Week 10: Worship – Sister Josara

March Theme: Females

It’s interesting that the prompt “Worship” comes in the middle of the Women’s History month. My first thoughts about worship had to do with religion, and church, and faith. These are all topics that are important to me personally. But on the trees I’ve researched, the pastors are few and far between, and all males, and I wanted to write about a woman. And worship, to me, is an action verb, making it even harder to write about. In fact, the easiest way to see what a person worships is to notice what dominates their time. Family. Friends. Money. Career. Intelligence. Sports… Genealogy (ummm)…. It’s not always, or even often, God. (My sermon for the day.)

But I wanted to write about one who worshipped God. A person whose life was defined by faith. And I wanted it to be a woman.

Enter Sister Josara.

I come from a long line of devout Protestants. But a branch of my family, my great-grandfather’s brother John Kuebler, married into the Catholic faith. The two branches – my side and theirs – grew apart as they became both geographically and genealogically more distant, and younger generations fell out of touch.

John Kuebler family 1921. Pauline is the smiling little girl standing in front.

My mother had told me that she had a distant relative who became a nun, but she didn’t really know much more. My closest contact with nuns came from watching movies like “Sound of Music” or “Bells of St. Mary.” In person, they were mysterious to me, and a little scary.

But in 2009 I connected on an Iowa Graves Project website with a third cousin, who in turn introduced me to his aunt, Sister Josara (my 2C1R). She was 92 at the time. We “met” via email. She wrote in all caps with occasional misspellings. Struggling with both visual and hearing impairments in her latter years, all cap emails was how she communicated. But her emails were a delight.

Sister Josara was born Pauline Frances Bielefeld, 05 Sep 1916 in Muscatine, Iowa. She was the second of five children of Joseph and Sadie (Kuebler) Bielefeld. (One child died young).

Pauline, at right, with her siblings, 1932.

I’ll let her tell you about herself:

[My nephew] SENT YOUR E MAIL ON TO ME.  WHAT A HAPPY SURPRISE !  IAM [his] AUNT, SISTER JOSARA DAUGHTER OF SADIE HELEN KUEBLER, AND SHE WAS THE DAUGHTER OF JOHN  KUEBLER.  SHE MARRIED JOSEPH BIELEFELD, WHO IS MY FATHER. I HOPE THAT DID NOT COMPLICATE YOUR PICTURE.  I ALWAYS KNEW OF OUR RELATIVES IN ERIE, BUT HAVE N3VER MET ANY OF YOU.  I AM QUITE SURE THAT MY MOTHER AND HER MOTHER, LOUISA KUEBLER, TRAVELED OUT EAST TO VISIT AT LEAST ONCE.  AND MOTHER KEPT UP A CORRESPONDENCE WITH ONE OF YOUR GREAT AUNTS.  NAME?.  THE LAST TIME SHE MET ANY OF YOUR KUEBLERS WAS WHEN THE WORLD FAIR WAS IN NY.  I REMEMBER HER TELLING ME SHE MET A KUEBLER WHO WAS A PROFESSIONAL; SINGER, AGAIN I AM NOT SURE OF THE NAME,  IT WAS A MALE AND HE LIVED IN NEW YORK CITY.  THEY USEDTO GO TO ST. LOUIS TO VISIT RELATIVES FROM THE KUEBLER SIDE ALSO.

[The singer was my great-uncle John – see my post from “Week 2: Favorite Find.”]

She continued to write out details of her branch of the family. I had sent some pictures of homes, and she explained who lived where. My great-grandfather had moved away, but his father and the rest of his siblings all stayed in the same neighborhood in Muscatine.

She concluded with more information about herself:

I ENTERED THE CONVENT IN 1936 , FRANCISCAN SISTERS OF PERPETUAL ADORATION IJN LA CROSSE, WWISCONSIN.  MOST OF MY LIFE UNTIL RETIREMENT WAS SPENT IN MEDICAL TECHBNOLOGY IN THE HOSPITALS WE SPONSORED, I MEAN OJR ORDER S[PONSORED.  I RETIRED IN1976 AND STILL DID VOLUNTEER  WORK IN THE HOSPITAL.  I CAME TO THE VILLA ST. JOSEPH, OUTSIDE LA CROSSE IN 1996.  THIS IS OUR RETIREMENT HOME FOR OUR SISTERS.  THERE ARE ABOUT 100 OF US HERE IN VARIOUS STAGES O RETIREMENT, WITH A FULL STAFF OF NURSES, COOKS, ETC.  THE CARE IS WONDRFUL.  WE HAVE A CHAPLAIN TO COME OUT EVERY DAY AND OFFER MASS AND IT IS A BEAUTIFUL SETTING IN THE HILLS OF A DAIRY COUNTRY.  COME AND SEE.  WE CAN REALLY CHAT.

    YOUR ALBUM WAS WONDRFUL.  I KEEP GOING THROUGHT IT AGAIN AND AGAIN.  BUT, ID BETTER STOP.  I AM QUITE AN AMETEUR AT THE COMPUTER AND ONCE IN A WHILE IT ALL DISAPPEARS.

        SO—–S=UNTIL WE MEET HERE AGAIN.  REMAIN IN THE PEACE AND JOY OF GOD.’S LOVE.    SISTER JOSARA

She wrote wonderful letters to her nephew over the years. He told me that Pauline’s aunt was also a nun in the same Franciscan Order. She (Sister Mary Alonza) was probably the biggest influence in Pauline’s decision to become a nun. Pauline said she knew she wanted to become a nun from the time she was 6 years old. She attended a junior college for two years, then stayed home to help her mother care for her Grandmother Kuebler. When said grandmother died in 1936, Pauline entered the convent. The order she belonged to allowed the sisters a week or two of vacation every five years. When she did visit her family home in Iowa, then belonging to her brother, she wasn’t allowed to enter because it belonged to a man. She would visit on the front porch, or in a neighboring park.

Sister Josara picnicking with her brother’s family, 1953.

She was trained in medical technology. Her paychecks were given to the “mother house” and she was allotted a very small sum for personal use. She basically lived in poverty. But she said she felt she lived her entire life “rich in God’s love.” Her nephew told me, “Sister feels strongly that Nuns are qualified to be priest too but she knows that change in the church is slow.”

In subsequent emails, Sister filled me in on more family history. Here are some excerpts from one that came in extra large and bolded caps:

  I DO REMEMBER GRANDPA (john0    SAYING THAT HE LEFT MUSCATINE IN HIS VERY EARLY TEENS, TOOK A BOAT TO ST. LOUIS, GOT A JOB AT A SLAUGHTER HOUSE.  HOW LONG THAT LASTED I DO NOT KNOW. HE CAME BACK TO IOWA TO SET UP HIS OWN SHOP AND DID VERY WELL WITH IT. HE TOOK HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW, OTTO ROMAN, INTO THE BUSINESS WITH HIM  HE TOLD HOW HE WOULD  GO OUT TO THE FARMER, SELECT THE ANIMALS HE WANTED, DRIVE THEM BACK TO TOWN AND BUTCHER THEM.  THAT HAD TO BE A LARGE BUILDING, AS BUILDINGS WERE AT  THAT TIME.  HE ALSO HAD A SMALL ‘WAGON’ THAT HE DROVE AROUND TOWN, RINGING A BELL AND PEOPLE CAME OUT AND BOUGHT THEIR MEAT RIGHT THERE.  WE STILL HAVE THAT BELL, ONE OF MY COUSINS PRIZES IT  GRANDPA RETIRED WHEN HE WAS ONLY IN HIS 50’S AS I REMEMBER HEARING.  HE SOLD HIS BUSINESS TO HIS BROTHER IN LAW SO IT WAS CALLED ROMANN/LIEBBE BECAUSE E THE BROTHER IN LAW TOOK IN ANOTHER PARTNER.  THEN HIS SON, OTTO’S,  TOOK THE BUSINESS.  IT IS NO LONGER OPERATING AS FAR AS I KNOW.  JOHN’S SONS, MY UNCLES BOTH WORKED AT BUTCHER SHOPS SOME TIME IN THEIR LIVES, AND THE YOUNGEST WAS NICKNAMED BUTCH.  THAT SEEMS TO BE THEIR BENT IN WORKING… JUST ONE OTHER NOTE;  I REMEMBER GOING OVER TO THE NEWER BUTCHER SHOP, THEN OWNED BY OTTOS’S SON.  WE WERE PRIVILEGED GUESTS, JUST KIDS, AND WATCHED THEM BUTCHER A PIG, SAW THEM MAKING SAUSAGE, AND WERE EACH GIVEN A WEINER FROM THE ICEBOX, A TREAT.  

Jacob Kuebler, far right, was John’s father.

You can see her Joie de Vivre in every message she sent. In December of the same year that I met her, Sister Josara left this world for another. I am incredibly grateful from both a familial and personal standpoint to have made her acquaintance.

Sister Josara, 05 Sep 1916 – 19 Dec 2009. Burial in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, La Crosse, Wisconsin. Photos from 1947 (with mother and sister), 2007 and late 1930s.

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2 Comments

  1. George Z. says:

    I absolutely loved reading this. Thanks for sharing!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barb LaFara says:

    I’m sorry you did not get to visit Sister Josara at Villa St. Joseph, her description painted a lovely image. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

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