September 19, 1921 – December 4, 2016
Plato is quoted as saying, “Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education becauserhythm and harmony find their way into the inward place of the soul”. When you think of Sister Eileen Colbert doesn’t your mind flow into the essence of music education? Perhaps this quote from Plato spirited Sister Eileen into her ministry as instructor of music education. However, we shall never know, but we do know that she “made a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
Eileen Patricia Colbert was born in Newfoundland, Canada. She and her family immigrated to Medford when she was four years old. She attended St. Clement School and was introduced to the Sisters of St. Joseph. Most likely the sisters influenced her vocation, because in 1942 she entered the Congregation, received the habit, and was given the religious name Sister Hilda. While teaching as a classroom teacher, Sister Eileen (Hilda) was recognized for her musical aptitude and was selected to study for a degree at Boston University. Stories are told of her classes and adventures with other Sisters of St. Joseph while obtaining her BU degree in Music Education. It was from this knowledge of music theory and her skills as a teacher that Sister Hilda began her vocational career as a Music teacher. She instructed students in six elementary Catholic schools in the Boston Archdiocese. Each day, while still being a classroom teacher, she taught music lessons sometimes before school or during the lunch period, and most definitely after school hours to students at these parish schools. Imagine how many adults today can play the piano, entertain, and bring joy to others because of the musical instruction given to them by Sister Hilda/ Sister Eileen Colbert. Also how many Sisters of St. Joseph could hear the musical notes resonating from the music rooms in those convents where Sister Eileen lived!
After thirty six years of teaching music, and recognizing the necessity of continuing education in one’s life, Sister Eileen pursued new directions in ministry. She attended theology classes at Regis College to revitalize her spiritual life. She received a master’s degree from Emmanuel College in Pastoral Ministry, and ministered in the field of pastoral ministry. Eileen also obtained state certification in reading readiness which enabled her to participate in the Grandmother Program at St. Ann Somerville. As sisters living with Sister Eileen testified, reading to the students was one of the happiest ministries Sister Eileen experienced. In her ministry as a Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Hilda/Sister Eileen adapted herself to the contemporary needs of young children thus demonstrating our CSJ mission of service to the “dear neighbor”.
Many have spoken to me of Sister Eileen Colbert/ Sister Hilda with such fondness. They remembered her as a compassionate, genteel, joy-filled woman whom they enjoyed living with in community at various convents. It seems clear, that Sister Eileen was motivated by her inner spiritual convictions. She expressed her love as a Sister of St. Joseph. I am certain she spent her prayer life interiorizing God’s words daily throughout her life. Maybe prayed the words of St. Paul, “Our Creator, has bestowed on us (me) in Jesus, every spiritual blessing in the heavens”…. Sister Eileen’s demeanor demonstrated her awareness of God’s presence in her life. She recognized the “richness of the grace which God has showered upon her”.
“My portion is God says my soul, and so I will hope in God”. These words from the book of Lamentations I surmise Sister Eileen Colbert lived, particularly while a resident at Bethany. Her inner confidence of this virtue was renewed to her by the Bethany nurses and staff who cared for her. Support from her family and other visitors enhanced this conviction. Eileen’s tender smile reciprocated her gratitude.
While visiting Sister Eileen these past two years in her room I always wanted to say something that would let her know I was there. This was always easy particularly when I recalled to her a particular teacher she had at Boston University. Sometimes this evoked a smile or raised an eyebrow. As I left Eileen’s room each time, I prayed and hoped my words could give her memories not only of pleasure but also peace.
As her family and the staff on the second floor have witnessed over the past months Sister Eileen’s awareness of the present-day decreased. Her days now spent lying in her bed; hopefully Eileen was aware within her inner being of God’s favors and kindnesses to her. Even though she could no longer speak in verbal conversation, hopefully Eileen experienced inner strength from the words expressed in St. John’s Gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, have faith in (me). Or hear Jesus’ words, Soon, “I am going to prepare a place for you”. How good is our God to come for Sister Eileen during this season of Advent? Sister Eileen longed for and prepared for this gift from God!
We gather this morning to give thanks to God for Sister Eileen Colbert, a member of the Congregation for seventy four years. A Sister of St. Joseph, who lived throughout her life not only her vows, but our CSJ charism – love of God and love of the “dear neighbor”. Being a member of the Congregation of the great love of God Sister Eileen served well the people of God. She developed their talents and enabled them to become the persons God desired them to be. Sister Eileen Colbert/Sister Hilda saw relationship at the heart of her mission as a Sister of St. Joseph, and thus sought to become ever more united in the mind and heart of Christ Jesus.
May God now open the gates of paradise and permit Sister Eileen Colbert/Sister Hilda to recognize and experience the joy of eternal life which she so deserves.
Gail Donahue, CSJ