Sister Lois Barton CSJ
Colleague & Friend
Traces of God Ministries, Board of Directors
I miss this woman. Likely, I will continue missing her for some time to come; as in every day of my life.
Many of the people who Sister Lois blessed with her life and ministry knew her for decades; were loved and served by her for many more years than me; were closer to her within the heritage of her Roman Catholic faith and the Sisters of St. Joseph Community than I could ever hope to be. I am a life-time American Baptist. And, Lois and I just met seven years ago. Oh, and I only attended one class that she led, a seminar on the life and teaching of Kalhil Gibran.
We were both very young, about 15 years old, when Pope John XXIII turned both Catholicism and Protestantism on their exclusionary ears, with the proclamations of Vatican II. His ecumenical efforts metaphorically removed the barb wife fence that deeply wounded anyone, including those in mixed marriages and clergy who sought to be friends, who tried to cross the cutting divide. My dad, the Rev. Chester W. Whitt, was among them.
Eventually it became possible for someone like Sister Lois and someone like Pastor Ken to form a sister/brother bond that had a most dynamic impact on their lives.
After my retirement, in 2015, from 40 years of pastoral ministry, my wife and I founded a Spiritual Formation Ministry and planned our move to the edge of the Catskill Mountain region of Upstate New York, near Binghamton, New York. But six months before moving from Ohio to our family homestead along the Delaware River, I went on a quest to find out if, in that region, there were others who cared deeply about spiritual formation. Spiritual directors? Spiritual retreat leaders? After significant research, my list of prospects was short.
Sister Lois, and her partners at the at the Spiritual Center in Windsor and the Sophia Center in Binghamton, more than made up for the shortage. Our first visit filled me with the certainty that, out there in the Southern Tier I, would not be alone.
On our second visit, at the Spiritual Center, about 27 miles from our new home, I asked Sister Lois if she would serve on the board of our ministry. She was enthusiastic with her, “yes,” telling me, “I have been thinking that I need to grow some new and diverse interests. A spiritual formation ministry directed by an American Baptist pastor—that seems diverse enough.” Suffice it to say that from that first day until her last on this earth, Lois made unique, loving and wise contributions to our ministry and to my life.
However, when we moved our lives and ministry back to Ohio 27 months ago, and when covid 19 busted all of our in-person ministries and retreats, circumstances severely tested faith and resolve. Traces of God Ministries experienced financial hardship while Sister Lois and her company of saints continued to have the resources to invest substantially in future retreat ministry. Even so, I got more enthusiastic and engaged in alternative and relatively free ways of doing ministry. But Sister Lois, I learned from many phone and zooms calls during those traumatic months, struggled spiritually. I would tell her about my latest burst of energy and she would tell me about dragging herself through the day. I don’t know if anyone else noticed her suffering. What I do know is that when we got together in person, just three months ago at the Spiritual Center, Lois was determined to get rolling again and she and I began bouncing together towards God’s future, whatever it turned out to be.
Sister Lois had begun to take long strides forward in planning events that would promote my book in the Diocese of Albany. And we talked about her renewed excitement for the retreats that would soon begin again. Kathy and I, with Sisters Susan, Liz and Paula, sat around the dinner table that night and the Spirit of God was roaring like a fright train. The energy would have lit up a city. Uplifting. Holy. Transformational.
One result was that Sister Lois and I began planning what we hoped would be in-person retreats in the month of October, 2021. Not-to-be.
On the other hand, Kathy and I had not been in a holy relationship with the other sisters at the Spiritual Center. Suddenly, that love-filled evening in June, we were. On-our-way.
It was, as best I could tell, that immersed in this enthusiasm and hope, Sister Lois Barton went on vacation with her beloved family to the ocean she loved on Cape Cod.
Sister Lois Barton, CSJ, great swimmer and greater soul that she was, suffered some kind of life-threatening trauma off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. On August 25, at the youth-filled age of 73, she died.
What to do and be next. To-be-revealed.
I may never have a better friend, spiritual or otherwise. On-the-other-hand?