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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 Christina Meyer

September 8, 1936 – April 15, 2023

VIGIL: April 21, 2023, at the Nazareth Motherhouse

Eulogy by Marcia Allen, CSJ

Christina Marie Meyer. Chris.

Chris didn’t suffer fools gladly. She was a woman of few words. She spoke plainly and to the point. She was matter-of-fact and wasn’t afraid to have and share her convictions. In fact, about herself she wrote: “I have definite ideas. I express them definitely!” In the political chaos and suffering of these times she emerged a prophetic voice against the rank injustices of those in power and an advocate for those who suffered those injustices.

 Chris – a voice undaunted, determined and faithful to truth. Her outer doing was congruent with her inner being. She modeled and inspired those who knew her toward an integrated unity of attitude and action. Her life was a unitive narrative – a story that created a union of thought and action, a story founded on and rooted in love.

Chris Meyer was native to Western Kansas. She was born on September 8, 1936, at Gove County Hospital in Quinter, Kansas. She was raised on a farm south of Grainfield, Kansas. Her father, Jacob Joseph, came from Pfiefer, Kansas. Her mother, Theresa Phlieger, whose family settled on a farm near Park, Kansas, immigrated with her family from Odessa, Ukraine. Chris was the fifth of 10 children, nine girls and one boy, the youngest. Her siblings of whom she was immensely proud and whom she loved dearly were +Leona Carter, +Viola Bechard, +Angie Eaton (all deceased), Armella Dinkel, +Lillian Spies (deceased), Rita Cooper, Verlene Brechenridge, Jerry Kruse and Ronald Meyer. Her father was glad to see a boy after that long line of girls, but about his girls whom he loved deeply he said “they are good looking and healthy” and they are hard workers.

Indeed, this last was true of Chris, for sure. In her Life Review she said she helped with housework, took care of the smaller children, cooked, canned, did laundry, fed chickens, pigs, cows, got the cows from the pasture and helped milk them, separated the milk, helped garden, picked bugs off the potato plants. During harvest, she helped with scooping wheat and drove the tractor when they couldn’t find enough hired help. She also helped fix fence, oil combines, clean the granaries, make homemade lye soap, fix fence with the old post hole digger. One favorite memory was getting to ride with her dad to the elevator because he bought her a fudgesicle as a reward for helping.

On the first Sunday of July in 1951 hail wiped out their total wheat crop. On the first Sunday of August a tornado destroyed some of their buildings and all 300 of their young chickens. As one farmer said: “Why rebuild, the world will probably end on the first Sunday of September!”  Her father sold the farm and the family moved to Grainfield, Kansas. Chris had already decided to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph; however, when she found out her mother was pregnant she decided to remain at home until the baby was born and her mother was able to re-assume her household duties.

Chris entered the Concordia Community on February 2, 1952. Those who entered with her were Leona Reiter, Sister Columba; Mary Esther Otter, Eulalia Kloecker, Sister Mary de Sales. When she received the habit on August 15, 1952, she was given the name Mary Cleopha. She changed back to her baptismal name once we were invited to do so.

Chris had not gone to high school because the tales of Freshman initiation terrified her. Consequently, she began her high school courses along with the students in the new Apostolic School for Aspirants which began in 1954. By 1956, she was ready for college and began a degree in psychology. After one semester, she was sent to Chicago, St. Joseph’s and St. Anne’s School, and learned phonics as she taught it to her 40 first graders. She returned to Marymount for a semester in the spring of 1968 to finish her BA, then was promptly sent back to Chicago to finish the year for S. Betty Suther who was sent to Marymount. That same summer, she began her work for a Master of Science Degree in Elementary Administration. She said in her Life Review that she didn’t want to do that, but because the community needed principals for the schools, several sisters were sent to K-State. Why not, she asked, where previously the sisters were sent to schools like Creighton, Marquette or Catholic U? To paraphrase her Life Review entry about this: Well, in the end, she said, a  happy ending was achieved: we cost the community $6 a credit hour and there were enough of us living at Seven Dolors Convent to have a wonderful community life. Besides, “we were provided with a cook and a car. We lived well!”

Chris’s Life Review is entertaining to say the least. Her editorial comments are priceless. They tell it like it was. Another example: When she was once again sent to St. Joe’s and Anne’s in Chicago she was given first grade and appointed sacristan. To quote her: “Anyone familiar with the kind of sacristy work that was done in Chicago in those days is aware that it should have been a full time job for at least one person.” The ironing alone was a full day’s job!

The next nearly twenty-five years of her checkered career included: teaching in St. Vincent’s, Silver City, N. M.; Sacred Heart in Aurora, Il; St. Michael’s in Fairbury, NE; back to Joe’s and Anne’s in Chicago, grade 8; St. Mary’s in Gorham, KS as teacher and principal; All Saints in Gladstone, MI, then back to Chicago as principal; once again to St. Michael’s in Fairbury, NE, grades 7 and 8 as well as principal. Then in 1979 her life turned a corner. She was elected to the Executive Council for two terms, 1979 – 87, then took a sabbatical to the School of Applied Theology at Berkeley, CA. Following this year, she spent one year on the staff of Manna House of Prayer in charge of the kitchen and purchasing food, next, campus minister for St. Mary of the Plains College in Dodge City, KS for a year; then in 1990 she entered pastoral ministry for St. Agnes Parish in Scottsbluff, NE. And this is where she hit her stride!

But I don’t want to get ahead of the story! Chris described a highlight of her life which occurred during her last term on the Executive Council. In 1985 she accompanied S. Margarida Boucher to Brazil. They visited each of the places where the sisters lived and worked, spending several days in each. In this visit she realized the nature of absolute poverty in contrast to the overwhelming material riches which she took for granted. She noted that instead of miserly and miserable people, victims of grinding poverty and rank injustice, she found people with open and generous hospitality and a deep faith characterized by joy. This was an attitude-changing event for her.

Following eight years in leadership, she went for a sabbatical, 1987 – 1988, at Berkeley which included ministry with St. Anthony’s Foundation at St. Boniface Church in San Francisco. Here they served about 2000+ meals daily, tended a free clinic for the homeless and poor, a rehab farm for recovering drug and alcoholic addicts, the elderly in their apartments in the Tenderloin district and welcomed the gay and lesbian community, all this within the context of multi-ethnic diversity. Once again, she realized a new lens through which to observe and interpret her world.

Chris ministered in Scottsbluff from 1990 until 2000. She was there to administer the parish life. As Jill-of-All-Trades she worked with catechists, the various programs for elders, marriage and other sacramental preparation, the RCIA program – all the various services that pastors provide the people of a parish. Said one parishioner about her: “Your guiding hand, loving acceptance and encouragement…kept us in the faith journey that ended for my husband in the resurrection. My husband was a lost sheep until you came along….”  Another said: “I will always be grateful to you for allowing the Word to work through you to reach me…. You are amazing!”

In 2000 She took up the work of Motherhouse Coordinator for the next three years. She saw this work as pastoral ministry within team administration.

By 2003 she was back in western Nebraska as parish minister and administrator, this time to three parishes: Sutherland where she lived, plus Paxton and Hershey. She saw this work not only through the administrator’s eyes, but with her heart in the people and their needs.

Then in 2009 she joined S. Esther Pineda as assistant in the Justice and Peace Office in Salina, KS. Now she could give her full attention to what had been percolating in her heart – advocacy and action for justice, for peace and a guarantee of dignity for all in a non-violent environment. These desires had been evident in her annual mission statements. Repeatedly, year after year she hoped to articulate these values in her words and actions throughout the parishes and other work places in which she found herself. But now in the Office of Peace and Justice she could allow this inner movement full throttle. When S. Esther died in 2015, Chris became the Director of the Office.

At the same time, she was appointed coordinator for the Mission Advancement Program. She proved to be a genius at organization and implementation. This work took her through many dioceses, giving talks at the end of Saturday and Sunday liturgies in parish churches for the most part, but meeting people from far and near who were inspired by her advocacy for missionaries and their work, especially for our own Mission in Brazil.  

In 2021 she decided to move to the Motherhouse in Concordia but retain the Peace and Justice work. She relinquished the Mission Development coordination. She kept up a steady stream of communications to Kansas and United States politicians, constantly advocating by mail and phone and often showing up at their “town” meetings or in their offices. They knew her by sight and by name. she went to town hall meetings by both parties. Each received her advice and protests. She worked tirelessly. Most of us can attest to that. Almost daily we found in our in-boxes urgent notices to call or write some congressperson for one cause or another. She was relentless!

This brings us to Saturday morning, April 15, 2023. Chris. Christina Marie Meyer succumbed to her worsening chronic bronchitis. She died quietly and by herself only to be found later by her community members. Pretty much like she lived: no fuss; everything straight forward.  

Who was this woman? Inasmuch as we can know anyone, those of us who through the years were fortunate enough to live or work or associate with her at some level can attest that she was above all a faithful friend. She always remembered birthdays, anniversaries or who needed a St. Patrick’s day card, for instance.

In her own words she described herself as “quite efficient and loyal, hardworking and dependable.” She was described by those who wrote letters of recommendation for her as having “excellent administrative ability, insightful in planning, attentive to input, able to use the detail needed for success.” Her personal file contains dozens of certificates testifying to her training and ability for everything from parish administration, grief counseling, and spiritual direction to “Powder Puff Mechanics.” Who Knew!

Most letters to congress persons were ignored, but sometimes she was surprised by a response. A member of Congress wrote: “Thank you so much for your thoughtful note regarding my vote against aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. You certainly know how to make one’s day!”

A pastor who partnered her in a parish wrote a letter thanking her for “your great sensitivity and solicitude toward me….I appreciate all your support, initiative and care for all in our Parish. You are a wonderful talent and person to be with, especially in ministry. Thanks for being so present to us with your honesty vulnerability, gentleness and conviction, insight and care. You make a big difference in making us a “doing” parish…a “ministering community.”

Her strength of character and ability to express her convictions are mirrored in this letter from a pastor to a bishop. Evidently they had had words about the fact that some of the sisters in the convent were engaging in what the pastor thought of as “secular” work in the town. Chris had obviously been speaking on the side of our founder’s statement that a Sister of St. Joseph can do our mission through “anything of which a woman is capable.” The pastor began his report to the bishop with this: Sister Christina Meyer, a Regional Coordinator for the Sisters, and I had a “rather rigorous dialog.”

In her 2017-2018 Mission Statement she wrote that she would confront clergy who “speak exclusively male language and ignore women in the church.” At the same time, she was praying to address every issue with a non-violent word and act; live a supportive, peaceful and reconciling presence. Her aims were to be a sign of hope and live a just life, act and teach on behalf of justice, “live in harmony with all creatures, be open to all people, and above all to speak and act for the voiceless and live a spirit of gratitude.” This quote is from her 2022-2023 Mission Statement.

On her 70th Jubilee a former parishioner summed it all up in these words: “I will always be grateful to for allowing the Word to work through you to reach me…! You are amazing!”

Yes, Christina Marie Meyer, you were amazing! At the end of your Life Review you left a word to the Community. You said: “I have tried to be a faithful member. Many times I have made decisions in favor of the community rather than my own wants or desires. I have chosen to be present to community rather than family when I felt I needed to do that.” She mentioned the pain of being misjudged and having her actions misinterpreted. But throughout her life, especially through her Commitment to Mission Statements we see how her inner being was formed by passion and compassion, by devotion to duty and truth, through love of those whom she served, and in all things, a generous hospitality. Yes, Chris, you were amazing! We are so proud to have had you with us all these decades. Your family did a proud job of raising you up. And for 71 years your community held you with love and reverence as the gift of your apostolic life for the world unfolded among us. Thank you, dear Chris!