Statue dedicated to Sister Karen Stern, SHF

Friday, Apr. 26, 2019
Statue dedicated to Sister Karen Stern, SHF Photo 1 of 2
Children in the St. Mary of the Assumption Parish religious education classes touch the statue of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, that was installed in the parish hall in honor of Sr. Karen Stern, SHF. Sr. Karen, who died a year ago, ministered at the parish from 1992 to 2002.
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

PARK CITY — A visible reminder of the memory of Sister Karen Stern, SHF was unveiled April 22 at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish.

“Sr. Karen worked tirelessly in service to the people of St. Mary’s and the greater community,” said Sandy Foley, the parish’s director of youth faith formation, at the unveiling ceremony.

Present at the ceremony were several people who had worked with Sr. Karen, as well as children in the parish’s religious education classes.

The parish’s Christmas pageant still uses the creche, costumes and songs that were created for or by Sr. Karen 34 years ago, said Foley, who told her own story of the religious sister.

Sr. Karen was the first person Foley met when she moved to Park City, she said. When she went to the parish to enroll her son in the First Communion class, “in Sr. Karen fashion, she didn’t miss a beat – she asked me to teach,” Foley said, to knowing laughter from the adults gathered.

“Her presence is still felt within these walls here today,” Foley said.

Sr. Karen’s influence continues in many aspects of the parish: the food bank, the bereavement committee, in the religious education program’s curriculum, the First Communion retreats and the Christmas pageant, Foley said.

Before the religious education classes began, Sr. Karen would gather the children for song and prayer, so it was fitting “that we gather here once again with children to celebrate this special day,” Foley said.

Sr. Karen served as the parish’s pastoral associate  from 1992 to 2002. In 2005, a parish collection was taken up to establish an endowment through the Catholic Foundation of Utah in Sr. Karen’s name. It was intended to help pay for her care at the mother house of the Sisters of the Holy Family. After her death, the funds were to be used to memorialize her legacy and for the children of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish.

When Sr. Karen died in 2018, the members of the board that oversaw the endowment met to decide a suitable way “to commemorate the wonderful work that she did and be a witness to ... the image of care and support and love that she was to so many,” said Father Christopher Gray, the parish pastor.

The decision was to install a statue of Mary, Seat of Wisdom. The statue depicts a seated woman who is “a little bit older, a little bit wiser – just like our mothers and grandmothers are sometimes, because really, our mother Mary is truly a mother, and she is also the patroness of our parish,” Fr. Gray said.

The statue is an adaptation of one that Sr. Karen had seen in the San Francisco Bay Area “and really liked so much that she showed it to me,” said Monsignor Robert Bussen, who was pastor of the parish from 1994 to 2010.

Msgr. Bussen said he and other members of the committee liked the statue, which is associated particularly with the parish’s preschool, because “it’s meant to be climbed on, it’s meant for children to sit in the lap. And Mary, Seat of Wisdom, is a wonderful title of Mary. ... The idea was that Mary, in her womb, held Jesus, the Logos, the Wisdom, so she contained the wisdom of Jesus.”

Now a retired priest of the diocese, Msgr. Bussen, in his comments at the unveiling, said Sr. Karen was a small woman, “but when she spoke, everybody did what she said. ... She was holy, and when you’re around holy people, you always do what you’re told. So Sr. Karen made all of us better people. Me, too.”

One lesson Sr. Karen taught him was that knowledge of the heart is more important than knowledge of the head, he said.

After the statue was unveiled and blessed, the children were invited to touch it as they headed upstairs for their religious education classes.

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