Eulogy for Sister Athanasia Weber, March 31, 1917-Jan. 12, 2011

January 14, 2011 by

Jan. 13, 2011 at the Nazareth Motherhouse

By Sister Bette Moslander CSJ

We come together this evening, sisters and friends of Sister Athanasia, to remember and to celebrate the life of this woman, who in the course of her life epitomized the meaning of the metaphor, “a bundle of energy.”  Until the last couple of  decades of her life she was a woman always in a hurry, always creating a new production, always luring and cajoling others to enter into helping her with the next project, be it a May Day celebration, a musical stage production, or a grade school music recital. One can well imagine that had she not entered the convent she may well have become one of the great impresarios of Broadway. Instead she chose to be a Sister of St. Joseph in the little Kansas town of Concordia. I am privileged to share with you just a bit of her story.

Sister Athanasia Weber was born on March 31, 1917, the first child of Henry and Hazel Agnes Symonds Weber of Seneca, Kan. She was baptized Constance and was the oldest of four children, two of whom died in infancy. I know that Athie had many good friends here in Concordia and elsewhere, a few of whom are with us this evening. She will be missed by all of the sisters here at the Motherhouse and in the community. She was a woman whose presence will be missed.

Sister Athanasia’s musical interests and gifts were recognized early in her life. In her Life Review she noted that both of her parent’s families played for dances in the Seneca area. She was, naturally, encouraged, as a youngster, to take piano lessons and join the family bands. As her natural musical talent developed she often played duets with her mother, and accompanied her father when he played the flute. At an early age she recognized that God was attracting her to use her gifts in other ways and by the time she was 15 she expressed her desire to be a Sister of St. Joseph. She was acquainted with the community because her aunt had graduated from the nursing school staffed by the congregation.  Subsequently she entered the postulancy on June 1, 1932, received the habit Aug. 15, 1933, made first vows on March 19, 1935, and final profession on Aug. 15, 1938.

There was little doubt what ministry would be assigned to Sister Athanasia. She was a readymade music teacher. And it is a well-known fact that in the early days of the community music teachers were often the women who kept the local communities financially viable.  From the beginning the community was quick to put her musical gifts to work. Through the years she was assigned to a number of missions in Kansas: Concordia, Aurora, Salina, Beloit, Damar and Clyde. She also taught in Monett, Mo., Silver City, N.M., and Grand Island, Neb. She was so busy as a music teacher that it took some time before she completed her formal education, receiving a Bachelor of Music Education Degree from Marymount in 1952 and 10 years after that, a master’s degree in piano at De Paul University in Chicago in 1962.

Teaching music was her lifelong passion. Perhaps it would be better to put it this way — developing the musical potential of people was her great passion.  She taught a wide variety of instruments although piano and organ were her special delight.  Day in and day out she taught music; preschool children, primary, intermediate, secondary, college students, even senior citizens were numbered among her devoted students. The age of her students made little difference. For that matter promising natural talent made little difference. In Athie’s mind every person held the potential for becoming a Rachmoninoff or a Mendelsohn. And if it didn’t turn out that way it was not for want of Athie’s affirmation or persistence.

By the late 1940s and during the ’50s Sister Athanasia hit her stride and perhaps her most creative days. In 1947 she was assigned to Sacred Heart in Salina and there she staged a pageant with 500 students. The extravaganza was a remarkable achievement but it only spurred her on. In 1950 she moved to Grand Island, Neb., where again, now an experienced impresario, she put her creativity to work. She produced a pageant with 550 students which far exceeded the capacity of the little St. Mary’s auditorium. Nothing would do but relocate the program to the Liederkranz, a large concert hall a block away from the school. In her life review she remarks, “Sister Lucy and Michael Ann marched the students back and forth through the alley until their time to perform came around.”  Grand Island had never before seen such a performance. (And I seriously doubt whether it has ever again had such an experience.) I am sure that today many people in Grand Island remember “that sister” who produced “that program,” even if they do not remember her name.

Beloit was the next place to share Athie’s talents and the citizens there enjoyed a similar production. Needless to say sisters who were on mission with her during those years retain memories of what those days that required of them, the ultimate, in cooperation and energy. There was hardly anything Athie would not ask of her friends for the sake of a stage production. But then, “It was all for the greater glory of God,” so who could refuse.

In 1959 Sister Athanasia was assigned to Marymount College and it was there that I came to know and admire her tireless energy and total devotion to music and to her students. Many were the times that we, temporary professed sisters, were drafted into her productions either as singers, or stagehands. One job was as important as another. Life was never dull, always spinning along with some new idea, some new creation with Sister Athanasia on the faculty.

Athie treasured all of her students and now and then one became her life long friend. Howard Reed was an outstanding student and accomplished pianist. He has returned most every year for a visit and in fact spent last Christmas afternoon at Mount Joseph with her.

By 1963 Sister came back to Concordia as the Motherhouse organist and music teacher for the aspirants. In addition she developed a large clientele for private music lessons and over the years her students presented music recitals and concerts in the Motherhouse Auditorium and the Brown Grand Theatre and any other stage she could find.

Annually one or the other of her proteges or singing groups would win state or national recognition. Sister Athanasia was always proud of her music students and saw to it that the auditorium was beautifully decorated for the recitals, the students properly attired and the press releases prepared for the next day’s Blade-Empire. Nothing gave Athie more satisfaction than praise given to one of her talented young students. After Vatican II and the change of habit, she always came to her students’ recitals in a lovely formal dress befitting the occasion. Athie believed in beauty, she believed in music and she believed in the generosity and good will of people.

By 1980 Athie realized that she needed still another outlet for her artistic talents. Her mother had worked as a florist and that art form had always attracted her. She requested approval to begin a study program in floral designing and related artistic crafts. She received certification as a professional floral designer from the Cliff Mann Floral School in Denver in 1981. It was an achievement she put to work with the same energy and zeal that she used her musical gifts. Motherhouse residents will remember her arts and crafts room with its forest of silk and paper flowers and ferns and other craft materials. All of us remember her many musical and artistic contributions for Motherhouse celebrations, jubilees, assemblies and other special occasions.

Through the years Athie’s commitments to mission sounded a constant theme. She was committed to using her gifts of music and floral arts for the glory of God and the service of others and spoke of that in different ways. Her last mission commitment, signed by Sister Pat McLennon, sounded the same theme: “I will continue to the best of my ability to play the organ (for liturgy,) and deepen my prayer life and render service to the dear neighbor.”

Within another year or two even that gift with the organ slipped away. Slowly Athie, multitalented as she was, let go, recognizing that she could do little more than the routine business of living, coming to meals and to Eucharist, always with a smile, a greeting, a little bit of conversation. Over the years we witnessed Athie’s slow but steady decline in health and energy. Her body was no longer able to keep pace with her buoyant spirit. It was not easy for us to see that energy and talent slowly slip away, but her interest in others, her faithfulness to God and to her vocation never faded.

And finally, she moved to Mount Joseph in 2004 where the diminishment of her talents continued to take its toll. She relaxed into the adjustment to her new schedule. She has lived there for over six years and has gone through days of great darkness and days of deep peace. For a while she became an avid reader and for many months kept both the Motherhouse and the public Library busy. After some time she became something of a recluse, spending a good part of each day in her room. She died Jan. 12, 2011.

And so for now, Athie, we send you on your way to your God where you can hand over the great production of your life to the One who really made it all possible. Athie, you have served your God with energy, excitement, zeal and great creativity and yielded over all of that gracefully and peacefully. I am sure your arrival in heaven will necessitate some reorganization of the heavenly choir, but that there will be hundreds whose lives you have touched on hand to welcome you.  May your heart rejoice and sing with delight in union with the Loving God whom you have served so faithfully. You were a model for many of your students who saw in you a life of talent and generosity. And for us, your sisters in the community, you modeled dedication and devotion to the dear neighbor and a delight in a life well spent for God’s glory.

Comments

One Response to “Eulogy for Sister Athanasia Weber, March 31, 1917-Jan. 12, 2011”

  1. Jodi Creten on January 14th, 2011 11:31 am

    Thank you, Bette, for capturing the life of Athile so well. She definitely was a bundle of energy, but she shared her gifts totally for and with all.

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