Eulogy for Sister Donata Bissett: Oct. 4, 1915-June 13, 2012

June 13, 2012 by

VIGIL: 7 p.m. June 15, 2012, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Marilyn Stahl (Sister Donata’s niece)

Sister Donata Bissett began her life review by noting that she was named Catherine Louise after her two grandmothers, but that she was always called Louise. She was born in Plainville, Kan., on Oct. 4, 1915, the same day as two of her good friends, Doris Gilbert and Sister Agnes Bernita Green.

Sidebar: The doctor who wanted to assist the mothers and babies rushed from one home to the other and missed both births. It’s a remarkable coincidence that both Agnes Bernita and Louise’s parents had the same name, Clara and Edward.

Louise was the eldest of six children — Bill, Grace, Bob, Marce and Herm. She attended Sacred Heart Grade School and the Plainville High School, graduating in 1932. She stayed home for a year after high school and worked and passed the exams to receive a Kansas teacher’s certificate.

She planned to teach in a country school, but the pastor and a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia convinced her that she had a vocation. The only sisters she knew were those serving in Plainville, and she loved them and was happy to ask Mother Mary Rose Waller to accept her into the community. (Uncle Herm told me that her parents weren’t as happy as Louise about her decision. They needed her at home, both to help with the younger children and to provide some income.) She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia the same day as Sister Generosa Walker, Aug. 15, 1933.

Louise was supposed to receive her habit and a new name on March 19,1934, but she fell from the third-floor porch at the Motherhouse and injured her back. So instead she received the habit and her name, Donata, on Aug. 15, 1934, the same day as Sister Agnes Bernita and all the August band.

After the year of novitiate, Donata attended Marymount College and received her degree in 1939 with a major in home economics.  She mentions that she had not wanted to go to college, but preferred to serve as a cook and a housekeeper at a small parish convent. She was very lonesome at Marymount and hoped that there would be an opening for a cook/housekeeper.

After college, Mother Mary Rose did not approve of her serving an internship to become a registered dietitian. Instead Donata worked for three years at the original St. Joseph Hospital in Concordia and then went to Kansas State University in Manhattan and earned her master’s degree in Foods and Nutrition. She remained at St. Joseph Hospital, old and new, for 26 years, a very happy period in her life. Many of our sisters, especially Sister Gerry Kokenge and Sister Ann Joseph, have told me frequently how they loved their training and work with Mother Donata. As children, our family had the same joy of visiting her and being treated with love and kindness and receiving treats from the cow that produced chocolate milk and Neapolitan ice cream servings.

The new hospital opened in 1951, but it was not quite finished and Donata writes about trying to  prepare 80 individual diets on a small four-burner apartment stove.  In 1964,  Sister Veronica Mary Roy finished her internship and was able to assist Donata with special diets from 1964 to l965.

In the summer of 1965 Donata was privileged to make the tertianship in Silver City, N.M., for 30 days. This was a month of spiritual renewal that she appreciated very much.

In l965 Donata was transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Belvidere where she stayed for three years. She wrote that this was the first time she had ever lived and worked outside Concordia and she was very lonesome for the hospital and Motherhouse.  She returned to Concordia in 1968 and worked at St. Ann’s Nursing Home for one year and then returned to St. Joseph Hospital. She also taught Nutrition at Cloud County Community College for three semesters. She also visited St. Ann’s weekly and the hospitals in Sabetha and Seneca once a month. She remained at St. Joseph for another 25 years.

In 1983 Donata attended the Life III program at Chestnut Hill, outside Philadelphia. This was an enriching spiritual experience that dwelt on the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Donata was asked to retire from St. Joseph Hospital in 1988 at the age of 73. Thereupon she took a correspondence course to become a dietary manager so that she could serve at six hospitals and nursing homes as their registered dietitian. She helped with problems with menus, special diets, and provided in-service training for the staff.

In 1991 Donata attended the Sarah Sabbatical at Manna House of Prayer, and then In November she moved back to Plainville — with help from Sister Ann Glatter, who put all Donata’s possessions in her pick-up and hauled them to Plainville for her. Her mother was in the nursing home there and she could visit her every day. However, this was not a healthy time for Donata and she was often in the Hays and Plainville hospitals. So in 1995, she was asked to move to St. Mary’s Convent, but she was almost too weak to move. Her youngest brother, Herm and his wife, Tobe, went to Plainville during Memorial Weekend and took her back to Concordia with all her possession in their van.

Donata dearly loved St. Mary’s Convent. She had lived there previously when it was the nursing home for the students. Her room was close to the chapel and she could take the elevator to the dining room and to answer the phone, dry dishes and crochet and embroider.

When St. Mary closed in 1997, Donata moved to the fourth floor of the Motherhouse. At that point Donata wrote her life review and never wrote of her life again except to add a hand-written conclusion: “I do feel much better. God has been more than good to me. I bless Him.”

If I may add my own impressions of my aunt’s life, I want to say what I think you already know — that she lived a life of faithfulness to the Gospels and her religious life. She loved to visit our family and visit with the sisters. She loved to attend the yearly dietitian’s conferences throughout the country and to make retreats and help with community celebrations and fundraisers. Her brother, Herm and his family treated her to dozens of fun vacations during which they attended musicals and plays and sports events. They took her to Branson and Eureka Springs, Ark. She visited me in Washington and New York several times. She went with Sister Francis Joann on many a trip to South Dakota. She never said no to a trip.

Throughout her long life, she was devoted to the Catholic Church and to the congregation. Her entire life was her community, her family and her faith. It never entered her mind to question a pronouncement of the Church. Likewise, she was happy with the community’s every decision, every election, every assignment she was ever given. (As I listened to her talk, I was always wishing I belonged to her congregation — and her family, for that matter.) She never made a fuss about anything; she did her best and didn’t dwell on not being able to do the job, teach the class or take on extra duties.

I think all of us found it inspiring and affirming to always hear her positive and up-lifting conversation. She never made an unkind remark in her life, as far as I can tell. She had a marvelous memory of family relationships and loved to receive letters, phone calls and birthday and holiday cards. She spent happy hours reading the Plainville Times, the Concordia Blade-Empire, the Salina Journal and the Salina Diocese Register. I never heard her comment on national, state or local news, but I think she enjoyed being informed with what was going on in the world.

Throughout Donta’s lifetime of joy, faithfulness and dedication to her vows, she lived the beautiful words of I Corinthians, “love is patient, love is kind, love bears all things.” Her life was not easy, but she never complained and I think we have all been inspired by her graciousness and kindness and cheerfulness.

Many in the Concordia area know that for the last two or three years, Donata wanted to return to the Motherhouse to live out her life. She wanted to be with the sisters who entered the convent with her and where she had entered the community more than 75 years ago. That desire energized her and encouraged her determination to take care of herself and live as independently as she could return home. She has now accomplished her final wish.

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Memorials for Sister Donata 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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3 Responses to “Eulogy for Sister Donata Bissett: Oct. 4, 1915-June 13, 2012”

  1. S. Philomene Reiland on June 18th, 2012 12:36 pm

    Marilyn, thanks so much for the beautiful review of S. Donata’s faithful life on this earth. I remember her sitting with your family on Visiting Sundays when we were in the Apostolic School, and I always wondered what it would be like to have an aunt in the same community I was planning on entering…sure would have been a great thing….always a friend to go to! And she was so gracious and hospital to us when we would visit St. Joseph Hospital as Aspirants. I’m sure she is intereceding for us at the throne of God as we give her back to her Creator. Thanks again, Marilyn.

  2. Judy Stephens on June 16th, 2012 7:59 pm

    I loved visiting S. Donata. She always had something good and concise to say! Sometimes she encouraged me to read a book she had just finished. One was on the history of immigrants from Europe, women religious who came by ship to this country, telling of the trials and troubles they had, along with great faith.

    Donata was always pleasant and present. I will miss her very much

  3. Jodi Creten on June 16th, 2012 8:46 am

    Donata was always a welcoming and hospitable woman—one always interested in her sisters and what they were about. She was definitely an active listener. Thanks, Marilyn, for capturing your aunt and our sister so well!

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