By Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”
“If anyone would serve me, let her follow me.”
These words from our Scripture readings this evening I believe aptly reflect the call that Sr. Jozefa heard and responded to throughout her long life.
At the time of her 50th anniversary of profession she said “Here at St. Mary Monastery I can live with the Sisters and with God and just for God.” That was her deep desire.
We have a glimpse of Sister’s early years from a memoir which she wrote in 1995 at the urging of Sr. Antoinette. She begins, “We lived peacefully until 1941 when the war began.”
It was also in that year when she was 14 years old that her parents Franc and Marija died just weeks apart. The 7-page memoir recalls major experiences in her early life. It includes:
–several years of frequent moves seeking escape from terror
–constant fear and encounters with violence as Communist forces and local loyalists fought for control of the area.
–a harrowing Exodus experience from Slovenia into Austria
— life in the displaced persons camp for 4 years during which 7 persons lived in one room
Jozefa also speaks of good experiences during those years: the sometimes successful efforts to keep family members together and the opportunity while in the camp for classes, including earning a certificate to be a dressmaker….and most valued was “the chance to attend daily Mass for there were many priests with us in the camp.”
Clearly, faith and family were strongholds of support during those turbulent years.
In 1949 when Jozefa was 22 the opportunity came for her and other family members to come to America. This happened through the intervention of Fr. Michael Zeleznikar with the our community.
On June 11, 1949 she and her sister Maria arrived in Nauvoo. She writes “I still remember when Fr. Michael drove us to the front of the old Convent. I met some of the Sisters, and they seemed so very happy. That really impressed me, and stayed with me. In August my sister, Ivanka and her family came. It was so nice to be all together again.”
She continues that the next year she started thinking about what she would do. A young man from back home had settled in Argentina and he wanted her to join him. She told him she did not know him well enough to do that.
Gradually, she decided to become a Sister. She considered going to Lemont where the Slovenian Franciscans were, but after seeking counsel with Fr. Stephen Kasovic, she decided to enter in Nauvoo. Sister entered the community in 1950, along with Sisters Peggy Suerth and Rita Cain.
Through the years Sister mastered many works that required skillful hands: she enjoyed sewing – perhaps especially quilt-making – with Sister Martha. I remember her being busy with hair-care (especially on Saturday afternoons and nights) in Nauvoo.
But most of all we knew her as a master baker. Her baking skills were treasured and long remembered.
And I suppose that we should also mention that in her day Jozefa was a pretty good Pinochle player as well!
Through all of this Jozefa was seeking to live with God and for God. We Sisters and students alike will always remember her simple, joyful, grateful heart and spirit.
In 2010 Sister Phyllis asked us all to update our ministry forms. Sister wrote on her form:
• Prayer person: centering prayer twice a day; rosary & spiritual reading every day
• Take mail up every day except Sunday
• Bring some things in our kitchenette when we need them; take empty cans out, etc.
• In the fall I go quilting first Tuesday in the month
• And crochet in my room for quilts..and put them in our store…not very often.
I am struck that Sister recognized these everyday activities as HER MINISTRY…her gift to God and community.
More recently, as the aging process took its toll, we know that Sister’s faith in God and love for us continued strong. We rejoice that nothing could separate her from the love of Christ that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It strikes me that now we might think of Sister Jozefa as our own personal patron of refugees and victims of war.
The title of Sister Jozefa’s memoir was, “My Experiences with the communists in former Jugoslavia-Slovenia; All these experiences lead to the Promised Land – USA.”
Now at the end of her life we celebrate that all her experiences both before and in the USA with us have led her to the Promised Land of eternal life. Let us rejoice and be glad with her, alleluia!