desbien, St. Joseph’s, Damar, KS (785) 737-3622

The Associate Team Left to right: Catherine Seitz, Gerry Parker, Susan LeDuc, and Dawn Knipp Desbien.


Sisters stand against racism and misogyny

March 25, 2021 by  

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas, stand in solidarity with the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph and Leadership Council of Women Religious in condemning racism and misogyny in light of the recent violent acts against the Asian-American and Pacific Island communities.

The evils of racism and misogyny stand in direct opposition to the dignity of human life and our presence as the image and likeness of God in the world.

We pray for healing and peace for all who have been, are, and will be affected by violence due to racism and sexism in our world. And we pray that our God who unites us all will transform our hearts so that we may truly be one in Christ.


U.S. Federation Stands Against the Racism and Misogyny Directed Towards the Asian-American and Pacific Island Communities


The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph joins the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in condemning racism and sexism in all their harmful forms — whether the violent acts of white supremacists and misogynists or the daily acts of hate and discrimination that diminish us all.

We grieve with the citizens of Atlanta and the Asian-American and Pacific Island communities. We mourn with those who have lost loved ones to hateful acts of violence, with all who live in fear, and with all whose dignity is threatened by xenophobia and chauvinism. We lament the racism and sexism that continue to afflict our communities, threaten neighbors, and denigrate all we hold dear.

We acknowledge our own complicity in institutional racism and sexism. We vow to use our Gospel Charism and mission of unifying love for the healing and transformation of the world to commit ourselves to cleanse our hearts and rid our land of these twin evils. We promise to continue to use our collective voice and energy to build God’s beloved community where all are one.

To learn more about this issue and how to get involved, we encourage you to visit these organizations:

  • Asian American Advancing Justice- Atlanta:  a nonprofit legal advocacy group protecting the rights of Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in Georgia and the Southeast
  • AAPI Women Lead and #ImReady Movement: supports AAPI women and girls with workshops and and research, and promotes movements such as #ImReady, which addresses issues like gender-based and racial discrimination and sexual harassment in the community
  • Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund: a national organization, founded in 1974, working to protect and promote civil rights for Asian-Americans

Born in a box car

March 8, 2021 by  

Immigrants Among Us is a series of stories proposed by the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Immigration Committee. These stories will highlight immigrants in our communities.


Sister Barbara Ellen fled communism as a child for a better life in the U.S.

Immigrants in America can be found around us everywhere — sometimes in the least expected places. For example, Sister Barbara Ellen Apaceller, a familiar face as the long-time Salina Diocese Religious Education and Youth Ministry Director, came to the United States and enrolled in school unable to speak any English as a child — and today she spends her days working with youth and making sure that all of their voices are heard in the Catholic Church.

Sister Barbara Ellen reflects on early photos of her family in her office at the Chancery in Salina, Kansas.

Sister Barbara Ellen was born in an Austrian train’s boxcar, enroute to Germany. The year was 1946 and the Russians had taken over the Apacellers’ native Hungary, so the family was headed for what they thought would be a better life.

“My mom and dad, they were born in Hungary and they grew up there and married. My older sister was born in Hungary, and then in 1946, communism was taking over Hungary,” Sister Barbara Ellen said. “They were unhappy and everyone was leaving and going to Germany.”

There were four girls in her mother’s family, and three of them immigrated to the United States, while the eldest stayed in Hungary. Sister Barbara Ellen’s parents, Sebastian and Barbara (Assman) Apaceller, were from the town of Gurd, near Budapest.

“My sister, Anna Flaim, was born in Hungary, she is 18 months older than me. My mother was very pregnant with me when they left Hungary on the train,” Sister Barbara Ellen said. “Then the train stopped so I could be born in a box car in Wittmansdorf, near Vienna, and then we went on to Germany.”

Unfortunately, the reception in Germany was not what her parents had hoped.

“The Germans really didn’t care to have all these immigrants coming in. We lived in Germany for about five years, but so many other refugees were there that my father couldn’t find work, so in 1952 we came to the United States, thanks to a Catholic Relief Services family in Indianapolis. After four months in Indiana, we moved to Aurora, Illinois, where my two aunts lived,” she said. “I think I was six years old, and my sister would have been eight.”

“I didn’t speak any English when I came to the U.S.,” she said. “I spoke German, and my folks only spoke German and Hungarian.”

Despite the language barrier, both of her parents were able to get jobs in Aurora and enroll the two girls in the local Catholic school, which was just down the block. Her father had been a train conductor in Hungary, and found a job at All Steel Manufacturing Company, where he worked for more than 30 years until his retirement.

Overcoming language barriers

Sister Barbara Ellen (right) and her sister Anna Flaim as they looked as young immigrants to the United States.

She and her sister Anna were enrolled in Aurora’s Sacred Heart Grade School, conducted by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. She said that despite not speaking English, the transition to school in the United States was made easier by the sisters.

“They were just always very welcoming. And the kids made us feel very accepted. Naturally, the first time I went we were both very scared because we got there in the summer so we hardly knew any English,” Sister Barbara Ellen said. “Anna and I, we just had to learn what the kids were talking about and what the teachers were saying. Each of the teachers always had someone sit with the both of us in each of our classes to help us and to make sure that we knew what they were saying and how to pronounce the words. The sisters were very open. They really helped Anna and I. We always felt a part of the classes.”

But it was, as she recalls, “very scary.”

“When we went home we just spoke German,” she said. “It took me two to three years to get fluent. But when we were at school the kids were pretty patient with us and taught us a lot. They would show us things and say, ‘Now that was a pencil or a blackboard.’ When I think back it was hard.”

While busy learning English and integrating into the U.S. life, her family also was keeping their heritage alive at home. Luckily, there was a group of other German immigrants in Aurora.

“My mom loved music, and she could always get things started. She’d have the adults and the young adults that were German get together. She would teach them German songs and on Mother’s day or Christmas they would put on a program and sing carols in German and songs about mothers in German and dress up in German attire,” Sister Barbara Ellen said. “She also did that with the little kids. Just to bring their ancestry back and they just loved it. And she loved working with the different age groups and making sure they wouldn’t forget about their ancestry.”

Her parents went on to become U.S. citizens.

“My mom and dad became citizens. I remember they had to go to classes. They went into Chicago and became citizens. Anna and I also went in with them,” she said.

While her parents did have to pass a test, the children did not.

“They did the paperwork for us, because we were so young. I would have been I the third or fourth grade and Anna in fifth of sixth.”

While attending Sacred

Sister Barbara Ellen takes the habit as a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Heart she met students Marilyn Wall and Philomene Reiland, who both would later become Sisters of St. Joseph. And it is where she first encountered Sister Mary Paul Buser.

“She and all of the sisters in our school were young and full of life, and they seemed so happy. They had such a sense of joy and happiness that I was attracted to the religious life,” she said.

In 1964, she found herself on a train again, journeying to Kansas to join the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

And today, since 1984 and after many ministries including in Western Kansas, she can be found at the Chancery in Salina where she is known for her vibrant leadership in youth ministry work and religious education. And in that position it is important for her to welcome immigrants into the Catholic Church.

“There are a number of Hispanic kids in our youth groups. They don’t have so many language barriers because I think their parents were the immigrants, and the children were born here,” she said. “But I think some of our problems is that they get separated. Many of them go to public schools and not Catholic schools. We need to reach out so their voices can be heard in our youth groups. We need to find ways to include them.”

How to make that happen

“I mention to our youth leaders, in Hays, Manhattan and Salina, especially, that we need to be reaching out to the Hispanic community,” she said. “And we need to encourage our kids to invite them to come.”

But it’s not an easy problem to solve.

“I think that in the United States, the different nationalities, especially in the bigger cities they have Hispanic, they have Anglos … they all have their little clusters,” she said. “But you know, we really are one. And how do we make it happen? I want to get there. I want to have all voices heard, not just certain voices, and I think it starts young when they are in grade school. There is an acceptance. Kids accept. They don’t see color or nationality. They’re just friends. What happens to adults? Because we can be so judgmental and non-accepting of different nationalities.






Generous donors fund new washers and dryers for Neighbor to Neighbor

December 31, 2020 by  

Neighbor to Neighbor received an early Christmas gift when two sets of new washers and dryers were installed on Dec. 21. Thanks to the work of generous donors, the guests at Neighbor to Neighbor will be well served for years to come.

Why does Neighbor to Neighbor need laundry services?

“Since Neighbor to Neighbor began, one of the many services we offer is the availability of free washers and dryers for our women. The machines we had have served everyone well for 12 years. They are almost always used the entire day on every day we are open,” said Sister Missy Ljungdahl, director of Neighbor to Neighbor. “Women are trying to budget their money and make ends meet. This is one way we can help them with this matter.”

Josh Duvall moves one of the units into the laundry room.

This year, their current laundry equipment was showing signs of years of wear.

“We knew it was getting close to time to replace the machines and wanted to have things in place before ‘it was too late.’ When we were evaluating our needs, we knew the washers and dryers would need to be on top of the list,” Sister Missy said. “In visiting with Ambria Gilliland in the Development Office I mentioned that we would be needing new washers and dryers in the near future.”  

She didn’t realize how near that future would be.

“Within a couple weeks, I received a call from a dear friend of the Community, Connie Tavanis. Connie was calling from Massachusetts saying that she and Mary DeCramer were getting the funding for new machines and they would be here soon,” Sister Missy said.

“When I read that Neighbor to Neighbor needed to replace their worn-out washers and dryers I thought that my ‘band’ and I could step up to the plate and help raise the money to replace them,” Tavanis said.

A band is the name for a group of women who enter into religious life during the same year. She was a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia’s band of 1964.

“We reached out to our families and friends to help us make this happen. Others who read the article in ‘The Messenger’ joined us, and before you knew it we had collected enough to buy two sets of top-of-the-line appliances,” Tavanis said. “I guess we all can relate to how important having clean clothes are to us and those we love. Thank you sisters for all your important work you do in the lives of all those who struggle. Your kindness and caring teaches all of us what is important … loving one another.”

From there, Sister Jan McCormick, Gilliland and Laura Hansen, all in the sisters’ Development Office, worked with Greg Gallagher, Motherhouse property administrator, to make the new washers and dryers a reality. And despite problems purchasing large appliances during supply chain disruptions due to Covid-19, they were able to take the donations and purchase the perfect sets.

“Greg did some research and found a set that we thought would be a good replacement. However, with many manufacturers shut down because of Covid, the units we wanted were no longer in stock. After much more research, another option was found. It was a bit more money than we had originally planned but we went ahead with the purchase,” Gilliland said. “After adding up all the donations received, I was astonished to discover that the amount raised was the exact amount of the purchase! Down to the dollar!”

Gilliland couldn’t wait to let Sister Missy know the good news.

N2N Director Missy Ljungdahl looks on as Justin LeDuc and Brad Snyder move a washer/dryer unit into Neighbor to Neighbor.

“Sister Missy was overjoyed when I told her. She mentioned that Sister Christella Buser always used to say that during Advent, God sends us little gifts. This was certainly an Advent gift!” Gilliland said. “We are all just so grateful for everyone’s support of this project. Clean clothes are something that many of us take for granted but not everyone has the luxury. I have to give a special thank you to Connie Tavanis, who was so touched by this project, that she rounded up her former band members and friends and asked them all to contribute. I know without a doubt, that the success of this project is due mostly to her.”

Maintenance staff at the Motherhouse installed the units on Dec. 21, just before the holidays.

“The machines were installed and within hours they had already been put to good use,” Sister Missy said. “Our women are happy to be able to have these laundry services. One woman has said that the money she would have to use at the laundromat is money she has put away for Christmas. Everyone has been gifted this year.”

Sister Missy wanted to again thank everyone who made this happen for the women of Neighbor to Neighbor.

“There are so many people to thank for the gift of the washers and dryers. Surely there will be some left out and for that I apologize,” Sister Missy said. “But let me try: Sisters Ramona, Jean and Pat, and Myrna Shelton for thinking up Neighbor to Neighbor and keeping it a welcoming place; Our development and communications offices for getting the word out of our needs; Greg Gallagher and our maintenance crew for purchasing and installing the machines; Connie Tavanis and Mary DeCramer for getting so many people involved with monetary gifts and letting them know about our work; and F&A Food Sales, here in Concordia, for donating laundry soap and bleach. We thank God for the privilege of being able to be here for the women and children of Concordia.”

Women can schedule a time to do laundry once a week at Neighbor to Neighbor.

“Please call if you need this service and we can put you on the calendar,” Sister Missy said. “We do have laundry detergent for your use. Finally, we ask that if you are doing your laundry, that you stay in the building.”

Neighbor to Neighbor is located at 103 E. Sixth St. in Concordia. It is a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph. For more information, call 785-262-4215 or email

“These washers and dryers really are a blessing to so many women in our community,” Gilliland said. “Thank you!”


Manna House plays Santa’s helper with United Way of the Plains

December 16, 2020 by  

Manna House of Prayer in Concordia was delighted to play Santa’s helper this Christmas season thanks to United Way of the Plains. United Way of the Plains partnered with Good 360 and Toys for Tots to distribute 14,448 toys and games to children in 27 counties across Kansas, including Cloud County, this holiday season. Manna House was selected to distribute the gifts to families in need in this area.

Susan LeDuc, administrative coordinator of Manna House, along with the help of her husband, Jim, picked up a van-load of 120 toys in Wichita last week and brought them back to Manna House where the Sisters of St. Joseph sorted them into age groups and then wrapped many of the gifts. Then it was time to distribute to families that had fallen into the gaps between the other community relief programs.

“The families that were selected were mostly families with several children. We were careful to pick families who had not signed up for Christmas baskets or the Angel Tree,” LeDuc said. “Covid has caused them financial burdens. Almost every family is working or had been. Many of them are single parent families.”

LeDuc said that one mother told her they had been in quarantine and she had been unable to get any gifts. Then she said it didn’t matter because, “She didn’t have any money anyway.”

“Collaborations like this allow us to stretch donated dollars to help meet the tangible needs of non profits and the people they serve,” said Mark Stump, director of direct services for United Way of the Plains. “Last year we distributed more than $2 million worth of donated goods to 325 Kansas nonprofits.”

Through their Give Items of Value (GIV) warehouse, United Way of the Plains has the ability to accept donations from corporate partners and distribute them to nonprofits at no cost, helping them lower overhead expenses. United Way of the Plains was one of three sites selected nationally to participate in this pilot program to reach children in communities that do not have a Toys for Tots program. GIV has partnered with United Ways and other nonprofits in select counties to distribute the toys through their local assistance programs.

Donations include games, dolls, basketballs, soccer balls, electronics, stuffed animals and more for boys and girls age 0 to 14+.

“In a year when more families than ever are facing hardships, this program will ease their burdens and bring joy to children across Kansas on Christmas morning,” said Pete Najera, United Way President and CEO.

“I cannot begin to tell you how appreciative these parents were. It made me feel like Santa,” LeDuc said. “I truly was the one receiving the gift.”

“One mother said her 7- and 9-year-old commented that there was only 15 days before Christmas and wondered why there weren’t any presents under the tree yet.  Thanks to these organizations we were able to put presents under the tree this year,” LeDuc said. “Another couple could not thank me enough, just repeated thank you’s all the time they were here picking up the toys. Yesterday, a single mother came during her lunch hour to pick up the toys.  She remarked that the toys were so nice and that they were going to make her two daughters’ Christmas so special.  She cried going out the door.  Several asked, ‘You mean we get more than one gift per child?’  Just an overabundance of gratitude from all of them.”

Manna House of Prayer was established in 1978.  It is owned and operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph.  Since its inception Manna House has served the poor through its Helping Hands ministry.  The Helping Hands ministry provides emergency financial assistance, temporary housing, and a small food bank.  It is entirely dependent on private donations and grants.


Sisters of St. Joseph give Resource Center a helping hand

December 9, 2020 by  

The Cloud County Resource Center is a busy place during the holiday season. There are donations of food and toys to sort, volunteers to organize and families that are in need of assistance.

On Tuesday, Dec. 8, some of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia joined Tonya Merrill, director of the center, to lend a hand in sorting food donations to fill holiday food baskets and sort and wrap presents to brighten area children’s holidays.

Sisters Denise Schmitz, Christina Brodie and Ann Ashwood, along with CSJ candidate Angela Jones, dug right in on sorting the food donations. Bundles and boxes of nonperishable food needed to be unpacked and sorted into similar groups to make it both easier to fill the holiday baskets and to see what additional items needed to be purchased to fill the gaps. It sounds like a lot of work, but it can be rewarding for volunteers.

“Today was an amazing experience with Tonya at the Resource Center,” said Sister Denise. “Listening to what and how they help in Cloud County, along with other entities like the Girl Scouts and ABATE to make Christmas better is unbelievable. The generosity of donors can make the difference and help that many more folks, especially since we are experiencing Covid-19.”

Merrill said the Resource Center had just under 200 requests for holiday assistance. Families applied for the food baskets before Thanksgiving, although she said that the center does try to cover people who have had emergencies or people who have just moved to town and were unable to apply by the deadline.

In a normal year, many of the toys being wrapped at the center would go to the center’s Holiday Store. Due to Covid-19, the store was cancelled.

“In an average year we’d have two days of Holiday Store and those are usually 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. days. We’d take in about 100 kids a day, so we’d have between 50 and 100 volunteers total,” Merrill said. “Obviously that’s not possible through Covid so we changed to some new programs so it’s more contactless.”

“What we did instead is we booked groups of volunteers who already had contact with each other and who probably would be safe working together knowing that there would only be a couple of us as volunteers here so that there would be minimal risk on both sides. We have a couple of different groups coming all on different days,” Merrill said as she watched the sisters sort food items onto long tables in the center. “We’re just sort of getting started today. On Thursday we’ll do it again, and then next week we’ll start handing out what we already have packed to make room for the next rotation.”

“It was fun helping them with the food baskets, shopping and wrapping presents for children,” Sister Denise said. “There are many projects we can help with down the road. Cloud County is blessed to have Tonya and the Resource Center. There is still so much to get completed before Christmas, I hope that we can make another day to help them meet their goal this Christmas. Manna House enjoys our partnership with the center.”

In addition to the items already at the center, more toys will be coming.

“By then, (next week) gifts should be coming in off the Angel Tree so we’ll be matching them up with food boxes and the letters from Santa and then they will go out,” Merrill said. “The letters from Santa is a new program that took the place of the Holiday Store where families can apply to us for things that they need as a family. So if they need new shoes, or new coats or bedding — we’re trying to fill those needs as best we can. It’s normally stuff we’d cover with the Holiday Store, but since that can’t be contactless enough to keep everybody safe, we just had to shut it down. Which is a shame, but it’s the only way.”

The Cloud County Resource Center works closely with other agencies to help everyone in the community have a happy holiday.

“We try to fill all the gaps the best we can between the three agencies,” Merrill said. “The Girl Scouts will buy a bunch of toys for the little kids under 12, the ABATE Toy Run will cover the kids who are over 12 up to about 16 or 17 and then we’ll cover whatever is left and we’ll do all the food baskets.”

Merrill said she works closely with Kathy Ashland from the Girl Scouts and Camey Thurner from the ABATE Toy Run to make it happen.

“Everyone at the Cloud County Resource Center is so grateful for all of the volunteers that are willing to take time out of their own busy holiday schedule to help us out,” Merrill said.

Leaving her mark on history

October 28, 2020 by  

Every archivist leaves behind a bit of themselves in the archives they oversee. The legacy might seem challenging, such as preparing for a congregation’s 125th anniversary — an event close to the archivist’s heart. It might be the simple, quiet act of documenting the lives of deceased sisters. Or it might be a quest for information to satisfy a genealogist’s random inquiry, which then turns the archivist into a bit of a detective.

Sister Bernadine Pachta did all that and more during her more than 25 years as archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. Sister Bernadine “retired” as archivist this fall, and was honored with a gratitude party and ice cream social Aug. 27 at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

“I’m not really retiring, I’m just going to not be working maybe quite as hard as I was,” Sister Bernadine laughed. “Once an archivist, I don’t think you can ever leave it totally. So I just want to say, things will carry on, and Jean Ann will carry on.”

Sister Jean Ann Walton has assisted Sister Bernadine in archives for the last five years. She was appointed to succeed Sister Bernadine as archivist, taking on the role on Sept. 1.
“After she relinquishes the office she is willing to continue to serve as a consultant to Jean Ann when she is needed. And for that we are very, very grateful,” Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, president, announced during the celebration. “And it speaks so highly of Bernadine’s dedication and her love of Community.”

In 1995, while still working at Harvard University, Sister Bernadine was asked to be a field agent working with then-archivist, Sister Liebe Pellerin. She worked with Sister Liebe in that capacity for 10 years prior to moving to Concordia in 2005 to assume full-time responsibilities after Liebe’s retirement.

During those 25 years Sister Bernadine has fielded many individual requests from genealogists working on family histories, academicians doing scholarly research on women’s issues, historians and former students. She has been instrumental in providing material and giving input for the newly designed Heritage Rooms on the second floor of the Nazareth Motherhouse and was indispensable to Sister Sally Witt and her work on the book “Beyond the Frontier,” an updated history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, published in 2020.

She also has provided materials for Leadership Council of Women Religious and the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph. She has been an active member of the Archivists for Congregations of Women Religious. And, Sister Bernadine contributed significantly to the work of the Community’s 125th anniversary in 2008-09.

While the work of an archivist is often done behind closed doors and amid dusty files, Sister Jean noted the essential qualifications that make for a good archivist.

“Having a sense of history and having a knowledge of the community — while that is an essential aspect of the job, the job is so much more than that. Sometimes its like detective work, you know that something is there, you know somehow it is related but it’s not obvious,” Sister Jean said. “And so it takes going from one file to get a clue to another file to get a clue. Its detective work, you have to have great organization and decision making skills because each item that is stored in archives could be categorized under a dozen different headings and so you have to at some point make a decision, and then the real trick is you have to remember which category you put that in. But then it also requires a lot of confidentiality, a lot of trust. But most importantly it is a position that requires a real love of the work because of the love of the Community. And Bernadine has done that very, very well. She was excelled at that.”

Sister Bernadine thanked all of the archivists who came before her in the Community, particularly her mentor Sister Liebe.

“Liebe was a wonderful mentor. All I did was stand on their (prior archivists’) shoulders and keep going,” Sister Bernadine said. “I just feel there are so many wonderful things, and I feel this has been very much of a privilege, and also a capstone of everything I’ve done through my life.”

Two new Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia profess their vows

July 24, 2020 by  

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia welcomed two new sisters on July 19.

Carol Goodson and Robin Stephenson both made their agrégée Vows of Religious Profession at the Sacred Heart Chapel in the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia, Kansas.

Each sister took a unique path to finding their religious calling with the Community in Concordia.

Carol Goodson

After retirement as a librarian from the University of West Georgia in 2015, a priest led her to ask God if she could possibly become a sister.

“Two days later my prayer was answered when I saw some information about the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia,” Sister Carol said.

“On my very first visit to Concordia in June 2016, I was so touched by the warm reception I got from the sisters.”

After profession, Sister Carol is returning to Georgia to begin new ministries in the Atlanta area.   

In her previous ministry, she was president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in her parish in Carrollton, Georgia. In that capacity, in addition to leading the organization, she visited the poor in their homes in order to assess their needs and pray with them.

“We nearly always provided financial assistance to them as well, usually with utilities or rent,” Sister Carol said. “We also had a food pantry in the parish which was very heavily used, and we conducted a monthly distribution of frozen food to our clients.”

“Once I have chosen a home parish, I will introduce myself to the pastor and ask what he needs, offering myself to do it,” Sister Carol said. “I was part of the RCIA team at my previous parish, and — as a convert — that work is very close to my heart.  One of my long-term goals is to try to start a CSJ Associate group in my new home area.” 

Robin Stephenson

Sister Robin Stephenson was facing retirement and trying to find a way to become closer to God. The Internet gave her a hand in finding the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“Initially I took an online personal inventory on whether religious life would be feasible. The inventory validated aptitudes toward religious formation,” Sister Robin said.

She was coming up on 40 years of pediatric and school nursing, but didn’t really feel like she was done yet. Additionally, Sister Robin wanted to draw even closer to God and the charism of inclusive service seemed to fit her vocational goals.

A native of Jacksonville, Florida, residing now in Portland Oregon, Sister Robin has been a district school nurse in Beaverton, Oregon, for the past 26 years, and anticipates retirement in 2021.

“I was married for many years, and then my marriage was annulled. I have two beautiful children who are now grown adults,” Sister Robin said. “There is also a beautiful five-year-old granddaughter that is one of the lights of my life.”

Robin said after finding information on the Sisters of St. Joseph, she contacted Sister Lorren Harbin about four years ago. She visited in Concordia on her school summer break.

“I was instantly drawn to the sisters. Over the three years of discernment I definitely felt like I wanted to be a part of this beautiful group of women and the work they do,” Sister Robin said. “If I could just be a sponge to soak up some of their wisdom … I just fit. It feels like a part of family when I’m with the sisters.”

Sister Robin said she plans to continue living in Oregon and fulfilling her mission there.

“Currently I’m on the Eucharistic ministerial team at St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception at the Cathedral however, the Covid-19 times have lessened that right now,” Sister Robin said. “I assisted with second grade religious education and first reconciliation and communion at the Cathedral last year.”

“All the CSJ sisters with whom I have had the opportunity to be with have shown their soul beauty and love,” Sister Robin said. “I pray it continues to rub off and influence the rest of my life.”

Agrégée vows

Agrégée sisters are defined as women who commit themselves to active and inclusive love of God and the dear neighbor as expressed in the spirit and spirituality of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. They are viewed as members of the congregation in almost every aspect, but there are a couple of significant differences:

  • “Canonically vowed sisters” profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as defined by canon — or church — law. As part of the vow of poverty, an individual sister relinquishes all personal wealth and income; at the same time, the congregation assumes responsibility for her economic well being for the rest of her life.
  • “Agrégée sisters” profess a vow of fidelity to the congregation, but it is noncanonical, meaning that it is not governed by Church law and is instead a private vow between that sister and the Concordia congregation. It also means that the agrégée does not relinquish her finances to the congregation, and the congregation assumes no financial responsibility for her.

Father Barry Brinkman presided over the liturgy while Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, president, received the vows in the name of the Congregation.

‘Beyond the Frontier’ — A new book on the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia

July 20, 2020 by  

The 1948 book “Footprints on the Frontier” by Sister M. Evangeline Thomas, PhD, has long been considered the most comprehensive history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. Updating that work left big footprints to fill. Following in those footsteps was historian Sister Sally Witt, CSJ, of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pa., who took on the task of writing an updated history of the Concordia congregation.

And now, after years of meticulous research and writing, Sister Sally has completed a detailed book documenting the rich history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. Her book, “Beyond the Frontier,” builds upon the pioneering work of Sister Evangeline in order to document the complex history of this religious Community.

Witt said that while the book follows Sister Evangeline’s work, it is not a sequel, although it is done in a similar style.

“The book doesn’t start where ‘Footprints’ left off,” Sister Sally said. “It actually starts in prehistoric Kansas and then gets more seriously in depth when the sisters go to Canandaigua, N.Y., in 1854.”

Sister Marcia Allen, who initiated the project when she was president of the congregation and read the manuscript throughout the process, was pleased to see the project culminate in success.

“ ‘Beyond the Frontier’ — finally Sister Evangeline Thomas’ dream is fulfilled! She dreamed of bringing her history, ‘Footprints on the Frontier,’ up-to-date and took comprehensive notes. Her death interrupted her work,” Sister Marcia said. “Sally has brought about that dream in a work that is respectful of Evangeline’s work and enriches it with information that Evangeline did not have. Sally’s own work is an artful and research-grounded portrayal of a Community, not shy of risks that the frontier demands, yet firmly grounded in its charism of inclusive and active love. Congratulations, Sally!”

While Sister Marcia first contacted Sister Sally about the project in 2009, she was not available to begin work on the project until October 2013 — her first visit to the Motherhouse in Concordia. Over the years since, she regularly returned to the Motherhouse archives three to four times a year to stay for three-week intervals.

Throughout the project she worked closely with Sister Bernadine Pachta, archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

“Sally’s writing of our history is a great and enduring gift for us as a Community of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and to all religious communities in the world,” Sister Bernadine said. “It was thoroughly researched using primary source material. Sally used books, articles, face-to-face interviews, visits, phone and email interviews. The material she has cited in the book is voluminous. No stone was left unturned.”

“I feel very privileged to work so closely with Sally, and indeed it was a learning experience,” Sister Bernadine said. “I tried to be as helpful as I could.”

This was not Sister Sally’s first venture into historical research and writing. She is the author of “A Hidden Spirit,” a 2014 book about the Sisters of the Holy Spirit of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and the 2005 book “Sisters of the North Country,” about the Sisters of St. Joseph of Watertown N.Y.

Yet, she said every Community reveals a different history.

“I already knew that each congregation is part of a particular place and carries within it the marks of the people and land of that place. In Concordia, I found the power of the daily faithfulness of sisters past and present and how this has been a gift to the area and to the world,” Sister Sally said. “The education, health care, and spiritual development among the people give evidence to daily life with sisters as neighbors. The land and sky of Kansas, with the particular loneliness and independence, have given their mark to the congregation. The small missions in western Kansas are good examples of this. In 1966, statistics from the national Sisters Survey confirmed the rural characteristic of this Community.”

“It was amazing to learn about the development of the Community in Brazil. It became so clear that the sisters were considered subversive when they dared to tell the people they had dignity as God’s children,” Sister Sally said. “All the sisters, Brazilian and North American, lived in danger just by doing their daily work. The entire history brings up all the issues of public life. The sisters’ entire lives, whether they were in small parishes or large institutions, were intertwined with the major happenings of the world.”

“I hope in some way this book will help future researchers of religious life. Many historians are interested in this field,” Sister Sally said. “My hope is that I might have provided some insight into this one congregation from the perspective of an ‘insider’ to religious life. And for all of this, I am grateful.”

The book, published by Word Association Publishers, spans 541 pages and contains 30 black and white photographs. The extensive appendices includes a list of all living sisters as of March 2020, as well as all deceased sisters.

The book is available for purchase at the Nazareth Motherhouse gift shop in Concordia, Kansas. While the Motherhouse is currently closed to visitors due to Covid-19 restrictions, the book can be ordered for shipping or curbside pickup by calling Jane Wahlmeier, administrative services coordinator, at (785) 243-2113 ext. 1101 or emailing

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