Sister Barbara Ann Zeller (formerly Sister Dorothy Jean)
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live…Built of hopes and dreams and visions Rock of faith and vault of grace… All Are Welcome! All Are Welcome! All are welcome in this place!
As I reflect upon Sister Barbara Ann Zeller and the way in which she lived her life, these words which are taken from the song All Are Welcome seem so appropriate for her, said Sister Danielle Sullivan in her commentary for Sister Barbara Ann Zeller, who died Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, in Georgetown, Ind. She was 73 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 55 years.
Sister Danielle continued, “Barb was the second oldest of the four children of Wilbert and Dorothy (Tremor) Zeller. Barb was born on Aug. 18, 1945, in Evansville, Ind. She and her siblings (Marilyn, Bruce, and Pam) grew up in Evansville. Here she attended Elementary School at Sacred Heart/Corpus Christi. For High School, Barb came to our Providence Aspirancy here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She entered the Congregation Sept. 12, 1963, professed first vows Aug. 15, 1966, and final vows Sept. 15, 1974. Barb earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, a Master of Arts degree in Studies in Aging from North Texas State University, and her Certification in Health Facility Administration for the state of Indiana.
Barb had a rather brief ministry in the field of education. It was noted in her ministry history that she did teach Grade six at Precious Blood in Jasper, Ind, for about three months. Following this ministerial experience, Barb served primarily in administration as Community Director of Retirement, Infirmary Administrator, in the office of the Indianapolis Archdiocese of Social Ministries, Director of Gerontology, Director of Social Services for Elderly Housing, Providence Retirement Home Administrator/CEO, Ministry Consultant, Director of Providence Self Sufficiency Ministries, and recently as the President/CEO of Guerin, Inc., and Meadows of Guerin, Inc., in Georgetown, Ind
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live … In 1981, Barb applied for and used HUD’s Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly to build Maryvale, a 148-unit complex consisting of efficiency, and one- and two-bedroom apartments. Rent at Maryvale is based upon household income.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions … In the early 1990’s, Sister Nancy Nolan and her General Council asked Barb to explore the possibilities of new ministries. Thus, Providence Self Sufficiency Ministries, Inc., was established. During this time Barb became very aware of the need to house foster children. As Barb stated, “I saw where kids needed foster care and the Spirit began talking to me.” After sharing her concern and desire to address this need, our sisters decided to open up the convent. Six of our sisters earned their licenses to become foster parents. This inspired them to found Providence House as the first group home for foster children in Floyd County. From there, our sisters went into public housing properties to teach self-sufficiency/GED classes as a way to help residents receive a high school diploma and obtain employment. A food co-op was set up, and classes in parenting were among several taught. When child care became an issue, that need was also met. Once again to quote Barb: “If there is a need to be met, and you can meet it, it is no longer a need. You go to the next need.”
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live … During our 1996 General Chapter, I had submitted a proposal regarding Affordable Housing. Barb moved this into a reality. In 1999, Providence Housing Corporation was formed to provide affordable housing for our neighbors in need. It provides apartments to low-income senior citizens and houses for low-income families in West Terre Haute. Providence Place consists of 56 apartments and 17 single-family homes for those who qualify. In establishing this corporation, our congregation provided a revolving loan fund of $50,000. This initial seed money was given to Pope John Paul II at the Beatification of Mother Theodore which Pope John Paul II did return to us.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions … The Archdiocese of Indianapolis had land in Georgetown. The Archbishop said that Barb could have it for $1. However, she had only one year to develop it. Thus, Barb and her team rolled up their sleeves, and the community rallied to the cause, and once again the building began. As Barb said: “God has got too much work for us to do. If there is any way we can do it, we will.”
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live … Guerin Inc. was established in 1999 to construct facilities for the Providence House for Children’s campus. An arm of Providence Self Sufficiency Ministries, Inc., the Providence House campus includes both the Patchwork House (homes for six families) and the Reunification Apartments (home for an additional six families). In April 2005, Guerin, Inc., opened Guerin Woods – a development for senior citizens that adjoins the Providence House campus. Guerin Woods includes 22 two-bedroom apartments for individuals and couples age 62 and older, six villas that provide licensed assisted living and skilled nursing care for frail elders age 62 and older and a Senior Center open to residents in Floyd and surrounding counties. In 2009, Guerin, Inc. built The Meadows of Guerin, Inc. adjacent to Guerin Woods. The Meadows is a HUD-202 grant-funded development serving people age 62 and older and consists of 42 one-bedroom apartments, one two-bedroom apartment and a community center. In addition to all of this, Barb has taken elderly care to another level with a memory care villa on Guerin Woods property.
All of this is not merely about the building of physical structures. It is truly about the building of community where love dwells, where there are hopes and dreams and visions, and where truly All Are Welcome!
There are so many stories to be told. Dr. Liz England’s program at Providence House has an 80 percent success rate. She says that when families move in, the goal is simple – keep the family unit together and help them become productive citizens. Dora was addicted to drugs for 30 years. Her life had no purpose, no direction. She was unemployed and haunted by her past. Dora’s daughter also was addicted to drugs. Dora became very concerned about her two grandchildren who were entering foster care. Today, Dora and her daughter are clean. Dora has custody of her two grandchildren. All four live together and are doing well. Dora also volunteers at Providence House. Michelle, a single mom of Tony, age 3, says that “the program helped me start a new chapter in my life by giving me knowledge to be a sober parent and to take care of myself and Tony. At Providence House, I made a 360 degree turn in my life…” Michelle is now living on her own and caring for Tony.
When Patty moved into Guerin Woods, her neighbors invited her for coffee and conversation. Patty also says that Sister Barbara and the other sisters learned not only her name, but those of her children. She also added that “whoever comes here feels the spirit of respect and kindness for each other.” Here are what other residents had to say: “I moved in just planning to stay a few days. Soon, I made up my mind, without any pressure from anyone, to stay. I told my family I am happier here than in many years past…” “I enjoy the interaction with the other residents. We laugh and joke a lot and look out for each other.” “It is a loving home environment at Guerin Woods.” Fern calls it “heaven before heaven.” The child of one of the residents tells us that “Mom’s transition was oh-so-much easier than any of us anticipated, due to the loving and attentive care given by each and every member of the staff from day one. They have eased her into her new life and restored her will to live. She has no fear or confusion and has become very comfortable in a beautiful, warm and stable atmosphere. And she’s happy! Guerin Woods is the place Mom lovingly refers to as home.”
Barb always speaks in the plural. In an email Barb tells us, “These twenty-five years of touching so many lives here in New Albany and in Georgetown have been the most rewarding years of my 56 years as a Sister of Providence. It has been an absolute honor to have worked and ministered with so many wonderful people who do all the right things for all the right reasons and with whom I have been able to celebrate so many remarkable and amazing successes for God’s work.”
When speaking about Guerin, Inc., Cindy (a member of the Guerin team) says, “Here, it is always like a rolling horizon. Sister Barbara has a way of gathering people and empowering them to fly.” Kelly (another member of the Guerin team) adds, “In these ministries, I see us as a team with Sister Barbara revitalizing in our age the spirit of Mother Theodore. Like her, we are building to meet the needs of a community, with an eye toward what is best for residents, even if it is not always the best for the bank account.… Here, the work we do – person-centered healing ministries – aligns with the ideas of love, mercy, and justice that Sisters of Providence talk about.”
Members of the Georgetown Community have said: “In speaking with Sister Barbara Ann Zeller, it’s clear that the Catholic nun is a force to be reckoned with.” “She does have a lot of foresight and determination and drive to serve the community. She’s had a vision…and followed through.” “Sister Barbara is very sensitive to the special needs of the elderly…” “She is a fighter. She always looks out for the best interest of her residents. You hear all the time that someone is an asset to the community. She truly is an asset.” “Sister Barbara is one of the most amazing nonprofit leaders in our community. Her mission is her vocation. I have often said that if she were not leading a nonprofit, she would be CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Southern Indiana is beyond blessed to have been the recipient of Sister Barbara’s dedication and hard work for so many years.” “Like so many others, I marvel at Sister Barbara’s potent mix of business acumen and spirituality. Being both what she is, and who she is, Sister Barbara is indeed a difficult woman to whom to say no.”
Now using your own words, Barb: “I don’t think I will ever retire. I think I will just die out here. People have given us so much inspiration and hope.”
Barb, it is truly an honor to call you sister and friend! I am in awe of all that you, your SP companions, and other partners in ministry have accomplished! It is with confidence that I believe this ministry will continue because of (as you said) all the wonderful people who do all the right things for all the right reasons.
Services for Sister Barbara Ann took place on Sunday, Aug. 4, and Tuesday, Aug. 6.
Visitation took place at Kraft Funeral Home, 708 E. Spring St., New Albany, Ind., on Sunday, Aug. 4, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial took place on Tuesday, Aug. 6, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Visitation began at 9 a.m., in the church.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Barbara Ann in the comment section below.
Sister Barbara Ann Zeller, formerly Sister Dorothy Jean
In Indiana: Teacher, Precious Blood, Jasper (1968); Community Director of Retirement, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1971-76); Administrative Assistant, Archdiocese of Social Ministries, Indianapolis (1976-78); Director of Gerontology, Consultant Conference Convention, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1978-79); Director of Gerontology/Executive Director of Maryvale, Inc., Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1979-81); Director of Social Services for Elderly Housing, Pfister Co., Terre Haute (1981-82); Administrator/CEO, Providence Retirement Home, New Albany (1982-94); Ministry Consultant, Sisters of Providence, New Albany (1994-95); Director, Providence Self Sufficiency Ministries, Inc., New Albany (1995-2001); Director, Providence Self Sufficiency Ministries, Inc., Georgetown (2001-06); President/CEO, Providence Self Sufficiency Ministries, Guerin, Meadows of Guerin, Inc., Georgetown (2006-2019).
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