Every job has its ups and downs. You have to take the good with the bad; we all know that.
I have experienced both while working for a community newspaper for the past 34 years. Some stories are more difficult than others to approach, and people can be negative at times. We see that almost daily with all the political discourse. When you put yourself out there in written word, you are going to take some hits. That comes with the territory.
But it seemed like whenever I needed a lift, my living angel would appear in written word. A card or email would magically show up and they were always positive and uplifting.
Sister Barbara Ann Zeller, who recently stepped down as president and CEO of Providence Self Sufficiency Ministries Inc. in Georgetown, knew exactly what I needed even if I didn't. Still, to this day, if a situation seems a bit daunting or I start stress pacing, I pull out one of her notes or cards. I have kept them all through the years.
“It's been too long since we've visited Chris. I hope you and your beautiful family are well! For me, you make Christmas truly special each day with your kindness, caring spirit and thoughtfulness. I treasure the gift of your friendship and promise prayer always for you and your family.” Sister Barbara
The lady, who literally took a vision and made it a reality by finding donors and community partners, died Thursday. She was 73.
It was just a few months ago that Sister Barbara made one last request of me. She asked me to write the story about her stepping down, and that a search was on to find her replacement. She didn't say anything about the reason why, but I knew her health was declining. Even in her troubling state, and stepping away from something she literally built from nothing, the conversation quickly turned to me, like it always did. It was always about others, never about her. She always told me after receiving an award or praise that she was doing God's work. He couldn't have found a better servant.
"Nobody, absolutely nobody does it better than you. Thank you for the great article you did for Providence House! It was simply perfect and so appreciated! You always capture the fabric of our mission's soul so amazingly well. You truly are a blessing. Sister Barbara.
Like many in the community found out over the last 20 years, the word no was not in Sister Barbara's vocabulary. Nothing was going to stop her. She never let negativity or anything stand in her way. She knew what she wanted — her mission was to serve both the young and old, the most vulnerable. She never bragged or said, "look what I did." It was about the great things happening with the family reunification program or with the elders who lived on her Providence campus. She was so proud of both programs and especially the new Alzheimer's wing at the nursing home on her campus.
“God certainly gifted you with talent. Thank you for all of your kindness to us through the years." Sister Barbara
Diane Murphy said it best Friday morning when she called Sister Barbara "a legend." That word is thrown around too readily these days, but in this case, it's appropriate. Others will come, and the mission will march on, but there will never be another Sister Barbara. That I can say with confidence. She did God's work flawlessly.
"I truly never think of you without thanking God for the gift you are to the community — and especially to me. I admire and appreciate you very much and continue to thank you for helping to make each day one of special thanksgiving here at Providence House and Guerin Woods because of your kindness to us. God bless you." Sister Barbara
Rest in peace Sister. You made us all better with your grace and tenacity. You taught me to never give up, and how important it is to offer someone a positive word or a smile each day. You will always be my angel.
— Chris Morris is an assistant editor at the News and Tribune. Reach him at 812-206-2155 and firstname.lastname@example.org.