Remembrance of the Life of Jossy Eyre CoL
Josepha Eyre was the eighth of 10 children born to Elizabeth Margaret Purcell and Francis Anton Schretien in Nijmegan, Holland, in 1931. She described her life as “before” and “since the war.” Her early years were relatively uneventful, with school and life at home.
The Nazis invaded Holland in 1940. Every aspect of life changed. They faced starvation, severe restrictions and fear. In 1944, her brother and sister were killed in bombings of their city. This left Jossy scared, hopeless and feeling guilty that she was living and they had died. Two other brothers were held in internment camps during the war.
After the war, her parents decided to emigrate to the United States. In 1947, Jossy arrived in New York with her family and began adjusting to a new life and a new language. In her later years, Jossy often commented that she had no chance to heal from the horrors of the war. She thought perhaps had she and her family stayed in Holland during the reconstruction there would have been more opportunity to heal her tormented spirit. After graduating from high school, she earned a degree from St Joseph’s College and taught 35 fifth-grade boys, after which she decided teaching was not for her. She graduated with a nursing degree from Columbia and worked in the university’s Psychiatric Institute.
She and a friend drove to Denver, where she lived until her death. She married Richard Eyre and they had four children, Richard, Andrea, Judith and Tina. Her daughter, Tina, recalls making sandwiches weekly for people who were hungry. Holidays included new faces at their table – guests from Sudan, Eritrea, Uganda, Ukraine and Morocco. Some would leave that night and others would stay for months.
Because of her life experience, Jossy had a sensitivity for people who were struggling, who had no control of their lives and felt hopeless. After her children were out of high school, she returned to school getting her master’s in social work from Denver University and certificates in alcohol/drug addiction and gerontology studies.
Jossy was a part of Loretto in Denver from the early 1970s. She was there for Gospel reflections, demonstrations at Rocky Flats, pilgrimages to Amache and social gatherings. She and Richard were part of the Loretto Peace Train to Washington, D.C., in 2000. Mary Ann Cunningham SL recounted that they offered a stable and caring dimension to the variety of people on the train, playing cards and including others in the fun. Jossy shared her own experiences of growing up in a country at war and the very real need for peace. Richard died later that year.
In 1989, Jossy founded the Women’s Bean Project, a nonprofit that helps women experiencing homelessness, some suffering from addiction and other challenges, by providing a job packaging beans for soups to be sold to support the project. Besides the job training, there were other types of training in self-esteem so the women developed skills for their own growth, becoming stronger adults with hope for their future.
In 1993 Jossy received the Mary Rhodes Award from the Loretto Women’s Network, demonstrating what one woman can do to help other women take steps toward economic self-sufficiency, human dignity and hope.
In August 2004 Jossy became a Loretto Co-member. She said that she loved the fact that Loretto members were religious AND were mighty effective spokespersons for peace and justice. Anna Koop SL wrote in Jossy’s affirmation, “I have long experienced her as part of Loretto. This will be a formalization of what has been.” In her mutual commitment, Jossy stated that she would “live out the values Loretto espouses as best as I can and participate in activities focusing on peace and justice issues, as well as issues pertaining to our Earth’s wellness.”
Jossy continued her committed life. She lived for a while at the Denver Catholic Worker and also spent time at Cedars of Peace. She studied permaculture and saw it as the model for all interactions among people and nature.
She participated with Work Options for Women, of the Denver Department of Human Services, a culinary training program leading to employment. She continued to reach out to refugees here in Denver and through Team Africa (a joint program with people of Gulu, Uganda and parishioners of Loyola and Cure d’Ars parishes in Denver.) She traveled to Gulu, where people were traumatized after the war. She trained catechists, teaching skills to deal with the trauma in their communities. She also worked with child-mothers, who had been kidnapped and who later returned with their children where they were shunned by their own community.
She was active in the Women’s Homeless Initiative that provides overnight shelter for women who have no homes. Cathy Mueller SL volunteered there with Jossy, who would set up a station with a basin of water for the women to soak their feet. Then she would massage their feet. Cathy observed Jossy, who focused entirely on the one woman, holding eye contact and quiet conversation between them. Each woman who experience that profound interaction with Jossy came away more peaceful and strengthened. She was loved by these women.
Jossy’s life “since the war” was filled with deep compassion and creativity that came from her own experience of suffering. Her daughter, Tina, said that Jossy would tell us “you don’t have to be a great or important or famous person to change the world. If you can look around, you can be inspired by the situation or the challenges other people face and turn that into an expression of love, commitment and dedication to your fellow human beings.”