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Sister Bette Moslander, longtime leader for women religious, dies at age 92

Sister Bette Moslander
Sister Bette Moslander

Sister Bette Moslander, “a quiet woman of small stature” who for the past 50 years was a powerful voice for women in the church, died Sunday, March 22, at age 92 in Concordia.

In addition to 18 years in leadership positions in her own community — the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia — Moslander had national and international roles throughout the turbulent decades following Vatican II.

A vigil will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, at the Nazareth Motherhouse, with longtime friend and colleague Sister Marcia Allen as eulogist. Her funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 25, also at the Motherhouse, and she will be buried in the Nazareth Cemetery.

Moslander was born Feb. 5, 1923, in Grand Island, Neb., and earned her bachelor’s degree at Marymount College in Salina, Kan. In 1953, she completed her doctorate in Religious Studies and Theology at St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame, and then joined the faculty of the theology department at St. Teresa’s College in Kansas City.

Sister Bette leads a section of the Bearers of the Traditions retreat in the summer of 2009.
Sister Bette leads a section of the Bearers of the Tradition retreat in the summer of 2009.

In 1958, at age 34, she was received into the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and given the name Sister Thomas More. She had already been teaching Scripture and theology to the other postulants and novices, and then she joined the faculty at Marymount College.

In a profile of Moslander published a year ago, writer Sister Sherryl White explained, “A woman of vision, Sister Bette saw the approaching changes as the Church was swept into the 1960s.”

To help ensure the Sisters of St. Joseph were prepared for the changes that would come out of the Second Vatican Council — which began in October 1962 in Rome — Moslander was sent to the Lumen Vitae International Institute of Religious Education in Brussels for a year of study.

“During that year,” she wrote in a 2002 life review, “I became deeply involved with the developments in Rome that were so radically to affect our lives in the near future. … There is no doubt that this year was transforming my sense of Church and my development as a woman religious.”

When Moslander returned to Kansas, she was almost immediately elected to a leadership in the Sisters of St. Joseph, and would eventually serve for 18 years, including two terms — from 1975 to 1983 — as president.

In her life review, Moslander recalled those “tumultuous years” following Vatican II when religious communities were called upon to renew their spiritual heritage and structures.

The Sisters of St. Joseph held their “General Renewal Chapter” in 1969, and, Moslander wrote, “It was an event of earthquake proportions for all of us. … It changed every aspect of our lives… They were, for many of us, days of great hope and enthusiasm.”

But, as White wrote in her profile of Moslander, “The changes, the empowerment of freedom for the sisters, came at a price for the community. Like other congregations across the country, members were leaving… Those who stayed no longer wanted to staff the large institutions.”

During Moslander’s presidency, the sisters faced tough decisions about the future of their eight hospitals, a skilled nursing facility and several schools, as well as Marymount College. (The health care facilities and schools would eventually be turned over to local organizations, sold or closed, while Marymount was given to the Diocese of Salina, which operated it for a few years before closing it in the late 1980s.)

Sister Bette posed for this photograph outside Manna House of Prayer in 2013.
Sister Bette posed for this photograph outside Manna House of Prayer in 2013.

At the same time, Moslander became increasingly active in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the organization made up of leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. She was elected to LCWR’s board and executive committee, and then was served as president of the national group from 1981 to 1982. In that role, she was also named as one of the U.S. representatives in the International Union of Superiors General, made up of women religious in leadership positions worldwide.

Shortly after Moslander left LWCR leadership, Pope John Paul named Archbishop John Quinn to lead a Vatican-mandated study of religious life in the United States. Quinn asked Moslander to join the Advisory Committee to the commission in 1983, as its official liaison to LCWR. In that capacity she directed the study of the decline of vocations, an interdisciplinary effort that revealed the cultural phenomena changing religious life in radical and rapid ways.

Charged with creating the report on the state of religious life, Moslander spent three years working with the Quinn Commission and called it “a highlight in my life.”

When she delivered the final report, she became the first woman to address the body of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

With the commission’s report completed, Moslander returned to Concordia and took over the duties of communications director for the congregation.

But she was soon called on again to be a voice for the broader community of women religious: In 1988 she was asked to serve as an advisor for a three-year Boston University study of religious life post-Vatican II, and in 1989 the Vatican asked her to join a three-person team working with the Sisters of Mercy in America to bring together their large community.

While responding to calls from other congregations and from Rome, Moslander remained committed to the needs of her Concordia sisters.

She had moved to Manna House of Prayer in Concordia in late 1989. As she wrote later, Manna House — a spiritual retreat center that had opened about 15 years earlier — “was proving a financial drain on the community and … we needed some new kind of programming if we were to make a success of the prayer house.”

Sister Bette, in light green, talks to the group gathered for Agrégée Information Day at the Nazareth Motherhouse in August 2010.
Sister Bette, in light green, talks to the group gathered for Agrégée Information Day at the Nazareth Motherhouse in August 2010.

The programs she helped develop included the Sarah Sabbatical, the Magnificat Program, Congregational Spirituality Retreats and, in 1996, the annual Theological Institute that continues today.

Continuing a decades-long collaboration with Sister Marcia Allen, Moslander focused her considerable energy on the ongoing vibrancy and relevance of religious life. Allen and Moslander served as facilitators for numerous other congregations, while studying the history and original charism of the worldwide Sisters of St. Joseph.

From that collaboration grew the Bearers of the Tradition program, an intensive monthlong workshop and retreat designed to educate younger members of the various American St. Joseph congregations about their own origins and spirituality. “What we didn’t count were those (sisters) who signed up from France, Australia, Japan, India, Wales, Egypt, Canada, Mexico and Argentina,” Moslander told White in her profile.

And from the study of the French origins of the Sisters of St. Joseph grew one of Moslander’s most recent passions: The agrégée movement.

Drawing from the congregations’ 17th-century origins, Moslander reinvented and revitalized a form of membership that is non-canonical but is vowed. Since 2006 when the sisters’ Senate approved agrégée membership, 11 women have professed the single vow of fidelity to the congregation, and another five are in the process of prayer and study to become agrégée sisters.

Although the agrégées and Allen often referred to Moslander as the “mother” of the agrégée movement, she turned any praise to others.

“A quiet woman of small stature, you could easily miss her in a room of people,” White wrote of Moslander. “She has never been one to draw attention to herself, or even particularly enjoy it when it finds her.”

Instead, White wrote that Moslander’s life exemplified a “hushed call to exceptional living, to imaginative leadership, to innovative thinking and to daring holiness.”

• • • • •

 Memorials for Sister Bette Moslander 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. To make an online donation in Sister Bette’s memory, click on the button below:



20 thoughts on “Sister Bette Moslander, longtime leader for women religious, dies at age 92

  • Finlay Gilyard


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  • Diana Rawlings

    My prayers are with each of you at the loss of such a great woman!

    I was personally influenced by Bette during a discernment weekend the Adorers of the Blood of Christ had to select a Novice Director for a joint novitiate. I learned much during that time but especially how to be open to the Spirits movement within a group. Bette has left a great footprint for all of us.

  • Francine Schwarzenberger OP

    Bette was a woman of gentle strength and holiness.
    I always experienced the depth of her care and concern
    for our Great Bend Dominican community and me personally.
    Her legacy will live on in many places and in many

  • Sister Janice Thome OP

    Sister Bette was so very present to each person in whatever situation in which she was present.
    Even if the person was only setting things up, they were worth as much of her awareness as the
    Prioress of the community. When I was with her in LCWR regional meetings as a new council
    member of our community, I remember her ability to be the quiet “empowerer” of each of us.
    She must surely be in eternal peace because she brought peace with her by her total being.

  • Sister Anita Schugart

    Srs. Bette and Marcia guided the Great Bend Dominican Sisters through a number of our Chapters and we felt so safe with their guidance. Sister Bette has been a significant spiritual leader and blessing for so many of us. My sincere condolences to all of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

  • Sister Irene Hartman OP

    What a lady! I remember Sister Bette give a lecture once at our Motherhouse,. The one statement I will not forget is” Sisters don’t ever retire. They just keep on using their talents and skills for the honor of God.”

    She has been a model religious always, and such a lovable person!!!!!.

  • Sally Witt, CSJ

    Dear Sisters,
    My prayer for you as you mourn the loss of Bette, and as you rejoice in her gifts and her new life.
    Sally Witt

  • Todd Thull

    Aunt Bette Moslander (Sister Thomas Moore) has been an integral part of my life.
    In addition to all of Bette’s great theological and advocacy work, Bette always found time for family.
    In the early 60’s, I remember her in her habit at the Motherhouse and when visiting us in Nebraska.
    Her appearance at graduations and weddings throughout the US were always welcome and joyful.
    Bette made time to visit us in DC when our son was born, and again in San Diego years later.
    Bette was always so kind hearted and will be missed.

  • Linda Beck

    Sister Bette Mosslander was such a loving, warm, accepting sister. She was intelligent, wise, witty and funny. She made me feel welcomed and loved while I was on a life-changing retreat a few years ago and every visit after that. I’ll miss her during future retreats but take comfort that she’ll be looking down from heaven as she keeps the Manna House of Prsyer and the Mother House in her insiteful gaze.

  • sister Magali Runyan

    Grateful to sister Bette for he talk to us when she came to our Mother House quite a time ago.
    I have no status, but will pray for her who made an impression of authencitcity and love to me.

  • Michael S. Davis

    Hello Dear friends and Sisters of St Joseph of Concordia,
    Please accept our condolences and prayers upon the death of your beloved community member Sr. Bette.
    Your community has deeply blessed and touched the Davis family and continues to bear good fruit in the Diocese of Grand Island…
    Gratefully, Michael, Joan & Elizabeth Davis “our hope in the Resurrection of Christ”

  • .I am happy to have kept in touch with Bette for many years mostly through the Federation and up to the
    present time. She loved the church and her community and shared her leadership skills with many organizations. May her work and spirit continue to live on with all of us who knew her..

  • Sr. Jayne Helmlinger, CSJ

    My prayers are with your Congregation as you celebrate the life of your friend and sister, Bette. What a legacy she leaves in helping we CSSJs understand our charism and our vocations as women religious. Please know that we, your fellow sisters, will hold you in prayer as you remember and rejoice in the life of this amazing woman!
    Sr. Jayne Helmlinger, CSJ

  • Paula Cooney, IHM and Anne Crimmins, IHM

    We are so deeply grateful that Bette was part of our lives . As IHM’s of Monroe, MI we were blessed to have Bette and Marcia as facilitators of our chapter and of our Leadership Team of which we were a part at a critical time in our journey. She had an ‘Elder’s Heart’ – in touch with the wisdom of the Spirit that called forth the best in the other. Our prayers are with all of the Concordia community and in a special way with Marcia. You truly have been blessed to call Bette your Sister. Paula and Anne

  • Sr. Lisa Balcerek, C.S.J., Baden

    I was blessed to make retreat with Sr. Bette before I made final vows. She was a truly holy but humble woman, and THE “Portrait of a Daughter of Saint Joseph”. Her spirit will continue to be a light for us and for generations of C/SSJs to come. I am sure she was greeted with, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Thank you to our Sisters in Concordia for sharing her, not only with the Federation, but with religious congregations around the world. Thank you, God, for the gift of Bette’s life

  • Joanne Gallagher, CSJ

    Know that all of you in Concordia are in my thoughts and prayers during these days. Bette is ONE with all of us at this moment. She will forever hold a deep place in my heart. Being part of the 2003 and 2005 Bearers of the Tradition Institute forever changed my life for the good of our charism. I believe that Bette, Barbara Baer, and Marcia’s genius in creating BOT unleashed ever-widening ripples of our charism and rich history that continues spread across the country and the world. What an amazing legacy! Kansas is Oz land and as the refrain in the song from “Wicked” goes, “I have been changed for good”

    With love and gratitude…Joanne

  • Ana Kelley

    My sincere condolences to the Sisters of St. Joseph and all who knew and loved her. May she rest in peace and may her tremendous influence and work continue…

  • Joelyn Katherine Foy

    I find it so fitting that Sr. Bette would release her last hold on the earthly plane while “her house” was filled with so many wonderful sisters, agregees, associates, and lay people at the biggest fundraiser of the CSJ year. She must have felt that “we” were really taken care of, that her work was finished, and that it was time to begin choir practice with the heavenly choir. I will miss Sr. Bette terribly when I go on retreat at Manna House AND her spirit is forever embedded in my heart. She will now be with me always.

  • Joellen Sbrissa, CSJ

    Bette Moslander was a true Sister of St. Joseph who show us the way. In her gentle way she encouraged us to life the “more”. She is now free for all eternity.

  • Betsy Gasperich-Miller

    I remember Sister Thomas Moore very well……….she was one of my teachers at Marymount and gave several lectures during my time in the order. She was, indeed, a woman of vision and so very intellectual!
    I know she will be missed and I send healing energies to her in her transition.
    I also send love, prayerful hugs and healing energies to all who are experiencing the loss of this tower of community leadership!

    God bless, Sister and rest in peace until your next journey!

    Betsy, formerly Sister Joseph Bernice

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