For almost 35 years Sister Barbara Ann Lengvarsky served the people of God at the City of St. Jude in Montgomery, Alabama. Now she says goodbye to the place where she gave of herself lovingly and wholeheartedly.
The City of St. Jude, started in 1934 by Father Harold Purcell, the first editor of Sign Magazine. His focus was to provide medical, educational and spiritual assistance to African Americans in central Alabama during a time when these services were often denied to “persons of color”. The City of St. Jude covers an entire city block, 36 acres, and was comprised of a grade school, high school, athletic field, Social Service Center, Exceptional Children’s Center, two convents, a large general hospital, a school of Nursing and a most beautiful Parish Church. A carving in one of the side altars of the St Jude Church is: “Not what you have, but you”.
The hospital closed in 1976 and was later converted to affordable housing apartments. The schools are closed. The space that had been a school of nursing is now a parish all-purpose hall. One of the convents is now a museum dedicated to the civil rights movement. The Children’s Center, Father Purcell Memorial, continues to care for 52 physically and mentally challenged children. The Social Service Center and its various outreach services is still active.
When Sister Barbara Ann first arrived at St. Jude, she taught in the St. Jude Educational Institute for 16 years. When the school closed in 2014, Sister Barbara joined the staff of St. Jude Social Service Center and worked tirelessly for almost 19 years.
Although her desire was to remain in Montgomery and continue serving her beloved poor, Sister was asked to close her ministries there and return to St. Louise Convent. Due to some continuing health issues, Sister Barbara Ann is currently a resident of Lourdes Hall (the infirmary at St. Louise Convent). Sister Barbara Ann is the last of the Sisters missioned at the City of St. Jude. She is also the last woman religious in Montgomery. She prayed with the sick and dying, made home visits was very active in a prison ministry for two state prisons. Sister was the spiritual moderator for the Ladies of Charity in the area.
On Ash Wednesday of this year, Sister returned to Alabama to pack her belongings and say her goodbyes. Many organizations wanted to have a special sendoff and many wanted to take her out for dinner or spend time visiting. It was not possible, in the time allotted, for Sister Barbara Ann to bid farewell to all those persons and groups of persons with whom she ministered.
On March 10, the people of St. Jude Parish gathered for the celebration of a special liturgy followed by refreshments and a farewell gathering in the parish hall.
A great number of persons, many teary-eyed, expressed their deep appreciation of Sister’s presence in their midst. They could not say enough about the many ways in which she helped them, showed interest in their lives, cared about them, went out of her way to do whatever she could to express compassion. It was clear that Jesus’ mandate to “love as I have loved you” was lived out every day. With great compassion and dedication, Sister Barbara Ann loved the people she served.
While the gatherings and mini-reunions were joyful, it was understandably a difficult time of leave-taking. As the van began the northward journey, Sister experienced the reality and keen pain of separation from all that had been her life for many years. Sister Barbara Ann surely gave herself lovingly and wholeheartedly to God’s people.