Sister Edith Selzler, 67, a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery, Bismarck, passed into eternal life Friday, May 23, 2014, at the monastery. Mass of Christian burial is scheduled for 10:30 a.m., Monday, May 26 in the Chapel of Annunciation Monastery.
Visitation begins today (Saturday) at 4:15 p.m. at the monastery and continues until the time of the funeral. A wake will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Chapel of Annunciation Monastery.
Sister Edith (baptismal name Blanche) was born Oct. 18, 1946, in Strasburg, N.D. She was the first of six children born to Pius and Katherine (Allan) Selzler. The family moved to Bismarck when Blanche was a small child. She grew up in Bismarck and attended Catholic schools from grade to graduate school. In the elementary schools she had Benedictine sisters as teachers and was impressed with their sense of community and hospitality. She also remembered the kindness and wisdom of her eighth grade teacher and believed she played an influential role in her eventual decision to become a member of Annunciation Monastery.
In 1964 she entered Annunciation Monastery and when she became a novice in 1965, she received the name, Sister Edith.
A gifted educator, Sister Edith started her teaching career in elementary grades in Catholic schools in the Bismarck Diocese. She earned a master’s degree in Biblical Studies from Aquinas Institute, Dubuque, Iowa, and taught theology for 25 years at the University of Mary particularly Scripture and World Religions. She also opened the world of Benedictine history to new members at the monastery. She taught in the permanent diaconate program and was director of the Office for Charity and Justice for the Bismarck Diocese. She was a member of the monastery’s liturgy committee.
With a keen intellect and memory, Sister Edith was often relied upon when information was needed about such subjects as Breuer architecture, Scripture, liturgy, stories about the sisters and current events. Her ability to recall many and varied pieces of information and attention to detail was impressive.
Blessed with artistic talent, Sister Edith loved to create stunning hand-crafted items. She was always creating not only with her hands but with her heart and mind as well. She was an excellent graphic artist and for many years designed a beautiful Easter candle for the monastery. Her liturgical designs can be found on parish bulletins, and on many monastery invitations and special event programs.
Steeped in Scripture, Sister Edith had an intimate relationship with God. Her life as a monastic sister overflowed with prayer. Her faithful presence at community prayer and Eucharist nourished her. She was a gifted writer and often wrote reflections for Lent, Advent and special occasions. They all contained rich nuggets of spiritual inspiration.
One of Sister Edith’s greatest gifts to those who loved her was her ability to live with cancer for 11 years with grace, dignity and humor. It was a journey she made with God at her side. “I found peace in a surrender to whatever would come; what would please God would please me,” she said.
Sister Edith is survived by one sister, Cynthia, Grand Forks, N.D., and two brothers, Wayne (Ishana), Los Angeles, Calif., and Brian (Debi), Bismarck, and the Sisters of Annunciation Monastery.
Memorials may be made to Annunciation Monastery.
Reflection for Sister Edith Selzler's Memorial Service - May 25, 2014)
www.SisterEdith - Woman of … Words, Wisdom, Wonder
October 18, 1946, Blanche Selzler echoed her first cries in Strasburg, ND. She was born to Pius and Katharine Selzler, the first of six children (3 boys and 3 girls) who would later grow up in Bismarck ND. Blanche attended Catholic school, graduated from Priory High, and entered Annunciation Monastery as a postulant December 8, 1964. She became a novice June 15, 1965, and was given the name Sister Edith after a 10th century Benedictine saint, Saint Edith of Wilton, who became her patron. After graduating from then Mary College and teaching elementary grades in Catholic schools, Sister Edith went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Biblical Studies from Aquinas Institute and began her 25 year teaching ministry at the University of Mary where she became a gifted and much loved teacher. She loved her students and she loved her family. She raved about her sisters’ artistic talents. She talked about the generosity and accomplishments of her brothers whether those were in food preparation and presentation or in designer airbrushing. She was so proud of all of them. She loved to recall summer vacations, every year to her grandparents farm in Canada where family reunions took place, making her cousins more like brothers and sisters - as close as you could be 600 miles away. The family would pack into the 1956 Belair wagon and head North. They never stopped at a restaurant, but always picnicked at rest areas along the way. Those memories brought much joy to her as she shared them with us – more than once.
Sister Edith had a gift for words as you can see in the text of this poetic expression of God’s love and our response on the back of the memorial cards.
Do take time to read it. It expresses well the spirit of its author.
Sister Edith had strong convictions and knew how to put them out in front of you in an animated way. When she talked to you or to a class, she had a way of pulling you into the story. People were drawn into her – like a mother hen gathering her chicks. If you asked her a question, she always had 5 things for you to look up. She would draw you to sources or give you more details than you wanted to know. Edith had a brilliant mind and a wealth of information. She was filled with knowledge; She just wanted to share it – never condescending, never putting people down. Her mind for facts and particular elements was uncanny. She saw the design in everything and appreciated the line, form and color in beautiful things. She could tell you in detail - the detailed detail of a building, a flower, a process, a painting. As one sister put it, “Between Sr. Edith and Fr. Daniel, we have the whole encyclopedia!”
Sister Edith loved and expressed our history beautifully. She would be called when architects arrived seeking information on Breuer architecture and the Bell Banner. She was also called when interviews were needed. After 911 when prejudice and oppression toward Muslims rose, Sr. Edith spent two hours on a radio talk show speaking about Islam. Shortly after that, she received a call from a Muslim man who said he had never heard anyone speak so eloquently about their religion and invited her to his home to dine with his family. Soon after, she was honored as “friend” of the Islamic Community of North Dakota and presented with a beautiful Koran. Edith understood the universality of the search for God, whatever path a person may be on in whatever religious tradition. One year she was invited to make a presentation to University of Mary faculty about welcoming persons of other faiths. Sr. Edith held a deep appreciation particularly for the three Abrahamic religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. She loved to teach. Over her years at the University of Mary, some of the courses she taught were: Religions of the World, Wisdom and Psalms, Gospels, Jesus the Christ, Celebrating the Sacred, Church History, both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. In any area she could teach what was needed – even Hebrew.
As part of our formation program here at the monastery, we newer members had Sr. Edith as our teacher for Benedictine History. She made it fun and delighted in exposing us to some of the more esoteric Benedictine saints with names like Walburga, Willibalda, Irmengard, Cunigunda, Willibrod. We cringed thinking of early days of the Order where names were chosen and given by the prioress at reception - that we could have been hung with one of those. However, Edith’s love for history taught us to love those saints. She loved all of them.
Over the years Edith wrote intercessions for Feast Days and Sundays and was part of the committee that created the communal prayer books we use three times a day. The past few years found Edith writing profiles of our own deceased sisters. She knew many of them personally, so could put a homey personal touch to her narratives. Edith chose words carefully and used them well.
Wisdom was born out of suffering for Sr. Edith. She carried her cross of cancer and the pain it brought – bravely and graciously. Some days it was merely “there” and other days a blockage nearly crushed her to the ground. But she never loaded this cross on anyone else’s shoulders. She embraced suffering and out of the lessons suffering taught her, wisdom was born – Sophia, or Hochma as she might say, the Hebrew version of Sophia, meaning Wisdom. Out of these lessons, Edith was able to share so eloquently in our monastery publication Tidings in 2011 that she drew inspiration from another wisdom source, St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.” As the meaning of this phrase seeped into her cells, Sister Edith quit worrying about her future and found peace in surrendering to whatever would come, choosing to leave all in God’s hands, trusting in his loving care in the midst of this mystery. She said that whatever would please God, would please her. She found pain and suffering to be two different things. “No one,” she said, “can escape pain completely, whether physical, mental or spiritual…but suffering is an ‘inside job;’ It’s how you handle pain mentally and spiritually.” – wisdom!
Sister Edith was blessed with many gifts and talents. She had a lovely singing voice and sang in the sisters’ choir. She could knit, crochet, sew, draw, paint. She knew just how to repair statues and broken items. She also designed graphic art for Sunday bulletins for nine years for Liturgical Publications. We use her clip art in our worship aids every Sunday and will for years to come. Her art is tasteful and expressive of the particular readings for which it was created. Sister Edith also designed a logo for ECOS, Environmental Coalition of Students, the environmental club at the University of Mary. That logo has been used on posters, recycling bins and flyers. She designed our Easter candles and Jubilee candles, some displayed in Christian art shows in recent years. Her Easter candle burns brightly during this Easter season – and I think it burns especially bright tonight.
Over the years her cards and other creative items were sold in our monastery gift shop. And each of us has a stone lettered by Sister Edith bearing our name. Shortly, you will hear of a wonderful tradition we have associated with our individual stones.
Sr. Edith was also a good cook. She loved to bake Jam-Jams, special cookies with fruited filling. She created international dishes and sometimes made special meals for the Theology Department during her teaching days. I am told she would create a centerpiece and something special to serve with coffee for departmental meetings. She loved hospitality, one of our Benedictine values. In recent years she bought special crackers at the Dollar Store and she loved to share them. She would make coffee in the kitchenette for breaks while relishing good conversations with Sr. Helen Kylingsted – and now they are together.
In 1878 the sisters came to Dakota Territory and later built on this hill using stone as a sign of permanence. Sister Edith came here and in her person became a rock solid Benedictine. She integrated her theology and her “Benedictineness”. They were not compartmentalized. She modeled the Benedictine monastic for us because she lived and breathed the life. We knew her as warm, loving, generous and gentle - never loud, boisterous, or slapstick. She was interesting to talk to, had a strong artistic spirit and was respectful of and to others. She went about her quiet way and you were pulled in by her goodness. She also had a quick and clever sense of humor. After numerous cancer surgeries she quipped with a sparkle in her eye, “My plumbing is now entirely outdoors!”
Sister Edith leaves us with words, with wisdom, and with wonder at what she now knows, sees and enjoys. Jesus said, “You who love me will be loved by my Father. I, too, will love you and reveal myself to you.”
For Sister Edith that is now accomplished. Alleluia!
Sister Nancy Gunderson, OSB
Funeral Reflection for Sister Edith Selzler, OSB
Sister Nancy Miller, prioress
As I begin, I wish to extend my and the sympathy of our entire monastic community to all of Sister Edith’s family especially her sister and brothers. She deeply loved each of her siblings – Brian, who is with us today; Cynthia, Wayne, as well as Marilyn and Mark who preceded her in death. She spoke of the members of her family with such pride and joy. She was so happy and proud of what they have done with their lives and who they have become. And she looked forward to their calls and visits. It meant so much to her when she could visit either by phone or in person. She was smiling in her heart for days after each visit.
Her death is a loss for you, Brian, your brother and sister, and for all of us. We will miss her greatly. But I know she would want us to be happy for her – that she is now free from suffering and living in the presence of the God who loves her and all of us.
I was visiting with Sister Edith a few days before she died, and she told me she wanted the parable of the Prodigal Son to be the Gospel reading at her funeral. She pointed to a wood cut displayed on top of her dresser and told me she often meditated on the father lovingly embracing the son who was lost but now had been found. She explained that her focus was on the father in the story - on his compassion and unconditional love for his wayward son. The father seemed to be waiting with great anticipation for his son to come home. The parable says that while the son was a long way off, the father saw him and ran to him, embraced him and welcomed him with joy and gladness.
Sister Edith went on to tell me about a spiritual encounter she had with God when she was young. It was at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit many years ago – before the renovation. She explained how the large crucifix was on the wall and behind it was a cloth that made it look like a paneled wall. As she gazed at the crucifix she had this overwhelming sense that God was present. God came to her, lifted her up and lovingly embraced her. It was a deeply moving experience for her that shaped her life and her desire to seek God. This experience gave her tremendous insight into the parable of the prodigal son.
This is how Sister Edith imaged her passing from this life to the next, to see God with arms outstretched, running to welcome and hold her in the warm embrace of love. She was eagerly looking forward to it. Last Friday morning she realized her heart’s desire. The door to eternal life opened for Sister Edith and we believe she was readily welcomed and embraced by her loving God. We rejoice with her, knowing she is with her Beloved whom she sought all her life.
Sister Edith’s realization of God’s unconditional love for her and all of us is voiced in the reflections she wrote. During Lent some time ago, she wrote, ”There is that stunning realization of just who it is who calls us, first at baptism as we, too are claimed as God’s beloved ones….How wondrous to think and spiritually absorb that it is the Divine Beloved who calls us into relationship and transformation into being beloved ourselves.”
And in another reflection Sister Edith spoke about Jesus’ immense love for us. No one is beyond his consideration. His love is lavished upon all of us.
Perhaps because she was so aware of God’s love for her and for all of us, she had the uncommon ability to accept others as they were. She was able to see the good in people no matter what. There was a joy and a peace in her that flowed onto others.
When I think of Sister Edith, my mind and heart focus in on how Sister Edith has blessed us. There is so much to be thankful for including her spirituality and wisdom, her love of teaching, and her creativity as artist. These gifts she freely and generously shared with us.
She could talk about God and the Scriptures so simply, but with great understanding and faith. She was not a woman with her head in the clouds; she was very much rooted in common ordinary life. Out of her prayer, she offered rich pieces of inspiration to those who listened and saw how she accepted life as it was.
Sister Edith’s 25 years as an educator at the University of Mary gave many a new depth of the Scriptures. She also enjoyed learning about and teaching about world religions. It expanded her mind and heart. But her favorite subject might have been Benedictine history as well as our community’s history. Her eyes sparkled as she relished telling stories about the past to our new community members.
Sister Edith loved creating with her hands as well as with her heart and mind. Her stunning hand-crafted items delighted many. She was an excellent graphic artist and writer. When we needed a design or something special written, we would call on Sister Edith. Her designs are found on many of our monastery’s invitations, special event programs and her verses are on many of our Christmas cards. For more years than we can remember, she designed the Easter candle which stands in our chapel. Every year the design was different but it was always beautiful. I think this year’s Easter candle is the most beautiful of them all. She certainly knew it would be burning brightly for this very occasion. It is stunning and glows to the honor of God.
We all know that these past years of illness were challenging for Sister Edith. She overcame many of those challenges and still remained positive. The cancer did not define who she was. What defined her are things like her love of God, her spirituality, her love of teaching and learning, her creativity in word and form, her sense of humor, her deep care for her family and this community, her desire to be with God – knowing that God loves her, and her hope for all of us to know that God loves us too. Sister Edith gave witness to that love. We should do the same!
Sister Edith, a beloved daughter of God and a faithful monastic woman for 47 years, is now delighting in the warm embrace of her Beloved. We rejoice with her and praise and thank God for the gift of her presence in our lives.
May 26, 2014