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February 16, 1990     The Message
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The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana February 16, 1990 I Sister Gertrude ttt , ,i i i I Daughters of Charity offered her a chance to be a nurse and a sister By MICHELLE GIRTEN Message Staff Writer "You think about what's real- ly worthwhile in life," said Sister Gertrude Bastnagel, D.C., reflecting on what motivated her to choose the life of a Daughter of Charity of St. Vin- cent de Paul, "I guess I was in- terested in religious life. You see the world, how changeable it is, how passing it is; I guess 1 just thought I wanted to get into something that I felt was really worthwhile, and had some solidarity to it." Sister Bastnagel is presently the Visitatrix of the East Central Province, which has its seat at the Mater Dei Provincialate, lo- cated to the West of Evansville. She has been a Daughter of Charity since 1948. Her career, however, began in nursing. It had been her goal as a child. "At one time I thought that I would really go on in nursing," Sister Bastnagel explained. "I entered nurse's training at St. Mary's, the old St. Mary's in Evansville. And that's how I met the Daughters of Charity." "I thought about religious life in high school but still wanted to go into (nurse's}- training because my mother was a nurse," she elaborated, "and I really admire her so much that that's really what I wanted to do... " In the Daughters of Charity she saw "the chance to be a nurse and a sister." What especially drew Sister Bastnagel to the sisters was their "respect for the dignity of all persons .... It's the underlying motivation for their love of the poor," she said. "It all goes back to.that." She felt this was true when people mistreat others in whatever form, whether it is nuclear threats or abortion. "No matter what the issue is it all goes back to respecting each person." While speaking with Sister Bastnagel it is not uncommon to hear bottom lines, in discuss- ing a complex subject she will simplify the matter by finding the crucial denominators. This could be due to her background in business administration. Not only does she have an advanced degree in business but she also has served for over 20 years in hospital administration. This facility for simplification could also stem from years of keeping her life basic, and faithful to the goals St. Vincent de Paul first prescribed for the Daughters, '!to be in the world, but not of the world" in their service. Sister Bastnagel has served in many places and in many ways since she first joined the Daughters of Charity. In discussing her life with the Message she had a tendency to speak more of her community than of herself. She is an unhur- ried person, displaying great self-possession, but excitement would creep into her voice when she spoke of the Daughters of Charity. Sister Bastnagel showed en- thusiasm for the original mis- sion of the sisters as founded by St. Vincent dePaul and St. Louise deMarillac in 1633, and also forwhat the apostolic com- munity I has become. It is an order of women that has historically searched out and responded to the contemporary needs of the poor in the world. Keeping abreast of changes in the world and adjusting their ministry in concurrence with these changes is all a part of be- ing a Daughter of Charity for Sister Bastnagel. She foresees great thifigs for her community, all religious and the world. Born on Feb. 7, 1925, Sister Bastnagel grew up in Mt. Carmel, Ill. She has two sisters and a brother. "In my father's family there were three priests and two sisters. I'm sure it had some bearing on my becoming a Daughter of Charity, or a religious." She explained that the thought of being a religious had always been with her: "I was interested in religious life... Our parents were really faith-filled people and religion was just a way of life for us, and it was such a big part of our life." Sister Bastnagel graduated from nursing training in 1946 and then worked for two years as a nurse before entering the Daughters of Charity in 1948. "After I became a sister I moved to Chicago and worked on my B.S. in Nursing Educa- tion. Then I went back for graduate work in hospital ad- ministration and received an MBA-Health Care Administra- tion from George Washington University in D.C." Sister Bastnagel's graduate studies came after spending several years as a Texan. "My missions over the years," she said, "have been St. Joseph's Hospital in Chicago and then I went to Austin, Texas, for about 15 years in the operating room. Then I was in E1 Paso, Texas, for three and a half, and I was still in O.R. nursing." Sister Bastnagel loved the state of Texas. "It's beautiful. It's wide open spaces. The people really love natural things." The change of season, though, was one aspect of the Midwest that she missed. After receiving her Master's degree Sister Bastnagel was posted in several administrative positions within hospitals. She spent a year as an assistant ad- ministrator at Waltham Hospital in Waltham, Mass. "It was a community hospital and I guess it was a little bit unique," she said, "because of this and I did wear a habit... It was a great experience." From 1969-75, Sister Bastnagel worked as ad- ministrator at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich. Then she spent three years at St. Vincent's Hospital in Indianapolis. In 1978 she was assigned to be a councillor to the Visitatrix at Mater Dei Provincialate, and also administrator of St. Mary's Hospital. Sister Bastnagel was installed Visitatrix, or provincial leader, on Mar. 14, 1981. She ad- ministers to the 238 sisters in the l 1-state province with the help of four councillors. The United States is divided into five provinces; there are 71 worldwide. The motherhouse for the approximately 31,000 sisters is in Paris, France. In Evansville the Daughters of Charity are largely known for their involvement in health care, especially at St. Mary's Medical Center. They are, however, involved in a broader ministry which includes educa- tion and other social ministries. "We're not just a nursing order," Sister Bastnagel ex- plained, "we have St. Vincent's Day Care Center, for example, on First Avenue. We're in child care, social ministries home of the aging, campus ministry, schools... We were founded to serve Christ in the person of the poor." She added after a moment of reflection, "So, everything we do, that is our focus. It makes no difference if we're in hospitals or wherever we are." The seal of the Daughters of Charity bears the inscription, "The Charity of Christ Urges Us." This phrase seems to en- compass the spirit and energy which has moved these women to react to the current needs of each age since their founding in the seventeenth century. Even in the beginning the response called for has sometimes been countercultural. Sister Bastnaget enjoys talk- ing about the Daughter of Chari- ty, their beginnings, the present and the future. She explained that there are some big distinc- tions between their community and other religious groups. For example, the Daughters of Charity is not a religious order, strictly speaking, but "a society of apostolic life." In addition to this they do not make perpetual vows as other communities do, they make vows that are formal- ly renewed each year. Plan today for happy tomorrows Plan for a secure future today with life insurance, annuities and disability insurance. You can head off problems with MODERN WOODMEN SOLUTIONS MODERN WOODMEN OF AMERICA A FRATERNAL LIFE INSURANCE SOCIETY HOME OFFICE ROCK ISLAND. ILLINOIS FRANCIS G. SCHUTTE Suite 1 115 N. Weinbach Ave. Evansville, IN 47711 (812)473-1866 SISTER GERTRUDE Sister Bastnagel explained the orgins of these traits: "Up until the time we were founded there were only cloistered religious orders. Sisters were not seen on the streets. St. Vin- cent.., wanted us out in the streets with the people. Out to serve the poor, with society, with the secular. Now, we do not parallel society or the secular, his famous words were 'We are in the world but not of the world.' Our whole point was to penetrate.., society, proclaiming the Good News and serving Christ in the poor." In order to be able to actively minister to the poor, then, the women could not be cloistered and therefore could not be of- ficially a religious order. St. Vincent knew this and with St. Louise de Marillac founded a society of women dedicated to service. There were to live in all ways as a religious group, but they maintained important differences. Sister Bastnagel commented BASTNAGEL, D.C. on the tradition of vows which are "annual and always renewable," according to a for- mal explanation. For one day each year the sisters are free to choose. Her first profession was distinct and rewarding, she said, but the impact increases with each year of renewal. "It's better," she said, "I can look back and say, after 41 years, 'Would I have done anything different?' And I say, 'Nothing.' It's a feeling that you're in the right place." With their ministry so inter- twined with society, any con- trasts between the two are all the heavier and more obvious. And more oftenthan not religious life is in direct con- trast to secular mores. "In this religious life, [ really feel like I have to live a life of counter- culture. We cannot do what everyone else does." Working in the corporate world as she did for so many years, it was inevitable that See SISTER page 15 JASPER SERVICE AND SHOPPING GUIDE ii Buehlers I.G.A. 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