Sister Catherine Buster (formerly Sister Joseph Norine)
“There is much else that Jesus did, if it were written down in detail, I do not suppose that the world itself would hold all the books that would be that would be written.” — John 21:26
This passage came to mind when we gathered at Cathy’s death bed. During those last days, stories piled upon stories – some tender, some filled with wisdom and common sense, some hysterically funny. It might not take many books to tell all the stories, but it would take us late into the evening of this holy day, said Sisters Josephine Bryan and Carolyn Glynn in their commentary for Sister Catherine Buster, formerly Sister Joseph Norine, who passed away on Sunday, June 26, 2022, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 85-years-old and had been a Sister of Providence for 66 years.
The sisters continued: This dear soft-spoken woman was a dynamo in her ministry, a gentle compassionate and tenacious advocate for those in need, and a woman totally devoted to God.
These last few years have not been easy for Cathy. She would say, “I want my life back.’ Not being able to do for others was a tremendous suffering for her and this was understandable because Cathy’s whole life had been spent doing for others. From her earliest years, Cathy was needed by her siblings and, later, by her mom and dad in their years of need. Her little brother, Tom, told stories of his big sister’s love, her playfulness, and care for him. He remembers crying when he was told that she was going to the convent, and they couldn’t see her or call her. When Cathy died last week, her suitcase was packed in expectation of being with Tom in Branson this week.
If we were to put her life on speed dial, we would not be able to catch our breath. It reads like a litany of the Works of Mercy – or the antics of a wile woman.
Kitchen assistant to Sister Zita.
Manager of Providence Kitchen, the Express Hall, Food Service, the workmen and related staff, Thrall’s Station.
Running the kitchen for 1,400 of us during the summer.
Employee of the Marriot Corporation to manage their Kalamazoo Medical Center; their Retirement Center in Kansas City and then their Hospital in Noblesville, Indiana. These were from institutional-like food service to restaurant-style dining.
Travel and festivities for our Rome event.
Catalyst for Casa San Juan Bosco Farmworker Housing.
But we can’t speed-dial lest we lose the stories – the stories of her love for the poor, the lonely, and the elderly, the stories of her love for our community and her unbelievable trust in Providence. We’d lose the flavor of this woman described as a Wheeler-Dealer, Mighty Mouse, Auntie Sargent, the Major Domo, General Patton and Faithful Friend.
You might not know that when she ran Providence Kitchen, she told a Novice to crack 60 eggs and put them in the cauldron. She did just that – shells and all. Somehow, Cathy took it all in stride, probably saying to herself, “She’s stupid, but she’ll learn.” And learn, they did. Some of those very sisters were the storytellers at her death bed.
You might not know that, before dawn one blizzardly morning, she and Mary Jo traipsed through snow up to their knees to get from Rosary Hill to the kitchen and the infirmary? The sisters needed breakfast, the sisters in the infirmary needed their morning care. “No problem! Piece of cake!”
You wouldn’t know that Cathy would leave Sarasota at three in the morning, drive 326 miles to Tallahassee, meet with the various agency heads to get the funding for Casa, then drive back to Sarasota. Not only meet with them but convince them that funding for Casa was something they REALLY wanted to do. She had all the facts, the figures, and the goodness of it. They didn’t have a chance!
You might not know that before the actual building of Casa, the diocesan journalist had Cathy stand where it would be built. Cathy stood there but was lost in the wild, tall grass. In the final picture, she is standing on some make-shift stool. I saw the ridiculous sight of the small, well-dressed woman in the wild grass, but Cathy looked out over the field and say what could be beautiful, single-family homes for these dear farmworker families.
You might not know that when the first families were moving in with hardly a stick of furniture, one little tyke (maybe 6-years-old) called to her, “Hey Lady! We got SPACE!” She walked into the new house with him to see the SPACE. That was it! SPACE! The next day, Cathy was driving a 16-wheeler into the lot at Casa to bring furniture and a bed for that little tyke. No problem! “Piece of cake,” she’d say.
You might not know that Cathy whittled some of the land from Mr. Turner, a prominent landowner and realtor in Arcadia. She had the nerve to go back to him and suggest that one parcel might have a problem with water and would like him to give her, instead, a prime section she had in mind. Later, at the dedication, as one of the dignitaries, he was invited to make a few comments. Pointing to Cathy, he said, “If you see her coming, RUN!” The place exploded with laughter and applause. Some years later at the dedication of Phase Two’s 46 houses, because of the powers that be, Cathy was not on the stage; she was standing hardly visible, with the farmworkers’ families. When, finally, we had the dedication of the 64 senior apartments, Cathy’s name was never mentioned. When I commented to her about this, she said, “Don’t give it a thought. I get the most done when I can fly below the radar.” Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
You might not know that a grandmother who was helping her daughter and family move into Casa, came up to Cathy with coins in her hand, trying to find out how to put the coins in the washer. Cathy folded her hand over the woman’s clenched fist of coins and told her that she did not need coins for this washer.
You certainly would not have known that none of this should have happened? This girl who grew up in Wilmette, was educated at Marywood in Evanston and had a year of college at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, wanted to be a cook? A domestic? The superiors thought it best to ask her parents about this. Cathy said later that her mother went ballistic! Somehow or other, Cathy prevailed. Thus began the journey that would define her life. It was like the multiplication of the loaves; there wasn’t a thing she couldn’t do so, without much thought, more and more responsibilities were assigned to her.
You might not know that Cathy was gifted with tremendous common sense. When she was missioned at Ladywood, the superior would get quite stressed over one thing or another. Cathy would get word of it and out she’d pull old hearse-like Buick. Without a word of explanation, several sisters would pile into the vehicle with the harried superior. They’d roll down the windows, and tell funny, lighthearted stories as, in the darkness of the night, they rode through the lovely estate that we acquired at the time of the Wall Street crash. This same common sense was evident when, after a heavy job with her young sister-helpers, Cathy would somehow produce pizza and beer.
You would not know that when Cathy fed 1,400 sisters in the summer, most at Foley, in the heat of the kitchen with just five assistants and no air conditioner, she assumed the role of the soft-spoken General Patton in command, but she could carry out an elegant banquet that was as attractive as it was delicious. And with all of this, she could sense the smallest need – no one was unimportant, no job too disgusting. She was as comfortable with the elite as she was on a tractor helping the workmen.
Cathy’s logo was, “You call, we haul.” And this she did, from food to furniture. She and Sister Mary Jo were called upon to move some items from the crypt in the late hours of the night so as to not upset the sisters. One hysterical episode is a story for another time.
The years of change were rapid and varied: The main refectory to the community room, the community room to the present refectory. There were major changes in the Infirmary, new needs, supplies, a new building. Cathy was not only the Manor Dorma but the expert running the scrubber. Still, she had a bit of elegance about her. She knew how to decorate for Christmas and every inch of the Motherhouse looked like the windows of Marshall Fields.
But life is not without pain. Being powerful with no official power is not easy to bear in any institution. I asked her about this on one of our drives out to Casa. She told me, ever so simply, “I pray and I pray and I pray.” She rose each morning at 4:30 and prayed for an hour-and-a-half. Only this week, as we sorted her things, did I find prayer books, delicately marked in pencil: Small devotional prayer booklets for Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, the Passion, the Psalms, the Gospels …
Shouldn’t we have guessed it?
Funeral services for Sister Catherine took place on Saturday, July 9, 2022, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
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 Catherine to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Catherine in the comment section below.
Sister Catherine Buster (formerly Sister Joseph Norine)
In Indiana: Cook, Ladywood, Indianapolis (1960-67); Express Hall/Kitchen, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1967-70); Saga Food Service/Express Hall, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1970-78); Maintenance Coordinator/Saga Liaison, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1978-86); Food Service Director for Marriott Corporation, Riverview Hospital, Noblesville (1988-89); Residential Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2020-2022).
In Missouri: Food Service Director for Marriott Corporation, Kingswood Manor and Health Care Center, Kansas City (1986-88); Manager Administrator, Cathedral Square Towers, Kansas City (1989-94).
In Illinois: Food Service, Marywood, Evanston (1967).
In Florida: Development and Staff Training/Director of Operations, Just Like Home Wildwood Profession PK, Bradenton (1996); Executive Director/Founder, Just Like Family Wildwood Profession PK, Bradenton (1996-98); Director of Real Estate Department/Administrative Assistant, Building Commission, Diocese of Venice, Venice (1999-2005); Consultant, Catholic Charities Housing, Diocese of Venice, Sarasota (2005-2010); Consultant (2010-11); Volunteer Catholic Charities Housing, Diocese of Venice (2011-2020).
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