Remembrance of the Life of Sister Betty Obal SL
Feb. 17, 1943 – Oct. 12, 2018
Betty Obal provided an autobiographical statement at the time she applied to join Loretto. It was 1983 and she was 40 years old. She wrote:“Born on Feb. 17, 1943, the second of five children, I grew up in a quiet agricultural community, Columbus, Neb., where the population is 20,000. My childhood was a happy one. We played normal kid games, and spent summers on my uncle’s farm. For 12 years we attended parochial schools and even though my parents didn’t attend Mass every Sunday, (my father began faithfully after my mother’s death), they always made sure we got there. I didn’t think that was unusual at the time. My spiritual journey has been more than just indoctrination in the home.
“After my mother’s death in 1956, we grew up keeping house and each other. My little sister [Dee] was 4 years old, Bobbi was 8, Tom, 11; I was 13 and my brother Joe, 16. Because of the burden on my father, close relatives wanted to separate us; however he kept us together. It wasn’t easy but in retrospect those were happy days and as a result we are a close family and my brother and sisters are my best friends. Our celebrations of life were family picnics, birthdays, and outings until one by one we moved out of Columbus to work.
“Many of the events that have influenced my walk with Jesus have to do with crises. With each death – my mother from cancer, my sister-in-law at 26 from a colostomy, and my brother at age 36 from cancer – the conviction within me increased that I wasn’t getting through this alone. Each opposition affirmed a strength and growing awareness of Jesus as my companion in life.
“My interest in people and service to others influenced my choice of undergraduate study – a degree in sociology/psychology [at the University of Colorado, Boulder, which I completed in 1976]. I was involved in various service-oriented jobs and volunteer work. … Head Start in the Five Points Area … the Partners Program … prison ministry … nursing home visitation. … In my home parish, Church of the Risen Christ, I have been on the Social Ministry Commission for the past three years, [along with other commitments to prayer groups and so on].
“[I have worked] with Frontier Airlines for the past six years, in the flight control center [where] one has to be able to handle stress and make quick, pragmatic decisions with virtually no margin for error. This is feasible only in close, compatible working relationships where we continually cross-check each other and problems are handled in-house.
“[With Frontier] I have had the opportunity to travel to many places. … Experiencing many peoples and cultures has helped me to approach realistically and value highly my choices in the United States. I see America as a country greatly blessed with material goods but suffering from spiritual alienation. I like the Christian values the Loretto Community is trying to live in our country.”
Betty lived her first year with Loretto at the Bridge Community in Denver, a home whose residents included Sisters of Loretto and women with disabilities. During that year, Betty took training as a nurse’s aide and worked in a hospice program. In September 1984, Betty was received into the Loretto Community as a novice – no longer was there either a habit or a new name to mark the transition, but she did move into the Convent Community at Loretto Motherhouse. Completing her “canonical year,” during which she took classes at the intercommunity novitiate in Cincinnati, Betty moved to Chicago and enrolled in the master of theology program at Chicago Theological Union (CTU).
For eight years, from 1985 through 1993, Betty lived in Chicago, earning both a master’s in theology and a master’s of divinity at CTU. She lived in a variety of settings and worked full time and part time in an even wider variety of situations: the Catholic Worker in Uptown, where her roommate was “Love, whose string of expletives could redden the face of the most unabashed”; the Shelter of God’s Love, where Betty was associate director of alternative housing for women with varieties of disabilities; theInstitute of Women Today Sisterhouse, an ecumenical group founded by Margaret Ellen Traxler, SSND, where upwards of 15 to 20 female ex-offenders, religious sisters, teachers and homeless people shared community.
In these eight years Betty initiated the Accessibility Project with Loretto Venture Fund monies, a study which resulted in improved policies and standards in the Chicago Archdiocese for inclusion of persons with disabilities. She also did substitute teaching in several Chicago area school districts whenever other paid work was unavailable.
Betty completed the master’s in divinity in June 1993 and celebrated her final vows as a Sister of Loretto at the General Assembly in Keystone, Colo., on July 3, 1993. She hoped to find a job in Chicago or elsewhere as a pastoral assistant. Instead, early in 1995 Betty moved to New York City, serving at the United Nations for nine years in Loretto’s NGO office, first as assistant to Nancy Finneran, then as the lead representative.
In 2005 Betty spent time in transition, then settled in Denver, entering into the same varieties of service to underserved persons as she had offered in Chicago. She was a volunteer for the Colorado Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. She also returned to Nebraska for extended periods with family. These last several years with cancer Betty courageously has sought life with great enthusiasm.
Preparing for her final vows 25 years ago, Betty composed a reflection which could as well have been written last week as she confidently awaited death: “IATW says ‘Because we share in the mission of Jesus we seek to reach out beyond boundaries imposed by differences in culture, race, age, gender, nationality, class and religion.’ I have met this global perspective enfleshed in many people in the Loretto Community. Discovering kindred spirits, I realize that I am a Sister of Loretto. … I am/becoming one who crosses boundaries in order to be a bridge of healing and reconciliation between groups of people and ideologies.”
Pronouncing her vows, Betty said to the Community gathered:“It strengthens me beyond measure to know that you, too, will be with me. With your friendship, of course; but even more with the fidelity to God and to each other to which each of you has been summoned. For my yes today, my yes to God and to you, will have its full effect only if you echo it in your own lives, only if you, too, can again say yes with me.”
– By Eleanor Craig SL