This document is a transcription of Sr. Karen Baustian's (Evelyn Theresa Baustian) oral history as given to Sr. Joan Weir at Marillac Provincial House of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul, St. Louis, Missouri.
Sr. Joan: This is Sr. Joan Weir. Today is July 31st, 1986 and I am interviewing Sr. Karen Baustian at Marillac Provincial House, St. Louis, Missouri. Good afternoon, Sister. . .
Sr. Karen: Hello.
Sr. Joan: . . . and I'm so happy that you have come and will share with me your life.
Sr. Karen: Well, I have the time now, and I never mind sharing my life with people, so I hope this will serve your purposes.
Sr. Joan: Well I'm sure that it will, because this is for the archives, and anything that you wish to tell us about yourself. . .
Sr. Karen: Well after thinking about it, I thought, maybe, Sr. Joan, I'd start out by saying that this year on August 15th, I'll observe my 30th year of vocation as a Daughter of Charity and also in August I'll have my 64th birthday, so that tells you right away I was not a youngster when I became
a Daughter of Charity. . .so that may be a good place to start; but I was 34 years old so the history I brought with me is still. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .very rich. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .very much a part of me and we could divide this kind of into two parts. That first 34 years, and then the 30 that have followed, might make. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .that'll be fine. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .that a good story for someone who is interested in listening to it. I was born in 1922, and I was born in a small farm home in southwestern Minnesota near Luverne, Minnesota. I was the second child, my Mother and Dad were both 25 years old when I was born. I had one older
brother and then later on I have two sisters and two more brothers; so there were six of us altogether.
Sr. Joan: . . .Yes, that was a nice family. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .Yes it was. Mother and Dad had been born and raised in that same community, so they had been rural all of their lives much as we were. From the time they were married Dad had farmed on a number of small farms, (I think where we lived when I was born was probably the second farm they lived on), by the time I was 4 we probably had lived on a couple of other farms because that seemed to be the pattern for a young struggling family. And in 1926, when I was four, we moved to North Dakota. And I always remember the train ride there; my Dad had gone, and Mother took the four of us, my sister Betty was a babe-in-arms, and the three of us were tagging at Mom's skirt tails as we went on the train, and we had to ride all day on the train to get to Fargo, North Dakota. And I can remember running up and down the aisles and the conductor saying to my older brother Ed and I that we could stand out on the caboose platform if we wanted to, when, oh, but only when he was there. And I always remembered that so clearly. We lived then three years, in North Dakota and my youngest brother and youngest sister were born there. This was getting to be in the late twenties close to the time of the big crash and that, and I guess it was the pattern to my parents lives that they could always be struggling farmers who didn't ever make a real fortune at
their chosen work. But they always made a good living and we certainly had a happy family life. But at the end of three years, and three farms that had been tried and it wasn't working out and after my youngest sister was born and my mother had nearly died; the decision was made I think more by my Dad's brothers, as I figured it out as a child, (I was seven), that, that then we had better move back to where the rest of the family was, back to southern Minnesota. So, we went back to southern Minnesota. And my two uncles had come to pick up my mother and the children and Dad was closing up, getting rid of his livestock and he would come back later. And they arrived. And they arrived in a brand new Model A Ford which was quite something if you know the cars of that time. Dad had always driven the Model T and when we got into this closed-in car, and it went 35 miles an hour, we were quite elated to be going, but I got car-sick and we had about 300 miles, 350, 400 miles to travel and they were going to travel it all in one day. My little sister, babe-in-arms, and we five other children, mother and all of our belongings packed into this little car with my two uncles. And I got car-sick and had to. . .they couldn't stop, just didn't have time to stop so I'd stick my head out the window and there we were, going... Well, anyway, that was where my childhood was spent, on the farm and for the most part, except for one year, it was, my schooling was in the little one-room country school house were you had the one teacher who taught all of the grades from the little ones who were getting ready to go to 1st grade next fall to the eighth grades, or the older boys who were looking forward to the day when they didn't have to come back.
Sr. Joan: . . .that's interesting. . .
Sr. Karen: So that was my early education. Living on the farm I think we learned many, many of the things that stand us in good stead all our lives, honesty, openness, fairness, good hard work, clean living, all of these things you learn growing up on the farm. Mother and Dad were both Catholic,
Dad being a convert from the time that they married. I was baptized in the little church in Luverne, Minnesota which is a little town of about 3000, at St. Catherine's Church, I had my first communion there and was confirmed there, and I've been back there a number of times, still have many aunts and
uncles and cousins who live there. When I was 16, Dad's adventuresome. . .or as my Mother always called it; his wandering foot, was anxious to be on the road again, and he decided that if he was ever going to make a go of farming he had to have his own farm and the only place he could afford a farm was in northern Minnesota where the unbroken land and forest was still available for anyone who wanted to venture that way. So in 1938, he picked up Mom and we six kids and we moved to northern Minnesota which we thought was just
absolutely great. Of course, I was 16, and we really liked it. I had started to go to high school when I was fourteen and that same year my mother had been very ill. And we had to drive 14 miles a day to go to high school and Dad had gotten a woman in to do the housework and that just didn't work out and I finally went to him and I said, "Look, Daddy, you get rid of her and I'll quit school. . ." which was a real sacrifice for me because I loved learning from the time I was big enough to hold a piece of chalk and write on our blackboard. . .but, anyway, I did drop out of high school, and so when I was sixteen we moved to northern Minnesota, (Mother had really regained her health quite well), and when my sister got through her eight grades of grade school I said, "Now its your turn. If anybody has to stay home to help its going to be you." And although I was seventeen, I started high school and I was able to finish that in three years because they let me take some extra courses and I graduated then in 1942, just in time for the big war. I had
earned a scholarship to teachers college, well, to one of the state colleges in Minnesota, they were all "teachers colleges". Everyone kind of assumed that I would be a teacher because I liked school, I always got good marks, I
was always the head of the class and they just assumed that, well, of course I would be a teacher. And I guess I did too, up to a certain point. There was always a block in my mind about. . .did I really want to teach school? Particularly a couple times during the time I was in high school when the
principal would pull me out and send me down to mind the fourth graders or something and I couldn't manage them, so I wasn't too sure I wanted to be a teacher. I'd always liked chemistry and biology and mathematics during high school and my brother who's just a year and a half younger than I; he and I were always very, very close. In fact, we took a number of classes together in high school, we used to compete, but we were very, very close and he dropped out of school to join the Air Force. And, when he joined the Air
Force he went in to do some electronics, to learn electronics work. Oh, wouldn't that be neat! And he said, "Well, you know, get civil service. . ." he wasn't joining the Air Force per se, he was joining civil, going to get a civil service job first, but then he had to also enlist, but I wouldn't have to do that. So I toyed around and toyed around with the idea, so finally the chance came to take this test and instead of registering for college I decided to go take this civil service test. And I passed it, so I did go to work then for the Air Force, for. . .went to school for three or four months then I worked for almost a year for the Air Force as an electronics mechanic on airplane instruments and liked that very, very much. A number of us who were doing that kind of work talked about we would like to be in one of the
branches of the military because we felt we had to support our country and wave the flag and all of that. And I think any of us who grew up during World War II realized the difference between the attitudes that existed at that time and the attitudes that existed in the late 60's and early 70's. There was such a change in the total country's attitude toward patriotism and our country going to war, but in 1942, '43 and '44. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .it was just very patriotic. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .everybody was just very patriotic so I thought this was what I would really like to do. And so I was accepted in the Marine Corps. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .how interesting. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .and went into the Marine Corps in 1943. During that time I was an electric. . .not an electric. . . but. . .a radio technician who repaired radios, receivers and transmitters and that was really a very, very interesting job and I did have two very, very interesting assignments during
that time. I was sent to the base in South Carolina that is the men's boot camp on Paris Island, South Carolina and when I got there, there was a sergeant there who had been there for maybe like 30 years or something and of course he didn't make me too welcome because he knew that when I got settled
in he probably would go. And I, I really I understood that and I really felt kind of bad about that but I knew that was why I was there and so it was true after I learned where everything was and what my responsibilities were he did leave and I had the operation of all the communications on this whole mammoth base. It was very, very interesting and I really enjoyed every bit of it. And then the opportunity came to, for us to go overseas, to go to Hawaii, and I volunteered for that, so I got to go there, too. And, of course, my mother was just absolutely horror. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .Oh, I bet she was. . .
Sr. Karen: stricken. . . bad enough for the boys to have to do this. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .their own daughter. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .but for me too, well that was just a little much. But anyway, I did go to Hawaii and there I worked in a crew that. . .we prepared all the radios that came back from the south Pacific to go back out by taking off all the old mold and fungus and stuff that had. . .and the damaged parts
and then re-processing them and sending them back out and there was a real sense of having done something when we did that; until the war was over and then I came home. During that time in Hawaii I met a young man from New York who was in the Navy and we did become engaged. Then after the war was over you saw after six or eight months that was just not going to work. He was the city boy from New York and me the country girl from Minnesota we couldn't even decide where to see each other, well. . .but anyway that didn't work out. So then the big question was, in 1945 and '46: what was I going to do? Well, everybody wanted me to go back to school and be a teacher and I said no, that no, that there's just no way I can go back. Then I would like to continue to do the kind of work I was trained to, so I went to Minneapolis which is the biggest city that anybody in Minnesota can go to and I applied for jobs in several places that had electronics work and they all saw me and most of these men were very honest, they'd say, "Well, with your record and your experience you really should be placed in this position, but I cannot do
that because I cannot hire a woman for this job. Its just not the time that it can be done. . ." and in 1946 you didn't stand up and say "Women's Rights!" or anything like that. So I really had to do some serious thinking and wondering what I was going to do and I remembered something I'd always liked to do and didn't think I wanted to follow it was; I had a teacher in high school who told me she thought that I should really. . .work on my writing, that my writing, I could make a living by my writing. And I couldn't see how I could do that. I just couldn't; and I thought more and more about it and then I became, since I had worked on the radios in the
technical end of it I became more intrigued with the idea. Maybe I would like to go into broadcasting. So I was able to go to a broadcast school because we had the government help, the GI Bill of Rights and everything so I went to a broadcasting school and I learned radio broadcasting, writing
commercials and different types of programs. And from 1947 then until 1955 when I left to come to the community that's what I did, I worked in several small rural type communities. My first job was in Hannibal, Missouri, just up the road. And, I was there about four months and then there was an
opening at a place that was closer to home in northern Minnesota and I went there. And then I met some people who were opening a new station in another little town nearby and they wanted me to join with them, and so I did. And I worked there for about five years. All during this time I was going home a lot, I dated some; not a lot, did a lot of civic work and involvement in women's clubs and girl's groups and was quite active in the community. I became more and more active in the church. We hear much now about singles in the church and the hard time that they have, well they have nothing to talk about. They didn't live through 'before Vatican II'. Because, when I was single in the church there just was nothing. . .Father said, "Well, the only thing you can do is join the Ladies Aid. . .and be in a circle." Well you go to these circle meetings and it would be all the young mothers and their little toddlers and here you were a single woman trying to live out your life as a single woman in the world, and, with no definite thoughts one way or the other of remaining single or married, having made no absolute choice of which state, and well, that was hard. Well then in about '54 things began to open up a little bit and we had a study club at church, so I joined the study club and I really, really enjoyed that. It was the first time I had been exposed formally to any kind of religious education, because when we grew up we went to catechism once a week, maybe half of the year or something like that and then during the summer you'd go for two, three weeks and then the only other thing you had was to go to mass on Sunday and Holy days.
Sr. Joan: . . .what you got at home. . .
Sr. Karen: And then what you got at home and that was not formal training that was the practical. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .lived. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .'lived' practical part, and I had always wanted to know more about the church and the faith and that. So I, this study club, when we were reading the Bible, and that was, of course, quite daring in '53 and '54 to read the Bible, but they were doing it in some places because there were study guides and everything that we had. And I, at Lent that year I thought, "Well you know, you wonder what this is all about, about going to mass every day and all of that. Well you'll never know if you don't try it." So I started going to mass every day. Well when lent was over I thought, "Well, there's no reason why you can't do that, you have to get up and go to work anyway and you go that half-hour earlier to mass." So I started going to daily mass and communion. And then, what's the Novena about? I had no idea
what Novena was about. And why would I make a Novena? Well, I was kind of attracted to the Novena to Mary, it was Our Lady of Perpetual Help and I needed Novena that I was to know what I was to do with my life. . .and never thinking that much about it, I had to have a reason I thought to make the
Novena. And I made the Novena and I kept going to the Novena and going to the Novena. But anyway, anyway, in about 1955 it just became very, very clear, and once it became clear, then I thought, "Well, where am I going to go, where do you go to do something like that?" And so, I went to see Father
and he said, "Well, you don't want to teach, do you?". And I said, "No." But, he said, "You're going to have to go see these Sisters who do teach if you want to find out something about religious life. I think Sister could probably give you some places to write. I remember vaguely something that is
in my office, somewhere, that came in about a community that I think you could like, but I don't know where it is, but I'll start looking and I'll remember it." And, so, I had checked with one of this other sister, one of the Benedictines and had a nice visit with her and I think I always appreciated the fact that she didn't pounce on me and say, "Well, come join us!" when I went to see her.
Sr. Joan: . . .that's right. . .
Sr. Karen: And she told me about the medical missionaries and about a group in Indiana, the Victory Knoll missionaries which was very new that she didn't know much about, but she had a book that had their addresses in, so she said, "Why don't you get in touch with them?". So I wrote to the medical missionaries and I wrote to the Victory Knoll missionaries. Well, neither one of them were very receptive at all. They wrote back and they were just very negative about my age and my lack of education and that kind of thing.
Sr. Joan: . . .the Lord had other designs. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .so finally one day Father called and he said, "Can you come over after work tonight?. " And I said, "Yes." He said, "In my files I found what I was looking for and I really think you'd be interested!" It was a form letter from Sr. Bertrand; that she sent out. And he said, "I
think this is the kind of group of women you'd like to, at least, find out about." So, "Sure, I'll write to her." At that point, I don't know if I would even do that today or not, but I was just. . .evidently the Lord was just really...
Sr. Joan: . . .He was directing you. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .giving me all the things, what I should be doing next. So, I wrote Sr. Bertrand, and she wrote right back and said, "When can you come to St. Louis to see me?" And so, I said, well, such and such a time. So in April 1955 I came the weekend, it was the weekend of the translation of the relics of St. Vincent and I had no idea what they were doing in the mass that morning, I had never heard of a 'relic', but anyway we got through that. But anyway, she took my application and she went over it and after a half-hour interview she said, "I see no reason why you would not be acceptable if we can get everything else together." We talked about my records, my birth certificate, and baptism and all of this and the family and that, and, so she said, "Well, while you're here, would you like to have a physical? I can arrange for Sr. Catherine to take you over to DePaul Hospital and it won't cost you anything and you won't have to have that done when you get home. But I still would think you wouldn't be able to come in June, you would have to wait until in the fall in order to take care of all your affairs and everything. But it wouldn't hurt you to get your physical." But why? She always said she didn't know why she did that either. Well when they did the physical they found that I had a uterine tumor. Well it was large, and this
doctor couldn't imagine that I wouldn't know I had it. I said I had absolutely no idea that I had this tumor. Sr. Catherine Sullivan talked to me, and she said, "Well, go home and decide what you want to do about it, and if the Lord is calling you, it'll work out." And I said OK, so I went home
and raised a few eyebrows when I went to the gynecologist, you know. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .I guess so. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .prominent young business woman in town and all that stuff. . well, I let it be known right away when I came out of there what he said. He said yes, I did have a very large tumor and he recommended surgery, there was
nothing else so he told me when we could do it and all of that and set everything up and that. So I had the surgery and then the council said they'd have to have a doctors report so the doctor wrote and he said he would discharge me that I was physically OK, I would probably have the effects of this all my life because they had done a complete hysterectomy. So then the letter came back from Sr. Catherine and I think it was, like, the feast of St. Vincent, in July, that it came back, right around that time anyway.
And, she wrote and she said the council had decided that it would be better if I waited till the next February because they thought I needed that time to recuperate and get ready to come. And that if that was alright I would be accepted to come in February of 1956. And so, I guess that's kind of like I said, the 34 years that, until I realized my vocation. And, during that time when I was waiting to come, there was never any hesitation or doubt or wondering. People would say, "Well, I sure don't understand you, but we can see that this must be something you want to do because you're just taking everything step by step and in stride and there doesn't seem to be any obstacle in your way now and so, if it's what you want then it must be what you're supposed to do." I guess that's the way its been ever since I came to
Sr. Joan: God's ways are strange. . .
Sr. Karen: And I always remember when I told my Mother and Dad, and my Dad said, "Well, I've always prayed, that's one thing I've been praying these last years for is that you could decide what it is you wanted to do with your life. Everybody else is settled now. Now you'll be settled."
Sr. Joan: Isn't that something. . .
Sr. Karen: So he was very, very happy and so I didn't have to go through any of that with my family. My brothers and sisters they just kind of looked at me and they said, "Well we don't know what you're doing either; that's not within our realm of thought but you go ahead and do what you have to."
What more would you like to hear? I could. . .I could. . .
Sr. Joan: Would you like to tell about your community life?
Sr. Karen: I could ramble on and on, there's much about my childhood I never told. But then you're only looking for the highlights.
[The recording pauses at this point.]
That was just a couple of years after the postulants started grouping out here at Marillac instead of at St. Willemina's. So I was here, up on the third floor here in the Villa, with Sr. Margaret O'Leary. She was our postulant directress and Sr. Clotilda Landry was her assistant. And there was a large band ahead of us, that was that band of, oh, about somewhere
between 25 and 30 sisters, I think. . .Lois Douglas, John Mary Burton, a whole group, there was just a large, large group in that band just ahead of us, but then our February band was only 12 of us. And then there was a large band the following June and then in August we went to the seminary. But all the while we were in the seminary we were easily 70 to 90, the whole while I was in the seminary that year because you overlapped all the time. So, anyway, I came here for the postulatum and even then the postulants were going to Marillac College taking the basic courses. And, instead of going to school, Sr. Lois Douglas, who was in the band ahead of me, and myself and several other of the postulants, Jarowitz, and, Tigman, we all worked in Sr. Bertrand's office over in the secretariat. It was a combination of the
educational work and the vocation work because we did a lot of things of changing all of the sisters' transcript records from a variety of formats, from the different colleges where they had gotten, they'd take a course here and a course there and they were getting those all onto standard forms of their credits so that they could figure out where the sisters who were out in the schools were, as far as their educational qualifications; where they'd have to pick up if they were going to fill in and finish up here. So we worked on a lot of those transcripts, going back and forth and checking all
of that. And then we also worked under Sr. Marie, (she was Catherine at the time), in answering Sr. Bertrand's heavy load of vocation mail. And, so, for a while we just wrote form letters; she had four or five forms and this pile you'd answer with this letter, these eighth graders get this letter and that. Well, then Sr. Catherine got to giving us these letters and letting us just answer them, at least Sr. Olsen and I did that, so we worked doing that.
Sr. Joan: . . .more personal. . .
Sr. Karen: I did go to a couple of classes that Sr. Bertrand had like Christian Formation and Community Heritage or something like that, so I had a couple of classes a day and then worked in the secretariat over there, so. . some of the stuff of postulatum you missed but you also were kind of protected from all of that 'kiddish' stuff that went on when these 17 and 18 year olds were trying to get themselves fitted into the pattern. So in August then of '56 we went to a seminary and had that year in the seminary and that was a very quiet spiritual year, for me, anyway. I didn't need a
lot of up-hill activities, not having that didn't bother me, it was just like a real retreat, just to be away from all of the hustle and bustle.
Sr. Joan: . . .have that time with the Lord. . .
Sr. Karen: And reading all of that spiritual material that was there. Every time I had a chance I had my nose in a book. So then, of course, the big wonderment of what you would do when seminary was over. . . for most of the sisters then is was to go on to Marillac College. I think I had a hard time deciding what I would do. Sr. Lois went right into the secretariat as a secretary. What was I going to do? So they assigned me to work with Sr. Margaret to take care of the postulants. So I had that job for, oh about 15, maybe 16 months, something like that; that I was Sr. Margaret's assistant. That was when we had those large, large groups of postulants in '57 and '58. Things were still done in the old way of lining up and marching and all of the silence and everything. I didn't mind it, the only thing that I guess
was hard was the fact I did not have the contact with the rest of the community; because I lived with the postulants, I ate with them, I went to mass with them, I recreated with them on weekends, particularly, week-ends were heavy, heavy because those were the times when they really needed
attention and extra activity and involvement, and Sr. Margaret's health didn't permit too much of that, so I had all that. I had very little contact with the community except when I would go for the two o'clock reading every day. I would go over and sit in the seminary for the two o'clock reading, well, at least I saw the other sisters. You know, whenever there was a vow day came along or something you could go over, but other than that you didn't, because you had to eat with the postulants, in fact, sometimes we ate in what is now the Villa dining room, and then we also ate in the lower refrectory so we were completely separated from the community. We did not get, while we were in postulatum or when I was working with the postulants, you didn't get a lot of community news. A lot of the stuff didn't filter down to the postulants the way we know that it does today. Community
news is hardly community news anymore. It's shared with
Sr. Joan: . . .everybody. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .everybody; our lay associates and everyone which is, I think, the way it should be, but at that time it wasn't. So, I kind of had gotten into the habit of, when I'd go over to the switchboard to pickup the postulant's mail every morning, that that was kind of a time for saying hello
to different people, even though you never talked in anyplace at Marillac at that time, in the halls or anything, but, in the front office you did. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .you did. . .
Sr. Karen: and that, so we had had a. . .I don't know how come I had seen Fr. Dolan. He must have made a visitation of the Provincial House or something. Because I had seen Fr. Dolan and I expressed some of the things to him that I felt could be improved as far as more community life, and he did too, and he said well he would see that that got taken care of immediately and then I got so that I went to evening recreation every night or at least a couple times a week. If something came up that I couldn't go but at least I was supposed to go and that. So then he said he thought it would be a good idea if I wrote a job description for this particular position. Well, I spent six weeks before I got the job description written and I was missioned! I said I learned early that it pays sometimes to say what you think. But, anyway, during the time I was with the postulants then,
I did take some courses over at the college. I took philosophy and logic and things like that, so that kept me busy. So then it was funny, the day I got missioned. I'd gone over after the mail and Sr. Zita Huber, the treasurer,
was in the office and when I came in the office she was in Sr. Joanna's office there by the counter and she said, "Have you got your tickets yet?" And, I said, "No, am I supposed to get one?" and she looked at me and I guess she realized real quick that she had said something that I didn't know
anything about. She said, "Oh, excuse me sister, you're Sr. Karen, aren't you, I thought you were somebody else that's going away." And I said, "Oh, OK." And I really didn't think anything about it, took the mail back over and on the way back over I got to thinking, ah, what was she talking about??, naw, that's nothing. And so I got back over, and after lunch Sr. Margaret called me and she said, "I have to go over to see Sr. Catherine. She called for me and I have to go over and see Sr. Catherine." Well when they called Sr. Margaret to go and see Sr. Catherine I thought, you know, I bet something's going on. I didn't know that much about how they did any of this or anything, back in that time nobody did. But I got to thinking. . .so when she came over and she says, "Now she wants to see YOU!" and so, when I was on the way over there I thought, oh, I bet. . .so when I got over there she says, "Do you have any idea why I want to see you?" and I said, "Well, I wouldn't be surprised if I don't." And she said, "Well, we weren't going to tell you yet, but you're going to go to Chicago." And I said, "Is that what Sr. Zita was talking about this morning?" and she said, "Yes and she didn't understand that you didn't know yet." And I said, "Well, I still didn't think anything of it until you called for us to come over and see you." So then they sent me to Marillac House in Chicago. I went to Marillac House, and social work was far from my wildest dream at any time in my life. I was this little girl from the country, and really I did not know what life in the big city was all about, even though I had lived for 34 years before I came into the community.
Sr. Joan: . . .but you hadn't lived in Chicago. . .
Sr. Karen: I had not lived in Chicago, on the west side of Marillac House. I would say that I. . .well I went there the first of November and sister didn't give me a duty until after Christmas. I helped with Christmas things and I had a lot of things to do and I got so I would at least answer the
phone at the front desk and not run when people came in the lobby. I was really very, very. . .I wasn't scared, I was just bewildered of what. . .I couldn't understand; what went on in people's lives and what it was that we were supposed to be trying to do for them there. I can remember I had to help two and three nights a week with supervising the teen program which, was just straight teen activities, but those kids were wilder than. . .at least in my books they were just terribly wild. Well, I parked myself behind the soda fountain and just stayed there. And Sr. Rosalie would come along and say, "You've got to get out there and mingle with the kids; you've got to get to know them." Well, I wanted to say, "How do you do that?" because I had no idea of what she did to be a social worker, I really, really didn't. So on the first of January, on New Year's Day itself, she called me and said,
"Well, you've been here long enough now; I have an assignment for you. Sr. Veronica Melker has been carrying this double duty now ever since last summer of the teen program and the school aged children's day care and so we really wanted to see which one you fit in best and that's what I thought, you'll have the teen program. So, effective immediately you are the director of the teen program." I said, "Well, sister, I don't know what to do but if that's what I am, that's what I am, then, I'll just. . ." She said, "Oh, we'll
adopt you and you'll learn quickly and..."
Sr. Joan: Was that Sr. Rosalie?
Sr. Karen: That was Rosalie
[Due to an overlap in the recording, Side B will start here.
You may wish to fast-forward to the end of Side A and start
Side B now to avoid a repetition
of the next page.]
And so I went in the refrectory and I cried and I cried and I cried. So Sr. Mary William Sullivan came in and she told me one thing that I always remembered, she said, "Yeah, its true, you don't know what you're doing, and everybody understands that, because that's not your background, you don't know what you're doing, but let me tell you this, the smartest thing you can do is let those young people who are running the program, now, continue to run it and you ask them what to do and what they want to do and how they want to do it, and until you find out what's going on, and then you can run it your way." That's the best piece of advice I ever got, because we had young college students who worked part-time and this was their, well this was their "bag" as they said. They knew what they were doing and they knew how to
handle these kids, they knew what the kids would respond to and what they wanted to do; and I organized them and administered the program. I never really had to worry at the first about "the kids" as such. And then, after I got into it and I got to know them as individuals and as kids; I loved it.
Sr. Joan: . . .you had to get to know it first. . .
Sr. Karen: It was a very, very good program and you really could accomplish things. And, that probably was the 10 years that really, I learned so, so much. I did that and then I had the after school program for the pre-teen kind of kids and then after three or four years Sister put me in charge of
the school aged day care and I said, "Sr. Rosalie I have absolutely no idea what that is all about. I know those kids come in before they go to school and they come back here when schools out and you take over during the summer. . .
[End of Side A]
but I don't know. . .I have no. . .and she said, "But you know how to organize and you know how to administer and that's really all you're to do, you do not have to go in and be a group leader, you've got group leaders." And so, I remembered back to what Sr. Mary William had told me and I let the group leaders run the program. So, I enjoyed three years of that because I loved working with the parents. And, I got so I could handle the kids but I never was a group leader with the kids that I could take a group of kids and
really work with them, it just wasn't my thing, as they say. One time I did and we took a course through Catholic Charities at DePaul University on group psychology and as one of the projects we had to have a group and we had to lead the group and do the whole thing. I knew the teenagers well enough by that time that I picked a group of 15, 16 year old boys and we formed a club and we just had the best time. Really enjoyed it. . .
Sr. Joan: It was a good experience. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .and I think we really accomplished something. They were kids that were ready and they didn't mind doing it for me, well, they were doing it themselves and they understood that. And I didn't have any problem handling them and I got so I could handle teenagers fine, because to take a
gun away from a kid, that was all part of the game, but there was nothing. .
Sr. Joan: But this was years later. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .Yeah, maybe five or six it took me to get to that point. . but, so anyway, so I was there 10 years and that was where I also really got the basic grounding in administration and that, because when you worked with day care you had to work with the families and their finances, collecting the money. And you had to work with your budgets so the last three or four year I was there my main assignments were, to; I was the assistant in charge of the business office, sometimes I did all the bookkeeping because I kept
saying to the bookkeeper all the time, you're going to have to teach me what you do so when you're not here, well, lo and behold there were those times when she wasn't there so I got so I could do all the bookkeeping, but I didn't do it all, but I could. Like, if she was gone for payday I would just
close the door and do nothing else but get my way through the payroll that day so that it would get out because I did know how to do it then. And worked with volunteers, and, like that. . .So that was, ah, became a very, very rich, and I think it probably was one of the most rewarding, times
because I was there all during the 60's. Was there for all of the civil rights changes and the movements; the death of President Kennedy and the death of Martin Luther King. Sitting there that night, the night after King was killed we were circled by fire. There were houses and buildings burning all around us, police cars and fire engines. I think more than any time in my community life, that I knew that some of the things we had done, were bearing fruit was that night. We couldn't decide what to do about the kids, it was a night for them to be in for activities. And, so, we had a staff meeting to see what are we going to do? Well if we knew it was only the kids that were normally coming there this would be fine, but if others happened to drift in. . . because this had been going on all day, gangs all over the
area and we wouldn't know what to do and we probably couldn't get any police backup. So, finally they decided we would just let them come in the front and use the little canteen. And everybody would be on duty in that room and anybody who came could come, because. . .but we wouldn't put out any kind
of message at all. If they came, we would let them come in. So at suppertime Sr. Mary William said, "Sisters, I don't know if we'll ever get to say night prayers. . ." because we still had some children in day care that we had to take care of until the parents came and we were trying to get hold of parents and all of that kind of thing, so she said, ". . .but if there's a break after a while and the staff is here to take care of the teens, I'll just say 'Come to the Chapel for prayers.' on the intercom and then you'll know that in 10 minutes we'll meet in the chapel to say evening, say night prayers." So that was our signal and things had calmed down so we had maybe 25 kids and they were just sitting around talking and they were so a appreciative of having somebody to talk to because they were bewildered.
They didn't know what was going on, they didn't know what was going on out there in the streets, they couldn't figure out what was going on in their own homes. Everything was topsy-turvy and people were, we were. . .
. . .just sitting there talking to them and listening to them. So she said, "We'll have prayers in the Chapel in 10 minutes." So we sisters. . .
. . .all finished whatever we were doing and headed for the Chapel. Well, guess what?
Sr. Joan: All of the children went too?
Sr. Karen: All the teens got up and they started to go upstairs to the Chapel also which they were familiar with, and we started to go to the chapel, too, so the staff all looked at each other, and, well, the staff all came to the Chapel too and the Chapel was filled to over-flowing. So Sr.
Mary William just made a little signal and she put aside her prayer book. So we all laid our prayer books down and we had an impromptu prayer service and just about everybody in there prayed, out loud. And, to me it was the biggest example I ever had of anyplace I've been or worked of. . .that what you had done unknowingly had kind of taken, taken hold and the kids really were appreciating this and were able to express it. And so. . .
Sr. Joan: That was probably the best thing that could've ever happened. . .
Sr. Karen: And, it was so unplanned because if we'd of said, well, "OK, we'll have the kids come in tonight and we'll have a prayer service, now you do this and you do that and you do that and you, you bring this piece of music. . ." or that kind of thing it would not have worked. But anyway, but,
that is, that I guess; is enough about Marillac House because I was there at the time when the sisters marched and were arrested. . .
Sr. Joan: Oh, yes!
Sr. Karen: . . .and that was a pretty hectic time. It was also a time of change and growth because many, many of the staunch supporters of the work decided that this was no longer a work they could support. Then we picked up many new supporters, particularly from the black community, and especially the upper class, upper middle class blacks who had more financial means began to take notice, in terms of their time and money. And, so, it was a complete change and growth kind of thing that came out of that. So then in 1969 I came back here to the Provincial House to work in that little organization that we called Shared Services down the walk here and I worked in the public relations/ community relations office. And for three years I edited that
Associate Magazine we had and did a lot of work with Jim Lord in working with the hospitals on public relations and working out that kind of thing. So, after that I went downtown to the old St. Pat's for a year to coordinate the volunteer activities; this was a new concept. All the sisters there went out to work in various areas and that was one of the first interdisciplinary houses that we had tried was St. Patrick's. And we had teachers and nurses and social workers. Besides going out to work, all the sisters were supposedly going to have time to also do some neighborhood work. It didn't ever really. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .work out. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .pan out, we did some in that and I did coordinate that, then I worked full time in the neighborhood with Sr. Genevive Reichart because it was very obvious at that time that she was not going to physically be able to
continue the work much longer. There was talk about the mission might close, that the diocese might demolish the church and the convent. And, they had the day care in the school, in the new school building and it was under the
auspices of the Guardian Angel day care at that time already, so that was pretty well established. And, so I did work there for a year and accomplished pretty much what we set out to. It wasn't hard to coordinate what the sisters were going to volunteer to do because there wasn't that much that we could do, like a couple did have, teach very, very small classes on Sunday, like two or three kids. One sister did begin to meet regularly with one of the building groups that met once a month. But that would take years to. . .
Sr. Joan: . . .and it takes so long to build up. . .
Sr. Karen: build it up. We'd gotten ahold of some community space in one of the buildings where the elderly lived and once a month, on the first Friday, we had mass there in the evening and that kind of thing, and that, of course, then kind of faded out when the sisters moved from there. But it was a good year to be there. At that time Sr. Brendon, who is now Sr. Nancy Sullivan, was operating this project that catered to young juveniles who had been in the court system and were out but, either wouldn't or couldn't stay in the
public school system. She had this little thing called Project Door in which the kids who were 14, 15 and that were being educated, but not in the traditional setting. And she had classrooms over in the old St. Patrick's school and she had a government grant under the Law Enforcement Agency and I
worked with her. I volunteered, I was her bookkeeper and helped her with a lot of the office work, so that gave me a, kind of a. . .
Sr. Joan: You knew what was going on. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .I knew what was going on In that part of the day every day, the rest of the day I really didn't. And, we worked on getting services for the elderly that Sr. Geneveive had cared for personally for 10, 15 years or more and, finding out what services were available and how they could fit into them. Got most of that pretty well taken care of by using the other resources like the Visiting Nurses Association and the Council on the Aging had vans that would pick them up to take them shopping or take them out to the bank to get their food stamps and cash their checks and all of that, which she did for them personally and there wasn't going to be anybody there to do it for them personally. So, I was able to, before we left, to get that kind of into operation and help them to see that they could help each other; one volunteered, she would do the phoning to get the van to come to their building, and that kind of thing. So, whether it stayed together or not, you didn't know, but there wasn't much else you could do because we knew we were going to leave. So when we left the old St. Pat's I had told the community that I felt I needed some refreshing myself, and so I came out here and took that year long theology course . . .
. . . the theology program, I was missioned to DePaul Family Center in San Antonio to work on the bookkeeping and office work there. And particularly had in mind at that time searching out funds to have a dental clinic. So, during the three years that I was there we were able to do that, we set up a dental clinic. And that was kind of fun because I had never been around a clinic before. And, I didn't care much for the nights we had clinic. I didn't mind being there, but I wasn't about to get into going into exam rooms and things with the doctors. I enjoyed meeting the people and I didn't mind filling out records and all of that, but I wasn't going near the exam rooms, for some reason. And, we set up a part-time dental clinic because it was one of the real, real big needs in that particular community. Sr. Martin knew a little about dentistry, being a nurse, I knew absolutely nothing about what the dentists did. And so we found out and we got everything we needed and we had a very busy part-time dental client going when I left there at the end of three years. . . or so. . .that. . .I was ready to leave there. . .Then they
put me over to St. Vincent's for a year to see if I could straighten out the Volunteer Auxiliary situation that had developed over the years when the merger was under consideration and was the last year the hospital was in the old location. I had eye surgery that year for the fourth time. So that was kind of a real transition year, until I did too much. I did make the determination as far as I was concerned that this auxiliary was going to have to operate on their own until they could come to the conclusion that they would be part of the Health Center Auxiliary, which I guess they have
finally gotten that worked out. And I worked in their gift shop and got that taken care of and ready to move and that, so there was a good year. But then that was the year then I was missioned out to Nebraska when we were ready to open. . . well it was designated as a shelter for women and their
dependant children. And, we thought that they would come from a large cross section of situations and it really turned out that 90 percent of them came from homes where there was battering and abuse on themselves and sometimes on themselves and their children. Anyway, we were, Sr. Janet Wolf and I were, assigned to open this shelter for women, to organize it and set it up and plan to move out in three to five years with it. . .and if it was possible to have a going institution, that was the goal. It worked very well; it really did; from the day we got there things just kind of fell into place.
Sr. Joan: That's wonderful!
Sr. Karen: The Catholic Social Services of the diocese; it was their project, they underwrote the whole thing. So, by the time I left there in three years, we had moved once. We had furnished one big old house and had room for seven women and their children. Sometimes that meant the kids sleeping on the floor with Mama. But, anyway, we had seven single beds and then the rest of the house was comparably large to take care of that number. And we moved into. . .the diocese bought us a big place that had twelve bed space and a lot of more common space. That proved not to be enough either and since we've left there, they have broken away from Catholic Social Services and formed their own non-profit corporation, its not connected with the diocese anymore. And that way they could get a broader base of support because it seemed that in strictly protestant country we really ran into some
problems as far as funding from major sources such as other church communities, foundations and so forth. They would just look at us and say, "Well that Catholic Diocese over there. . .if its their project, we'll let them. . ." So, its . . .they have changed that and it is going great. Last year they bought a two hundred thousand dollar house that has eighteen beds and still don't have enough room, but I think they plan to. . .that's all there... because you just can't get too big, but that was a real, real, real good, good work. Lincoln, Nebraska is the great all-american city, and it is a beautiful city from one end to the other. And you would say as many people who live there, "We don't have any problems here." You drive through the city, tree lined streets, clean, very nice. Well, I don't think we were there two or three weeks and we began getting all of these requests for this and requests for that. . .well when you began to look beyond the tree lined streets and that. . .
Sr. Joan: You saw a lot of poverty. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .there was just plenty of poverty and depravation there and we began to find out from the other agencies that were the public agencies would have to cope with those things every day, that there was plenty in the
great all-american city that needed to be addressed. I think of all my 30 years of community life that those three years were the three years that I spent more time promoting and talking to people. We never went by a week without at least one major meeting that we had to give a talk at, and some
weeks it would be two and three where we would go and explain what we were doing and why we were there and enlist people's support and help and that. And, so, one of the questions we would always got was, "We don't mean this goes on in our town. . ." And so we would say, "Well, if you only look no
further than here up, no, it doesn't, but you've got to get your nose down there in the nitty-gritty and you find it." Then you'd tell them about the man who lived down on main street above the record store that you had to walk up past two flights of burned out building before you got to the top floor where this dear old man, who was deaf and almost blind, lived on his Social Security pension and he was the happiest old man. . .so the day the Department of Aging, who had asked us to go and take him some food, and we got to going to seeing him, were able to move him out and get him into a
soldiers home or something was a great. . .but nobody that'd ever went to that record store ever knew what went on. . .
Sr. Joan: That was too far up. . .
Sr. Karen: . . .above there, because all that stuff gets hidden. Well, you've been around enough to know what its like in all of our cities, but to me all of this stuff was always a very great revelation. And the whole issue of abused women just completely blew my mind. It was things we dealt with day after day after day after day and hopefully we did some good things. And, we didn't know what to do. You don't know what to do, but you look at the situation and say, "Well, what's available?" And I got so much of inspiration and courage from these women and what convinced me that they
really were suffering and they really must have been very, very severely treated, was the fact that they were willing to give up everything and come and live in a shelter, where all we could give them was a bed and food and say, "Well, go down to the welfare office and see if you can get public assistance." Here's some donated pots and pans somebody gave us, now if there's anything in here you can use, you can have it. We'll try to get you a stove or we'll try to get you a chair or a bed and they would be willing to do this and they'd say, "Well, sister, you know, I probably should go after him for all those things that are in my house that really belong to me, but it's not worth it.
Sr. Joan: Not to be beaten up again. . .
Sr. Karen: I'll give all of that up and go and start all over." They'd go live in a dinky little two or three room apartment that welfare would find for them and they would scrounge and scrape and whatever it took to, for them and their children because usually there would be all the way from one to six children.
Sr. Joan: To think it still goes on. . .
Sr. Karen: Oh, and, we began to realize we were only getting the ones who happened to find out that there was a place to go. And there were the ones we couldn't take because we didn't have, we didn't have space for them and we were operating under permits and restrictions and so, anyway, that was a very, very, very good experience. It was a good religious experience too, because there had only been Sister educators in the diocese until we came there and Bishop Flavin, from, he is from St. Louis, and he knows St.
Vincent's work and philosophy, and this is what he wanted and so, he did not hesitate to let us do social work. Whereas, if any of the school teachers came and asked to do parish work or social work he said, "No, your place is in the classroom."
Sr. Joan: . . .in the classroom, yes. . .
Sr. Karen: Because he had a very, very regimented educational system in the diocese too. Every parish had an eight grade school they supported. But, I guess that's very, very important in a very non-Catholic area. Nebraska is
about ten percent Catholic,
so, that was good. And there were a good number of communities there and
the sisters were all just lovely and really welcomed us to the diocese,
it was a good experience. When I left Lincoln, then, I came back here to
St. Louis, and I went down to St. Bridget's to work at Central Catholic
Community School, they needed a bookkeeper, cafeteria manager, building
maintenance and you name it. . . [End]
And so ends Sr. Karen Baustian's oral history. The following
additional comments were
added by Sr. Joan Weir:
Sr. Joan: In November of 1981, Sister was the Sister Servant at St. Bridget's residence. She worked as bookkeeper in the Central Catholic School, food service manager and bookkeeper, and stayed there until 1985. Then Sister's health didn't permit her to continue and was physically unable to do so and after a fruitful retreat with Fr. Trapp, sister came to Marillac, the Laborae Group in December of 1985. A need arose at El Carmen in San Antonio in September of 1986 and Sister became part-time assistant in the business office. But her health continued to worsen and she was physically unable to do the work. After a fruitful retreat with Fr.
Trapp, sister came to Marillac
Provincial House in 1987 and was in St. Joseph's group. Now, in 1990, Sr.
Karen Baustian is in St. Catherine Group East, and enjoying her work. She
is a member of the. . .the delegate from her group as Peace and Justice
Committee. Sister's health continues to be a
problem. . .
Transcribed by Karen Leibnitz and John Arnold. If you have
any questions or comments, please write us at: 989 Shepherds
Lane, Atlanta, Georgia 30324-4609 or call: (404) 636-1337.