Eulogy for Sister Redempta Eilert

July 26, 2011 by

VIGIL: July 26, 2011, at the Nazareth Motherhouse, Concordia

EULOGIST: Sister Bette Moslander


We are gathered here to remember and to honor Sister Redempta Eilert who died on July 25, 2011.I feel privileged to comply with her wishes that I give her eulogy. Sister Redempta entered the postulancy of our Congregation on Sept. 8, 1933, was received into the novitiate in March 18, 1934. She made temporary vows on March 19, 1935, and perpetual profession on Aug. 15, 1938.

Her extensive life review reveals the kind of woman we all knew Sister Redempta Eilert to be. As I read it I was struck by the comprehensive nature of her memories of her early life lived out in the midst of an extended and loving family in the Beloit and surrounding area. It chronicles life in rural America in the early to mid-20th century, a lifestyle known by so many of our Sisters. As her life review moves on it renders an account of life in a religious community prior to the Vatican II renewal as well as some of the painful struggles religious women experienced during the years following the Council. It is a detailed, clear and accurate account reflecting Sister Redempta’s disciplined and responsible approach to her long and productive life.

She was second of 13 children born to Frederic and Elizabeth Selting Eilert on Nov. 29, 1913 in Scottsville, Kan., a small rural community located not far from Beloit. She was baptized and given the name, Margaret. The Eilert family and the Selting family were always closely connected and as those of us who have known members of both families remember that those ties were strong and enduring even as women from each family entered our community.

The life review describes Margaret’s parents’ efforts to provide their growing family with the necessities of life relying on the produce of the family farm. Her father, Frederic farmed as did most western Kansas farmers, using horses and mules. When Margaret was about six year old the family acquired a Model T Ford and a few years later the farm work was made easier when her father could purchase a Caterpillar Tractor. “This changed the work pattern on the farm considerably,” she recalls.

Clearly the family was self-reliant and industrious and the children thrived. Both parents were strong supporters of Catholic education and both Margaret and her older sister, Gertrude, (whom we knew as Sister Frederic) attended the Catholic grade school in Beloit. The two girls often stayed with either the Eilert or the Selting grandparents and would walk 3 to 4 miles from their farms to get to school. As the girls entered  into the mid and upper grade school years Rev. Joseph Selting and his sister, Lena offered to take over the education of Gertrude and Margaret. The two girls moved into the parish house in Father Selting’s parish in Flush where they lived a strictly disciplined life and attended a school taught by the Benedictine Sisters.

When Margaret was 10 she contracted rheumatic fever and for several weeks suffered intense pain. Fortunately, her illness was correctly diagnosed by a doctor in Wamego, Kan. Early treatment resulted in a cure with no permanent damage to her heart and within a few weeks of bed rest she was able to return to normal school activities. Completing the eighth grade Margaret dropped out of high school for a couple of years but eventually returned and earned her high school diploma in three years. During her senior year Father Selting was assigned to a new parish in Horton, Kan. During that year Margaret lived with the Benedictine Sisters so that she could complete her high school. It was about this time that Margaret began to consider entering religious life.

The Benedictine Sisters offered her a scholarship at Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kan. Father Selting encouraged her to accept it and guided her enrollment in the basic freshman courses. It was during a college student retreat that she knew with certainty that she was called to religious life although to which community, the Benedictines or the Sisters of St. Joseph, was not clear. Margaret leaned toward the Sisters of St. Joseph whom her family knew better than the Benedictines and the decision was made when she received a letter from her sister Gertrude telling her that if she would come to the Sisters of St. Joseph, Gertrude would join her. They entered together on Sept. 8, 1933.

Redempta’s account of her early years in the community describes frankly the emphasis on work and busyness of life in the postulancy. She notes that the mistress of the Postulate was kind and helpful, but “seemed to believe that sanctity would be achieved through scrubbing and cleaning.” She accounts for the assignment of her name, Redempta,  that she came to love, although at the time she preferred the name of Sister Elizabeth Marie. She and Sister Frederic received the habit on March 19, 1934, at which time they and the other postulants were entrusted to Sister Isabelle, whom she describes as a “wise person with a sense of humor who tried to lead us into a life of prayer, silence and recollection.”

Her first assignment as a vowed religious was Marymount College to earn her 60-hour certificate. It was soon evident that Redempta’s leaning and talent was in the area of the sciences. The high schools and the college were in need of developing professionally competent teachers who could sustain the educational mission of the Congregation. Redempta was asked to return to the college and complete a major in chemistry. Her life course was thus determined. She commented that while initially she did not care much for chemistry she eventually came to love it.

Upon completion of her baccalaureate she was assigned to the high school in Boonville, Mo., where she taught General Science and Math and began to learn how to negotiate the give and take of forming a “reasonably peaceful community.” This one-year assignment at Boonville was her only year of mission life away from Marymount.  That summer she was assigned to attend the Institutum Divi Thomae in Cincinnati, Ohio, a research center in the sciences to prepare for teaching at the college. In the fall of 1942 Redempta returned to Marymount, having completed her master’s degree at the Research Center. In the ensuing years she enhanced her degree with a number of National Science Foundation grants gradually acquiring a solid body of knowledge about her field.

With great reserve and kindness Redempta describes her difficulties as she integrated into the community at the college and the faculty of the Chemistry department. She gradually established her self-identity as a member of the college faculty. Her frank account of interpersonal differences within the department reveal the normal conflicts that can occur between highly competent, professional women who are committed to the same high ideals and hopes but who take different approaches to methodology in the education of students.

In a kind of summary statement Redempta wrote, “As I ponder the 46 years that I spent at Marymount, there were moments of pain and moments of joy. Prior to Vatican II, when we were immersed in the letter of the law, many unreasonable demands were made on us.” She goes on to describe the pressures of serving on committees, responding to students extra curricular parties and activities, studying and preparing her classes while at the same time strictly observing the rules regarding lights out and early rising bells and a  heavy schedule of community prayer.

In her extensive description of the renewal years initiated by Vatican II, she offers her reflections on the radical changes that occurred; changes in the prayer life of the community, the wearing of the habit and the choice of ministries were difficult for her to accept initially. Gradually however she was able to accept the changes and to recognize the gains as well, always respecting those with whom she disagreed. Throughout these years she participated actively in the Senates and Assemblies and brought to the consideration of the members the values of her disciplined yet charitable positions.

Among the changes she found to her liking was the move out of the College with several of the sister faculty into a small group living situation in the summer of l969. She remembered the years of small group living as “years of genuine community living, built on mutual trust, love, tolerance and willingness to pray together and allow for individual differences.”

In 1988 she resigned from Marymount and moved to Concordia and lived in the community on South Mound. She spent her days at the Motherhouse serving at the reception desk or teaching GED students or harvesting the fruits of the large garden. In early spring of 1998 she moved to the Motherhouse. She records with chronological precision the gradual encroachment of the diminishments and losses of her health and strength as she grew older; a couple of transitory ischemic attacks, difficulties with her eye-sight, the death of her brother Al in a fire that destroyed the family home, of her brother Eddy in a wheat bin accident and the death of her beloved sister, Sister Frederic, after a period of deafness and demensia.

As Sister Redempta brings her life review to a close, she reflects on the way she saw her service in the community in the light of our apostolic mission. “Certainly I view my work at Marymount as a contribution to the field of Catholic higher education… I hope that as I taught and interacted with the students some of the peace and love and sense of values that a life of prayer and dedication fosters was absorbed by them…. I was a tiny cog in the wheel that was Marymount and its mission ‘to be a community of learners where persons of diverse ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnic heritages share in an ongoing search for truth in an environment conducive to human and Christian values.’”  She closes her reflections by listing a number of things for which she was grateful in the course of her life.

In these last years of her life Sister Redempta found it enjoyable to play a few hands of bridge after supper before she retired in the evening. She developed her own skill with the same patience and perseverance as she brought to the intricacies of chemistry. In fact she was engaged in card game when the sisters noticed that her response movements were not quite normal and called for a nurse who thought it best for her to come to third floor Stafford.  It was her last card game and she won — hands down.  By 9 a.m. she had won the prize — and that’s because God always has the highest trump.

It is not possible of course to do justice to the life of this woman but we celebrate her life that was fully poured out in the service of God and the dear neighbor. She was, without doubt a valiant woman, who lived her convictions and her dedication as a Sister of St. Joseph without wavering.
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4 Responses to “Eulogy for Sister Redempta Eilert”

  1. Elizabeth (Betsy Gasperich) Miller on August 20th, 2011 6:17 pm

    I remember Sister Redempta well…..she was a force to be reckoned with…She was so intelligent and science was her forte’. Rest in peace, Sister……

  2. Sr. Mary Fran Simons on August 3rd, 2011 3:33 pm

    Thank you for the eulogy of Sr. Redempta. I am grateful to learn more of the particulars of her life. The integrity and kindness of Sr. Redempta always
    touched me. Her life greatly blessed us. I will miss her.

  3. Mary Banker Elbert on July 27th, 2011 9:20 pm

    I was honored to have had Sister Redempta as my chemistry teacher in the sixties. She was so kind–and patient. May she rest in peace now that her full and faithful life on earth has ended.

  4. Ellen Roche Lewelling on July 27th, 2011 11:32 am

    I love the eulogy! what a life!

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