Sister Loretta Marie, CSC
(Elizabeth “Betty” Jean Valdes)
March 21, 1931 -- June 7, 2021
Entered the Sisters of the Holy Cross from Austin, Texas on August 1, 1948
Initial Profession of Vows on February 2, 1951
A light rain fell on Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana, on the morning of June 7, 2021. By mid-afternoon when Sister Loretta Marie (Valdes) died at Saint Mary’s Convent, the heavier rain had lifted, and the sun shone again. Sister Loretta Marie had risen to a new creation and was praising God’s beauty, face to face.
Betty Jean Valdes was described as “a beautiful girl in every way, charming in manner and deeply religious,” according to the recommendation letter from the pastor of Saint Mary’s Church in Austin, Texas. The 1948 high school graduate, elected “Miss St. Mary’s” because she represented the ideals of her alma mater, was a recent convert though she had lived as a Catholic for some time, having been practically raised by the Sisters of the Holy Cross at St. Mary’s Academy in Austin since elementary school. Sister M. Lucy (Abell), the principal and superior, vouched for Betty Jean as “blessed with a strong faith” and a good candidate for entrance into the novitiate of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Upon reception of the holy habit on February 2, 1949, the young woman became known as Sister Loretta Marie, a name in honor of the Blessed Mother as Our Lady of Loretto, a name she always bore with grace and dignity.
Hattie Marie Bardmess Valdes was Betty Jean’s mother, who gave birth to her in Fort Worth, Texas, March 21, 1931. Mozy Valdes adopted his first wife’s daughter, Betty Jean. Both Hattie and Mozy ran separate businesses in Austin and both were able to provide for Betty Jean’s education and care even after their divorce. Betty Jean was not the first child to be raised by Holy Cross sisters at their academies which were schools for boarders as well as for day students. Sister Lucy continued as a strong influence on Sister Loretta Marie until Sister Lucy’s untimely death in 1964.
From 1951 to 1962 Sister Loretta Marie taught in Catholic elementary schools In New York, Virginia, and Maryland. Her hearing impairment moved her out of the classroom into medical records administration at Holy Cross hospitals in Silver Spring, Maryland; Anderson, Indiana; and Columbus, Ohio. Sister considered one of the most significant decisions of her life was to leave hospital and community related work. She enrolled at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. to pursue a Master’s in Counseling of the Hearing Impaired, “which in turn enabled me to accept my own deafness after avoiding it for 30 years.” She earned her degree in 1983 and thereafter was a counselor, advocate, and coordinator at the Senior Center for the Hearing Impaired at the historic Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. from 1983 to 1996. From its beginnings, Shiloh had been “the vanguard of uplifting the quality of life for Blacks in the District, such as the teaching of reading and writing to adults during the times of Emancipation.” Sister Loretta Marie brought her skills in the medical-legal field of hospital ministry with her to The Senior Center for the Hearing Impaired as well as her sign language skills in an activist church moving from social welfare to social change, from direct service to community empowerment. From 1996 to 2015 her ministry was entirely in Washington, D.C. working with Deafpride and Deaf-REACH. Sister retired to the motherhouse at Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana in 2015, devoted to a ministry of prayer.
The last two years proved challenging for Sister Loretta Marie but during her last two weeks she had the prayers of the Congregation around the world. As Sister Joan Marie Steadman, Area coordinator, expressed, “The peaceful presence of her Holy Cross sisters was a comfort as Loretta Marie made her final journey to the arms of our loving and compassionate God.”
Sister Loretta Marie kept a memorial card with a picture of her beloved Sister Lucy, in full habit, sitting by a lily pond. On the reverse side is a poem attributed to Sister Lucy with her signature. The poem is based on Philippians 4:8 and titled “Whatsoever Things Are Lovely.”
Whatsoever things are lovely,
Lord of all loveliness,
Let their eyes see…
Your majesty in mountains, in the sea,
In storms that shake the earth;
Your constancy in changeless stars;
Your simplicity in a field flower
Or in the clear eyes of a child.
Whatsoever things are lovely,
Lord of all loveliness,
Let their lives hold…
A faith that finds in the dull things of time
The burning beauty of eternity;
A hope that penetrates the clouds of fear
To gaze upon the brightness of Your Face;
And a love that encompasses the whole world
As a small child clasps a treasured toy to its heart.
Sister Loretta Marie now enjoys the burning beauty of eternity with God and all her loved ones.
You may wish to donate in Sister’s name to the Ministry with the Poor Fund at www.cscsisters.org. Kaniewski Funeral home is handling the arrangements, with Prayers in the Presence of the Body beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, immediately followed by the Mass of Resurrection at the Church of Our Lady of Loretto. As visitors cannot be welcomed to the church at this time, the services will be live-streamed from the church. Please check the Congregation’s website for details.
--Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC
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