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By Joan Chittister, OSB

One of the most difficult things in life is to say goodbye to someone whose life has affected your own, to someone whose life has been larger than themselves, to someone–the very memory of whom–conjures up an image of better times, important times, meaningful times, life-changing times.

Barbara Thomas, sister, model and friend, is one of those for me and, I suspect, for many.

Barbara brought a steady faith and an equally steady direction to a time more marked by chaos and uncertainty. She had the capacity to bring an aura of certainty to the maelstrom of confusion ushered in by Vatican II and, at the same time, to fan the hope in it, as well.

When women religious struggled between the constraints of the eternal childhood to which earlier ages and ideals and understandings of women and the liberating but demanding demands of the kind of adulthood for women that came with the fullness of feminism, Barbara brought both the strength of womanliness and the depth of commitment to her vows, her community, her faith and her church.

She was a womanly woman, a loving woman, a strong woman, a women religious of the deepest fervor and the widest heart. She was a Sister of Charity of Nazareth–for whom the unboundaried charity of Jesus and the breadth of the tradition she embodied at Nazareth were her greatest sign, her unfailing gift.

When religious life needed calm most, Barbara was calm. When religious life needed some surety that the path they were on was a path that, without doubt, led to God, Barbara was the essence of certainty. When religious life needed understanding and education in both theology and law, Barbara taught the country both the theology they needed and the law they had not known in order to give them the strength it took to go the way there was no path and leave a road for all of us to follow.

With those gifts she seeded a new kind of commitment for us all.

To me, she was even more than that.

She was sister, model, mentor and friend. She was the older sister who prodded me on. She was the model who showed me how to go there. She was the mentor who called out gifts I did not know I had and culled them in me against all doubt and opposition till I could find my way alone. She was the friend who stood by through the years when so many others had gone their own ways.

And so today, for the sake of many who cannot be here to do the same, my goodbyes are many:

Goodbye to the leader, Goodbye to the enabler, Goodbye to the well of wisdom and strength of soul she was to so many of us. Goodbye to the loving, caring, prodding sister. Goodbye to the model of hope and possibility and steady strength she was to all.

Most of all, goodbye to the friend, the power of whose presence for so many of us,– especially for me,– will never go away and because of whose goodness I more and more believe such soul will never die, will indeed rise again not only in Jesus but in all of us who knew her for as long as we live.

Goodbye for now, Barbara, but only for now.

All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Ps 98

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