Remembrance of the Life of Elizabeth Annette (Betty) Connor CoL (formerly Sister M. Annunciata SL)
Elizabeth Annette Connor was born in Iowa City, Iowa, the middle child among six siblings: Dick, Kathleen, who died at age 4, and Jim; then younger siblings Dan, Bob and Pauline. Their father, Richard James Connor of Alta, Iowa, was a hospital administrator, and their mother, Pauline Elizabeth (Teefey) Connor of Iowa City, was a nurse. The family moved to Columbia, Mo., for most of Betty’s grade school years, and then to Denver, where Betty attended Cathedral High School and one year at Loretto Heights College.
In the summer of 1953, Betty wrote to Mother Felicitas, “I finished my first year of college this past June. I was 19 on July 13th. Monsignor Higgins has been my [spiritual] director for two years. He advises me to go to Loretto and find out with experience whether I will be satisfactory … I hope you will accept me and I trust I can prove worthy.”
Sister Eileen Marie wrote from the Heights, “Dear Reverend Mother … Betty spoke to me in June, telling me she wished to become a religious but she was undecided as to whether it should be Carmel or Loretto. I definitely think she should join an active order. She is quiet, refined, dependable, conscientious and utterly normal.”
Betty entered Loretto on Sept. 8, 1953, in the company of young women, many of whom have remained fast friends to this day. On May 24, 1954, they received the habit, and Betty Connor became Sister Mary Annunciata. Two years later she and her novitiate companions made their first vows then went together to the St. Louis House of Studies, where Sister Annunciata completed her undergraduate studies at Webster College in 1958, majoring in elementary education with a minor in history. She was assigned to teach grades four and five at Mount Carmel School in Baden Mo., on the outskirts of St. Louis. Two years later, in 1960, she was assigned to St. Ann School, Normandy, Mo., first teaching the primary grades and then seventhth and eighthth grades.
In 1965, Sister Mary Annunciata reclaimed her baptismal name, being known as Sister Annette Connor when she joined the faculty of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves, Mo., that fall. She began graduate studies in history at St. Louis University the same year, earning a master’s degree in teaching in 1968. About that time, she helped form one of the small Loretto households near the Webster College campus with Anna Barbara Brady and two young professed sisters, Regina Drey and Mary Ann Manger. The next year she joined the Garden House community, which in the next several years included Anna Barbara, Rose Alice Clarke, Lucy Ruth Rawe, Gabriel Mary Hoare, Marita Michenfelder, Louise Udovick and a number of young professed sisters.
Annette taught at Nerinx for six years. In the fall of 1972, she left Nerinx to take time to consider ministries other than classroom teaching. Continuing to live at the Garden House, caring for Sister Rose Alice, Annette tutored for a short while at the Loretto Learning Center, then in 1974 accepted a position as history teacher at University City High School in St. Louis, where she worked for 20 years. Her abiding interests were women’s studies, law education and the development of moral reasoning. She was tireless in her efforts to help U. City High succeed as an integrated high school in urban St. Louis.
In January 1975, Annette began a correspondence with Sister Helen Sanders about her need to leave the vowed life. She wrote: “I would like to have the papers that would change my status with the Lorettines from vowed membership to co-membership. … I will need to go to school next summer and so I believe it only fair that I not ask money from Loretto when I have recently decided this is the proper course. If possible, I would like to continue living at Garden House until next summer … Rose Alice is recovering from a fall right now.”
She continued, “This was not an easy decision, as I’m sure none are, because I do believe in Loretto and its mission and am loath to be separated; but it’s something I feel I must do. Particularly since I have been involved in teaching about the Women’s Movement and Women in American History have I been aware of what a unique contribution dedicated women like Lorettines are in a position to make to the country and the world.
“My principal reason for dispensation was to be able to marry. Realistically that may never happen. But … I need to be completely relieved of obligations contracted so long ago in order to find, in my own living, what my values really are.”
In July of the same year, after her dispensation papers were completed, Annette applied for and was admitted to co-membership. She wrote in her first contract with Loretto: “I was a [vowed] member of the Lorettines for 20 years and I wish to continue a close association with the people whose lives and goals I shared for so long. I will always love Loretto and I wholeheartedly support the corporate vision of Loretto, lived out in such a diversity of works and activities.”
In her 2011 renewal of her agreement, Betty wrote: “I am joined at the hip with Loretto. Loretto is in the marrow of my bones so it would be difficult to disengage. Loretto is a major priority and I agree totally with Loretto’s goals in mission and spirituality.”
For 42 years as a co-member Betty continued as she had lived her first 20 years with Loretto. According to other Lorettos in the St. Louis area, Betty was one of the most active Community members. She was a part of the St. Louis Women’s Liturgy Group, an eager participant in Community discussions of spirituality and mission. She served on her condo board for several years; she was a member of the Loretto Circle formed at Nerinx Hall. As an active member of Community Group 22, she often served as rep to the CPC and took this responsibility very seriously. Betty brought an historical perspective to conversations, and always had the latest book she was reading ready to share. The members of the election committee for the 2018 Assembly wrote: “It was a joy for us to work with Betty Connor on our committee. Her untimely death will leave a hole where once there was her rare brand of humor, understatement, clarity and consistently coordinated ensembles.”
Pat McCormick, one of Betty’s novitiate classmates, wrote: “Betty was an integral part of our 1964 profession class. She was always ready to help organize our reunions, gleefully attended our Golden Jubilee celebration at the Motherhouse in 2004 and was faithfully present to the joys and sorrows of her classmates.
“My relationship with Betty was personal — we frequently discussed her teachings on social justice, racism, war, nonviolence, feminism, gender inequality in the Catholic Church and the struggles she had as a member of her Condo Board — dealing with hierarchical structures. She did constant research in preparation for her history and women’s studies classes at University City High School, reading some of the best sources.”
Elizabeth Annette Connor was sometimes known as Annette, briefly as Sister Annunciata, and in recent decades Betty. All who knew her, by whatever name, were warmed by her devoted friendship. She was especially attentive to those like Rose Alice Clarke, Vron Murphy and Marita Michenfelder Woodruff as each entered their difficult years.
Mary Louise Denny wrote: “Betty was such a generous friend! If any of us was ailing, Betty was there. Betty was the organizer of group meals and a monthly birthday ice cream social; she would send out reminders faithfully … So many times and in so many ways, Betty could be counted on. So I guess we will still count on Betty, just in a different way.”
– By Eleanor Craig SL
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