Sister Anita Bechert
“Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.’
“As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’
“Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.”
— A reading from the Gospel of Mark 1:15-18
One of Sister Anita Bechert’s most cherished memories was a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1986. She wrote, “What an experience, just knowing that I was walking where Jesus had walked. What beautiful moments to remember and live … I shall never ever forget it, especially the Sea of Galilee … in a boat or swimming … in/on Jesus’ water.” Sister Anita had more in common with the apostles who left everything and followed Jesus than their love of the Sea of Galilee. She too gave herself wholeheartedly to her Divine Master and spent her journey through life as a trustworthy and faithful servant, said Sister Janet Gilligan in her commentary for Sister Anita Bechert, who died Sunday, November 12, 2017, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 90 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 71 years.
Elizabeth Jane Bechert (known as Betty) was born to Joseph and Mary Effie Smythe Bechert in Indianapolis on April 23, 1927. She had one brother, Francis Joseph, and three sisters, Dorothy, Mary Effie, and Anna Marie. Betty was baptized at Saint John Church. Her father died when she was eight weeks old, but as Betty wrote in her autobiography, “my mother managed somehow.” Mrs. Bechert remarried when Betty was 3 and had one other son, Herbert Oliver. Betty attended Saint John Elementary School and Saint John Academy. She remembered her years at Saint John as “special years of blessings and learnings,” with excellent teachers.
Sister Anita Bechert
Teacher for 37 years in schools in Indiana, Illinois, Maryland and California
In Indiana: Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Village School, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1947-48); St. John the Baptist, Whiting (1953-57, 1975-79); St. Andrew, Indianapolis (1961-65); Holy Trinity, New Albany (Principal, 1965-69); St. John, Fort Wayne (1969-73); St. Luke, Indianapolis (1973-75, 1979-85).
In Illinois: Saint Joseph Academy, Galesburg (1952-53).
In Maryland: Ascension, Halethorpe (1948-52). In California: Saint Therese, Alhambra (1957-60); Saint Joseph, Hawthorne (1960-61).
When Betty graduated in 1945, she began to consider joining the Sisters of Providence. Then in July, she and other classmates were invited to a party for Mary Mann, who was planning to enter the community. They were surprised to discover that six of them felt called to a religious vocation. So, on Feb. 2, 1946, at 10:30 in the morning, the six young women boarded a train in Indianapolis, planning to have a last fling in Terre Haute before the convent door closed behind them. But Mary Mann slipped as she got off the train and injured her ankle, so they spent their last “free” hours in the hospital emergency room. They arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods at 6:30, too late for supper, so they dined on cold cereal and fruit. In spite of this inauspicious beginning, five of the girls continued their pilgrimage as Sisters of Providence for many years. Sisters Adele Mann and Mary Bates preceded Sister Anita in death, but two members of the Saint John’s contingent, Sisters Marie Alexis and Maxine, remain with us.
Sister Anita made her first profession in 1948, and her final profession in 1953. She received her bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1965, and a master’s degree in education and supervision from Indiana State University in 1970. It seemed like a long journey, and she claimed she always feared she would have her RIP before she’d ever get her bachelor’s or master’s.
Sister Anita taught every grade from one through eight for 36 years, in Maryland, Indiana, Illinois and California and also served as a principal and administrative assistant. The comments written on the back of a class picture give insight into what kind of teacher she was: “To a great teacher who makes us write too many paragraphs,” “To the bestest teacher I have ever known,” “To the nicest teacher I have had in eight years,” “To the only teacher in the school who would let us play cards,” “To the teacher who really cares,” “To a great teacher who hates shirts hanging out,” “To the funnest teacher I’ve had so far.”
These comments echo the way Anita’s friends remember her. She was always ready to take charge and whip things into shape, but she would do anything for anyone. She was outspoken and had no hidden agenda. She never cut corners. She was a faithful servant, always responsible and reliable; no matter what she did, she did it well. She was the kind of person who stuck to the letter of the law, yet, she had a great sense of humor and a dazzling smile.
In 1985, Sister Anita spent a memorable year in the CREDO program at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. It was during that Sabbatical that she had the unforgettable experience of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Sister Mary Moloney was on a pilgrimage at the same time as Anita, but, try as they could to get together at some point in their travels, they kept missing each other. Than one day, Anita walked into the Holy Sepulcher and there was Mary! Since that surprise encounter, every time they saw each other, Mary would say “Remember meeting in the Sepulcher” and Anita would break into a delighted smile.
In 1992, Sister Anita came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to serve as the Director of the Office of Records. She brought to the position the same efficiency, responsibility, and directness that characterized her life. Band members who knew her were prompt in complying with any request for information, knowing she would not let them rest until she had what was needed. She policed the Cemetery, decorated bulletin boards, and kept meticulous records.
It was during these years that a family tragedy gave Anita a new ministry. Her grandnephew, Tim, died from AIDS and Anita treasured his letters and his memory, joining his family in supporting him as he struggled with his illness. When the AIDS Memorial Quilt came to Terre Haute in 1994, Anita was there to support the project and serve as a reader. She participated in seven annual AIDS walks to raise funds for financial assistance to victims of HIV/AIDS. Of these experiences, Anita said, “It’s rewarding to be able to have been so involved with something like this. I really appreciate representing something – standing up for something that needs to be witnessed to.”
Anita was always close to her large family, especially to her sweet mother. Her information sheet in the Office of Records (which is no doubt, perfectly accurate), claims she has 22 nieces and nephews, 55 great-nieces and nephews, and 39 great-great-nieces and nephews.
At her 50th Jubilee in 1996, Anita reminisced about the many memories she had garnered. “All the changes in community – That’s what I have really enjoyed … It has been a fantastic time to be living.”
When she celebrated her 80th birthday, after 16 years in the Office of Records, Sister Anita decided it was time for a renewal of mind, body and spirit. “I need to let go of the past, work through the present, and be open to whatever God’s will is for me now and in the future.”
Sister Anita spent her last years volunteering in the Business Office and as needed. As her health deteriorated, she did not take well to being the one who needed car and assistance. But her caregivers wanted us to be sure to note that when things got difficult, they would ask her to make a bunny face – and she would comply at once, then, burst out laughing.
Eventually, her long pilgrimage came to an end. Among the items she treasured are handouts from a pilgrimage she made to Ruille, France, in 1990. One contains this quotation: “The time of pilgrimage is but a more explicit consciousness of the inner journey … pilgrimage takes the faithful back to the source and center … the place of meeting God, of forgiveness, of holiness.”
Perhaps the best summary of Sister Anita’s life journey is a reflection she wrote about a long hike taken during her Sabbatical:
People, paths, prayer, blessing of water, liturgy
Laughing, singing, enjoying, silence
Gifting each other with our own presence and God’s in us
Rough roads, helping, moving along together
Important to choose the better part … stay with the Lord
Meadow thick with grass – at dusk – reconciliation.
We can now say, with the Divine Master: Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your God.
Funeral services for Sister Anita took place on Thursday, November 16, and Friday, November 17, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Thursday, November 16, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial took place at 11 a.m., on Friday, November 17.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Anita in the comment section below.
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Sr. Anita was my second grade teacher at St. Therese School, Alhambra, California, 1957-1958. I remember her fondly and with gratitude 60 years later.