Sr. Patricia Bietsch, formerly Sr. Mary Martha, age 74 of the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, died suddenly Sunday, November 17, 2019 in Tohatchi, New Mexico where she ministered. Born Patricia Ann on April 26, 1945 in Cincinnati, OH, she is the daughter of Russell and Audrey (Nee: Kramer) Bietsch, and step-father James Copening.
Sr. Pat began her elementary education in Ironton, OH before the family moved back to Cincinnati where she attended school in Delhi and later at St. Leo School before moving on to Oldenburg Academy where she entered their novitiate program. She entered the Franciscan community as Sr. Mary Martha in 1963 and professed final vows in 1968. Following Vatican II, she returned to her Baptismal name and was known as Sr. Pat.
As a Franciscan, Sr. Pat continued her education earning degrees at Marian University in Indianapolis, Xavier University in Cincinnati, and accreditation at Xavier University in New Orleans and Loyola University in Chicago. She taught in Catholic schools and missions in Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Montana and New Mexico.
As an educator, Sr. Pat was passionate about ensuring every student being given the opportunity to learn. She pioneered religion classes for the handicapped students at St. Mary Mission in New Mexico. Over time the program evolved into four groups of Special Religious Education Development, or SPRED, with students coming from Gallup and Tohatchi for lessons, crafts, prayer and fellowship. Her gracious heart and welcoming smile made her a favorite among students throughout her life.
As an environmentalist, Sr. Pat was a proponent of Gallup Solar and served on its board that oversaw the transition to solar power for the greater Gallup area by collaborating with communities, elected representatives, utilities and industry to bring solar power to the underserved area. She spearheaded efforts to ensure that the St. Mary Mission in Tohatchi moved in an earth-friendly direction by adding solar panels and an organic garden and greenhouse.
As a resident director at the former Prayer Lodge on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, Sr. Pat and Franciscan Sr. Marya Grathwohl offered Native American hospitality, retreats, eco-spirituality and compassion as they primarily served members of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes. April Martin Chalfant, director at the Wild Rose Center spoke fondly of Sr. Pat as she learned of her passing and commented, “She had a love for Native peoples in New Mexico and here in Cheyenne and Crow country. Her sense of humor and life will be missed on the hill where she served with such grace.”
Classmate Sr. Peg Maher shared, “Pat didn’t get back to Indiana very often, but she always made sure she touched base with everyone she knew. She was a Community person. She reached out to others and people felt comfortable in her presence. She wanted to know what others thought and felt, but would share her ideas freely. You could always count on a little laughter whenever she saw around.”
Classmate Sr. Carol Ann Mause noted, “When Pat returned to Oldenburg earlier this year to recuperate from her cancer treatments, she couldn’t thank us enough for the care and concern she received, yet she was so anxious to return to ‘her people’ in Tohatchi. She loved the people in her ministry, and they loved her in return.”
Sr. Pat is survived by siblings Thomas Bietsch and Peg Schuckmann, and step-sisters Rhea Copening and Andrea Peake. She is preceded in death by parents, Russell and Audrey (Nee: Kramer) Bietsch, and step-father James Copening.
Visitation in Tohatchi will be Thursday, November 21 from 3:00-6:00 p.m. at St. Mary’s Mission. The Rosary will be prayed at 5:30 p.m. followed by a Requiem Mass at 6:00 p.m. with Father Dale Jamison officiating. After the Mass, there will be a light reception in the hall.
SERVICES in OLDENBURG:
VISITATION: Nov. 25 from 1:00-3:00 in the Sisters’ Chapel
FUNERAL LITURGY: Nov. 25 at 3:00 in the Chapel
BURIAL: Sisters’ Cemetery in Oldenburg
Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to Weigel Funeral Home – visit their website to view Sister’s online memorial, and if desired, online condolence may be left on the site to share with her family and the Franciscan Sisters – www.Weigelfh.com
Memorials may be made to the Sisters of St. Francis, P.O. Box 100, Oldenburg, Indiana, 47036 (www.OldenburgFranciscans.org).
Schools and ministries where Sister served:
1964-1965: St. Anthony, Streator, IL
1965-1968: St. Christopher, Indianapolis, IN
1968-1969: St. Lawrence, Indianapolis, IN
1969-1971: Holy Trinity, St. Louis, MO
1971-1972: St. Vincent Home, Vincennes, IN
1972-1973: Sacred Heart, Troy, MI
1973-1976: Holy Family, Oldenburg, IN
1976-1979: St. Joseph, Evansville, IN
1979-1983: St. Joseph, Kansas City, MO
1983-1984: St. Pius, Cincinnati, OH
1984-1987: Roger Bacon, Cincinnati, OH
1987-1991: Oldenburg Academy, Oldenburg, IN
1992-1993: St. Anthony Mission, Naschitti, NM
1993-2000: St. Mary Mission, Tohatchi, NM
2000-2005: Prayer Lodge, Busby, MT
2005-2006: Michaela Farm, Oldenburg, IN
2006-2019: St. Mary Mission, Tohatchi, NM