Eulogy for Sister Lila Marie Schmidt, July 4, 1933-Nov. 16, 2011

November 18, 2011 by

VIGIL: Nov. 18, 2011, at the Nazareth Motherhouse, Concordia

EULOGIST: Sister Lucy Schneider


Hello, dear relatives and friends of Sister Lila Marie Schmidt and all the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

What a shock to hear Wednesday afternoon that Lila had quickly gone to God! What a sadness. And a lesser shock yesterday to learn that she had requested that I give her eulogy. Not really a surprise, for Lila was and is my good friend, my Sister, with many shared experiences and memories. I just pray that these words this evening will do justice to his generous and valiant woman.

George Cohen’s song goes like this: “I’m a Yankee Doodle dandy, a Yankee Doodle do or die. A real live nephew — we’ll change that to niece — of my Uncle Sam, born on the Fourth of July.”

That’s what Lila was: Born on the Fourth of July, 1933.

A few years ago she showed her pride in have a July 4 birthday by entering a national contest, the winning of which would have given her a trip to the Capitol and other prizes. Though not being picked as the winner, just entering the contest showed the interesting and interested spirit that characterized her whole life.

Lila was the eighth of 13 children. Her parents were Catherine Breit Schmidt and George J. Schmidt. Within sight of the strikingly beautiful church in Pfeifer, Kan., the 13 grew up challenged by dust storms and hot, hot summers and the Great Depression. Lila said she had a very loving mother and a strict father who was a good provider, progressing from real poverty to being a well-off farmer and rancher and a good manager. The farm of Lila’s birth was the one her grandparents had homesteaded 50 years earlier.

The siblings were closely bonded and continued so throughout the years. Visits — including a recent one — to Lila by Leroy, Kenny and Patty bear out that statement. Lila acknowledged that the brothers and sisters had the usual sibling rivalries and disagreements, but whenever one of them was sick, she found it in her nature to take on their pain and suffering. It remained easy for Lila to continue this empathy and compassion for the people she cared about.

Lila entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia on Sept. 2, 1949, at the age of 16, having gone to two years of high school at Sacred Heart in Salina while staying with one of her married sisters. Lila said of entering, “I was following in the footsteps of two of my sisters, so I thought. Sister Ann Clare passed away in 1951 at age 25; I was still in the novitiate. My mother passed away two years later, never getting over the grief of her daughter’s loss. … My other sister in the Order left a few years later. Even though I knew she was doing OK, I missed her a lot. My father died in March 1981 at the age of 80.”

Lila became Sister Fabian when she entered the novitiate on March 19, 1950. Her first profession was March 19, 1951, and she professed perpetual vows on July 5, 1954. (Remember, her birthday was July 4.)

Today is the feast of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, who once said, “We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self.” Some people may have had the impression that Lila, too, cultivated a very small field, but they would have been wrong — very, very wrong. And her heart surely held back nothing for self.

Although highly intelligent, Lila was not sent to school when going out on mission. Rather she was put in charge of dietary departments in hospitals, schools and convents, She admitted to perfectionism, which made for excellent service to all involved but which took its toll on her.

Vatican II opened “a whole new horizon for me,” Lila said. “I was ready to put all my experience to use. I volunteered for the Jesuit missions on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota.”

The Jesuits, the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Charity and the native people all looked up to Lila, and she wrote, “They thought I was God since I could do everything that needed to be done.” And they loved her greatly. In the Lakota language, the word “Lila” is pronounced Leela and means very, very. The word “waste” — pronounced wash-tay — means good. So they affectionately called her “Sister Leela Washtay” — Very, Very Good.

Loving her work there, Lila expected to live out her working days in South Dakota. But that didn’t happen; burnout and perfectionism took her to a lifetime low. Emmaus Community in St. Louis brought her the life-giving, life-saving help she needed, through Sister Julia Harkins, a Sister of St. Joseph of Boston.

Lila’s new field of ministry broadened to include work at Salina’s Pathfinder House, a halfway house for recovering alcoholics. There again she was much appreciated for who she was and what she was able to do for them, in terms of food and community building.

During this time she lived and shared life with the children of St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, with the wise Father Wasinger and with Sisters, including Mary Lou Roberts, Therese Blecha and me. Those years at the Children’s Home plus our common reservation experience led Lila and me into a friendship that only deepened through her years in Concordia. We occasionally celebrated that friendship with lunch at the Kirby House in Abilene, followed by a visit to the Indian Center, also in Abilene.

Before coming to the Motherhouse in 1995, Lila developed a clientele in Salina for her home health care and companioning ministry. Families’ relationship with her, as I know from personal experience, continued long after the death of the patients. Among the pictures of Lila — on the table in the entry of the dining room — you will find a painted tribute by one such relative.

Speaking of lifetime connections, there were four women friends who worked with Lila at Meadowbrook Junior High in Kansas City. Their annual visits to Lila continued over the years, with the four becoming three, then two, etc. The Lakota have an expression, Mitakuye Oyasin (meaning All My Relatives), and that was certainly lived out by Lila, with all those she ministered to wherever she was.

The Lakota expression is meant to include not just humans but all of creation. And in recent years, the finches in the Motherhouse Aviary became part of Lila’s relatives; the admiring and prayerful times she spent in their company attest to that fact. And fittingly, the picture of Lila on her memorial card was taken with the aviary and its happy inhabitants in the background.

Turning mounts of dough into rolls and loaves with the aid of many young Indians’ hands was one of Lila’s talents. Another was turning containers of beads into medallions, barrettes, watchbands and the like. Those works of beauty may also be seen on the table downstairs. My favorite story about her beautiful work is this: The Indian superintendent of St. Francis High School and Lila greeted one another in a friendly manner one day, and then she asked him if she could borrow the medallion he was wearing. She promised to return it the next morning. He gladly gave it to her, and she returned it as promised — and was able to duplicate it exactly after that brief time examining it.

Lila wasted by no time in going from this life to the next, entering the hospital one day and dying the following afternoon, Nov. 16, 2011. So, since little else remains to be said this evening in her remembrance and honor, I will waste no time either.

Dear Lila, we say to you pilamaya — that is, in Lakota, thanks you, dear Sister, for a faith-filled, service-filled life to the dear neighbor, a life given over to Mitakuye Oyasin — All My Relatives: family, Sisters of St. Joseph, those you ministered to, the finches and all of creation. Since such a large part of your heat remained on the Rosebud reservation, the community’s choice of flowers for you reflects that reality. The pink rosebuds here tonight are taking the place of the pink wild roses for which the Rosebud reservation is known and named. Goodbye for now, dear good friend, “Sister Leela Washtay.”


Memorials for Sister Lila Marie Schmidt may be sent to the Sisters of St. Joseph Health Care/Retirement Fund or the Apostolic Works of the Sisters; P.O Box 279, Concordia KS 66901.

If you’d like to make a donation in memory of Sister Lila Marie, you may do so through a secure server with PayPal. Just click on the Donate button below.





4 Responses to “Eulogy for Sister Lila Marie Schmidt, July 4, 1933-Nov. 16, 2011”

  1. Elizabeth (Betsy Gasperich) Miller on January 6th, 2012 5:31 am

    Dear, dear Sister Fabian, (Lila Marie)
    I first met you when I was in 4th grade at All Saints School in Gladstone, Michigan….You were kind and so compassionate…..I was ill one morning and Sister Rose Ann sent me to you…you made sure that I was better and gave me tea and toast to settle my stomach…..That kindness I will never forget….nor will I ever forget you, dear Sister! Got to know you better over the years within the community and always visited you at All Saints in Gladstone…..THANK YOU FOR YOUR LOVE AND KINDNESS~I know that you are resting in peace and love~

  2. Mary Fran Simons on November 25th, 2011 8:21 pm

    I am touched to tears by Sr. Lucy’s so beautifully expressing the person of Sr.Lila Marie. Thank you, Lucy, and thank you, Lila Marie for the love
    and inpiration of your life. You have and continue to grace us.

  3. Loretta A. Jasper csj on November 23rd, 2011 4:15 pm

    This eulogy provided me with the testimony of a seemingly low profile woman of God…not so.

  4. Missy Ljungdahl on November 21st, 2011 6:36 pm

    What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful gal…a hiddent treasure. Thanks!

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