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Betty Dilley: a loving devotion to a saint

Providence Associate Virginia Unverzagt (center) from Terre Haute, Ind., joins Betty Dilley in 2010 to renew their commitments for five years with Father Richard Kaley, pastor of St. Bonaventure Catholic Church in Bloomington, Minn. (Submitted photo)

The following article is reprinted from the summer 2012 issue of HOPE.

“You may have to wait longer than you would like, you may have to bear privations; but, bear and forebear. Have confidence in the Providence that so far has never failed us. The way is not yet clear. Grope along slowly. Do not press matters; be patient, be trustful.”

These lines from a letter written by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin to the sisters in Jasper, Ind., in 1843 could have been written to Betty Dilley, a Providence Associate and a generous donor from Bloomington, Minn. During her life, Betty has had to bear and forebear and to “grope along slowly.” But in the end, this woman of Providence has been trustful and faithful.

Betty’s connection to the Congregation was established when she and her mother visited St. Agnes Academy, Indianapolis, prior to Betty’s freshman year in high school.

“I met the principal, Sister Mary Geraldine [Sadler, RIP], who, with a very warm smile, welcomed us to the halls of St. Agnes and the Sisters of Providence. To this day I can feel her hand on mine much like Saint Mother Theodore’s hand reaching out to the children,” said Betty.

By the end of Betty’s junior year she was seriously considering a religious vocation. Sisters talked with her and answered her many questions, but her parents, especially her father, weren’t in favor of Betty entering the Congregation. So upon graduating from high school in 1955, Betty went to Marian College, Indianapolis, for one semester.

“I entered the postulancy on Feb. 2, 1956, and continued my education at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. This day is woven forever in my heart,” said Betty, who became a novice on Aug. 15 of that year.

Unfortunately, a serious back injury that Betty received while playing basketball in the old gymnasium at the Woods sent her to St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis. She had broken vertebrae that pinched nerves in her back, causing partial paralysis.

“Reverend Mother Gertrude Clare [Owens, RIP, general superior 1954-1960] and several of the council members visited me in the hospital and told me that I could return to the novitiate when the doctor cleared me. In my mind, I was still a novice and continued with this mindset for a long period of time,” said Betty.

Due to her health, Betty was never able to return to religious life. Other illnesses began to take their toll, too.

“I had several illnesses that greatly hindered my continuation of the grind of acquiring an education and working. I kept trying to succeed! I was finally laid up with a generalized staph infection that did a number on my entire body and landed me at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Thus, Minnesota came into my life,” said Betty, who is also a breast cancer survivor.

Eventually, Betty earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing and sociology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn., and her master’s degree in counseling from Minnesota State University, Mankato. By 1966, Betty was married and was praying to become a mother. Heartbreaking miscarriages and an abusive marriage left Betty physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted. This relationship ended in divorce and annulment.

“Again, I felt like a failure in life!” shared Betty, who retired in 2001 after 30 years as a public health school nurse for the St. Paul Public School District.

But Betty, who had several years of experience fostering children, looked outside herself and to her faith to continue with her life. She adopted John, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. Now an adult, John lives in his own apartment, holds a part-time job and assists Betty with chores around the home she shares with her 10-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Angel.

Throughout all of her challenges, Betty maintained a strong devotion to Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, something she attributes to her principal at St. Agnes Academy.

“My love of Saint Mother Theodore goes back to the day Sister Mary Geraldine reached out to me and welcomed me to the Sisters of Providence. I have faltered at times in my faith and trust and have greatly admired [Mother Theodore’s] perseverance and prayed to her to help guide me in times of trial,” said Betty.

Prior to her retirement in 2001, Betty had a desire to bring closure to her connection with the Congregation. Little did Betty know what Providence had in store for her!

As we passed through the gates at the entrance my heart and soul felt very calm as though I was home on retreat. I get goose bumps just thinking about that day!
– Betty Dilley

“My best friend and I drove down to Saint Mary’s unannounced with plans to attend Mass, visit the Blessed Sacrament Chapel for the last time, look around and say goodbye to Saint Mary’s once and for all,” shared Betty. “As we passed through the gates at the entrance my heart and soul felt very calm as though I was home on retreat. I get goose bumps just thinking about that day!”

On this initial trip, Betty was introduced to Sister Mary Roger Madden, who exudes Providence hospitality. Soon Betty was making connections with Sister Mary Ellen Kilday (RIP), her sister-sponsor when she entered the Congregation, and Sister Catherine Livers, another warm and welcoming sister. Betty made more trips to the Woods, and then one day, Sister Catherine suggested that Betty think about becoming a Providence Associate. With Sister Catherine as her companion, Betty made her first commitment in 2007.

Each time Betty returned to the Woods, she felt a sense of peace and calm. Sisters living on the motherhouse grounds were gracious and inviting to her. Sister Mary Alice Zander (RIP), founding director of the associates, and Sister Jane Marie Osterholt, former general officer liaison to the associates, are especially dear to Betty.

“They have made my journey a little brighter and easier to accept,” said Betty, who has remembered the Congregation in her will and charitably supports the devotion to Saint Mother Theodore, as well as other programs and projects. Yes, those sentences that Mother Theodore wrote nearly 170 years ago were written to her daughters in Jasper, but they were also meant for a daughter in Minnesota.

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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