Sister Barbara Reder
My good friend says I’m … “organized and a good listener.”
Three things that are sure to make me smile are … chocolate (especially Sees), any baby, and seeing a good friend.
When I am not at work or involved in ministry, you are most likely to find me …taking a walk, reading, or occasionally playing golf.
I am passionate about …good liturgical celebrations especially the Eucharist and RCIA rites.
One thing most people don’t know about me is …that I was and am a tomboy.
My biggest pet peeve is …when someone doesn’t follow through on a task/statement and doesn’t communicate that it will be impossible to complete.
When Barbara Reder came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to attend college, she was not even considering life as a sister. In fact, she loved kids. She figured she’d get married and have a bunch of them.
But one day in particular stands out in her mind. Her dad asked her, “Have you ever thought of becoming a sister?”
“I practically jumped down his throat with my answer. NO!!” she remembers.
But the moment was eye-opening. She realized that the fact that she answered so strongly meant that it was in her mind. She spent some time struggling with nudges she kept feeling from God.
It was several years later, as she was sitting outside at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in her senior year of college, that she found an answer. She was writing a Mother’s Day letter to her mother. She felt the Holy Spirit tell her, “You’ve got to at least give this a try.”
So she agreed. OK, she’d give it a try. And immediately she felt at peace.
So she wrote in her card to her mom, “I’m thinking about becoming a sister. But don’t tell anyone yet.”
By the time she came home on the next visit, everyone knew.
Sister Barbara spent 15 years ministering as a clinical dietician at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Long Beach, Calif.
“I loved working with the patients,” she said.
“They knew I was a sister, and they would ask me questions that weren’t related to food.”
Questions about the Bible. About God. They asked her to pray for them. One man who was dying even asked to be baptized. Doctors would ask her questions about ethics.
“Hopefully, the patients saw my presence as bringing God’s presence. Many knew I prayed for them. They were very protective of me as well — language was modified when I was around,” she recalls.
As time progressed she moved more toward bioethics, which she enjoyed. But she was also doing more administration and less one-on-one with patients. She felt a call to be present to people.
At the same time, religious sisters were becoming fewer and were no longer concentrated in schools. Sister Barbara felt strongly that it was important for women religious to be in parishes. To be available to people. To be seen as a part of the Catholic Church.
So she went back to school for a second master’s in pastoral ministry.
She has now ministered nearly 25 years in Catholic Churches. For the past six years she has served as pastoral associate at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Brownsburg, Ind.
“I enjoy so many things about my ministry. I work with the sick and homebound. I am on the RCIA team helping those entering the church. I assist the liturgical coordinator. I help people navigate the annulment process. I work with families in preparing for funeral liturgies. I occasionally am asked to teach a lesson to the children at the school. And I am available to people if they need to talk.”
“I do think sometimes people talk with me about issues or problems, even though I am not their best friend, that they would not do if I was not a sister,” she said.
They come to her about problems with their kids, struggles in their marriage, or about their aging parents.
She thinks they trust her as a sister.
“I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps they know it is safe to talk to me that I am not going to gossip about it. And perhaps they are looking for guidance from a spiritual side.”
For Sister Barbara it’s about listening. About acting as a sounding board. She relies on the Holy Spirit to fill in when she is not sure what to say.
And it’s her own prayer life and relationship with God that feeds her and allows her to be spiritually present to others.
“Without prayer, I cannot do anything well.”
She is passionate about the celebration of the Eucharist, she said.
“One of the most important parts of my day is going to the Eucharist and receiving Jesus. As a dietician, I know that as we eat food, it becomes us. And as we consume Jesus in the Eucharist, that is to become us.
“I think our most important task is to become more and more like Jesus, and in that way to spread that to others. And you can’t do that without being fed. And the Eucharist is one of my prime ways of getting that nourishment.”
Sister Barbara is confident that her life as a Sister of Providence has allowed her to be the person God created her to be. It’s not what she originally expected, but it is exactly who she is.