Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletNovember 24, 2017

Sisters' Stories

Sister Betsy Van Deusen, CSJ


“Now there was a woman suffering from a hemorrhage for the past twelve years, whom no one had been able to cure. She came up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his cloak; and the hemorrhage stopped at that very moment. Jesus said, ‘Who was it that touched me?’ When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, it is the crowds round you pushing.’ But Jesus said, ‘Somebody touched me, I felt that power had gone out from me.’ Seeing herself discovered, the woman came forward trembling, and falling at his feet explained in front of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been cured at that very moment. ‘My daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”
(Luke 8:43-48)

At the age of thirteen the faith in which I had been raised was stirred into flame when a seminarian spent the summer in my parish of St. Vincent De Paul in Cobleskill, NY. After he returned to seminary I wrote to him and told him that I thought I needed to be a sister. He responded with a letter that I still have that said, “Bets, if there is a call, it will be there after high school or after college; live your life and you’ll know.” I was greatly relieved as thinking about becoming a “nun” at thirteen was really scary. I heeded his advice, was involved with sports and musicals and clubs and church throughout high school and went to The College of Saint Rose. I was very involved there as well but didn’t think too much about being a sister there. I was too busy being a college kid! When I graduated from Saint Rose with a degree in Sociology and Religious Studies I served at Simple Gifts Bookshop as Assistant Manager. It was a not-for-profit bookshop in the spirit of the Catholic Worker Movement and St. Francis.
 
One day, a friend came into the store and told me she had a job she wanted me to apply for – the Parenting Counselor in a domestic-violence shelter. I read everything I could find on DV that weekend and interviewed the following week. I got the job and served with a team of fourteen wonderful women who loved one another, loved the work we shared and had fun. After a couple of years, I was living in Troy, teaching religious education at St. Joseph’s in Rensselaer, had a great apartment, new car, terrific friends, a prayer life but felt that something was missing.
 
I asked a sister friend, “How do you know if you are supposed to become a sister?” She told me, “You’ll know when you know.” At the time I thought it was the silliest statement ever, but then one day I woke up and I knew! I was 25 at the time and in a very real way experienced the healing that is described in the passage above. After I entered, I moved into a local community but stayed at the ministry in domestic violence. I did my canonical novitiate in Denver, CO, and learned about Habitat for Humanity that year. After returning to the Albany area, I was the campus minister at Catholic Central High School in Troy, the Director of the St. John’s Center in Albany’s South End neighborhood and following final vows, I moved to Americus, GA.
 
I served as the Director of Church Relations for Habitat for Humanity International for four-and-a-half years until, after 9/11, Habitat eliminated the department called Church Relations and I, along with the rest of the staff around the world, lost my job. I kept getting a sense that I needed to “come home” and settled at St. Helen’s Parish where I still minister. That was October 2002, and my father died on December 10. Yes, I needed to come home.
 
Community means many different things to even the women in this province, but journeying together to share the Lord is what it means most significantly for me. The Lord is my “Sweet One” and is the love of my life. Our daily prayer (1 ½ to 2 hours) is what sustains me in being an apostolic religious in these very interesting and challenging times. One of the gifts for me right now is establishing the St. Joseph Worker Program in Albany. We have sister programs in St. Paul and New Orleans, and we are beginning this August with three or four pioneering women. It is a gift for me and for us to welcome new life and energy for this year of volunteer service.