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Funeral Reflection for Sister Kathryn Zimmer, OSB
Thank you for coming to celebrate the life of Sister Kathryn with us. Sister Kathryn relished any event that brought people together whether it was a liturgy, a special meal, a fundraising event or a powwow. We can imagine her delighting in this celebration because it involves those she loved - her Benedictine Sisters, her family, friends and colleagues. She spoke often of her family and shared stories of her encounters with friends and colleagues. All of you were a blessing to her.
For Sister Kathryn life was a pilgrimage, a journey to the Divine. It was God who led Sister Kathryn to Annunciation Monastery in 1951. She had been a social worker for 10 years and was searching for more meaning in her life – a deeper prayer life, service to the Church and to be part of something larger than herself. At age 34, she entered Annunciation Monastery and it was here that her pilgrimage began in earnest. First this social worker became a nurse, and then a nurse educator who was steadfast in her dedication to creating excellent nursing programs at the University of Mary and later at United Tribes Technical College. Sister Kathryn also served in leadership positions in nursing organizations on the state and national levels.
She was a leader in our monastic community as well. Even though Sister Kathryn was professed 13 years, she participated for the first time in an election of prioress in 1966 and she was elected to the job! She served as prioress from 1966-1976 and led the community through the challenging years of implementing changes in the Church and religious life mandated by Vatican II. Those of us who grew up in the post Vatican II Church cannot fully grasp what a formidable task that was. I am told it was a difficult and exciting time. There were many changes affecting the lives of the sisters and all people in the Church. And change is always hard. Sister Kathryn relied on the strength and wisdom of the community and involved as many sisters as she could in carrying out the process of renewal. “Ours is a community in process,” she would say.
She also promoted and encouraged further education for the sisters and others whom she mentored. For Sister Kathryn life-long learning was vital for one’s spiritual, personal and professional growth. As prioress, she sought to make on-going education a way of life for Annunciation Monastery sisters. And she succeeded. For the past 44 years, we have had opportunities to study and discuss various topics as a community. This on-going formation program has helped us individually and as a community to grow deeper into the Benedictine way of life and into the love of God.
With the Scriptures and the Rule of Benedict as her guide, Sister Kathryn walked through life with strong women and men of diverse cultures and backgrounds. A visionary leader, she was always looking for ways to carve out new directions of responding to the needs of the people. Hers was a global world. She encouraged us, her Benedictine sisters, to be involved in the wider Church, the wider world. At the end of her term as prioress, she wrote, “Our consecration, our life and service in community … is for mission and the spread of the Gospel. We have to be women of prayer, steeped in tradition, attuned to the present moment, thus fully open to the future and to the entire world.”
As her pilgrimage in this life continued, Sister Kathryn retired from nursing education and spent time carrying on the vision of the University of Mary through fund raising. She enjoyed the friendly competition of which team could raise the most money. I don’t think there were too many people who said ‘no’ to her and Sister Barbara Ann. For many years she also enjoyed visiting residents at St. Vincent’s Care Center. I know her visits meant so much to those residents. Those visits were also life-giving for Sister Kathryn as well and it was hard for her to stop serving in that way. You see, Sister Kathryn was a people person. Being with people brought her life and energy. She had a warm welcoming manner and enjoyed spending time with others.
Even as her health diminished, she attended civic, University of Mary and community events. Wherever people gathered, that is where she wanted to be.
A Benedictine sister for 61 years, Sister Kathryn was a wise woman of faith. The Gospel for today’s liturgy tells about two disciples on a journey and Jesus comes and walks with them and opens the meaning of the Scriptures for them.
Jesus too walked with Sister Kathryn on her life’s pilgrimage and opened the meaning of the Scriptures for her. She came to know and truly live the meaning of the Scriptures. She sought to spread the good news of God’s love to those she encountered on her life’s journey.
Last week as we witnessed Sister Kathryn’s earthly pilgrimage come to an end and as we prayed with her Sister Kathryn told us she was looking forward to a new life with God. On Thursday morning, Jesus led her journey into eternal life – into the loving embrace of God. We believe she will live forever in the warmth of God’s love and joy.
Sister Kathryn, we love you. We will miss your welcoming heart, your joyful spirit and your ever present smile. Although we grieve, we also are glad that you are experiencing new life with God. We are grateful for the gift you have been to us and for being a part of our lives. You will live on in our hearts and memories forever.
~ Sister Nancy Miller, Prioress