Eulogy for Sister Christella Buser — July, 29, 1924 – Nov. 2, 2018

November 8, 2018 by

VIGIL: Nov. 8, 2018, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGISTS: Sister Marcia Allen, Michael Buser, nephew, and writing by Sister Norma Schlick

We are here to celebrate the life of a woman of goodwill, good humor and a host of good relationships with family, community, and friends far and near. When Sister Christella asked me to give her eulogy she requested that it be short and humorous. As for short, she then handed me a 10-page, single-spaced story of her life to use. As for humor, I can recall many instances when she used her name to make people laugh. Once when speaking at a drug and alcohol dependency meeting over at St. Joseph’s Hospital she began her talk by telling the participants that they would not always be alcoholics but that she would always be a Buser!

She was indeed a Buser. Eleanor Maurine was born July 29, 1924 in Seneca, Kan., to George and Mary Elizabeth Karnowski Buser. She had six brothers, George, Alfred, Eugene, John, Donald and Burton (Bud). Her sisters were Mary Beth and Judith. She had a warm and happy childhood. Her parents provided well for the family and taught them to live full and productive lives.

She received her elementary and high school education from the Benedictine sisters who staffed the parish school in Seneca. After graduation from high school, she thought of going to Marymount College. The idea came to her when two sisters from Marymount, Mary Grace Waring and Euphrasia Barth, came to Seneca to recruit students for the college.

Her college years at Marymount were filled with serious study while earning a degree in music education and with many happy hours of the usual antics and social life with friends she made at school and with whom she maintained life-long contact.

After graduation she decided to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph in Concordia. She had a cousin here, Sister Margaret Ann Buser, and she was also greatly influenced by the lives of the sisters as she observed them at Marymount. She received the habit and the name Christella on March 19, 1947, made first vows in 1948 and final vows in 1951.

She was excited to get her first mission assignment to Tipton, Kan., to teach music and give private lessons. After five years in Tipton, she taught music at the parochial school in Concordia and then was asked to open a school to be staffed by our sisters in Leawood, Kan., the new Cure of Ars School where she would be the superior and music teacher. During this time through summer sessions she earned a MA in Music from DePaul University in Chicago.

Christella’s music ministry ended with election to the Executive Council in 1965. As vice president for President Therese Marie Stafford she saw many changes begin to take shape in religious life after Vatican Council II. She worked with the community in accepting the changes and was very compassionate with those who decided to leave religious life during the years that followed. She bore the burden of Sister Therese Marie’s illness and death in 1969 and assumed the office of president at her death. During her term as President she encouraged sisters to explore new ways of praying and offered opportunities for 30-day and eight-day directed retreats. With her council she experienced the need for changes in the corporate structure of the hospitals owned and operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph. These institutions, along with Marymount College, were undergoing many changes. And at the end of her term these challenges were handed on to her successor, Sister Bette Moslander.

Christella enjoyed many close relationships during her years as president. She and Sister Edwardine Flavin, general treasurer, worked together on financial matters. But they also enjoyed many humorous moments together. Like the time they went to a wedding at the church and then proceeded to the parish hall for the reception. They saw a nice table near the entrance with flowers and long-stem glasses. They decided that would be a nice place to sit. Along came a woman who humbly asked them to move as they were at the table reserved for the bride and groom. Looking back on her accomplishments Christella said with her characteristic self-deprecation that she increased the size of the cemetery and replaced the old barn with a nice six-car garage.

We all know that she did much more than that! As community leader she was called to this service at a pivotal point in the community’s life. In one of her talks to the community she said: “Religious life is not a static but a dynamic experience. Religious pledge to live a Gospel life, to live it meaningfully in these times and situations.”

Furthermore, it means developing our own freedom and richness in order to “become more ready to reach out to our neighbors as well as to other sisters. This is our way to live out the call to self-sacrificing love.” Radical change was a way of life in the early 1970s. She made sure that all of it was surrounded by and founded in deep prayer and personal sacrifice, not only for herself and the council but within the individual members and local communities. All were consistently called to prayer.

The members underwent total lifestyle changes and the congregation itself adapted to the new world ushered in by the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Every part of the system changed, every department was transformed; the governance structure was redesigned; she paid off loans made for building new hospitals, separately incorporated institutions, disposed of three hospitals owned by local civic communities and bought into Social Security. Through it all she encouraged sisters to tighten their belts and to enter into deep prayer. Loss of members meant loss of income and school closures, fewer sisters to operate the hospitals and other institutions. From the struggle to create a House of Prayer to setting up a retirement fund for elderly and ill members, from visits to the Brazilian mission to all the decisions required to almost instantly modernize religious life, Christella was in the thick of it, encouraging and holding the community together with her ready humor and compassionate care for each person, her belief in the mission and the sisters who lived it. With her leadership, individual sisters and local communities branched out in response to local and national world needs. It was a time of intense growth and as all such times require, the chaos of change and experimentation was managed and used as seed for the coming days. And, in spare moments she visited the sick and buried the dead, increased the institutional capacity to care for the sick and elderly and enlarged the cemetery; purchased dozens of new cars and transformed the barn into a garage.

After leaving office she briefly took up the position of communications director then began looking for a new ministry. She explored the possibility of serving in the L’Arche community founded by Jean Vanier and dedicated to serving mentally and physically challenged persons. She served some 20 years in this ministry holding many and varied positions. As the Regional Coordinator and member of the International Council she traveled over and over again to western Canada, Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, Belgium, Italy, France, Haiti. She, with Jean Vanier, took some of the residents to meet Pope John Paul II who held one of the children on his lap as they talked with him. She was also privileged to visit Trosly, France, where the first L’Arche home was created. Eventually she founded the Heartland L’Arche home in Overland Park, Kansas. She published a book, Flowers from the Ark, recounting many of her experiences with L’Arche residents. One story she loved to tell was of that of Fred, a resident in Tacoma, who was very outgoing. One Sunday the whole Tacoma community went to the Cathedral for a special service at which the Bishop was to preside. Seated on the end of the front row, Fred stepped out of the pew as the Bishop came up the aisle in full regalia, miter and staff, shook his hand and said, “Well, Bishop, I see you have your work clothes on today.” (Flowers from the Ark has recently been published in the Korean language for the L’Arche communities in Korea.)

From L’Arche ministry she once again spent time as Communications Director for the community. However, she was a people person; direct contact was important for her, so once again she looked around and found a new way of being with others. She created a new ministry called the “Joy of Laughter” with the goal of getting people to enjoy laughter and find positive meaning in their lives. She was invited to present her program to over 100 different groups and continued this ministry as long as she was able.

Christella’s life review attests to her life direction — loving, lover, beloved. Love was the central theme of her life. She was intensely sensitive and wore her heart on her sleeve. Easily hurt and distressed by injustice she responded with compassion. We members of her community — and as Michael spoke – you members of her family – all of us were deeply loved by Christella. She said that the people of the L’Arche community stole her heart, but it was taken long before by the many who moved her heart from earliest years. She was a people person and a courageous lover, ready to accompany those whom she judged to be outside the pale, forgive them and move on. She was fun-loving, enjoyed humor, tolerated gladly the stories we told on her, often misunderstood, but formed by suffering into the compassionate presence we all knew and trusted.

Shortly before her last hospitalization she asked me to accompany her on a mini retreat. The theme, she said, would be love. This was an assignment way too high for me; however, with characteristic insight and determination she led me into a sort of life review. Not of her past, but of her present. She wanted to count the people she loved and who loved her – and at the end of each session we would pray paraphrasing a favorite scripture: “May Christ dwell in our hearts through faith, and may charity be the root and foundation of our life. Thus, we will be able to grasp fully, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love, and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge, so that we may attain to the fullness of God.” (Adapted from Ephesians 3: 17-19.)

Christella, you now experience fully this love. Thank you for all the many ways you shared it with us over your 94 years.

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Comments

One Response to “Eulogy for Sister Christella Buser — July, 29, 1924 – Nov. 2, 2018”

  1. Mary Fran on November 10th, 2018 5:38 pm

    How beautifully this expresses the person, as well as the life, of a wonderful woman, our Sister Christella. Although we will greatly miss your physical presence, your spirit will always be with us. Love you.

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