Anna Priester, BVM, 74, died Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, in Lancaster, Calif. Funeral services will be held Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, at St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Burial is in San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, Calif.
She was born in Los Angeles on Aug. 22, 1942, to Paul and Mary Ann (Blicha) Priester. She entered the BVM congregation July 31, 1960, from St. James the Less Parish, La Crescenta, Calif. She professed first vows on Feb. 2, 1963, and final vows on Feb. 2, 1968.
Anna was an elementary and secondary school teacher in Des Moines, Iowa; and Phoenix, where she also served in parish ministry, as child care aide, and as program trainer for handicapped children. Anna was on the teaching staff at Working Boys’ Center in Quito, Ecuador. She served in parish ministry in Guatemala for many years. She was a volunteer in Lancaster, Calif.
She is preceded in death by her parents. She is survived by a brother Joseph Michael Priester, Colorado Springs, Colo.; a sister, Mary Jo Koman-Kehoe, Lancaster, Calif.; nieces; nephews; and the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with whom she shared life for 56 years.
Sister Anna Priester, BVM (Joseph Ann)
St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church
Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Dec. 21, 2016
Good morning and welcome to the celebration of the life of our Sister Anna Priester.
Anna was born on Aug. 22, 1942, in Los Angeles to Paul Henry Priester and Mary Ann (Blicha) Priester. She was the middle child, between Joseph and Mary Jo, who are here with us today. Her parents moved to California to be near relatives and to “get work.” Anna was baptized at St. Cecilia Parish and went to school there until the family moved to La Crescenta, Calif., in 1950. She attended a La Crescenta school and Holy Redeemer ES before moving on to Holy Family HS in Glendale, Calif.
It is fitting that we are at St. Mary today, for as a youngster, Anna joined her family in attending divine liturgy on Sundays and singing in the choir. What was of value for her, here at St. Mary, was the family atmosphere and the Eastern spirituality. It was from this tradition that Anna entered the BVM congregation on July 31, 1960. Six months later, she received the name Sister Mary Joseph Ann at her reception. Anna professed first vows Feb. 2, 1963. She lived 56 years as a BVM.
After the novitiate, Anna completed her bachelor of arts degree at Mundelein College, Chicago. In 1965, she began her first mission assignment at St. Joseph Academy in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching high school for five years. She then chose to teach and work at el Centro de Muchachos, in Quito, Ecuador.
Returning to the United States, she relocated to Phoenix, where she held various positions: teacher, parish minister, child care aide, and program trainer for multi-handicapped children. This variety of experience shaped Anna’s skills for what was next. In 1986 she joined BVM Mary Waddell (Valerie) in Santo Tomás, Guatemala, a mission supported by the Diocese of Helena, Mont. She completed 27 years of service there until she retired in 2014 to Lancaster, Calif.
For Anna, her commitment to share Jesus’ gospel values and to live out the BVM core values of charity, justice, education and freedom in service to God’s people, were always in focus. Her personal traits set a clear path for how this was to be accomplished.
She was always clear that love was the root of living. God’s love for Anna and her ability to share love with all, focused her on relationships: with family members, BVMs, and the people of God with whom she worked. All were important to her. All were equal in her eye.
Next, keep life simple. In her words: “My wholeness comes from simplicity and my life is complete when it is simple.” Anna was passionate about liberating the poor and supporting the oppressed. With her values clearly defined, she was articulate and deliberate about her message. Even in the Scholasticate—the BVM college experience—when the focus was on classwork and getting a degree, Anna initiated visits to the Chicago’s projects, such as Cabrini Green, to take art projects and teach Chicago’s poorest children about beauty. For Anna, believing and doing have always been synonyms.
The Priester and Koman families, her BVM community, and the people of God whom she serviced were her essential connections. She shared an open, genuine love with all.
Anna was close to her family. She regularly returned home for visits with her mother and siblings. She was engaging with the nieces and nephews, teaching them to swim, to take excursions, such as to Olvera St., and to create artistic projects. In fact, one Christmas, she and the children created a paper mâché nativity set, adorning the figures they created with real clothes. That crèche is still treasured today.
In the past two years, Anna, along with Mary Waddell, has had the privilege of living in Lancaster with Mary Jo, allowing her to reconnect with the family frequently. She also has had the privilege of sharing with Joe, Mary Jo, and other family members through travel that Joe has arranged. They retraced their grandmother’s trip to the U.S. from the Slovak Republic, went to the Holy Land. and this year traveled to Quebec.
Anna welcomed her time to share with her BVM sisters while being away in Guatemala. She was able to frequently return in the summers to participate in community gatherings and she welcomed the BVM visitor to Santo Tomás. She loved having BVMs participate in the Guatemala mission.
Anna was a strong headwind. She signed a contract to be a catechist in Santo Tomás, and she did teach and train teachers, but before long her work deepened into eradicating the oppression by assisting the widows to independence. Anna also set up scholarships to increase the number of students who could attend school. By 1988, two years after beginning, 46 students were on scholarship. In addition, there was a program to assist the widows to secure housing and develop a means to support their families.
In this same time frame, three homes for widows were built and four more were planned. Securing land for houses was difficult. She and Mary would encourage the women to weave table runners, stoles, bookmarks and purses. They brought boxes to the states to sell and assist the women not only to support their family, but to provide for health care. In some cases, if the weavings were sold to support the clinic, the women had free health care at the clinic for a year.
The goal to liberate the poor through love, education and service was haltingly slow, fraught with unexpected occurrences, violence in the vicinity, and local cultural practices that didn’t always profit the individual. Anna had the ability to see through to the essence of need and teach to it. She would patiently wait until a widow understood what to do and when she finally would appear ready, Anna would be there with support and ideas. What mattered to Anna was clarity of purpose and action: believe in the hope of a better future, one individual at a time.
Anna’s legacy will not be posted on billboards. It lives in the hearts of those who shared in her missions—and in the people of Guatemala, who have learned some independent skills and who can show others that there is hope.
Anna lives on in our hearts, a loving sister, BVM, aunt and friend. But to our God, she says, “You have called me.”
Tú, pescador de otros lagos, amigo bueno, que así me llamas.