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Sister Suzanne Buthod (formerly Sister Mary Judith)

Both of these readings speak of love – God’s love for us and our sharing God’s love with others. Sister Suzanne Buthod dedicated her life to bringing God’s love to others. Let us celebrate her life of love, said Sister Rosemary Schmalz in her commentary for Sister Suzanne Buthod, formerly Sister Mary Judith, who passed away on Monday, February 28, 2022, at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana. She was 92-years-old and had been a Sister of Providence for 73 years.

Sister Rosemary continued: Suzanne Louise Buthod was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 24, 1929. Her father, Victor, who grew up in Oklahoma, met her mother, Louise Brightman, when he was stationed in Texas during World War I. After the war, the couple settled in Texas where their four children were born. Suzanne was their last child. Her two brothers, James and John, and a sister, Harriett, who was called “Sissie,” have all preceded her in death.

Her father worked in a variety of jobs related to oil in Texas. When the oil exploration opened up in southern Indiana in the late 1930s, the family moved to Evansville. Sue emphasized that her father was not a “big oil man,” that he spent most of his time in the court houses searching for land deeds and mineral rights.

Sue met the Sisters of Providence when she attended Reitz Memorial High School. Having graduated from Memorial, she attended Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College for one semester but then followed a call to join the Congregation. “I felt it was something I had to do,” she told me. She arrived on February 2, 1949, and received the name Sister Mary Judith. She professed final vows on August 15, 1956.

She taught 11 years in elementary schools in Lockport, Joliet, Greenfield and St. Catherine in Indianapolis, where she was eighth-grade teacher and principal. From St. Catherine, she was sent to complete an academic year of study of religion at Manhattanville College. She was then, in 1969, appointed director of novices. However, she was also a part-time religion teacher at Terre Haute Schulte High School for the three years she held that position. These were the last three years before the moratorium. She had no special training for the job and as all of us know, these were rocky years for the whole Congregation. She said to me once, “Well, I am not sure I did a great job, but they all still talk to me.” Sister Paula Damiano, in the novitiate during her tenure, said, “These were the years when the Church and religious life were undergoing extraordinary change; yet she somehow navigated her ministry in formation with kindness and grace. Proof of her kindness and grace lies in the fact that many of those she mentored, both those who remained and those who left, have maintained their relationship with her all these years.”

Volunteer NaKea Anderson and Sister Suzanne Buthod ham it up on a visit to the Clabber Girl museum.

With the moratorium beginning in 1972, Sister Suzanne continued teaching at Schulte for two years and then taught at Memorial in Evansville for a year. It was while she was there that she decided to move from teaching to parish work. Because her parents were aging, she looked for pastoral ministry in Evansville. She was hired at St. Boniface Parish. She told me that she thought she was the first lay pastoral associate in the diocese, but she couldn’t prove it. Her ministry extended into diocesan offices. She did some work in the marriage tribunal. She shared responsibility for the SPRED program serving all of Evansville’s west side parishes and later she became assistant director of the program. This was her initial experience working with people with disabilities and it began a great love, appreciation, and concern for them. After nine years, she moved to Indianapolis to serve as pastoral associate at Holy Rosary/St. Patrick for three years.

In 1988, Sister Rita Black invited her to come to Selma, Alabama, to work for the Edmundite Southern Missions. Off she went, for 11 years. She loved her experience there, loved learning about and participating in the religious practice of African American Christians, loved the opportunity to be jarred out of her complacency about racism. She states in an article in Community, our in-house newspaper of yesteryear, “These people have greatly impacted my life. I am so impressed with their faith in the midst of their monumental struggles.” She goes on to say that she had to struggle within herself with what others called her “band-aid approach” to social justice rather than working for systemic change, “but,” she states, “when the hungry are at the door, or people need clothing or the lonely need visiting, that taps into my particular giftedness. I truly feel that I have been gifted by Providence to be a caring person.” She kept up with some of the women from this ministry for many years.

In 2000, at age 70, she left Alabama and moved into the LaSalle Street house in Indianapolis. She says of herself in the same article in Community that the one constant in all her ministries is the fact that “I love people; I love relating one-on-one with people. I love getting to know people and hearing their stories.” And her ministries in SPRED and with the Edmondite missions drew her to want to serve those with disabilities and those who were economically poor. So as soon as she settled in the house on LaSalle Street, she looked for ways to give service. Right down the street from the house was Handy Capable Hands, a sheltered workshop for developmentally disabled adults. She volunteered there twice a week, simply participating in whatever work they were doing at the time. She also, through the public library, tutored a woman with reading disabilities, again giving loving and patient attention to the woman’s needs. Last she worked two afternoons a week at Miracle Place. There, she befriended the children who came there after school as well as some of the challenged adults who frequented the place. I lived with Sue for some of these years and she would often tell us a touching story about the challenges of the people she met in each of these ministries; the deep faith of Ruby, the woman she tutored; the kindness of the handicapped adults to each other, etc. I recall her sharing that when she asked a boy about age 10 who came to Miracle Place what he wanted for Christmas, his response was “a bed.” These kinds of happenings moved her greatly and made her even more loving, more caring, and more compassionate.’

Sister Suzanne Buthod (formerly Sister Mary Judith)

Loving, caring and compassionate, these are three adjectives that described Sister Suzanne. I might also add, welcoming and friendly and eager to participate. After she retired to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2004, she volunteered at Educational Family Services, Providence Food Pantry, St. Ann Clinic, the Federal Penitentiary and The Helping Hands. As her physical abilities diminished due to Parkinson’s, she was forced to relinquish these ministries, one by one. She went to The Helping Hands as long as she could, even though she had trouble standing for any length of time and her eyesight was declining. How hard it was for her to leave this last ministry, this woman who derived great energy working with others to serve the poor and disabled.

Yet, by her very being, she continued to serve. I am told that she knew every staff person by name; that when she entered a Lourdes Dining Room, she greeted all before she was seated. Shawn Shamsaie shared with me that Sue worked with his son Adam at Educational Family Services years ago, gently offering him encouragement and guidance to improve his academic skills. But over and above this, she never forgot Adam. Just two weeks before she died, she asked Shawn about Adam and shared some memories of him. This is just an example of how she maintained her loving concern for those with whom and for whom she worked and ministered over the years. This was confirmed by Father Terry who told us in his homily the day after her death of his conversation with Sue in her last hours, how she talked of relationships with friends, family and sisters.

One of my memories of Sister Suzanne was a conversation we had about her time in Alabama. For her last years there, she lived alone. She was talking about her house there and remarked, “Well, it wasn’t fancy but I think my guests were always comfortable.”

Nothing fancy, but comfortable. I think these are two more adjectives that may well describe our Sister Suzanne. In fact, several times after she asked me to write her commentary, she said to me, “I don’t know what you will say. I really haven’t done very much that is exciting.” Maybe this is true, maybe not. But are we not judged on love, not on accomplishments? For sure, Suzanne was someone who made everyone she met feel comfortable. Certainly, this alone is a life accomplishment!

In this life, Sue, you were a child of God. Now you see God as God truly is. Your joy is full! Thank you, Sue, for loving us. We don’t wish you eternal rest but eternal energy to continue loving us, being in relationship with us, helping all of us, your family, your friends, your sisters. We are counting on your continuing care!

Funeral services for Sister Suzanne took place on Wednesday, March 9, 2022, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

A Wake took place at 10 a.m., followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.

Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Suzanne to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Suzanne in the comment section below.

Sister Suzanne Buthod (formerly Sister Mary Judith)

Complete Ministry

In Illinois: Teacher, Sacred Heart, Lockport (1951-54); Teacher, St. Mary Carmelite, Joliet (1954-56).

In Indiana: Teacher, St. Michael, Greenfield (1956-62); Teacher/Principal, St. Catherine, Indianapolis (1961-68); Director of Novices, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1969-72); Teacher, Schulte High School, Terre Haute (1969-74); Teacher, Evansville Reitz Memorial High School, Evansville (1974-75); Parish Ministry, St. Boniface Parish, Evansville (1975-78); Special Religious Education/Auditor-Marriage Tribunal, Diocese of Evansville, Evansville (1978-80); Auditor/Marriage Tribunal/Assistant Director of Special Religious Education, Diocese of Evansville, Evansville (1980-81); Auditor/Advocate/Marriage Tribunal, Diocese of Evansville, Evansville (1981-84); Pastoral Associate, Holy Rosary/St. Patrick Parishes, Indianapolis (1985-88); Volunteer, Indianapolis (2002-04); Volunteer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2005-06); Volunteer, West Terre Haute (2006-17); Residential Services/Volunteer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2011-17); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2017-22).

In Alabama: Outreach Service Minister, Mobile (1988-99).

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar Janice Hoeping Dennin - Cape Canaveral, FL on March 4, 2022 at 11:29 pm

    My 8th Grade Teacher @ St. Catherine’s Grade School in Indianapolis was a caring mentor as I grew up w/a load of uncertainties. Sr Mary Judith was a young & beautiful role model as she took on challenge of St. Catherine’s Principal. May she Rest In Peace w/Sr Catherine Eileen…What a Pair to be remembered.❤️

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