Special ceremony marks fulfillment of a lifelong need

November 11, 2012 by

Sister Susan Klepper, just visible in the center right, is nearly engulfed by Sisters of St. Joseph during a blessing at the end of her profession ceremony Sunday morning at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

“I’ve been looking for this my entire life,” says Susan Klepper, who professed her vow Sunday as an Agrégée Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia.

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By “this,” she means “something everybody seems to say: A closer and deeper relationship with God, and believing that happens in community.”

By “my entire life,” she means from when she and a childhood friend played “school” with the girl’s nephews and Susan was the nun-teacher.

But the path that brought the 72-year-old St. Louis native to the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia was not a direct one. Yet for all its changes of direction, she says now, it felt inevitable.

As an eighth-grade student in parochial school in St. Louis, she met a Sister of St. Joseph for the first time. “She was more like a mother than a teacher,” Susan says of Sister Stella Aurelia Helm, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. “She made a great impression on me.”

Then, at 17, she entered the Carondelet sisters in St. Louis as a postulant. But after only three or four months, she left the convent and went home “due to some family conflict.”

She never returned. Instead, at 19 she got married and began a life that would include two daughters in the next few years.

Susan was just 26 when her husband died.

A handful of years later, she remarried and her family grew to include two stepsons and a third daughter.

Along the way she earned a bachelor’s degree from Webster University in St. Louis and then an MBA from Fontbonne University, also St. Louis. She also received training through Washington University, and built her career as an adult medical nurse practitioner.

Throughout those years, she says, the call to religious life never really went away. In 1999, when Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis, her husband Jerry teased about it, saying, “You still like the idea of being a nun.”

A couple of years later, when Jerry became critically ill, the idea returned. “I thought about what I would do with the rest of my life,” she says.

After her husband’s death in 2002, she talked with the Carondelet sisters about feeling called to religious life, “But I was told ‘no;’ I was too old.”

Instead, the Carondelet sisters told Susan about CSJ Associates — women and men, married and single, who share the spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet without becoming vowed members. She became a candidate and finally a CSJ Associate in 2008.

It was through that connection that Susan read an article about the Agrégée form of vowed membership that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia had re-created a few years earlier.

The Carondelet and Concordia congregations have shared roots going back to the original Sisters of St. Joseph in 17th century France, but are separate and autonomous organizations. They are among more than a dozen separate congregations of Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States and Canada.

But all Susan knew were the Carondelet sisters in St. Louis.

So she contacted Sister Bette Moslander in Concordia to learn more about what has been called “religious life for the 21st century” and then came to an “Agrégée Information Day” in the fall of 2010.

Among the Concordia sisters she found “such kindness and love, and such a sense of belonging. I was overwhelmed. This is the community — the aura of community — I had been looking for without even realizing it.”

In November 2010, Susan became a candidate for agrégée membership and has spent the last two years studying the history and charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph. That has included working with her mentor, Sister Loretta Jasper.

“You can sit and pray and meditate or go on retreats,” Susan explains, “but these two years have been so powerful; I’ve grown so much.”

After her profession ceremony Sunday, Sister Susan returned home to St. Louis, to her six grandchildren and two great-grandsons, to her dogs Buster and Sugar, to St. Vincent de Paul Parish and to her service as a hospice volunteer.

But, she says, it will all have been changed in a subtle yet powerful way.

She had asked that a special hymn be played during her profession ceremony Sunday: “He Looked Beyond My Faults,” which is played to the music of “Danny Boy.”

The music is testament to her Irish heritage, Susan says, and the words are testament to her journey to Concordia.

“ ‘He looked beyond my faults and saw my need’ — and my need throughout my life was what I’ve found with the sisters in Concordia.”

 TO LEARN MORE about the Agrégée Movement and the four women who became candidates on Saturday, CLICK HERE.







2 Responses to “Special ceremony marks fulfillment of a lifelong need”

  1. S. Faye on November 18th, 2012 1:34 pm

    I agree, Missy. It was good and enriching to me to learn more about Susan and I am so glad for us and her.

  2. Missy Ljungdahl on November 17th, 2012 10:05 am

    What a powerful story! I was there and yet this story says so much abut the wonderful character and call of our dear sister. Thank you, Sarah and Susan for storyies told and lived attentive to grace.

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