As Jesus was going around selecting his apostles he saw Nathanael coming toward him and he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him. Nathanael said, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel." Sister Roberta’s character was quite similar to that of Nathanael. Jesus too would say of her, “Here is a true child of God, there is no duplicity in her.” She would then say, “How do you know me?” Jesus would reply, “I have known you from your birth; you have been precious in my eyes,” and she would respond, “Jesus, You are the Son of God; You have been born for us to be our Savior and to be the King of all the nations.
Those of us who knew Sister Roberta well, know that she was a true-blue child of God, there was no guile in her. This purity of heart was evident especially in her last days. She was completely centered on God and was very appreciative of others. As her admiring family circled around her recliner chair in St. Walburga’s Care Center here last Sunday; in a presiding mode, she delivered her “state of belief” address. She told them that God was going to call her home soon. She instructed them to remain pleasing to God and always do God’s will. She reminded them that she loved them and that they would see each other again after the resurrection of the dead when they would all live together for all eternity. Then as the family prayed for her, she interrupted them saying, “Let us also pray for world peace.” Her reassuring speech was a touching manifestation of her profound faith. That evening as we were positioning her to make her comfortable for the night, she thanked us for the good care we had given her and said she loved us all. A few minutes later she drew her last breath being welcomed into the arms of her merciful Savior. It was the feast of the Epiphany, January 3, 2010.
In 1956, I first got to know Sister Roberta. First of all, five of us Sisters were assigned for a new school at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Wichita Falls, Texas. On meeting with the Monsignor Pastor when we arrived there, he asked who of us could play the organ. All of us agreed we could find middle C on the piano and one Sister proudly announced she could play Chop-Sticks with two hands. That was not good news for the Monsignor so he went back to the rectory and called the Reverend Mother here in Lisle. Two days later Sister Roberta, who had barely made her first profession, arrived to be not only the organist but also a school teacher. With Sister’s arrival we were a happy community of six and, of course, the pastor was most happy to have an organist.
After five years in Texas, Sister Roberta was always missioned from now on with a double ministry as organist and teacher. She served at Our Lady of Lourdes School and later St. Vitas School in Chicago and then at Sacred Heart Academy and stayed at Benet Academy in Lisle for over 20 years. Since 1968, Sister Roberta helped as part time organist at our monastery and some years later became full time along with being choir director, composer and compiler of music for the Sisters’ Liturgy of the Hours and the organist for the daily Mass attended by the Sisters and later as well, by the Villa St. Benedict Residents.
Sister Roberta had received her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from St. Procopius College and a Master’s degree in Mathematics from Boston College. This was her background for teaching Math at Benet Academy and it also accounted for her measured preciseness and good stewardship in everything she did.
Her desire for advancement in music was evident when in 1991 she began working for her second major in music with a concentration on Piano Pedagogy at Benedictine University. This gave her credibility to give private music lessons. Her greatest love, however, was to be able to play the piano and organ well for the Liturgy. She was a member of the Benedictine Musicians of America an organization that meets biennially for the development of worship in the light of the Second Vatican Council. The thrust of this group is to encourage musicians to be men and women of prayer and to be faithful to the Benedictine legacy. Though Sister Roberta never made a big deal about it, one of her compositions entitled “I Will Sing Forever of Your Kindness and of Your Love, O Lord” was accepted for publication by the Benedictine Musicians of America. Many of the antiphons we use in the Liturgy of the Hours are her compositions as well. Perhaps the most beautiful are those she composed for the feast of St. Scholastica.
In her modesty, Sister Roberta would never have considered herself as a remarkable organist but I believe she was. In 2005, using our new digital organ for the re-dedication of our chapel, her performance was outstanding. When I complimented her saying that her organ playing sounded like a full orchestra, she responded, “I didn’t play alone, I had Divine Assistance.” However, due to her failing health in the last few years, she lacked the energy needed for this awesome, daily task but she continued to push herself to do it as best as she could.
Besides being gifted in music and mathematics, Sister Roberta loved to go fishing. Almost every summer she would go fishing with her friend Noreen in Wisconsin. Other times when she went on vacation with her Sister Betty’s family, even if her family didn’t schedule a fishing trip, she herself would conjure up someone who would rent her a boat. It was her time to relax, catch some blue gills and maybe meet the Lord in person on the lake.
For Sister Roberta now, her earthly days are done, and now her desire to please God has taken on a new, unbroken day of love, light and peace. We took her for granted when she was with us but now, we miss the faithfulness she had for her ministry and her gentleness of spirit. We are blessed to have had her as our Sister. To quote one of her favorite psalms of praise and thanksgiving, we pray with her now;