Eulogy for Sister Mary Reiter, July 17, 1925-Dec. 12, 2011

EULOGIST: Sister Mary Jo Thummel
VIGIL: Dec. 13, 2011, at the Nazareth Motherhouse

“I have loved you with an everlasting love. I am constant in my affection for you.”

Jeremiah 31:3 & 4 (Jerusalem Bible)

This Bible quote and Psalm 139 were very important backdrops for Mary these last few months, so we will use them as the underpinnings of our sharing as we gather this evening to remember and celebrate her life.

Sister Mary Reiter was born July 17, 1925, on a farm south of Beloit, Kan., to Thomas Reiter and Ella (Eilert) Reiter.  She was the fifth of ten children and was named Elizabeth Ann.  Mary was born in the season of harvest amidst the gathering of wheat, garden produce and canning.  I wonder if this set the pattern for the fullness of life that Mary seemed to enjoy.  Part of the richness that blessed Sister Mary’s life was her siblings:

Arnold Joseph, Leonard, Lorena, Mary, Lila, Pauline, Maxine, Joan and Rose Ann.  All but Lila, Maxine and Joan have preceded her in death.  Though Mary doesn’t mention much about the interaction with her siblings in their younger years, she does mention that her childhood was very happy.  She has also written about a number of trips she later shared with family members and their enjoyment of one another and entering fully into the fun of the moment.  I know that Mary treasured her family and the times she spent with them.

Mary’s elementary education took place in a one-room country school.  Mary never tired of learning and – in her own words, “I avariciously devoured the few books available to me even reading several of the same books over and over.”  In 1939, Mary entered St. John’s High School in Beloit.  She lived with a family in town during those years and worked for her room and board.  She graduated in 1943.

After attending her first Catechism class in grade one, she went home and memorized the Catechism from cover to cover.  At this young age, she already had a desire to become a Sister.  This desire remained with her throughout her school years and when she was a senior, Sister Margaret Ann Buser helped her write her letter of application to the Sisters of St. Joseph in Concordia.  A few months later, on Sept. 8, 1943, she entered.  She attributes her vocation to the deep faith of her mom and dad.  Her mom voiced the desire to have one of her daughters become a sister and her two aunts Sister Christopher Reiter (her father’s sister) and Sister Casimir Eilert (her mother’s sister) were held in high regard.

Those who received the habit with Mary were Sister Bernard Marie Schruben, Sister Mary Alois Lauscher, Sister Edwardine Flavin, and Sister Amabilis Hasselbring. They made first vows on March 19, 1945, and final vows on August 15, 1948.  The sister name given to Elizabeth Reiter was Sister Mary de Paul.  In 1978 she dropped the de Paul and became simply Sister Mary.  The two remaining members of Mary’s band, Sister Bernard Marie Schruben and Sister Edwardine Flavin reside at Mount Joseph Senior Village.

Immediately after making first vows, Mary was given a correspondence course to begin her college education which took eighteen summers and seventeen hours of correspondence.  Mary graduated from Marymount College in 1962 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and obtained her Master’s Degree in Physical Science in 1972.

From 1945 to 1960, Mary taught elementary school…every grade from kindergarten through eighth.  In 1961, Mary was asked to teach science and math in high school which she did until 1985.  Her teaching missions included Manhattan, Damar, Vincent, Salina, Herington, Junction City and Beloit – all in Kansas – Aurora, Ill., Silver City, NM., Fairbury and Grand Island, NB., and Boonville, MO.

In the summer of 1986, Mary took a Sabbatical attending the Focus Program at Gonzaga in Spokane.   She speaks of it as an enriching experience for body, mind and spirit.  After finishing her Sabbatical, Mary became Director of Religious Education at St. Mary’s in Salina from 1986 to 1989 and Director of Religious Education and RCIA Coordinator at St. Fidelis in Victoria from 1989 to 1993.  During the following year, not being able to find a position that seemed to fit her, she moved to Medaille in Salina.  In 1994, she, Sister Doris Marie, and Sister Viatora Solbach were hired to do Pastoral Ministry at St. Mary’s in Ellis, KS.  Mary ministered there until 2000 when she felt called to come “to be of service at the Motherhouse”.  The many ways she found to be of service at the Motherhouse are too numerous to mention.  She faithfully carried out this ministry, to the best of her ability, until the point of her death early Monday morning, Dec. 12, 2011.

Mary loved to journal and write and has six pages of memories written about each of her years of mission experience.  She includes many of the highlights and low points she encountered in each place.  At the end she has a written comment, “I learned an awful lot about myself as I wrote down these memories.”

Like most of us, Mary was well aware of her shortcomings and what she called the areas blocking or hampering her union with God and the dear neighbor.  Mary gives us a peek into her depth through some of her last retreat notes, which she shared with me.  It was during this retreat — made from Feb. 19 to 26, this year – that the Scriptures that I mentioned in opening, (“I have loved you with an everlasting love.  I am constant in my affection for you.”  [Jerimiah 31:3-4; Jerusalem Bible] and Psalm 139) became very meaningful to her. She came to a deep realization of God’s love for her in all her gifts and imperfections.  She speaks of the pain and suffering that has begun to be a part of her life and how God walks with her even in her suffering.  Though Mary didn’t yet know that she had pancreatic cancer, God seemed to be readying her heart and spirit to know and accept His love even in the suffering and humility needed to be ministered to by others.  She speaks of God knowing her in her weaknesses and strengths, in her generosity and in her helplessness and reiterates many times…”I have loved you with an everlasting love.  I am constant in my affection for you.”  She was very touched by the thought of God’s constant affection for her.  She speaks of her insatiable thirst and hunger for knowledge — especially Godly knowledge, the Mass, contemplative prayer, Advent prayer, living nonviolently, the “Falling in Love for a Lifetime” 30-day retreat and many other religious experiences which she was privileged  to have.  Mary was grateful for the many opportunities for spiritual growth that were offered her by the community.

In her most recent Commitment Statements, Mary speaks of being attentive to the Spirit and a faithful witness to the good news of God’s unconditional love for each of us.  She desired to have a positive approach to life and to be a leaven of hope.

The last conversation I had with Mary was this past Saturday morning.  She kept speaking of a girl baby who had been born.  I’m not sure who this baby was.  She was having a little trouble getting all the words together in a manner that satisfied her.  Later, (because of references in the conversation) I wondered if it was some foretelling of her own rebirth into the arms of God.  Before I left, we prayed together and then she said to me.  I don’t know if you’ll need to give that eulogy today or tomorrow and smiled.  It wasn’t very long ago that Mary had asked me to give her eulogy.  I told her it would be a privilege but also asked her why she had asked me.  She said that she knew I would do it in a plain way without frills.  I guess Mary considered herself a plain woman and in a way she was but she also brought frills to our lives through her gift of crocheting beautiful pieces out of thread (antependium) as well as the love woven through her life.

Mary’s life review ends with this quote, “I view my life as a constant miracle of God’s love and forgiveness.  I try to share my love with all whose lives I touch.  Oftentimes when I feel things are going very well an unexpected cross comes from an area I least suspect.  I view all of these as ways of keeping me honest. …I give thanks to God for all that has been and all that is still to come.”

Mary we also give thanks to God for all that has been gift to us through your life.  We hope your insatiable thirst and hunger has now been satisfied.

• • • • • • • • •

Memorials for Sister Mary 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.

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3 thoughts on “Eulogy for Sister Mary Reiter, July 17, 1925-Dec. 12, 2011

  • January 3, 2012 at 7:29 am

    You did her proud!

  • December 19, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Mary’s life replicates the human journey with God…sometimes being more aware of God’s unrelenting presence than at other times. Her being made differences in the lives of individuals…that is all that matters to God…and to us! Thanks, Mary.

  • December 14, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Thank you, Mary Jo, for your beautiful, reflective words about this woman we so loved and who graced our lives so fully.

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