This Christmas, many of us will welcome family and enjoy a meal together. This is common during the holidays, but the tradition rarely becomes a pattern for the rest of our lives. For Dominican Sister of Hope Bette Ann Jaster, however, hospitality was far more than a nice gesture.
The element of hospitality attracted Sister to the Dominican order.
“For me, hospitality was what the Dominican Sisters’ mission was all about,” Sister Bette Ann says.
It all started when Sister Bette Ann was five-and-a-half years old and her family of six relocated to Denver from Carthage, Illinois. After making it through through heavy snow storms on the Midwestern plains and getting stuck and then towed from a ditch, the family finally arrived in Denver on Christmas Eve.
“Our Grandmommie and Great Grandther welcomed us to their small duplex, and we gratefully sat down to dinner,” Sister Bette Ann recalls.
That Christmas was one of many, but the gift of hospitality stuck with Sister Bette Ann. She joined the Sisters of Saint. Dominic in 1965, when she was eighteen years old, and she became a registered nurse several years after that. The foundation of her ministry, she says, is hospitality: the same giving and receiving that Jesus shared with his followers and that her family shared with her.
“Our work was visiting people in their homes to bring care, healing, and hope,” Sister Bette Ann says. “As nurses, we went in as guests. And then, somehow, when the mutuality was present enough, we would become the host and the people who were sick and poor would become the guests, because we had something that was important to share with them to improve their health or to support their well-being. That guided me for a long time –and it still does—to be a guest and host.”
“For me, hospitality was what the Dominican Sisters’ mission was all about,” Sister Bette Ann says. “Our work was visiting people in their homes to bring care, healing, and hope.”
After her family enjoyed dinner together on that early Christmas Eve, five-year-old Bette Ann sat at the two-seater kitchen table with her Grandmommie while her folks set about putting the other kids to bed. As she glanced out the window, she was uneasy. Bette Ann couldn’t help but notice that, unlike the place she previously called home, Denver was bone-dry in the middle of winter. Especially on this night, she worried about the consequence of the lack of snow.
“If there’s no snow, how will Santa Claus find us?” she pleaded to her Grandmommie.
Sister’s grandmother knew just the answer. She brought young Bette Ann close to the kitchen window and pointed up into the dark sky.
“Just then, I saw a bright light above,” Sister recalls. “My Grandmommie described how, when Denver has no snow, Santa comes in an airplane.”
What a relief from a very wise woman.
That Christmas Eve, Sister learned first-hand that the gift of hospitality is more than providing a roof, a bed, and some food. When Sister Bette Ann was shy, quiet, and tired, her Grandmommie patiently and gradually drew out of her the fear she was hiding. She welcomed her into her home and made Sister feel at ease. Thus, Sister discovered a lesson that would guide her for the rest of her life: that hospitality is about the generosity of being received into another’s home. It’s about the joy of being united with family and sharing in love.
“Being present with compassionate listening and a heart for the other makes a big difference,” Sister says. “I always think of the quote from Sister Joan Chittister: ‘Hospitality is love on the loose.’”