Eulogy for Sister Bernard Marie Schruben, July 3, 1921-June 22, 2012
VIGIL: 7 p.m. June 27, 2012, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Lucy Schneider
“Morning has broken!” Oh, yes, it surely has!
It may be evening here in the chapel of Nazareth Motherhouse, but MORNING HAS BROKEN for our dear Sister Bernard Marie Schruben — Bernard Marie, that gracious woman whose life review closed with the ardent longing. “I very frequently think of what it will be like in heaven where I will see God.” Now she knows.
Written in the late 1980s, these words merely make explicit what was implicit throughout her beautiful life. In a very real way, Bernard Marie’s whole existence was a “Morning Offering,” the prayer taught her during religious vacation school. “The prayer,” she wrote, “greatly fascinated me then and still does today.” (Those Sisters taught vacation school in Stockton for a few years; earlier it had been students Marymount who did the teaching).
Who was this person with such a MORNING, new life, hopeful vision? She was Margaret Teresa Schruben, oldest child of Leonard and Edna McKenna Schruben, born near Hoxie, Kan., on July 3, 1921. Not a Fourth of July firecracker, she was a person who zealously lived out the fire of her Baptism (a Baptism, by the way, to which she rode with her parents in a horse-drawn buggy). And where did she do this living? First near Hoxie, then near Stockton. Was she soaking in God’s light during those years? Oh, yes. She puts it this way: “I had a happy childhood shared with two brothers and one sister – Leo, John and Katherine. We ran in the hills, climbed trees and waded in the creek. Unknowingly, I saw God’s wonderful creation throughout the four seasons.”
Seasons? Yes, she had her seasons – literally and figuratively, spiritually and physically, ministry wise and retirement wise. Growing up with a country-school education, Margaret was “shocked when I learned that not everyone was a Catholic in the little country school.” Speaking of the Catholicism of the day, she expresses directly and indirectly a certain fear of ridicule, a fear of the confession experience; in high school, she feared performing a piano solo: later, in the convent this fear carried over; she feared not being on time and, in general, as she wrote, “I was always afraid of doing something wrong.” Did Bernard Marie move on from these “seasons of fear”? It would certainly seem so. Her seasons of trust, deep spirituality and “waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ,” reveal this growth.
And what of the seasons of her ministry? Having worked at home and as a telephone operator before entering, she was “promoted,” after entering the convent, to breakfast duty with Sister Ursula Peterson. This duty included scrubbing the kitchen floor on hands and knees. Some promotion! Speaking of Sister Ursula, we “mature” Sisters recall her quandary as to prayers and recreation. She very sensibly asked, “We always have to ask to make up prayers. When do we make up recreation?”
Season of ministry continued: first, Silver City, N.M. – both St. Mary’s and St. Vincent’s. Bernard Marie’s artistic, poetic nature spills out continually in her written life review as it did in life as a whole. Having just completed retreat before going to Silver City, she writes, “One of the conferences of the retreat had been The Flight to Egypt. This kept coming to mind as the wheels of the train rolled down the tracks.” In speaking of her eight years with the Mexican children of St. Vincent’s, she reflects her own character when she simply said, “They were very polite.”
Seasons of happiness in ministry? All of them, it would seem. But of her nine years in Ellis County – Pfeifer, Schoenchen and Antonino – she claims, “These were my happiest years.” Junction City was Bernard Marie’s last teaching mission. Was it time for a change of season? She wrote: “I came to the realization that I wasn’t teaching as well as in the former years, so, after 43 years of teaching – mostly in the first grade – I decided to change to something else. With the help of my coordinator, Sister Marilyn Wall, I came to the Motherhouse in July 1988. I am very happy here.”
Her service to others now took many forms, but perhaps the most unusual one was learning and teaching Braille – this after reading about Louis Braille. Her motives for learning Braille? To keep her mind sharp and, more importantly, to help people without sight or with low vision. The mother of one of the Motherhouse employees was one such person. Others were sisters living at the Motherhouse – notably Sister Mary Esther Otter. Learning sessions began and followed a regular schedule. From now treasured pin-pricked cards prepared by Sister Bernard Marie, Mary Esther advanced to the use of courses from the Xavier Society for the Blind and state-sponsored organizations. Talk about helping others learn a new language, Sister Bernard Marie surely did that – a compassionate and unique work of mercy for sure.
No doubt most of us think of her as the person in charge of the “good dishes and linens” and having everything ready for jubilee celebrations. Well, on the eve of her own Golden Jubilee celebration, with all at ready, the usually capable but quiet Sister Bernard Marie called attention to herself – and that in a big, but painful way. Wielding a mop – in the air – as a member of the Bat Brigade on fourth floor, she fell and broke her hip. Her life patterns changed considerably after this incident.
The second half of Sister Bernard Marie’s retirement years found her – in 2006 – missioned to Mount Joseph Senior Village. This was two years after the initial group went there to live. In her 2006 commitment to mission and ministry she wrote; “Daily I will pray that the Holy Spirit will bless the residents and workers at Mount Joseph with love and patience.” Not only that year, but all the remaining years until her death there – June 22, 2012 – her prayer was answered. Her winning smile, her participation in chapel services, rosary, monthly birthday parties – all these testify to her gentle cooperative community spirit. But her contemplative spirit also led her to be something of a recluse; she chose to turn down invitations to the Motherhouse or elsewhere. She had God where she was; that was all she needed.
So how shall we label the Mount Joseph season in Bernard Marie’s life? Surely a season of gratitude. But that could also describe every season of her life. The first words in her life review are, “In the beginning, I wish to thank God for inviting me to become a sister, and for the grace of perseverance. I thank my parents for the gift of life and for their religious example. I thank the community for the many spiritual opportunities given to me. My final thanks will be celebrating and sharing happiness with all the saints in heaven, rejoicing in the presence of the Triune God.”
Congratulations, dear Sister, You’ve made it! Preceding you were your parents, your sister Katherine, your band members Sisters Alois, Marina, Amabilis and Mary Reiter; to follow you are your bothers Leo and John and the last member of your band, Sister Edwardine Flavin, plus the rest of us CSJs. All of us whom you leave behind await our joining you in that final glorious chapter of the beautiful book that will tell “The Rest of the Story.”
Until we meet again, I love you, my friend, my sister. Christ’s peace!
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Memorials for Sister Bernard Marie 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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2 thoughts on “Eulogy for Sister Bernard Marie Schruben, July 3, 1921-June 22, 2012”
Sister Lucy, what a beautiful tribute to S. Bernard Marie! She was always smiling, and you certainly captured her essence with your gift of words! May she rest of Jesus’ arms.
You surprised us by leaving us so quickly, Sr. Bernard Marie. May you know the joys of your recent companions in heaven!