It was Barb’s birthday-the feast of our Guardian Angels. Barb had a special devotion to her guardian angel. We always prayed to the angels before we left the property in a car. She would send her angel with me when I would make a trip on my own .We prayed the Angel of God prayer while in the hospital where we ended up the night of her birthday. The morning of her birthday, Barb had respiratory symptoms that our nurse Ellen advised that she needed to go to the hospital which could mean she would miss her jubilee. When told, her response was that she did not want to miss her jubilee that she had worked so hard to make it all possible. However, she was reasonable and in the end, of course she went. She lost awareness the first two days in the hospital; she seemed “spaced out “when Sister Helen and I went to visit her the evening of October 3. The morning of October 4th she called – or had the nurse call me and clearly asked why did I put her in the hospital and she wants to be back for her jubilee – I was glad to hear her upbeat and alive but filled her in on why she was there and that we would have to talk about coming home for the jubilee. Long and short of the whole episode she came to realize her body was breaking down and the rest is history. During her stay in the hospital I showed her and read to her all the cards sent for her jubilee. I say thank you for her at this time.
Early morning, October 10, 2018, in the presence of her good friend, Renata, Barb died. Her niece, Mary Svec Fitzgerald and I were five minutes away, when Barb had finished her “putting up with hardships, performing the works of an evangelist, fulfilling her ministry, competed well, finished the race on this earth and persevered in her monastic life until death.”
Barb was no stranger to hardships and suffering. She had undergone multiple surgeries before the age of two for hemangioma, a rare blood disease, practically living in the hospital those first two years and then undergoing multiple surgeries after that, dealing with broken legs, an amputation and a huge list of other medical issues.
We tend to remember persons based on recent years- a Facebook response yesterday wrote “So sad to hear - I just talked with her a few weeks ago - always a smile on her face - she was so kind and will be missed by many.” Margie Pfister Brown.
Yes, many would have seen a smile on her face and one who never complained, but she was also seen as someone who was often quiet and negative. She would be the first to admit that her medical and physical handicaps left her with serious depression. She was most grateful for the community introducing her to friends who could give her psychological help, a power wheel chair, use of an accessible van, a bedroom designed for her physical needs and care givers who became her care companions.
It was while I was studying at St. Benedicts in St Joseph Minnesota in 1966 that I learned that Barb, at age 26, was having her leg amputated. I remember making a collage of sayings on a get-well card and mailing it to her. She claims that while she was appreciative of the card she really did not know who I was. She was living at St. Joan of Arc and I away in Minnesota after just having come out of the Novitiate where there was limited access to senior sisters.
Time passes and in the early 1970’s teachers at Benet lived on the Campus at St. Mary’s. Barb was among the 10 of us. We had paired up taking meal preparation by the week. Barb, having never cooked or baked and I with my degree in home Economics were paired up. It was here that our friendship began and we learned each other’s history. It was in these years that she was determined to drive a car with her left foot, passed the driver’s test but was told she had to drive with an extension on the pedal. It was an annoyance that she wore but never used. She was finally able to get rid of when Father Ron’s secretary, Mary Allman said go and prove you do well without it.
Barb enjoyed traveling and in 1976 detailed for four of us sisters a tour of the west covering about 7,000 miles. She was responsible, before GPS’s, of detailing distances per day, sites to see and Motel 6’s to rest on the journey.
Despite her physical disabilities all her life (her childhood doctor referred to her as one tough cookie) Barb was determined to live life to the fullest. She entered this Benedictine community having been a Sacred Heart Academy student at the age of 18. She graduated with a Master’s degree, magna cum laude from Loyola, taught at many grade schools and spent her last academic years as curriculum coordinator at Benet Academy.
Barb got to know my biological family when one year in the late 70’s she and Sister Celine were asked by Father Albin to come to Colorado Springs to sing some of his music for a workshop for musicians. They stayed with a family member of mine and visited my family while there. She was invited to continue to come back and she did. My mother adopted her into our family and my sister Loretta, made it official with the certificate on her 50 th jubilee year on display on the table outside of chapel. She loved making little children happy, she loved the residents and staff at Villa St. Benedict, she loved life.
Providentially, this summer, in addition to our usual trip to Colorado we were able to visit her nephew and nieces in Minnesota, attend a workshop put on by the American Benedictine Academy in Minnesota where we heard speeches from two Benedictine Oblates and writers whose books we had read. We had the awesome experience of seeing the display of the St. John’s Bible, at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville; we visited the gravesite of the first Benedictine woman in the US, Benedicta Reipp at St. Benedict’s Monastery. We were able to meet and greet Sister Joseph Marie, a Carmelite, and Barb’s classmate at Sacred Heart Academy in North Dakota, who like Barb was celebrating her 60 year jubilee. I really believe, based on her love for travel Barb started celebrating her jubilee early.
A lifelong Cub fan, Barb enjoyed singing, cantering and listening to classical music, enjoyed reading, being in the mountains of Colorado, loved cats and dogs, was proud to be able to bless and feed animals here at VSB on occasions.
Barb has meticulously begun computerizing all of the Sisters’ archive materials. She was especially interested in recording the stories of all the Sisters, living and deceased, who make up the history of the Lisle Benedictines.
Her newsletter skills had led to volunteer work for the Lisle Heritage Society and participation in the Friends of the Lisle Library helping with quarterly sale of books.
Barb has had many hobbies, including crocheting, scrapbooking, needlepointing and post card collecting and often had passed these items on as tokens of thanksgiving for so many. When Barb heard of an outsider who needed help she would buy or make items for them. Most recently she has been making and giving away “hug needlepoint sayings to cheer up residents or staff members, or for them to pass on to others as gifts.
While Barb’s energy (and now we can say her oxygen level was slowly being depleted) Barb still sent out a thought for the day to our sisters, and the staff at VSB. This continued to energize her with her own attitude on life and helped us grow our faith life, our living out of our core values.
Yes Barb, You have competed well; have finished the race; and have kept the faith. In the words of St. Paul, he writes, we want you to be quite certain about those who have died, to make sure you do not grieve about them like people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus. Continue your jubilee celebration with your family, now complete, in heaven with all your friends. Thank you for your gift of friendship to me and to others and to the God who loved you into existence and has promised not to forsake you.
Good bye, until we meet in heaven. Barb, we love you and miss you, but are happy for you.
In the words of the Book of Wisdom, the souls of righteous people are in the hands of God. They are at peace. God finds them worthy because during their lifetime they found Truth in their lives. They live lives of grace and mercy because they know that God cares for them. Even during sickness and physical struggle, Sister Barbara never gave up hope. Yes, she battled depression and negative thoughts, but in the words of the Prioress, “Barb finished putting up with hardships…she competed well.”
In the words of St. Paul, “While our outer shell wastes away, faith strengthens our inner self. Daily we groan in our tent, our earthly dwelling. However, every day the Spirit assures us of our heavenly place with God.” This is why Sister Barbara Ann possesses a devotion to the Guardian Angels. It is no coincidence that her birthday lands on the feast of the Guardian Angels. Her favorite prayer is found on the back of her holy card: Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen. Last night at the wake service, one of Sister Barbara’s nieces told us that Sister was “The Little Train that Could.” No matter what steep hill she came to in her life, Sister Barbara Ann always repeated the words, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” Whether it was the steep stairs at Benet, whether it was the slow elevators at the Villa, whether it was driving a vehicle or maneuvering the bedroom in a motorized wheelchair, I could hear Sister Barbara Ann say, “Never mind, I got this.”
Jesus says, “If you come to me in faith, I will never lose you. Believe in me and you will have life eternal.” This was Barb’s hope. This is our hope that one day we will see each other face to face in the presence of Almighty God. And today, they are all together, the Benedictine Svecs: Fr. Dennis, Sister Agnes Ann, and Sister Barbara Ann. As we remember all of them today, we hope for their prayers at the throne of God. As Sister Barbara Ann Svec comes into the presence of the Lord with her glorified body intact, I can hear her now: “Never mind, I found one. With God’s help, I knew I could, I knew I could, I knew I could.”
May Sister Barbara Ann rest in peace. Amen.
She was born in Traverse City, Michigan, the youngest of four children. The family moved to Chicago by the time she was entering first grade, and her school teachers there were Benedictines. She enrolled in Sacred Heart Academy in Lisle her sophomore year of high school and was a graduate of the school. She made her monastic profession as a Benedictine Sister June 30, 1958, and celebration of her 60th Jubilee was earlier this month. Her sister, Agnes, 14 years her senior, was also a member of the community, and her brother, Dennis, was a priest and member of St. Procopius Monastery. Her other brother, Frank, married and had six children.
At the time she entered her vocation, members of the community were given names. She had the name Sister Sylvester until the religious had the option of taking back their birth names. Sister Barbara taught in a number of schools in both the Chicago area and in Texas. Her longest tenure was as Benet Academy where she taught algebra and geometry before becoming the administrator responsible for all course, faculty, and student scheduling.
Among the ways Sister applied her interest in history was as steward of her community’s archival materials. She captured biographies of members of the Monastery and digitized historical records. Sister was a member of the Friends of the Lisle Library, and a long-time stalwart volunteer at the semi-annual book sales.
Active and vibrant until just prior to her death, she took her annual road trip to Colorado this summer followed shortly by a road trip to Minnesota with a side trip for a joyful reunion with a classmate whom she had not seen in 60 years.
Sister Barbara Ann was preceded in death by her parents, Joseph and Anna, her sister Sister Agnes Ann (just 27 days before her), her brother, Rev. Dennis, her brother Frank, and her sister-in-law Elaine. Mass of the Resurrection and burial were Saturday, October 14 at Sacred Heart Monastery.
Barbara Ann Svec was born in Traverse City, Michigan in October of 1938. She was the youngest of four, two girls and two boys. Of the four siblings, three found their calling as Benedictines and one brother has raised six children.
Sister Barbara’s life has involved significant medical challenges. A congenital circulatory condition required many surgeries as a child and interrupted her early elementary school years. By the time Barbara was ready for first grade (at the ripe old age of 51), the family had moved back to Chicago and she attended St. Pius and, subsequently, St. Vitus and Holy Mount, where she was taught by the Benedictines. Health problems surfaced again prior to high school and a slow healing leg fracture kept Barbara out of school for two years.
Upon her recovery, it was decided that Barbara could attend Sacred Heart Academy where her sister, Agnes Ann, had entered. She enrolled in 1953 as a sophomore. Following a spring 1956 graduation, Barbara entered the community. She recalls feeling, as a young girl, that there was something “mysterious” about the Sisters. She watched them as a student and thought that the Benedictine community might be a place where she could learn about God and her faith. She was attracted to their vocation of teaching.
Sister Barbara’s ministry of education took her to a variety of schools over the years in the Chicago area as well as Texas. Chronic trouble with her leg required an amputation in 1966, but Sister Barbara has been characterized by one of her physicians as OTC (One Tough Cookie!) and she soon recovered from that surgery and was back to teaching. Her longest assignment was at Benet Academy where she started out as a Geometry and Algebra teacher, but found her niche as the school Scheduler. This work involved preparing all the course schedules, arranging for the faculty’s teaching schedule and finally, scheduling all the students. Sister Barbara thoroughly enjoyed this work and performed this role until the school computerized much of this process.
Now back home at the monastery, Sister Barbara has been involved in many community roles, including editor of the Sisters’ newsletter and membership on the Monastic Council. Currently, she is meticulously computerizing all of the Sisters’ archive materials. She is especially interested in recording the stories of all the Sisters, living and deceased, who make up the history of the Lisle Benedictines.
Her newsletter skills have lead to volunteer work for the Lisle Heritage Society and participation in the Friends of the Lisle Library. Sister Barbara has enjoyed many hobbies over the years including knitting and collecting postcards, but these days she is mastering scrapbooking.
The renovation work here at the monastery signaled exciting change for Sister Barbara. She is enjoying settling into a new space and meeting the residents who will live at Villa St. Benedict.