Eulogy for Sister Viatora Solbach, Dec. 6, 1921-May 26, 2011

May 31, 2011 by

VIGIL: May 29, 2011, at the Nazareth Motherhouse

EULOGIST: Sister Mary Reiter

Mary Catherine Solbach was born on a farm near Clifton, Kan., on Dec. 6, 1921. She was the second oldest of 14 children. Surviving are four sisters — Edith, Carolyn, Mary and Marilyn — and three brothers — Charles, Vernon and Mark.

The Sisters of St. Joseph had been very good to her mother in childhood and Mary Catherine expressed the desire to become a Sister early on. After grade school her parents sent her to Marymount Academy for high school. When she completed her sophomore year, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia on Sept. 8, 1939, and received the habit and the name Sister Viatora on March 19, 1940.  She made final vows March 19, 1944.  Of the original band members, only Sister Liberata Pellerin remains.

After finishing high school at the Motherhouse, Sister Vi went to Marymount College to prepare to teach. She taught in the grade schools for 20 years mainly in Kansas, but also in Chicago.

After leaving the classroom, Sister Vi felt strongly that the Sisters of St. Joseph needed to establish a prayer house. She joined a prayer committee to study the issue, and a proposal was presented at the 1968 Chapter. After much discussion it was felt more study was needed before the next chapter. The commission presented the proposal again.  It was tabled but they proposed sending someone to live in a prayer house and study more about it.  So at the next chapter, the Senate approved the proposal and asked for volunteers to begin the ministry. The convent in Clyde became the first Manna House of Prayer with Sisters Viatora, Faye Huelsmann and Pat Lewter accepting this ministry.  Father Vering was a real help to them. Sister Anna Marie Broxterman also helped.

Sister Vi spent three years there, then was elected to the Council for four years. At the end of her term she was asked to be Motherhouse Administrator. Later Sister Marie Kelley came to help her.

She then went to St. Louis University to be trained in pastoral ministry. After much prayerful discernment, she went to St. Xavier’s Church in Junction City, Kan., as Pastoral Visitor and Eucharistic Minister to the sick and homebound. For three years she served and really appreciated this ministry.

In her own words:

“Also of importance during this time was my introduction to Kevin Wilmott, a black graduate from Marymount, who was teaching at St. Xavier’s High. He introduced me to Lemoine Davis who was a counselor at the public high school and noticed that black students who graduated could not get jobs and often got into trouble with the law. Lemoine established his Blue Doe Energy to provide jobs for them.  Kevin also had a group of men and women, black and white, who were interested in justice issues, the Kanza Life Community of which I became a member.  Later a St. Francis Shelter was established to house transients at night so they would not be on the streets.

The Kanza Life group picketed the Municipal Building and post office to make the city aware of the injustice that the city would not hire a black firefighter. After three months of picketing, the city hired a black firefighter.

Sometime later we did a sit-in at the Chamber of Commerce for Human Rights Board.  We were reported to the bishop, the pastor and finally to our president, Sister Marcia Allen. She told them that she didn’t know about it but added, ‘We support it 100 percent.’  Some weeks later a Human Rights Board was established.”

Later Sister Vi said, “We need a place for homeless women and children.” The Kanza Life community looked for a suitable place in the impoverished part of town, Kevin and Lemoine found property with three old houses. They said they could fix them up but needed money.  Sister Vi wrote to the St. Joseph Foundation for a loan of $20,000. They also asked for and received a grant of $10,000 to renovate two houses. That became St. Clare House of Hospitality.  In the meantime Sister Vi visited 36 of 41 pastors in town and asked if their churches could help them. She was asked to speak to the ministerial alliance and the church circles and also various organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Seratoma Clubs and officers of wives at Fort Riley. So money began to come in. Others sponsored projects to raise money for St. Clare House.

Sisters Mary Esther Otter and Anne Martin Reinert early on had accepted Sister Vi’s invitation to come and work on this new venture. They completed the two-story house but ran out of money to complete remodeling the little house close by. They opened to guests on March 17, 1986.  They lived and worked in cramped quarters for two years until they received a grant from SRS to complete the projects.

When the convent closed that spring St. Clare House was not ready to be lived in, so Eleanor Nolan invited them to live with her. In the summer of 1987 Marrayne Schatter, a native of Los Angeles, came and worked with them for three years.

Due to Sister Viatora’s declining health and the fact that the Crisis Center of Manhattan was so crowded and needed a facility in Junction City, St. Clare House of Hospitality became a “Crisis Center Facility.” The transition took place July 1, 1994.

The St. Clare House, in its 8½ years of operation served nearly 1,500 women and children as a place of shelter and safety. Many women were able to be directed to public housing, social services, job training and job services.

I would like to quote a passage from a letter to Sister Viatora written by Kevin Wilmott in May 1994:

Receiving the last newsletter of St. Clare House brought me to reflect on our relationship. I hope you know how much you have meant in my life. You joined our organization at a time when I was desperately needing support. Your support not only was very beneficial to the group … it acknowledged that I was doing the right thing. You joined us when no one else in the community of your stature was willing to stand with us.

How we sacrificed against the will of the community to achieve our goals. What the spirit of St. Clare House was founded upon. To me, St. Clare House is a monument to our efforts. We achieved this totally outside the system, even against the opposition of our own church. You, Sister Mary Esther, Sister Ann and Marrayne are what gave St. Clare House its life.

St. Clare House was built with a belief in revolution and radical Christianity. St. Clare House is a beacon of light in a community marked in darkness.

Sister Vi, it was an honor to work with you. You have enriched my life and helped me to become who I am today.

In 1990 the local ministerial alliance bought the former convent and Open Door was established in 1991 where the homeless were housed on second floor.  Some of the sisters worked there for some time.

Sister Viatora moved to serve as parish visitor in Ellis and Plainville for a few years before retiring to the Motherhouse in 2003. She moved to Mount Joseph senior Village in 2007 and died May 26, 2011.

Sister Viatora wrote:

“There is so much to be grateful for; so many people to thank for their love, support and encouragement, all of which has been so important in calling me to grow in all that I needed to be, who I am and where I am now.  Great is our God, who has been with me forever, providing me with good parents and wonderful brothers and sisters and calling me to be a Sisters of St. Joseph – a congregation of which I am so blessed to be a part and my companions along the way.”

Sister Vi, like your mother, you have been a kind and compassionate woman ever faithful to the Gospel of Jesus.  We will miss your beautiful smile and your example of peaceful contentment.

Memorials in honor of Sister Viatora Solbach
We extend our sympathy to all of Sister Viatora’s family and friends. She will be missed greatly.


Feel free to leave a comment...