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Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph

Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph

Loving God and neighbor without distinction: A pontifical institute of women religious of the Roman Catholic Church

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Eulogy for Sister Barbara Berthiaume

 August 12, 1932 – March 16, 2023

VIGIL: March 21, 2023, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Jodi Creten

“Just a flash in the life of the universe. My life is one spark of consciousness in the eons of time.” With these words, Sister Barbara Berthiaume began her life review. But what a flash and what a spark she has been both in time and now in her state of timelessness!

Sister Barbara Berthiaume was born on August 12, 1932, the eldest of seven children born to Louis Frederick Berthiaume and Barbara Catherine Thiry Berthiaume. Her living siblings are Pat Theoret and Geri Cauwels. She was predeceased by her parents, brother Charles, who died of spinal bifida at the age of two weeks, and by brothers, Louis, Gerald, and Tom, who is being buried today. Barb’s father was of French descent (Montreal, Canada). Her mother was born in Luxembourg, and the family migrated to the United States when her mom was seven years old. They settled in Escanaba, Michigan, where at seventeen, her mother met and married Louis Berthiaume in 1931. The family moved to Danforth, MI for Barb’s preschool years, but because there were no school buses, and the winters in the Upper Peninsula were usually harsh, they returned to Escanaba where Barb attended Webster School. Let’s listen to Barb tell about those early days: “I was born during the Great Depression years, and life was very difficult. My father worked at odd jobs when they were available. My mother told me how she hated standing in long lines to receive a little food or cloth from the government programs. In spite of our financial difficulties, I remember my childhood years as a very happy time. Everyone in our neighborhood seemed to be in the same state of poverty, so we children didn’t seem to notice it as much as our worried parents did.”

When Barb was ready for the sixth grade, she transferred to St. Joseph Grade School in Escanaba, where she was taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Barb knew from that time on that she would be an SSND, but her parents refused to allow her to enter the Community during her high school years. I think that may have been fortuitous, and the Spirit’s intervention, because right after she graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1950, and because she could not afford to attend college, she continued to work at the Photo Shop in Escanaba. At that time, she met Sister Joseph Marie Viau, who was home for her annual visit. Sister was a professor at Marymount College in Salina, and also a native of Escanaba. Barb was impressed by Sister, and soon her interest in religious life moved from the SSNDs to the CSJs. In the summer of 1951…let’s listen again to her: “I decided to overcome my fears and risk a new adventure. And so I decided to come to Kansas and check out this strange and foreign place of Indians, buffalo, and rattle snakes. It was a good opportunity for me to return with Sister Joseph Marie to Kansas. On September 6, 1951, two days before the other Postulants arrived, I walked in the front door of Nazareth Convent and was met by Sister Macrina, the Postulant Director at that time.” Her new life had begun, and she joined her other band members, among whom were Sister Martin Clare Koenig and Rose Marie Dwyer, deceased, and Sister Sylvia Winterscheidt, the remaining member.

Barb’s parents were somewhat unhappy about her becoming a Sister, and her father more so, but when they met Sister Purificata, who served their meals in the Guest Dining Room and found her to be so friendly and kind, and then met Sister Louis, who spoke French with Barb’s dad, the deal was clinched, and everything changed!

Barb received the habit and the name Sister Mary Gerald, in March of 1952, professed temporary vows in 1953 and made her final profession on March 19, 1956. Many years later she returned to her baptismal name.

Sister Barbara’s ministries over the years were varied, owing to the fact that, while not always feeling prepared for an assignment, she was willing to take a risk in a “new adventure”. Barb taught at both St. Joseph, St.Anne School and St. Louis School in Chicago, Cure of Ars in Leawood, KS, Luckey High in Manhattan and Sacred Heart High School in Salina. She received her Bachelor of Science from Marymount in 1962 and completed work for her Master’s Degree in Education in 1972 from the University of Detroit.

While Barb enjoyed teaching, she found living in large cities, and with 50 or more students in a classroom to be quite challenging. She states: “My ten years in Chicago were difficult for me because by nature, I am a “small town” girl. I loved the peace and quiet, and the forests and waters of the north woods. The noise and size of Chicago and Kansas City overwhelmed me.”

With the encouragement of Sister Christella Buser, the Superior General at that time, Barb was instrumental in opening a Pastoral Department at St. Joseph Hospital in Concordia in 1973. In preparation for that “new adventure” she took a short Clinical Pastoral Education course from Father Ed Frost in Independence, Iowa. She says, “in fear and trembling I began my hospital chaplaincy experience in September, 1973. I was afraid of the dead, so how could I possibly work in a hospital? I became physically ill when I experienced the first three or four deaths of patients. But with God’s help, I conquered my fears, and eventually accompanied hundreds of people during the dying process.” Barb ministered for ten years with those who were in their final life stages, and she so compassionately ministered to the families as well. She also helped start a Home Health Department at the hospital until its certification in 1984. She then applied for a position with the Oneida Native American Tribe on their reservation in Wisconsin, but the home for seniors which was begun there, only lasted eight months because of a lack of residents. However, she says: “ The Oneida are cheerful, peace-loving people, and I enjoyed very much working with them and learning from them.

In the fall of 1985, Barb accepted a position of ministering to the elderly in Hanover, KS, with the stipulation that if a position opened in the Diocese of Marquette, MI, she would accept that. Her beloved Upper Peninsula was beckoning, and she wanted to be near her aging mother. She ministered in Crystal Falls, MI from 1986-1992, when her position with the elderly there was abruptly dropped by the new pastor. An opening occurred in the Office of Catholic Education/ Formation for the Diocese of Marquette. She was invited to join the team there as bookkeeper/secretary. Another opportunity and another risk into the waters of which she knew little, but as she says: “I wasn’t really interested in an office position, but I do love the UP and wanted to remain there a while longer. I was part of a team that was making great efforts in evangelization of the Catholic population. We worked hard at forming, welcoming, forgiving communities, enthusiastic for their faith and active in social justice issues. Our bishop asked that we place our emphasis on, and provide the personnel and resources for adult and catechist formation in the spirit of Vatican II theology. This was a dramatic shift of direction for our diocese and an exciting venture for our office team.”
Being stationed in Marquette, Barb got to be closer in proximity to her mother’s home in Escanaba and was able to spend many quality weekends with her mom, Barbara until her death in 2002. Ten years in her beloved Michigan gave her new life, and soon she was off on another adventure in Goodland, KS with Father Norb Dlabal. Barb loved those ten years of just being a presence to the people there, but in 2012, when her health began to wane, she knew it was time to return to the motherhouse.

Quite a flash, and quite a spark she was. What I know about this woman of deep faith, (as well as being a sister Michiganian) is that Barb could courageously step into the new, knowing that her God would provide what she needed with the grace of the moment. She was not without fear, but her tremendous faith sustained her. What I also know is that she truly was a Michiganian, through and through. The sky, the water, the woods, the snow, the wildlife of her beloved Upper Peninsula thrilled and delighted her, and that was something we could fully share, and did! Barb loved when she was able to spend a week of retreat in her little cabin in the woods of the UP, surrounded by nature, and its sounds and sights. However, she could easily adapt to new surroundings and delights, especially the summer wheat fields and the glorious sunrises and sunsets of Kansas!

Barb was a self described independent woman, but she was a woman of deep compassion and hospitality. When she lived on 4th floor of the Motherhouse, the door of her room was almost always open for sisters to visit, to share an insight or to work a puzzle with her. She was an avid reader, especially on Vatican II and its aftermath. She looked always forward and enjoyed conversations of substance. She was progressive both in thought and in her faith development. One day at the breakfast table, we were deep in conversation about God, and how we “know” God, and she said that “at the age of 88”, all I finally know is that God is mystery.”

Listen to the last paragraphs of her life review: “ I am well aware that I depend on God every minute of my life. I could never have handled the challenges I faced without the help of the Holy Spirit. I was especially mindful of that in my years of hospital and parish ministry…I live now with an awareness that each day I’m given is a bonus, and I am deeply grateful for so many things every day. As I grow older, I am convinced that I cannot be grateful and unhappy at the same time. And so I am a happy person at this time in my life! I am trying to live by the words of Jesus that fear is useless. What is needed is trust! It is amazing to me that it has taken me a lifetime to realize and experience the Good News of the Gospels, that God loves me with an unconditional Love, and that Jesus died that I might live eternally in that Presence. I thank God every day that I have been called to live out my life on this planet as a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia, KS, the Community of the Great Love of God. These women have been wonderful role models and faith-filled companions on my journey. To all of them I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude!”

Sister Barb died on Thursday, March 16th, and at the age of 90, her spark of consciousness moving through the universe, as we may know it, ended, and she moved into the foreverness of the God she faithfully served.

To you, Barb, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for a life intentionally well-lived, both in community, and among the many people to whom and with whom you ministered. We thank you for companioning us on the journey. Be at peace now in the fullness of the universe, and flash, flash, flash with those mighty sparks that are you, and that are contained in all of us! And now you know the rest of the story!
P.S. Barb! Is God still a mystery to you?