Sister Betty Schumacher
Driving into Redmond, on the way St. Jude’s parish, where Sister Betty Schumacher works as a pastoral associate, it’s easy to assume that the problems the parish community faces would be typical of the affluent: stressed and fatigued individuals, too-busy parents, and so on. Microsoft is nearby along with high-end shopping centers and extravagant homes.
So it might come as a shock to find Sister Betty and the parish leadership actively engaged in fighting hunger in their community. “We know of 169 homeless students – preschool through high school – in the Lake Washington School District” she says, “and that’s just the ones we are able to track. One local school has one of the highest percentages of free-and-reduced lunch program recipients in the district.
Sister Betty and the St. Jude’s team meet once a month with civic leaders, school personnel and other local church leaders in an alliance called Nourishing Network to addresses the problem of hunger in the community. The parish has responded in a variety of ways. In one recent project during Lent, parishioners assembled basic needs kits of toothpaste, soap, deodorant and other personal supplies.
St. Jude’s has also hosted Tent City several times and regularly participates in service days. Projects have included a retirement housing development and most recently yard work for a women’s and children’s shelter. “We had 159 people show up – and the weather was beautiful, so we felt especially blessed,” recalls Sister Betty. “We are constantly asking ourselves, ‘In what ways can we continue to respond to the needs of others knowing that our parish community is very generous in sharing of their time and resources?’”
St. Jude’s, which serves 1,700 households, is diverse both economically and culturally. “What does it really mean to celebrate diversity?” asks Sister Betty. “It includes how way we pray and gather as a community.”
Sister Betty is also on the parish’s Social Justice Committee, teaches a scripture class each Tuesday and oversees the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program where she finds particular joy in new people entering the parish community. “I love seeing people come together – and I hope that they have experienced a sense of community that keeps them committed to one another. It is my hope that all parishioners will be known by name, experience a sense of belonging and know that someone is praying for them.”
Sister Betty’s emphasis on hospitality and stability is not surprising considering that she has been a Benedictine sister of the St. Gertrude’s community since 1969. “The monastic community has been a huge influence on my life,” says Sister Betty.
Growing up in nearby Grangeville, Idaho, she was also educated by the Benedictine sisters. The eldest of ten children of German Catholic parents, she attended Saints Peter and Paul school where she was in the first 8th grade class of Sister Clarissa Goeckner, now the prioress. Attending high school at Saint Gertrude’s Academy, it was the sisters’ sense of fun that inspired her to consider religious life. “I saw the humanness in them,” recalls Sister Betty. “I thought, ‘They just have a great time together.’ I have experienced struggles throughout the years; however what keeps me here is a group of women that share a common vision and common values.”
Sister Betty began teaching elementary school and over the course of ten years taught in Boise, Pocatello and Grangeville. She became principal of Saints Peter and Paul when her little brother entered first grade.
She transitioned to parish work when she was invited by Father Joe Muha to join him in Weiser and to coordinate the Religious Education Program. “I fell in love with parish work,” she exclaims. “It is an honor to walk with people in their journeys.” Eventually Sister Betty earned a Master’s of Ministry from Seattle University and would serve parishes in Boise, Weiser and the Seattle Area.
Her concerns for her monastic community are similar to those for her parish. “We have a lot to offer by the way we live our life. The sense of community is vital to the world: connections, acceptance, belonging, finding meaning and delving deeper. I believe we are always challenged to stay in touch with those who are poor and struggling in our midst. What sustains us on this journey is our belief that we walk together and that we have a responsibility to bring about the vision of Jesus as One Body.”