It should come as no surprise that Elizabeth Weddle, who spent nearly 30 years as a special education teacher, wants to focus on lessons learned.
As the 65-year-old Kansas native became the newest Agrégée Sister of St. Joseph in a simple profession ceremony last Friday afternoon, she insisted that what is important is not "me and my story," but rather "what I have learned in community with these women."
Following are some of the lessons and the teachers:
From Sister Sylvia Winterscheidt, "I learned life is a process."
From Sister Jeanette Wasinger, it is "both statement and question. The statement is, I am immersed in God and God is immersed in me. The questions are, Have I loved enough? and Have I been kind enough?"
From Sister Ann Ashwood, it is an answer to a long-pondered question: How does one glorify God? "By bringing Jesus' love to the world."
From Sister Janet Lander, it is the grace of Jesus' words: "Come to me and we will work on this together."
From Sister Bette Moslander: "Love of neighbor is not necessarily an emotional love, but a choice one makes with her actions every day."
From Sister Marcia Allen, the words of St. Ignatius Loyola: "The path God made for us is the path we take to God."
The path God made for Weddle began in Kansas but then took her to Alaska where her parents were teachers and she earned her diploma from a Presbyterian-run Indian boarding school. After high school, she went to Rochester, N.Y., where she struggled to find direction until she earned a teaching certifiate and began working with kids challenged by learning disabilities and emotional issues.
That led to a Master's Degree from Nazareth College in Rochester and eventually a return to Kansas. She taught in Wichita until her retirement five years ago. She also had married; her husband died in May 2000.
Throughout her life, Weddle had sought out different religions, she says—spending some early childhood years in the Baptist Church, then the Presbyterian boarding school and later a Methodist Church, Unity Church, Quaker meetings and even an ashram.
"I think I was a restless dabbler," she said. "I always felt close to God, even though I wasn't drawn to a church. The Catholic Church did hold an attraction, though."
In 1997 she called the local Catholic parish and asked about adult education classes. She was told a new session was starting the next day and so her education in Catholicism began.
After her husband's death she explored the idea of becoming a Partner in Mission with the Dominican Sisters of Great Bend. Then, after retiring from public schools in 2008, she lived at the Dominican Sisters' Motherhouse in Great Bend and taught reading at the Catholic school there.
Dramatic changes were taking place among the Dominican community then. The Great Bend Sisters had voted to merge their congregation with six others, which together in 2009 became the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
The new merged congregation did not plan to continue the Partners in Mission program, but one of the Dominicans "encouraged me to talk with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia about their new agrégée program," Weddle said. So she arranged a meeting with Sisters Marcia Allen and Bette Moslander and then came back for Agrégée Information Day" in September 2010. Two months later, she was accepted into the community as an agrégée candidate.
Weddle quickly moved to Concordia where she could also make a home for her 93-year-old mother at Mt. Joseph Senior Village. She began volunteering at the Motherhouse, first as fill-in receptionist and driver and then as a full-time assistant in the Sisters' development office.
She recently made the decision to leave the development office and volunteer full time with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and has trained to be a hospice volunteer.
"Part of the appeal of the agrégées is to be a member of a community of women who are making a commitment to living the Gospels," Weddle said. "That means caring for the poor and loving our neighbors. Those are the values and lessons I find in the Sisters of St. Joseph."
She is the 10th agrégée Sister to enter the congregation since the Sisters of St. Joseph revived this form of religious life in 2006. Five other women are studyng as agrégée candidates.
Two canonical Sisters also took part in last Friday's ceremony at the Motherhouse. Sister Dian Hall was welcomed into the congrgation as a novice and Sister Julie Christensen renewed her temporary vows.
Hall has just moved to Concordia from Cartersville, Ga., to begin her canonical year as a novice Sister of St. Joseph. She will live with the Sisters here and study and pray for the next 12 months while deciding if she is called to profess the traditional vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
Christensen, a native of Concordia who now lives and serves at Manna House of Prayer, first professed her temporary vows three years ago.
Allen, president of the congregation, led the ceremony. Following the professions, all the Sisters who had gathered at the Motherhouse for their annual June Assembly took part in their commissioning ceremony. In that, each Sister and candidate is called upon to make a public commitment to her ministry for the coming year.