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Sister Barbara Matteson

When they merged, the Adrian Dominicans and the Edmonds Dominicans found that they had something in common. Both Congregations had a Sister Mary Gerald who played a part in leading their Congregations. The Adrian Dominicans had Sister Mary Gerald Barry, who became Mother Mary Gerald, Mother General of the Congregation. The Edmonds Dominicans had Sister Mary Gerald Matteson, who in time became President of their Congregation.

Sister Barbara (Mary Gerald) Matteson was also a leader in managing the finances of religious women. She was the founding president of the National Association of Treasurers of Religious Institutes (NATRI), served as treasurer of the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR), on its Finance Committee and Ad Hoc Task Force on Retirement Study, and as treasurer of the Dominican Sisters Health Services Consortium (DSHSC). She also chaired the Conference of Religious Treasurers’ Region 15 and the Intercommunity Task Force on Retirement, Sub-region 15.

On July 31, 1939, during World War II, Sister Barbara came into the world. She was the daughter of Clair and Geraldine (Donovan) Matteson, who made their home in Everett, Washington. The second of their three children, she and her older brother Michael “played war, cowboys and Indians, and rode bicycles.” When Barbara was five years old, Peggy, the youngest, came into the family. Sister Barbara wrote, “Peggy is very talented and took piano lessons. I took lessons for about eight years, and now can play only the first page.”

Clair Matteson owned a grocery store and provided well for his family. His store was called “Mattson’s Food Store.” Barbara’s mother explained that they lived in a Swedish neighborhood, and that was the Swedish way of pronouncing their last name. The Matteson children and other relatives pronounced it “Matt-e-son,” however.

The Matteson youngsters attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help Grade School in Everett. Barbara continued her education at Holy Angels Academy in Seattle, operated by the Dominican Sisters of Everett (later Edmonds). She wrote:

Five of us decided to go there, and our parents took turns driving us there on Sunday, and then after school on Friday we would dash to take the Greyhound bus back home. I especially enjoyed it because we got to mix with other girls.

She graduated in June 1957, and entered the Everett Congregation on September 7 of that year. Reception of the habit and religious name took place on June 14, 1958, and she professed her first vows on June 14, 1960.

She spent the 1960-61 year as a student at Holy Names College in Spokane, and continued the next year at Providence Heights College in Issaquah, from which she received a bachelor’s degree in education in 1962. Her first teaching assignment sent her to St. Luke School in Seattle for four years, where she taught sixth and seventh grades. She then spent two years at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle, a year as sixth grade teacher and a year as vice principal in training to become a principal. She wrote:

Sister Marguerite was an excellent principal . . . [but] did not want to give up too much of the principalship . . . so she put me in charge of the milk shake machine. I think that year I gained ten pounds. I had a delicious internship.”

In 1968 Sister Barbara was assigned as principal at Our Lady of Good Help School in Hoquiam, where she also taught seventh and eighth grades. “There were three sisters and one lay person.” As a result of summer study, in 1970 she received a master’s degree in education from Seattle University.

After two years in Hoquiam, she was changed to Assumption School in San Leandro, California, where she served as principal for three years. There she met the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “It was the thrill of my life to be in California, to get to Disneyland, to meet other principals, and learn the culture of the people.”

In 1973, at the annual June Assembly in Seattle, she was asked to be assistant to the General Treasurer of the Edmonds Congregation. She said that she would assist if she could have some training first. As a result she attended the University of Washington in Seattle for three years, and earned a master’s degree in business administration. She wrote, “I can’t say that I was a profound finance person, but I knew more when I finished than I did when I began the course.” She then joined a group forming a National Association of Treasurers for Religious Institutes (NATRI).

When she received her degree, she interned for a year in the General Treasurer’s office, then became General Treasurer of the Edmonds Congregation, a position that she held for nine years. This also made her a member of the Leadership Team.

At the General Chapter of 1986, she was elected President of the Congregation. She served for four years, and must have done a good job since she was re-elected for another four years. The General Chapter of 1994 saw the formal proposal made, “that the Edmonds Dominicans explore the possibility of affiliation with the Adrian Dominicans and other Dominican Congregations.” The Edmonds and Adrian Dominicans merged in 2003.

At the close of the Chapter of 1994 Sister Barbara served as a financial consultant for a year, then became treasurer for the Dominican Sisters of Houston, Texas, and served them for eleven years. During this time she served on the Board of Trustees of the Christian Brothers Investment Service and of St. Rose de Lima Hospital in Henderson, Nevada, operated by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

In January 2007 she became Executive Director of NATRI, and served until its end in 2009. In December 2007 she attended a meeting of religious community treasurers in Miami. This meeting was publicized in the local paper, as well as the annual collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious. Sister Barbara was quoted as saying, “We’re not depending solely on ‘God will provide.’ God will provide, certainly, but we have to do our part, too. So we’ve had these years to learn what we had to do.”

In February 2009 she began a sabbatical year, and chose to spend part of it in Adrian. While there, she discovered that she was ill with cancer. The sickness took her life rapidly, and she went to God in eternity on August 13, 2009.

On August 18 a wake-remembrance service was held for Sister Barbara. Present were her sister Peggy Leighton and her husband Tim, her brother Michael and his wife Mame, nieces and nephews, and her many Dominican friends. Sister Mary Priniski, Sister Barbara’s Chapter Prioress, extended sympathy and summarized Sister Barbara’s life and ministry. She ended with:

Sister Barbara faced her diagnosis and death with calm and peace, knowing that she was in the hands of God and her sisters here in Adrian. It has been a privilege to walk with this valiant woman whose vision of the future carried many of us and who set an example to me and many more of how to live life until the end and how to die with grace.

Sister Francine Barber shared some memories.

Her definition of “break” or “relaxation” was different from that of most of us. Do you know what she liked to do to relax after she got her MBA and was treasurer of the Congregation? She would visit one of the convents, preferably the one with the most messed up books, and she would balance the monthly accounts. That’s my idea of hell, but to her it was fun. It was comparable to doing a game or a cross-word puzzle. Find the missing fifty-two cents!

When I first met her, she was a school principal by the name of Sister Gerald. In those days novices and postulants were not allowed to speak to professed sisters except on rare occasions. I would look for her amongst the black-veiled visitors to Rosary Heights because I just loved getting an opportunity to talk to Sister Gerald. She was a breath of fresh air, outspoken, frank and funny, qualities she retained until her last days.

Sister Francine spoke of Sister Barbara’s last days—how she insisted on attending the ceremony on St. Dominic’s Day, even standing for a long period with assistance; her beauty in death which astonished even the hospice nurse who certified her death.

Sister Mary White also shared. She said in part:

I have known Sister Barbara for over fifty years, since I was a barely legal high school teacher and she was my eager student. I knew her as a chemistry lab student who almost blew up the lab, and as a talent show participant who chose to do a ballet piece, tutu and all. I knew her in later years as an understanding community treasurer, and for eight years as Congregation Prioress who on at least one occasion was clearly God’s voice for me.

She worked diligently all her religious life. She had just finished her most recent task and was supposed to have a well-deserved Sabbatical time before going on to her next ministry. When she heard her diagnosis she said to me, with her usual humor, “Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about what I am supposed to do next.” When she started turning yellow, she referred to it as her technicolor self and tried not to stand under too bright a light. And in the last days, when she could no longer talk, the glory of God began to shine more and more in her face. I believe she was standing on the edge of eternity and looking in.

Sister Barbara’s brother Michael also spoke. He said in part:

We grew up in Everett, Washington. Our dad ran a grocery store. One of the reasons that we went as far as we could in school, to college, was that we didn’t want to go back and work in the grocery store. We didn’t have TV, but we listened to the radio a lot. One of our favorite songs was “Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later than You Think.” She knew how to enjoy herself. She always loved her work and did a good job.

Sister Jane Abell, OP, spoke for the Houston Dominican Sisters. She had come to Adrian, was staying at the Ashram, and had a chance to see Sister Barbara. She said in part:

I want to extend our deep sympathy and prayers to Sister Barbara’s family and to the Adrian community. She was with us for eleven years. I certainly want to underline everything that has been said about her generosity and thoughtfulness--down to the smallest things. She took good care of us.

Sister Helen Burke, a Sister of St. Joseph from Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, spoke of Sister Barbara’s professional life. She added:

I sent her a birthday card—the Feast of St. Ignatius. I was on retreat at St. Ignatius Retreat House. . . . The card said, “A birthday is like a cat.” You have to know how much she liked cats. Opening the card up, it said, “You wake up one morning and there it is in your face.”

Sister Lee O’Brien, also a Sister of St. Joseph, said:

When Sister Barbara came into a room, we had community. She always had something funny to tell us.

We never had cats around our convent, but after she came we had twelve stray cats. She fed them. There was one black cat that we called Blackie. After Sister Barbara left, we never saw Blackie around. But after she died, there he was at our back door. He wasn’t around for two months, but when she died, there he was.

I just want to emphasize—wherever she was, there was community.

Sister Barbara’s funeral liturgy took place on August 19. Father Robert Kelly, OP, was the presider. Her sister Peggy was the guest pianist. Sister Nadine Foley was the homilist. Among Sister Nadine’s remarks:

We are entitled to ask: What message did this remarkable Dominican woman leave to us? . . . A history of “doing right.” . . . That rightness inspired the many directions she took in her life. . . . She loved goodness. She was a good woman—a very good woman . . . expressed in her love for her family . . . her Dominican family, her beloved Edmonds Dominicans and her Adrian Dominican family which she fully embraced. . . . Her gentleness—she was called to a number of prestigious positions . . . but prestige meant very little to her. . . . Some sentimentalize gentleness as mild, bland, innocuous, reticent. This is a misconception. It has more to do with vigor and conviction, with discernment rather than deference. . . . Her understanding of leadership as found in the group, that it belongs to the group, the leaders are responsible for what happens.

Sister Barbara chose to die in Adrian. She now lies at rest in the cemetery laid out in circles by Mother Camilla Madden many years ago.