Eulogy for Sister Susan Kongs, March 12, 1917-Sept. 11, 2012

September 11, 2012 by

VIGIL: Sept. 12, 2012, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Margaret Rourke


At her birth, Susan Kongs could have said, in the words of Meister Eckhart, “In my flowing out I am entering creation.” And when she breathed her last on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, she was able to say, “In my Breakthrough I re-enter God.” Susan has come full circle since her entry into creation and now her re-entry into life with God, and we celebrate her life as a wonderful creation of God.

She was born March 12, 1917, on a farm at Seneca, Kan., the daughter of Louis and Mary Kramer Kongs. She was baptized the next day at St. Mary’s Church in St. Benedict, Kan., by Father Gregory Neumayr, OSB, and was given the name Susanna Bernadine.

She was the third in a family of eight children. Her surviving siblings are Rita Feldkamp, Dorothy Ronnebaum and Louis Kongs. She was preceded in death by three brothers, Father Vincent Kongs, Walter Kongs and Donald Kongs, and her dear sister Lela Tangeman.

When the youngest member of the family, Louis, was 10 years old, her parents took a 3-day-old nephew into their home. His mother had died at childbirth and he stayed with Susan’s family until his father remarried. In later years, Susan related, “He called Mom not only his mother but also his sweetheart.”

In Susan’s life story she revealed that she, on a few occasions, was too inquisitive. When her father backed the Model T Ford out of the garage, he soon realized that he had run over something and, of course, it was Susanna, who always liked to go places with him. But a trip to the hospital proved no broken bones so the next day she was back on the farm.

Some months later she tells, “I made my way through a hole in the fence. My objective was to pet the new calf. But the mother cow, being protective, bounced me up into the air several time before I was rescued by my mother.”

Susanna’s grade school education was at St. Mary’s School in St. Benedict, a small Catholic community of about 125 families. The church was a mile and a half from their home and there was no high school in this small town.

As an eighth grader Susanna felt that God was touching her life and calling her in a way that she didn’t fully understand. She was reluctant to follow this call, but it was evident to others that she was being called to the convent.

At age 20 she made contact with the Sisters of Charity and also inquired at the Benedictines in Atchison. Then she received a letter from Mother Mary Rose Waller who assured her that God was calling her to be a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan.

Her parents did not encourage her but they also did not discourage her. Quoting from Susan’s life story, she says, “My dad seemed to be concerned about my leaving home for the convent life. Yet within months in the wee hours of the morning, my dad and brother Walt took me to the train for the trip to Concordia.” Years later she learned that her dad had said, “She’ll be back in two weeks.” But Susan proved that to be false.

Susan says her pastor, Father Cyril Bayer, OSB, refused to give her a recommendation. He said that she was disloyal since the Benedictine sisters had taught her during her first eight years and school, and he thought she should enter that community. “It was only after my dad accompanied me to the rectory that I received a good recommendation from Father Cyril,” she wrote.

Susan entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia on Sept. 14, 1938, and she says she knew immediately that God called her to this congregation. There were six girls in that band, and they received the habit on March 19, 1939. She received the religious name of Sister Ann Louis, from her mother and father’s names.

From 1940 to 1943, Sister Ann Louis attended high school classes at the Motherhouse and then graduated — ready for her first mission.

St. Vincent Parish in Silver City, N.M., was opening a school and needed teachers. She was part of the 1944 faculty that arrived there to find extreme poverty and meager accommodations. She says it was quite an experience “as we were the poorest of the poor and yet quite happy.” A sister from El Paso sent three cots and another from St. Mary’s Academy often left sacks of groceries on the kitchen table.

Her next mission in teaching was in New Almelo, Kan., in 1945-46. She says that at one time she had a strong desire to be a nurse, but after teaching for one year and feeling quite successful, her thoughts drifted more toward becoming a good teacher. And the beautiful letters of gratitude and praise she received from her former students often verified that she did.

Sister Ann Louis said that during her ministry of teaching, “I felt God had gifted me with the tools of an educator: the ability to understand and enjoy teenagers, a sense of discipline, the ability to impart values — both religious and secular — and an aptitude for organization.” Those tools made her teaching days pleasant ones.

I can vouch for her competence as a principal and teacher as I experienced her down the hall from me for six wonderful years in Leoville, Kan. She not only met the needs of students, but she was a strong support for the teachers and in dealings with parents.

We were the only two sisters on the grade school faculty most of those years so we got to know each other pretty well. We still laughed heartily when we recalled the time we were preparing for some event that required changing the furniture in the lunchroom. To make more space, we decided to carry the piano bench down the basement stairs and leave it there.

As we were about half way down the stairs she said, “Now don’t break you back,” and I said, “It’s not my back that’s breaking; it’s my will.” And we set the bench down right there and laughed and laughed.

Sister Ann Louis said her teaching in Leoville, Chicago and Manhattan, Kan., had been a source of deep satisfaction. Working with students at the junior high level, she said, “was always a challenge and I loved every minute of it.”

She attended Marymount College and graduated cum laude in 1965 with a major in English and a minor in history. She also attended Creighton University and Webster College in St. Louis.

She often spoke of her years in Chicago in the 1960s. Those were challenging times with all the changes from Vatican II and the unsettled spirit in the whole culture. She was superior in a house of 19 sisters, of whom 16 were very young. To quote her, “Those changing times made deep marks and scars on the lives of these young sisters. It was my faith in God that helped me during and through those years after seeing so many of our young sisters leaving our congregation. I have kept in touch with some of them and there are evidences of great pain and suffering in their efforts to cope with the problems they faced as lay women.”

Quoting from Susan’s journal:

“During my years as a religious, I have often reflected on the Lord’s goodness to me, his giftedness, his constant care of me. I know God accepts me as I am and sends blessings needed for the journey. I know that finding God in all things is what life is about. I thank God for the times of prayer and silence when I can reflect on my own life in the light of the Gospels and grow daily in a deep personal oneness with God, with others and with self.

“As my years roll on, I feel and look over the past and reflect how good the Lord has been to me through the years. My daily prayer as a Sister of St. Joseph is apostolic; it is being present to God, to myself, to my students and to the world. I have seen my life blossom from a tiny bud to a full blossomed rose with, now and then, a petal dropping off to indicate that the aging process is already on its way.”

Susan’s teaching career reached a high point in 1988 when, from among 1,000 entries, she was named Kansas Teacher of the Year.

Then in 1989, former students of the Seven Dolors School in Manhattan, Kan., presented her with a 15-day trip to Ireland. “Despite not having an Irish gene in me,” she wrote, “I thoroughly enjoyed the sights of the Emerald Isle and the graciousness of the people.”

After that trip, Susan took a year sabbatical at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. “It was that that something surfaced in me that led me to work with and touch the lives of the poor,” she wrote.

She spent four years at St. Clare House and another four years in Junction City, Kan., at the Open Door, a refuge for homeless families. “Truly the virtue of compassion had surfaced in my life,” she wrote. “Many times as I lay my head on the pillow at night, I could say with St. Paul, ‘Except for the grace of God there goes I.’ ”

While at Junction City living in a small home, Susan and her companions became a hospitality house. They loved having sisters stop by and you couldn’t leave without a meal; it was a joy to visit there. We might enjoy a cribbage game or 10-point pitch without noticing the passage of time.

Susan was an avid reader and she made time for that and for prayer and also her daily piano playing and a catnap in the chair.

• • • • • • • •

Memorials for Sister Susan Kongs 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. Or you may make a donation in Sister Susan’s memory online, through a secure server with PayPal, by clicking on the DONATE button below.


5 Responses to “Eulogy for Sister Susan Kongs, March 12, 1917-Sept. 11, 2012”

  1. Diane Brin on September 29th, 2012 4:16 pm

    The description of Susan by her niece is exactly how I remember her on my trips from Belvidere to SJ & A’s on occasion. Once in a while I would go there to see some of my younger friends and to “crash”. Living on top of the hospital in Belvidere was not ideal. Sr. Susan would try to keep the convent quiet until noon.. that was almost an impossibility but I did get some extra
    zzzzz’s thanks to her. She was so kind and hospitable. RIP Susan

  2. Jane Tangeman Bergman on September 22nd, 2012 12:52 pm

    My aunt, Sister Susan, entered the convent on September 14, 1938. If only she’d waited a month, she could have seen me, the first niece (and first grandchild) born to Susan’s beloved sister Eulalia (Lela) on October 19, 1938. As soon as I learned to read, I began to write Sister Ann Louis letters with scattered misspellings I’m sure. Though she must have smiled at my prose, my aunt always encouraged me to keep writing and reading: I was known to have my nose in a book all the time. Years later I followed Sister Susan to Marymount, graduating in 1960, and began my own career in teaching. How I loved her visits to our house! In the early days, she’d sweep into the house, those black veils trailing behind her, she and Mom laughing together, Dad teasing Sister until her girlish impishness showed. That’s how I like to remember her. I am sorry I was unable to be in Concordia for her transport to God.

  3. Lori Randall on September 13th, 2012 11:10 pm

    What a beautiful eulogy for a beautiful woman!

    I am the student who nominated Sister Susan for the Kansas Teacher of the Year Award back in 1988, and I will never forget what an honor it was to stand beside her on the playground of Seven Dolors while the news crew from Topeka presented her with the award. I admire her and appreciate her positive influence on my life just as much today as I did 24 years ago. Her wise teaching as well as her example of caritas and respect instilled in me a passion for social justice, a love of learning and knowledge, an ability to read the world critically, and an impressive command of standard American English grammar. These are incomparable gifts, and I regret that I never found words adequate to thank her for them while she was alive. I hope she knows how much I loved her for sharing her wisdom and kindness with me.

    I am currently a dissertator in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My sister (also a student of Sister Susan’s) and I are the first in our family to attend college, and I am the first to pursue graduate studies. I’m quite sure that I wouldn’t have made it all the way to a Ph.D. program without Sister Susan’s guidance in junior high. I hope that I have made her proud with my work as a language teacher and will continue to make her proud with my work as an educator who prepares junior-high and high-school teachers to work successfully with English Language Learners.

    Thank you, Sister.

  4. Betsy Gasperich/Elizabeth Miller on September 12th, 2012 10:39 am

    REST IN PEACE, dear Sister!
    I was stationed at St. Joseph and St. Ann’s when Sister Ann Louis was principal and superior of the convent. It was a great two years.
    I then visited with Sister on my trip to Kansas some years back. We played a game of cards….she loved her card game.
    Thanks for the lessons learned under your leadership, dear Sister Ann Louis….

  5. Leslie Mathews Pickler on September 11th, 2012 10:04 pm

    I am so sorry to hear of Sister Susan’s passing. She was my elementary school principal over 30 years ago and she certainly left an impression upon me that has lasted all of these years.

    I am still a resident of Manattan and I teach 8th grade English. How neat would it have been to be able to share that with her. Of course, now she knows as she is in Heaven with our Father. I hope she is proud of me.

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