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.
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.)
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.”
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.”
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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: