Eulogy for Sister Geraldine Kokenge — Feb. 26, 1928 – Oct. 14, 2019

October 16, 2019 by

Vigil: Oct. 16, 2019 at the Nazareth Motherhouse
Eulogist: Sister Marilyn Wall

Sister Geraldine Mary Ann Kokenge was born on Feb. 26, 1928, in the midst of a dust storm. Her parents were Lawrence Kokenge and Frances Rosa Rallinger. She was the second oldest child and the first daughter. Her siblings were Raymond, the older brother, and three younger children, Helen, Elmer and Lorine (Peggy). Raymond and Helen preceded her in death. Elmer and Peggy, as well as numerous nieces and nephews, survive.

The family lived in the country near St Benedict, Kan., with their grandparents until Gerry was three years old. They then moved to Seneca where her dad was employed as a mechanic. Gerry attended Sts. Peter and Paul grade school. She said her early years were very difficult. She was a tall child and was seated in the back of the classroom. She was not able to see the blackboard so missed a lot of what was taught. She enjoyed playing with the neighborhood children. The family lived on the edge of town and had a lot of fruit trees and a large garden. She watched and helped her mother preserve the produce for winter. No doubt she began her cooking career there. Even in the last few years she would talk about the two pear trees they had and how the children did not like to eat them because they were gritty. Finally, her mother started making pear butter and that made eating them so much easier.

After graduating from high school, Gerry got a job at the Seneca Hospital. There she worked with Sr. Matthew Vopat who, Gerry says, was an influence in her vocation.

Gerry entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on Feb. 3, 1947, along with Sister Ann Catherine Wiltz who was from Sabetha, Kan. She entered the Novitiate in August of 1947 and received the name of Sister Mary Justina. Her first profession was in August of 1948 and Final Vows were in August of 1951.

Sister Gerry’s main ministry in the community was in the kitchens of many missions and schools. She has remarked “Every place I went I enjoyed.”

Gerry considered herself most fortunate in that as a young sister Sister Maxine Lutgen was her mentor in the Motherhouse kitchen teaching her how to cook and bake. Gerry especially remembers Sister Maxine showing her how to make the 30 to 40 loaves of bread that were needed for the Motherhouse Community.

In her own words: “We would mix all of the ingredients together except the flour … making a “sponge” and waiting for it to bubble – then we added the flour and kneaded and formed balls of dough which would then rise in the pans til ready for the oven.” Gerry has also told me this procedure several times in the past years, and every time I hear it I think: “Isn’t this just like the presence and patience of our Creator God?”

Sister Maxine set her up for her many years of cooking and baking and Gerry always spoke of her with the utmost esteem and gratitude.

Further assignments took her to many places in Salina, Kansas: St John’s Hospital, Marymount College, St. Mary’s Convent and Sacred Heart Cathedral School and rectory and Sacred Heart Junior-Senior High School. She served in many other places including Schoenchen, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Concordia, Grand Island, Neb., Oakley Kan., and Junction City Kan.

Sister Marcia Allen, who lived with Gerry in Junction City, said that “wherever she served, Sister Gerry’s loving nourishment added greatly to the quality of community life of the Sisters. Three meals a day for 20-some people might by some people be called drudgery, but Gerry’s ready and generous spirit never hinted at the burdens that might have accompanied her work. Her meals were delicious and nourishing and served with a spirit of hospitality. For us, she was the yeast of which Jesus spoke.”

One of Gerry’s last ministries as a cook was Central High School in Salina, which she enjoyed and became good friends with many of those working with her. There, she noted, one had to follow strict State guidelines. At one point the cooks were perplexed because the students were not eating their chili well. Gerry asked if she could add a bit of sugar to the recipe to bring out the flavor. It helped a lot and they even got the recipe changed by the State. Gerry also cooked at Kansas Weselyan College and loved the interaction and joking with the students, about 1500, who attended school there. They were especially fond of her biscuits and gravy. Gerry’s humor was always evident and enjoyed by all with whom she worked.

In all of her years of ministry Sister Gerry lit up when she spoke of her ministry of cooking and one sensed the joy she found in preparing meals for others.

In thinking about Sister Gerry and her ministry one realizes how her ministry colored her spirituality, and that as she prepared leavened bread, she also became leaven for those whom she served and loved.

Sister Joyce Rupp has a lovely reflection on being a handful of dough and being asked by God to be leaven for a whole batch of people so that faith will rise in hearts. As the dough is kneaded and formed beyond its expectations so we are shaped by daily dyings to self so that God can be our rising strength and we can love enough to be shared.

In 2000, Sister Gerry moved to Medialle Center in Salina. During her time there she volunteered at the Senior Citizen Center and at the public school and began to do tole painting. She painted on baskets and wooden objects and discovered, by surprise, that she was really a very good artist. When Medialle closed in 2006 she moved to the Motherhouse. There she visited Mount Joseph and did helpful works around the Motherhouse. She painted many items and some were sold in the gift shop here.

Gerry moved to Mount Joseph in January of 2018. She lived out the rest of her life there and left us on Oct. 14, 2019.

Gerry, we believe that you have risen with Jesus.

We believe that you know now the whole story of God’s incredible love for you.

We trust that you are celebrating with those who have gone before you,

But we will expect your presence and help here also.

As you are now with God, in a new way, your presence is God’s presence.

 

Memorials for Sister Geraldine Kokenge 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 Geraldine Kokenge’s memory, click on the button below:

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