Friday, December 18, 2020
Prayer Service: 1:30 p.m.
Church of Our Lady of Loretto
Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana
View the recorded livestream service.
A memorial Mass will be scheduled when possible.
Sister M. Barbara Jeanne (Fehr), CSC
(Barbara Jeanne Fehr)
October 15, 1924–December 16, 2020
Word has been received of the death of Sister M. Barbara Jeanne (Fehr), CSC, who died at 10:13 p.m. on December 16, 2020, in Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana. Sister Barbara Jeanne entered the Congregation from Washington, D.C., on August 1, 1949. Her initial profession of vows took place on August 15, 1952.
Please join us in prayer for Sister as we renew our faith in the resurrected Jesus and strengthen our hope that all the departed will be raised to eternal life.
Sister M. Barbara Jeanne (Fehr) was midway through her Advent preparation when she was taken seriously ill. She knew it was possible, at 96 years old, that she could spend the Nativity with Christ Jesus, the long-expected desire of nations. It was not the Christmas she had planned. Sister died at Saint Mary’s Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana, in the last hours of December 16, 2020, as fresh flurries of snow fell upon the earth.
Fifty years earlier, Sister Barbara Jeanne had written her parents in Rockville, Maryland, that her Christmas in Dhaka, Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan), where she had been missioned for 14 years, had turned out to be “a very different Christmas but a most rewarding one.” A major cyclone had hit the Bay of Bengal in December 1970. Sister Barbara Jeanne and five other Holy Cross sisters flew to several small islands with other international volunteers to assist and give out provisions. Her letter described the utter destruction from the tidal waves. With no homes left standing, people were putting up rough shelters. Sister was impressed by the resilience of the Bengalis and their willingness to work together to help each other. She continued, “We found several babies born after the flood and on Christmas Eve [we saw] a perfect Nativity scene, a young woman with her five-day-old child in their dark, makeshift home.” The five sisters had a rushed Mass and dinner on Christmas Day. At sunset, on the way back to the station, the speedboat pilot got lost and they ran out of petrol. They drifted for a while in the Bay of Bengal, sang Christmas carols, and prayed a few psalms together. Eventually they hit a sand bar at low tide, spent the night on a small uninhabited island and watched the stars. Sister Barbara Jeanne concluded, “The next day, of course, we found our way back. Needless to say, it was quite an experience and fortunately one we can laugh about.”
Sister M. Barbara Jeanne’s parents appreciated her letters from the other side of the world. Her father, Joseph Conrad Fehr, was a native of Switzerland. When he was a child, Joseph became an American citizen when his father was naturalized in 1914. Sister’s father later served in the United States Army. By 1968 we know he had achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel and had been involved in diplomatic missions in Europe. Her mother was Imogene Keenan, an American from Ohio. Daughter Barbara Jeanne inherited from her mother a love of music and the arts. Barbara Jeanne was born into a military family that made many geographic transfers.
Barbara Jeanne Fehr was born in Washington, D.C., on October 15, 1924. Her older sister, Joan Barnes, died years ago. Barbara’s primary education began in the public schools in Washington. She wrote in an autobiographical account that her first acquaintance with Holy Cross was as a third-grade boarder at Saint Mary of the Wasatch, Salt Lake City, Utah. Later again, she had Holy Cross sisters for sixth and seventh grades at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Washington, D.C. Eighth grade was spent in Switzerland at a convent school, Bon Rivage, on the shores of Lake Geneva. Barbara graduated in 1942 from a Holy Cross-sponsored high school, The Academy of the Holy Cross, Washington, D.C. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from Dunbarton College, Washington, D.C., in 1946.
Barbara entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Indiana, in August 1949 and received the holy habit on August 15, 1950. Unusual for the time, she was given her baptismal name, Barbara Jeanne, as her religious name as well. On August 15, 1952, Sister M. Barbara Jeanne made her initial profession of vows, followed by her first ministry assignment, teaching junior high students at St. Cecilia’s Academy in Washington, D.C. After perpetual profession, August 15, 1955, she spent a year of study at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, to complete her master’s in theology. She then accepted an assignment to teach at Holy Cross College, East Pakistan. Sister once wrote, “I have always had a special interest in and love for people of other cultures. Fifteen years in Bangladesh (1956–1971) at our college there broadened that love still more.”
Sister left Bangladesh in 1971 and spent the next 23 years stateside in religious education, advocacy for the care of the elderly and the poor, and pastoral care, whether in a parish or hospital in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Colorado or Utah. She wrote, “Though not a political activist, I try to take part in some peace and justice issues and try to keep abreast of issues through reading.” In 1994, she moved to the motherhouse at Saint Mary’s to continue similar ministries and other volunteer service to the Congregation. She was always available to visit with Saint Mary’s College students and was interviewed frequently about the international and intercultural mission of Holy Cross today. The Congregational Archives and Records Department benefited immensely from her research as an assistant archivist from 2007 to 2014, after which she considered herself “retired.” Her full-time ministry of prayer meant she visited more with the sisters in Saint Mary’s Convent and prayed for the needs of the world, the Church and the Congregation.
In August 1955, when Sister Barbara Jeanne was being prepared for the missions abroad, Mother Kathryn Marie (Gibbons), superior general, wrote to encourage her parents, “You have every reason to be happy and proud in the possession of such an admirable daughter whose virtue and beauty of character are so evident in each day of her dedication to the work of Holy Cross.”
Sister Barbara Jeanne has completed her part in the work of Holy Cross and has ended her journey, guided by the star of faith to behold Jesus Christ in glory. She asked that the following farewell, inspired by the Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore, be a part of her celebration of life. Here is her translation in prose:
“I am taking my leave. Bid me farewell, my brothers and sisters. I bow to you all and make my departure. Here, I give you back the keys of my door and I give up all claims to my house. I only ask for final kind words from you. We were neighbors and friends for a long time, but I received more than I could give. Now the day has dawned and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out. A summons has come, and I am ready for my journey.”
We invite you to donate to the Ministry With the Poor Fund in Sister’s name.—Written by Sister M. Timothea (Kingston), CSC, and Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC