A Heart Open To The Will Of God
Wise. Spiritual. Humble. Witty. Thoughtful. Intelligent. Humorous. Gentle. This is but a handful of words to describe a woman I very much admired; a woman who was an inspiration to me; a woman who filled me with words of encouragement each time I spoke with her. On Dec. 12, 2016, God called Benedictine Sister Mary Bede Betz home to be with Him in His heavenly kingdom. With more than 90 years of life on this earth, I can only imagine the many, many lives she touched in a positive way.
A daughter of the Divine Mercy Parish community in Dubois County, Sister Mary Bede (formerly Theresa Catherine) was born in Schnellville to John and Arlina Betz. She entered Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand in 1943 and began her teaching career in 1947. On Aug. 10, 1949, she made her Perpetual Monastic Profession. In 1960 she became one of the founding members of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Ind., where she returned in 1999 after a fifty-two year teaching career in southern Indiana.
Sister Mary Bede was very focused on a life of prayer, as was evident by her personal book of Psalms. I had the privilege of paging through this book after her passing. I have seen some worn prayer books in my time, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Every page had words underlined and highlighted. There were words written in between the lines, words written vertically and horizontally and in the margins. It is evident to me that etched within the pages of this book are her conversations with God. This, her personal book of Psalms, likely tells her life story, both her struggles and her joys.
There is no doubt in my mind that it was through this commitment to a spiritual life of prayer that Sister Mary Bede continued to serve in whatever way she felt God was calling her long after her retirement from teaching. One project in particular consumed a huge part of her time each day in her final years. In 2007 she began making comforters for the homeless.
The story of the blankets for the poor is one of those “chain of events” stories. One day a couple from Indianapolis was watching the Oprah Winfrey Show as Oprah gave audience members $1,000 to pay it forward in an effort to make someone’s life brighter. Inspired by this gesture, this couple brought a gift of $1000 to Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove; the sisters decided to take the money to buy blankets for the poor. When the blankets were delivered to the Compassion Center in Indianapolis for distribution, the sisters learned there was a great need for even more blankets. A few days later this story was shared with Sister Mary Bede, and the rest is history. She began her own personal crusade to pay it forward by hand-making comforters for the homeless.
While Sister Mary Bede was the one who sewed the comforters, there was a joint effort from not only the sisters at Our Lady of Grace to obtain extra material at yard sales, but also through donations of material and money from family and friends. Sewing until she no longer could, she donated 689 handmade comforters to the homeless.
What a joy to have known this holy and generous woman. She was clearly someone who listened with an open heart to God’s will for her life each and every day. While her passing saddens me, I know that her inspiration will live on through her example. May Sister Mary Bede’s example be an inspiration for all of us, myself included, to prayerfully consider being more open to the will of God in our lives each day.
I am not sure how other parishes stand when it comes to numbers, but Sister Mary Bede was one of the last of only a handful of religious or priestly vocations from our parish community still living. Inspired by the lives of these fine women and men, let us open our hearts to what God may be asking of each one of us to help foster religious and priestly vocations here in the Diocese of Evansville. Each day in our prayer may we approach God with the question, “What can I do to help foster vocations in the Diocese of Evansville?” Then, following Sister Mary Bede’s example, let us each strive to listen to God’s answer with an open heart.
Brenda Hopf is a member of Divine Mercy Parish in Dubois County. In 2010 she published a book of essays and poetry—illustrated by members of her family—titled “Sharing the Load: A Reflection of Our Journey of Faith.”