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November 21, 2019

Lifestyle

Sister Bette Ann Jaster is her beekeeping outfit.
Sister Bette Ann Jaster, in her Mariandale office, has focused her energy on Mother Earth in recent years.
Sister Bette Ann Jaster building a birdhouse
Sister Bette Ann Jaster st Mariandale
Sister Bette Ann Jaster
Sister Bette Ann Jaster
Sister Bette Ann Jaster

This Mariandale Sister Has Given Many Hope: Disaster Victims, The Homeless, And Now, The Earth

Beekeeper, peacemaker, fracking protester, advocate for earthquake victims and the homeless.

72-year-old Bette Ann Jaster is not an ordinary woman dressed in a habit.

You wouldn't be surprised to hear she is an advocate for Jesus but you would be to hear she is an advocate for the Earth as are the other sisters at Mariandale in Ossining.

Sister Bette Ann Jaster says she sees community as a constellation.

A lifetime of serving the sick and poor has led her back to spiritual roots.

The week after a devastating earthquake in Haiti, Jaster organized the largest-ever public event at Mariandale, "Hope for Haiti," inviting folk singer Pete Seeger, Tom Chapin  and Michael Marx to play and raising more than $20,000. She put the January 2010 concert together in four days. 

The 50-plus-year member of Mariandale's Dominican Sisters of Hope in Ossining's most recent assignment has brought her back to Earth, literally. 

And as she reflects back on her life, Sister Bette Ann has been able to see connections in her journey. "Spirituality played a big role in our family,'' she said. "We depended on God a lot."

As the oldest of 11 children, she used to accompany her parents to visit an ailing, bedridden great-grandmother. She quickly learned that "Great Grand'ther" got happier after visits by Sisters near her home in Denver, Colo., then from her own family. So when Bette Ann asked her mother for suggestions on meaningful volunteer work, she was guided back to the sisters who had cared for her great-grandmother and pursued that line of service throughout her teens. 

Bette Ann took a Red Cross training course and soon found herself doing home nursing care and forming a spiritual youth service group called the "Dominicanettes." The teenagers would bring baskets of fruit and cards to nursing home patients and others in basements without visitors. During the holidays, they'd bake cookies and hand them out while caroling to "people who were poor and left out."

In the meantime, Bette Ann would go to morning mass every day with her father, who always was working two or more jobs to support the family. Once she turned 15, she got a job as a nurse's aide at Mercy Hospital in Denver and in 1965, just out of high school, she joined the Order of Preachers (OP) in Ossining. There were about 150 members in the community that year

She did service work in Ossining, Peekskill, Verplanck and Montrose and stints with sick or poor families on Long Island. By 1969, she was assigned to New York City where "Harlem was a whole new ballgame, but it was wonderful. It was rich with new experiences. It was terrific."

Thirty years later, Sister Bette Ann found herself merging Dominican Sisters of the Sick Poor with groups of educators from Newburgh and Fall River, Mass. They tried to come up a name for their combined group, but the right name remained elusive.

OP also happens to be the middle letters of "Hope" and their mission included healing and the environment, health and education and Heaven and Earth: Sisters of Hope was a natural fit. "The name came to us,'' she said.

Jaster's golden years, so to speak, have focused on the environment: "Seeing Earth as a living organism and not used and abused as an object. It heals us if you pay attention,'' she said.

She co-founded an environmental non-profit, EarthLinks, in her hometown of Denver, which continues to thrive today.

She started a community garden, worked to pass a local law allowing beekeeping, participated in peace marches and has become active in opposing fracking as well as piping fracked natural gas near Indian Point nuclear power plants.

"The collective is so important,'' she said. "No one person can do it themselves."

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