Eulogy for Sister Charlotte Lutgen — Nov. 26, 1927 – July 15, 2022

July 15, 2022 by

VIGIL: July 17, 2022, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Mary Jo Thummel

Be nothing to yourself and be utterly given to God and to the neighbor. — Maxim of the Little Institute of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Maxim 39

Charlotte (Geraldine) was born on Nov. 26, 1927, to Charles and Elizabeth (Koenigsman) Lutgen on a farm three miles northwest of Tipton, Kansas. She was the eldest of seven children: Charlotte, Leon, Robert, Richard, Lawrence, William and Carolyn Ann. She is survived by Leon and William.

During these depression years, and after suffering losses due to dust storms, grasshoppers, hailstorms and other hardships, Charles and Elizabeth decided to move to eastern Kansas and spent time in Piqua, Neosha Falls and Yates Center. After a valiant effort at farming and wanting a place where the children could be enrolled in a Catholic school, the family settled in Beloit, Kansas. Charles took up the trade of carpentry.

Charlotte graduated from St. John’s High school in Beloit in 1947 and had the honor of being class valedictorian. She received a Sister of St. Joseph Scholarship for Marymount Collegebut did not intend to go to college; so, forfeited the scholarship. However, since she planned to enter nurses’ training at St. John’s Hospital in Salina, Sister Theresa Vincent was able to get her a full three-year nursing scholarship.

In the fall of 1947, Charlotte started nurses’ training at St. John’s in Salina. The first semester was spent at Marymount College in Salina, Kansas carrying a full college schedule. It was during this time that her vocation “surfaced.” She had never really shared the idea of a religious vocation with anyone, not even her aunt, Sister Maxine (who was a Sister of St. Joseph), even though she had always had a great admiration for Sister Maxine and a deep desire to follow in her footsteps. A chance remark that Charlotte made, in this regard, was picked up by a college friend who lived in the same dormitory and who later said that she and her sister were entering the Sisters of St. Joseph in February. After many soul-searching hours Charlotte decided that she too would enter the Sisters of St. Joseph. This was shortly before the Christmas holidays and a lot of correspondence took place quickly. Letters were sent to Mother Chrysostom, and a visit took place with her. Charlotte quickly wrote her aunt, Sister Maxine, and told her. By the time vacation came all preparations had been made for entering in February. Charlotte waited until after Christmas to tell her parents. About their reactions, Charlotte says, “My mother was a little hard to convince but she never put any obstacle in my way. Dad in his very quiet way knew his prayers were being answered.”

On Feb. 2, 1948, Charlotte journeyed to Concordia with her parents and entered. She was allowed to dress up in her postulant’s uniform before her parents left. This was a sacred and emotional experience for all of them, including Sister Maxine.

Sister Therese Marie was the postulant mistress at that time. Charlotte said that in her quiet and religious way she led the ten postulants through days of homesickness, tears, joys, sorrows and the way and life of a sister of St. Joseph.

On Aug. 15, 1948, Charlotte received the habit of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas. She talked about the exhilaration of walking down the aisle in a bridal gown to become a bride of Christ. She said her heart was so full it could not be described in words. After reentering the chapel dressed in the habit of a sister of St. Joseph, the bishop announced her new name — Sister Charlotte. Charlotte was so glad to have Saint Charles Borromeo as her patron saint and was very happy to have a form of her father’s name, Charles.

On Aug. 15, 1949, Charlotte pronounced temporary vows and received her first mission assignment. It was for Saint Mary’s Hospital in Manhattan, Kansas, where she continued her nurses’ training.

In 1950, Charlotte’s father become ill with a heart condition. After he returned home, even though temporary professed Sisters were not allowed home visits, Sister Fidelis arranged for her to visit her dad at home. Charlotte was always grateful for her kindness. In November, while a patient in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Concordia, her dad’s condition worsened, and it was decided to transfer him to the Medical Center in Kansas City. On Nov. 22, 1950, as he was being transferred, the ambulance driver routed the trip through Manhattan so Charlotte could have a short visit with her dad. Shortly before the ambulance reached Kansas City her dad suffered a stroke and died. Charlotte remarked, “How good God is — to have let me see Dad before He called him home to heaven.”

Charlotte’s nurses’ training was completed in March of 1952. She was then transferred to St. John’s Hospital in Salina. While there, she took pediatric affiliation in Wichita, Kansas, from May to August. The time away from Community strengthened Charlotte’s awareness of how much “the Community” meant to her and confirmed her calling to religious life.

In May 1952, Charlotte graduated from Saint Mary’s School of Nursing and took her State Boards at Emporia, Kansas. After about six months she received the happy news that she had passed her state boards.

After that, Charlotte served at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Sabetha, Kansas, the Rawlins County Hospital in Atwood, Kansas, and then went back to St. Mary’s in Manhattan.

During these years, she worked in x-ray, lab, surgery, obstetrics, floor duty, admissions, medical records, emergency room and, on occasion, in the kitchen.  I quote “not to do the cooking but wash the dishes.” I can see Charlotte’s shy smile as she wrote those words..

In January 1958 she was sent to Marymount to work on her degree in nursing and graduated in May of 1960 with a BSNE. (Bachelor of Science in Nursing Education)

In August 1960 Charlotte was missioned to St. John’s Hospital in Salina. An outstanding highlight during the two-year stay there was a trip to Rome, Italy, in December 1961 for her brother Richard’s ordination to the priesthood. Sister Maxine traveled with her to Rome.

Charlotte said, “Richard had spent the last four years there at the North American College. The pope, Pope John XXIII, granted the college permission to have the ordination in the Vatican due to the large class of sixty. Just to visit the Vatican was a privilege in itself but to witness an ordination for the first time and my brother being one of the ordinands was truly an experience of gratitude. While in Europe we traveled with my brother, Father Dick, to Switzerland where we spent Christmas high up in the Alps. From there we visited Vienna and Venice in Austria and journeyed back to Rome and visited several places there. My mother along with several relatives accompanied us. I know Dad was witnessing a son of his raised to the priesthood.”

Charlotte’s next missions were in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Belvidere, Illinois, and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Concordia, Kansas.

In August 1971, after an eight-month illness from cancer, Charlotte’s mother died on Aug. 12, 1971. About this experience, Charlotte mentions that “she was very grateful for her five brothers who consoled her and welcomed her into their homes at any time.”

Charlotte continued working at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Concordia. During this time the first and third floors were closed due to a decrease in patients. After many years of caring for pediatric and geriatric patients, Charlotte now made the adaption of learning to care for surgical patients. My observation of Charlotte’s nursing ministry was that it was carried out in a loving compassionate manner.

In October 1987, Charlotte took a leave of absence from nursing to stay with her brother, Father Dick, who had become critically ill. He was placed on a heart transplant list and had to stay in Wichita. Charlotte waited with him for six months until he received his heart on April 16, 1988. In June, Charlotte returned to Concordia to care for her own health and worked as a RN in Stafford Hall, here at the Motherhouse. When the St. Mary’s sisters were all moved to the Motherhouse, Charlotte resigned her nursing position and took up the position of purchasing and distributing supplies for the sisters in Stafford and the Motherhouse.

In January 2004, Charlotte started volunteer work at Mt. Joseph Nursing Home. Her brother, Father Dick, became chaplain at Mt. Joseph Nursing Home on Jan. 29, 2004. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to attend his masses as well as to help the residents in wheelchairs to and from the chapel. Later when the need arose, she became Eucharistic Minister, substituting for the regular Eucharistic Ministers as needed.

In January 2005, Charlotte moved to the Motherhouse and continued her usual duties at the Motherhouse and Mt. Joseph. Charlotte enjoyed the ministry at both places. Everyone was so grateful for her services, and she felt blessed to have plenty of quiet time to spend in prayer and “being.”

Charlotte was a very quiet, private person but she had a good sense of humor and lovely smile. She enjoyed crocheting but there were no pieces of her work in evidence in her room. I would guess that she had given them all away because that would fit with her giving nature.

Charlotte loved to read a wide variety of materials and on occasion, she selected one of the novels from our St. Anne Shrine library. (I check out books from that same library and would run across ones in which she has discretely written her initials and the date she concluded the book, in pencil, of course.) I don’t know if she wanted to remember that she had read that book or that it was one she wished to reread. I was always glad to find her markings because I knew I was assured of a good read.

Charlotte’s prayer books and rosary were always in evidence in her room. From my conversations with her, I know that prayer was a main priority and she not only said prayers but lived a life of prayer. She believed in a merciful loving God who shepherded her throughout her life. In one of her recent mission statements, she said, and I quote, “I want to be aware of the Sacred around and in me. I want to love all — knowing that at life’s end I will be judged on love.”

I began this short glimpse into Charlotte’s life by quoting Maxim 39 – “Be nothing to yourself and be utterly given to God and to the neighbor.” I certainly believe that Charlotte’s life attested to the living out of this Maxim.

 I would like to conclude by quoting the words that Charlotte used to sum up her life. “God is good. My religious life has been very rewarding. Truly our Lord’s words, ‘I have chosen you’ has been a daily reminder of my vocation God has given me and the way in which I am to live that vocation. I am ever grateful for the love and support my religious Community and my family have given me over these years.”

Dear Charlotte, we too are grateful to have had you as a part of our lives, we have been enriched.

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