Eulogy for Sister Bette Moslander, Feb. 5, 1923-March 22, 2015

March 24, 2015 by

VIGIL: March 24, 2015, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Marcia Allen

 Take, Lord and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
all I have and call my own.
You have given all to me
To you, Lord, I return it,
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

 

Sister Bette Moslander

Sister Bette Moslander

In her last mission commitment statement Bette said that this prayer attributed to Ignatius of Loyola had been her life prayer. “I pray it [now] with a new sense of immediacy,” she wrote. March 17, when she asked us to stop all life-sustaining measures and let her go she entered wholly and with finality into this prayer. And she did it with full realization of what it would entail.

Irene Elizabeth Moslander was born, the first of three children, to Irene Elizabeth Huet and Dr. William J. Moslander in Grand Island, Nebraska on February 5, 1923. She died after a short illness on March 22, 2015 at the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia, Kansas. She is survived by her two sisters, Marie Miner and Margaret Thull, their children and grandchildren, her Community of St. Joseph of Concordia, and her many friends. Her letters and her autobiography attest to the fact that she dearly loved these many people. At the end of her life she said: “Tell everyone I love them.” Any of us who knew her knew that, indeed, she loved us.

She grew up in Grand Island, Nebraska and attended Marymount College in Salina, Kansas. She graduated with a B.S. in Chemistry and Microbiology and moved into the field of medical technology, teaching and working in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

She enjoyed teaching at St. Joseph’s; she enjoyed the many friends she made; she toured Europe with them, crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary. But in her own words, her “heart was somewhere else.” Earlier her chemistry professor at Marymount, Sister Ann Cecile Bauer, had unveiled her real longing and in 1951 she put her profession behind her and began doctoral studies in theology at St. Mary’s Notre Dame.

When she graduated with a PhD in Religious Studies in 1953, Bishop Edwin Vincent O’Hara offered her a position in his newly established Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program. So she went back to Kansas City, MO where he also procured for her a part time position teaching theology at St. Teresa’s College. Later she taught ethics to the nurses at St. Mary’s Hospital. These years were immensely satisfying for in Kansas City she found stimulating work and conversation among peers totally dedicated to the lay apostolate in catechesis and service to the very poor.

But the longing in her heart persisted – and so did Sister Evangeline Thomas, a dear friend from her Marymount days. Their correspondence, which she kept, reveals not only their deep friendship but Bette’s struggle to accept her very obvious vocation. Finally in September of 1957 she left Kansas City and entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Coming as she did at the age of 34 she needed special permission to enter but was received into the novitiate in March, 1958. During her time at the Motherhouse she taught various courses to the novices and postulants in Sacred Scripture and theology and ethics. In March, 1959, she made her first profession and moved to Marymount College in Salina and took up teaching in the theology department. Catechesis was always a passion for her. In 1961 convinced that a young sister should be educated in catechetics she recommended that one of her sister theology students be sent to the Lumen Vitae International Institute of Religious Education in Brussels, Belgium. The answer came back from Mother Helena Robben: she was to go to Brussels!

Her experience at Lumen Vitae was “life changing,” she says in her autobiography. The Second Vatican Council was underway and Lumen Vitae was a stopping over place for the many bishops and their experts going back and forth to Rome. Her studies plus their input and conversation affected in her an enduring love for the Church, and an articulation of her deepest longing – to know Christ Jesus. To the end of her life Durwell’s well-worn book In the Redeeming Christ occupied a prominent place on her book shelves right along with the documents of Vatican II.

Back at Marymount College in 1964, Bette was named head of the theology department and also became active in the Salina diocesan catechetical program development. In 1965 she was elected to the General Council but retained her position at Marymount. For the next 10 years she was deeply involved in the renewal of the Congregation and its members that Vatican II had called for. Steeped as she was in the content and meaning of the Vatican II documents as they pertained to the Christian and Religious Life, she led the renewal movement with vision and perceptive pragmatism.

In 1975 and again in 1979 she was elected President of the Congregation. During these years she became known nationally and was eventually elected to the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). She served the members of the national organization with the same prophetic vision as she served her community. During the years 1980-1983 she participated in many international conferences for religious and was appointed delegate to the Council of the Union of International Superiors General that met annually in Rome. She completed her elected leadership terms in the Community and LCWR in 1983.

In that same year Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco asked her to serve on an Advisory Committee to the bishops’ commission that had been mandated by Pope John Paul II to study contemporary trends in religious life in the United States. Bette’s task was to organize the study of the decline in vocations. She initiated an interdisciplinary approach with 40 experts in their fields, each analyzing the trend from their particular perspective. At the end of the study she gave a report to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She was the first woman to ever address this group. In 1988 she was invited to serve on a National Advisory Board for the Lily endowed Research Project being undertaken in the Graduate School Center for Applied Social Science at Boston University. This study of religious life in the United States since Vatican II became known for its researchers, Miriam Ukeritis, csj and David Nigren, cm (The Nigren-Ukeritis Study).

In 1989 she received a letter from the Roman Congregation for Religious (now known as CICLSAL) asking her to serve as their representative on a team of three assistants that were to guide the process of implementation of the union of the Sisters of Mercy in the Americas. As delegate of the Congregation for Religious Institutes Bette assisted their merging process and chaired their 1991 Chapter until they elected their own leadership team.

During these years, 1980s and 90s, Bette was in continuous demand as a speaker for national conferences and individual congregations. She also gave retreats and facilitated chapters. Here at home she was for several years Communications Director, the Director of Manna House of Prayer and then Director of programming for Manna House. One successful program of her design was the Sarah Sabbatical, the first in the U.S. specifically for women religious over 60. This program brought women from around the world – Europe, Latin America, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Europe, Great Britain, Canada as well as the United States.

Turning 80 was a landmark experience for her. For months she struggled with what seemed like an impossibility – being 80. Finally, she had an idea! And in 2003 she initiated and developed the Bearers of the Tradition Institute, a 30-day intensive study of the CSSJ history and heritage, charism, mission, spirit and spirituality. This program drew CSSJs from all over the world and eventually led to giving the Institute in India in 2008 for the formation directors of the provinces of the three French communities there – Lyon, Annecy and Chambery. It was during one of these Institutes that she conceived the idea of reviving the early form of membership known as the Agrégées.

“The love of Christ impels us” can truly be said of Bette. This love manifested itself in her fierce love for the church, her vision for religious life, her commitment to the gospel and her passion for Jesus, the Christ. This love led her to teach, to preach, to act for the sake of justice. She was an intelligent critic and fearless in speaking out in many forums – from letters to editors to her work with bishops. She addressed racism, equality for women and the need for a nonviolent culture. It was she who initiated our Community’s commitment to nonviolence in 2007. In any talk she gave she attended to these themes always with a focus on Jesus the Christ as source and center of our lives.

[Bette’s life has been too large for any one person to describe and interpret so I would like to pause here and invite any of you to speak about your experience of her.]

 

Closing:

This eulogy hardly does justice to Bette’s life, a richly-textured journey formed by her love of family, their southern culture origins, the depression years, the horrors of the Second World War, her dearly loved teachers, and her many friends across several continents. Bette was deeply introverted yet outgoing with warmth and caring. She was playful, creative, imaginative and an implementer; generous and ready for any undertaking. She enjoyed a good glass of wine and relaxing with friends. She loved working in the flower gardens and making sand castles on the beach. She loved swimming in the ocean and lying in a hammock of an evening listening to the birds.

She readily met people of any ilk from panhandlers on a San Francisco street corner to an important church or political figure. She welcomed complete strangers with generosity and immediate acceptance. She manifested a fearless affection that was sincere and effective. A few examples will serve to illustrate this. Once when Archbishop Augustin Meyer, the head of the Roman Congregation for Religious (today’s CICLSAL), was angrily bearing down on her, Bette simply went up to him and kissed his cheek. He was completely disarmed and productive conversation followed. Another time when a woman gave an irate and hurtful intervention at an LCWR meeting, Bette met her as she came away from the microphone with an embrace that changed everything and enabled the meeting to continue. This was Bette, fearlessly affectionate and always attentive to people’s feelings.

Friendship was always on offer. But no one ever doubted her pursuit of justice and fair dealing. You could count on her being straight and to the point. She could argue with the best and usually a conflict would bring out her competent debate form as well as her compassion and willingness to create still another friendship. That she made and kept friends is attested to by the many letters extant in her file. Letters from former students, co-workers, former members. Letters from unexpected sources: one from the Apostolic Delegate, Pio Laghi, conveying sympathy on the death of her mother in a way that implied a personal relationship; one from Sister Mary Linscott, SNDdeN, the English-speaking member of the Congregation for Religious Institutes, thanking her for her kindness and perceptive contributions to the work on constitutions for English speaking orders. Linscott’s letter implied the friendship and affection between them. She received letters from diocesan priests with whom she had worked thanking her for her vision and competence and her continued friendship. Her files are full of correspondence between herself and members. Whenever she traveled she always wrote back to the community and began with “Dear Friends.”

So much, she believed, could be accomplished through friendship and she never hesitated to offer it. She was hurt many times, betrayed and misjudged, but that did not deter her. In her address to the Bishops’ Conference she challenged the bishops to give their support for religious life as the members articulated new forms. When asked if she felt anxious or intimidated when addressing the bishops she quickly answered: “No. We were friends.” Another time after several years of separation she met a bishop with whom she had often quarreled. When he saw her he approached with arms wide open and his greeting was, “Bette! Weren’t we good friends!”

This more than anything seems to describe Bette Moslander. The name given to her when she entered the novitiate was Thomas More. Why that name? Who recommended it? Did she ask for it? Thomas More is famous for his approach to life best described in Bernard Basset’s book Born for Friendship. At any rate the name fit her well, as did the spirit of St. Thomas More. Her belief that she was meant to be Imago Christi was expressed in the self-giving of friendship – an offer made without distinction, bias or prejudice or fear. This belief led her, in the study of our charism, to coin the phrase “active and inclusive love” as the description of what Communities of St. Joseph are called to. This, she believed, flowed from the profound mystery of encounter, a “mysticism of relationship,” lived out in a faithful and continuous offer of friendship requiring self-emptying and complete vulnerability -and she never shrank from it.

Now, she realizes the desire of her heart – friendship with Jesus fulfilled in God’s embrace. Thank you, Bette, for modeling our vocation as Christians and as CSJs. May it be said of all of us in whatever walk of life we follow: “We were friends.”

TO READ THE NEWS STORY ABOUT SISTER BETTE’S LIFE, CLICK HERE.

• • • • •

 Memorials for Sister Bette Moslander 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. To make an online donation in Sister Bette’s memory, click on the button below:

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Comments

7 Responses to “Eulogy for Sister Bette Moslander, Feb. 5, 1923-March 22, 2015”

  1. Eleanor Granger OSF on April 10th, 2015 10:32 am

    Dear Sister Marcia and all the Sisters of Saint Joseph,

    Your congregation was SO BLESSED by S. Bette and so were hundreds more of us who knew her during her LCWR years and received such wisdom and goodness from her.

    There is sadness in me that she walks with us no longer, but I rejoice that she is with God and now sending you all and us blessings. Please know that you and your Sisters are in my prayers.

    Peace and all good,
    Sister Eleanor – Rochester MN Franciscan

  2. Sister Maggie Beaudette on March 30th, 2015 7:57 am

    Dear Marcia,
    My sympathy and prayers to your community in Concordia, and in particular to you in the passing of Bette. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to share and experience the Bearers of the Tradition program. May we all continue to be a presence of Jesus in whatever paths he leads us , as was Bette.
    Blessings, Maggie

  3. Sister Sheila McKinley on March 26th, 2015 11:54 am

    Dear Sisters,
    On behalf of the Ursuline Sisters of Chatham, Ontario, Canada I offer condolences to you on the death of your dear sister, Bette. The lives of many people were touched and enriched by her generous and compassionate spirit. May she now dwell securely in your hearts, and in the heart of the Christ whom she clearly loved. May you continue to be warmed and enlightened by all the richness she shared with you.
    Sincerely, Sheila McKinley osu

  4. Jodi Creten on March 26th, 2015 7:08 am

    Thanks, Marcia, for capturing so well much of Bette’s full life. She lived her life with such integrity and was not afraid to invite each of us deeper into the mystery of community with all. What a gift she was and still is!

  5. Patricia Lewter on March 25th, 2015 8:49 pm

    Thanks much, Marcia and knowing how much you loved Bette it is easy to imagine the sincerity and integrity of your presentation. I did not know everything about what Bette had done! So, thank you for that too! You carry her spirit and she lives!

  6. Faye Huelsmann on March 25th, 2015 2:35 pm

    Bette has left quite a legacy. Thanks, Marcia, for your summary of her life, though
    knowing there was enough for a book. We fill in the parts we know about and
    some I’ll never know about. She contributed so much to our formation and re-formation.

  7. Kris Schrader on March 25th, 2015 12:57 pm

    Thanks, Marcia, for a wonderful tribute to an amazing woman, who in her living and dying, calls all of us to more.

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