Sister Beth Kelso (formerly Sister Thomas Aquinas)
“Life is often compared to a pilgrimage, a sacred journey to a holy place. … A major condition of pilgrimage is that one is leaving home and returning home. A Christian sees her entire life as a pilgrimage as she comes from God and returns to God. … In order to attain its goal a pilgrimage needs an efficient and faithful guide who knows the way and brings the pilgrims safely home. David in Psalm 71 acknowledges the Supreme Guide, a faithful One whose presence endures to the very end of the journey,” said Sister Mary Roger Madden in her commentary for Sister Beth (Thomas Aquinas) Kelso, who died Sept. 23, at the age of 96. The themes of pilgrimage and travel were apt metaphors for Sister Beth’s life.
Born Feb. 29, 1916, Beth was baptized Elizabeth Carroll Kelso, first daughter of Joseph Robert Kelso and Florine Carroll Kelso. Joseph Kelso, a young actor from Australia, had married Florine, from Chicago, in New York and then returned to Chicago “where they began their life together in the holy state of matrimony and in the somewhat precarious profession of theater. These were the days of the traveling theater companies who went from town to town performing drama for the local citizenry. When Beth was six months old she was taken along with her parents as they made their living on the stage. She remembered vividly the life of a small child traveling with the theatrical company, petted and baby sat by the dancers, singers and actors of the company,” said Sister Mary Roger.
When it was time for Elizabeth to start school, her mother enrolled her as a boarder at Marywood Academy in Evanston, Ill., along with her younger sister, Lorraine. The girls actually selected Marywood, staffed by the Sisters of Providence, from among others they had visited. The reason? “All the other girls’ boarding schools in the area had the girls wear black stockings with their uniforms, but at Marywood the students all wore white. By such seemingly inconsequential threads does destiny often hang.” Or, perhaps in this case, Providence.
Thus began her long relationship with the Sisters of Providence, the Congregation which she entered Feb. 12, 1936. The decision had been a struggle for her, yet “this was the same young woman who as a child used to pray daily: ‘Dear Lord, help me to live and die as a Sister of Providence,’” noted Sister Mary Roger.
When it came time for her to choose a religious name she asked for and received Sister Thomas Aquinas. On Aug. 15, 1936, she was received into the Novitiate and on the same date professed her first and final vows, in 1938 and 1944 respectively. Always an avid learner, Sister earned three degrees: a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Mary of the Woods College; a master’s degree in Latin from Loyola University, Chicago; and a master’s degree in Spanish from Indiana University, Bloomington.
Beth was justifiably proud that she taught for 30 years in our high schools and academies in Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts, California and Washington, D.C. She ministered at Saint Mary of the Woods College in the resident and the Women’s External Degree programs for another 20 years. After retiring from teaching, she ministered as registrar at Mother Theodore Guerin High School in River Grove, Ill., and did some teaching at the River Grove Adult Learning Center. She also acted as the alumnae director for Saint Columbkille School in Chicago.
Sister Beth was known as a dedicated teacher and many of her former students formed strong relationships and bonds of friendship with her. Until very recently, Sister Beth yearly made the circuit of attending alumnae reunions and luncheons in Indiana and Illinois. Her former students flocked around her on such occasions and many joined in the celebration of her life by attending her wake and/or Eucharistic Liturgy.
“For the last 10 years, Sister Beth has gently walked the final miles of her long pilgrimage. To the very end, she was a true ‘lady of the old school.’ Consequently, she suffered from the more casual, laid back, attitude of today’s culture. In the frailties and uncertainties of old age, she found peace in her daily routine of early rising, morning prayer in the health-care chapel and participating in community activities. As she neared the end of her life’s pilgrimage, her prayer had been heard: she had indeed lived and died as a Sister of Providence. We are not apt to see her like again,” concluded Sister Mary Roger.
The Mass of Christian burial for Sister Beth was celebrated Sept. 26, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus preceding. She was preceded in death by her sister.
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