Sisters of Charity Federation Archives

Bangert, S. Therese, Oral History, 6/29/2017




Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 1 of 24

JK: This interview is with Sister Therese Bangert.
JK: The interviewer is Jane Kenamore, and we are at the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth
Mother House in Leavenworth, Kansas. The date is June 29th, 2017.
Sister Therese, can you tell us about your parents, growing up in Nebraska? And what were
some of the values that your parents passed on to you? [00:00:38]
TB: Before I say that if I can say that I feel grateful to have the opportunity for this interview
and in reflecting and preparing for it to put 72 years of life into 20 questions is no small
JK: (Laughs)
TB: So, I'm going to trust that the Holy Spirit is going to guide this interview and share what's
important for people to know.
So, my parents, Gerald and Edna—amazing parents—a genius at not being punishing or rulesoriented but expectations that we be responsible and we were. Both graduated from Creighton
University, so the Jesuit influence in my mom and dad and what that meant for us in our lives,
it's indescribable, but it filtered through all our lives. My mom also gave great credit to the
Ursulines who taught her in high school. So, there was never an emphasis on money although my
dad worried about having enough quite often. And when there are 12 children I think that's a
legitimate worry. God and faith were important and Catholic was important but there was a great
respect for other faiths.
JK: And how was there a great respect for other faiths? [00:02:05]
TB: One time I remember. We were in the days when people would say only Catholics went to
heaven, and my mother said, "Oh, don't you ever say that. That's not right." And in our
community you were either Lutheran or Catholic mostly, and the Lutherans were as committed
to their faith as we were to ours. So, yes, that is an example of that.
JK: Thank you.
TB: Now, do I talk about my siblings here and the farm?
JK: Sure. I mean we can be informal about this.
TB: Ok. So, from my experience siblings are the best gift that your parents give you. And those
precious relationships that I had with my 11 siblings continue, just the assurance of all these
people who love you when you grow up in a family where the relationships were honored and

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 2 of 24

JK: How far apart were you? [00:03:00]
TB: Nineteen years for the 12 of us. I'm number three. My oldest sister was in nursing school
when my youngest brother was born.
JK: So, just 19 years.
TB: Right. And he was two when I left home which was very hard for me. I was on the older
end so I loved the younger ones and cared for them but I was never their parent. My mom and
dad were always the parents.
And we had the farm, the luxury of all that space and all the places to adventure. Of the
responsible jobs I'd say that truly made a difference for the family if you got the eggs, if you
watered the calves and then the riding the tractors and in the grain trucks and the wagons. Our
dad took us along a lot. And to this day I never get enough of being outside.
JK: Really. And yet you live in the city. [00:04:03]
TB: And I live in the city. That's right.
TB: And one of my favorite things today is still to go to my brother's at planting and harvest
time and ride with them on the tractors and the combines and in the trucks.
JK: Oh, yes. That would be fun. Did you go to school in town close to where your farm was?
TB: I went to a one-room country school, K through 8. It was a half a mile from our home and
we walked to school and back. Then went to high school at Sacred Heart in Falls City where the
Sisters of Charity taught. There were 26 in my graduating class.
JK: Did you board or was it close enough to ride to? [00:04:44]
TB: It was close enough to go back and forth. It was nine miles.
JK: And the SCLs taught at the school. [00:04:53]
TB: They taught at the school, yes, and they taught me—very, very good teachers. And my
writing that I've used for years, Sister Patricia and Sister Leo Therese, who's now Sister Mary
Lou Mendel, taught me those skills that I continue. The skills that are foundational for me I
continue to use. But also, I learned at the country school.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 3 of 24

JK: So, was that where you were first attracted to religious life, in high school or where?
TB: I'd say I was not attracted to religious life.
JK: Oh.
TB: I liked the SCLs and I respected them, but I had a call and it was an unmistakable call. And
though I wasn't pleased, God is God and I answered. My decision came totally out of that call.
JK: Really. And how did you feel that call? [00:05:48]
TB: How did I feel it?
JK: Yes.
TB: I can tell you the moment. I was riding home on the school bus from a ballgame and… A
priest in our high school, Father Kallen (phonetic) said to me, "I ask this of everybody, but do
you think you have a vocation?" And that was kind of the first—what do I want to say?—blip on
the screen, and I said, "Well, I'm not saying I don't but I'm going to go to college first." And then
he said, "If you have a vocation cherish it like a wet lily pad." And I said to him, "Am I supposed
to cherish a wet lily pad?" I remember it.
JK: (Laughs)
TB: But that didn't leave me. And coming home on the school bus that night in the dark and
with tears I heard the call and I responded.
JK: And did you join the community right after…?
TB: High school.
JK: Right after high school? [00:06:48]
TB: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. And I add that I was graced with… Once I was here I'm not saying I
never struggled with the vocation, but it was not primary for me at all, any struggles, I was at
peace. It was very hard leaving but I was at peace.
JK: And when did you join? [00:07:11]
TB: 1963.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 4 of 24

JK: Oh. So that was early. So, you couldn't go for home visits or anything of that sort.
TB: That's right. That's right.
JK: That must have been very difficult. [00:07:21]
TB: Very difficult.
JK: Were there any other siblings who went into religious life? [00:07:31]
TB: No. I have no other sibling that entered religious life.
JK: Oh. Ok. What do you remember about your early ministry at St. Vincent's Home in Topeka,
and how did that experience affect you? [00:07:50]
TB: Can I go back to Vatican II for a moment?
JK: Sure.
TB: Ok.
JK: Oh, I'm sorry. We left that out, didn't we?
TB: I was fascinated in ways with Pope John XXIII, so he became a hero of mine, and my
religious name was John Paula. And I had all kinds of reasons for being John, but we had to get
it on a three-by-five card so I narrowed it down to that it was for the love of John the XXIII and
the zeal of St. Paul.
But so the structure after Vatican II changed from all of us doing the same thing at the same time
and one of the welcomed things was we went from superiors who had a lot of discretionary
power to more personal responsibility for each of us. I personally resisted the habit change. The
superior told us at one point that we had to change where I was. And so I did.
JK: And why did you resist it? [00:08:51]
TB: That interesting… Well, I resist a lot and then I get there. And so that's kind of a theme of
my life. So, it was welcomed to have an ability to connect with our families and to eat with them
and to go home.
JK: And how soon did that come? You joined in… [00:09:11]
TB: '63. I asked Mother Leo Frances in '66 if I could go home to my brother's graduation which
she allowed me to do, but you just go over night. I asked to go to my parent's 25th wedding

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 5 of 24

anniversary. Again, you just go over night. But she gave me permission to do those things. But it
was still pretty constrained and I kind of now have forgotten the rhythm. But I was stationed in
Los Angeles for six years, from '66 to '72. So, I was far away from the center of the community,
but the real difficult thing was when so many Sister friends left.
JK: I'll bet. I'll bet that was really hard. Of your class, for example, how many left? [00:10:04]
TB: We started with 50, although Sister Susie (phonetic) always said one person only… she just
came overnight. She never did even file down her fingernails.
TB: But we had 50. But when we celebrated our Golden Jubilee there were four of us.
JK: Only four.
TB: Yes, and now there are three.
JK: Oh, my gosh. How did you deal with that because you were losing Sister after Sister at a
certain period of time? Would that have been the early 70s then or what? [00:10:43]
TB: Right, because in Los Angeles at one of the years—I can't necessarily remember which
one—oh, let me see, it was '69 maybe.
JK: Ok.
TB: That two Sisters came that I lived with were there and on December 8th, I remember it was
the Holy Day, and they came in to tell me they were leaving. Yes. I don't know. You just dealt, I
guess. And an interesting thing I want to mention was that one Sister was sent to L.A. to live
with us because the leaders felt she was a rebel rouser and really she was a forward thinker, and
she's in the community to this day.
JK: Oh, really. [00:11:24]
TB: But Los Angeles, we were somewhat out of the mainstream when we were out there
compared to around here. And that was quite a time.
JK: Did you ever entertain any thoughts of leaving? [00:11:39]
TB: I'd say not really seriously, no. I struggled with the faithfulness to stay a couple times but
never really seriously, and that was a grace.
JK: Thank you.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 6 of 24

TB: So, I'm willing to go to St. V's now.
JK: Ok.
TB: St. Vincent's.
JK: What do you remember about St. Vincent's and your experience there in Topeka? [00:12:03]
TB: It changed me for life.
JK: Oh really.
TB: Yes. Both in what the children taught me and the quality of community life those nine
years. I would just say there was a depth to our community life and part of it I think was because
of the intensity of working with the kids all day.
JK: Was this when it was an orphanage or was this when it was a home for troubled…
TB: It was the home for troubled kids.
JK: …troubled kids? [00:12:28]
TB: And their stories were as different as the 24 of them. But the community life those years
was a depth that I've not experienced ever since. But we worked hard; we prayed deeply, and we
had fun together. And it was a very special time and I still have bonds with some of those… deep
bonds with those women.
And I'd say the children gave me a doctorate in incarnational theology. They taught me of the
pain and suffering and the potential for grace in brokenness. They entered me into a world
completely foreign to me from my life on the farm. The first staffing I attended was on an 11year-old girl that her father had prostituted. A student I taught had been kicked out of three
kindergartens, and he was eight years old and he couldn't read the word "me." A child who had
lived in 12 foster homes—she was 14. And the list goes on.
Now, remember I'm the third in a family of 12. I was used to kids doing what I asked them to do,
and these kids absolutely ignored me. It was just like I was shocked. I'd tell them to do
something. They just looked at me and did the opposite. And I hadn't been teased about my buck
teeth since grade school, but these kids pointed it out. I said that I identified with the woman in
the Gospel who was giving her two pennies and Jesus talked about those who gave out of their
abundance and then she gave out of her need. And I thought, boy, in this situation I am giving
out of my need. It was a challenge.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 7 of 24

JK: Do you have any happy ending stories with the kids that you've dealt with? [00:14:26]
TB: Well, my Gary when I come…
JK: Oh, ok.
TB: …to tell you about. I keep touch with Yvonne. So, those are probably the two of the kids
and Gary's brother, Michael, who has since died.
JK: Good. And then you were at Topeka State Hospital for a time, and that might have been a
challenging experience. What do you remember from that? [00:14:53]
TB: Well, my first year at Topeka State I took Clinical Pastoral Education which is CPE. And it
was a great foundation really for the rest of my life. It taught me to reflect with a group on my
personal strengths and weaknesses in being a chaplain. And in that program they do not hold
back on what your weaknesses are. So, it was not an easy year but a very good year in terms of
teaching me about myself and the way I ministered.
Then for the next 13 years I was a Catholic chaplain there. And it happened that when I finished
my CPE training the priest who was to come to be the Catholic chaplain at the hospital and do
the weekly Catholic service at the prison, he left. And so I asked the head priest in the region if I
could have that position. They didn't have a priest for it. And he said yes. So, that's how I moved
into that and it was part-time.
JK: And was this a mental hospital? [00:15:57]
TB: Yes. It was a mental hospital.
JK: It was. Ok. That's what I was assuming but then I was sort of thinking maybe it wasn't.
TB: The patients there taught me their ability to worship as a community, because every Sunday
we had a communion service, their ability to care about each other and participate in that. They
also taught me the heavy burden that mental illness is both for them and for their families. I can't
say that enough, of what a burden.
And, again, I encountered kids, most of them who were there for behavior reasons more than
mental illness, and most of them had no family connections.
JK: And then not long after that they opened the mental hospitals and sent everybody out.
TB: That's right.
JK: And what was your reaction to that? [00:16:52]

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 8 of 24

TB: They went to the prisons and the jails, 'cause prisons and jails can't say no to them. So,
there's a lot of quite good research that says how many of the people in our prisons and jails are
mentally ill.
JK: Really.
TB: And I remember the sheriff in Johnson County, which is right south of where I live, the rich
county—his name is Frank Denning—saying publicly, "I run the biggest mental health system in
the state."
JK: Oh, my gosh.
TB: In his jail. So, people are trying to do more and more kind of interceding before people get
to the jail. There is some push toward that in our country.
This was interesting. During my time at Topeka State I met and talked with Dr. Karl Menninger.
I don't know if people here know who Dr. Karl Menninger was, but he was an internationallyknown psychiatrist. And I had a personal relationship with him, in fact.
JK: Oh, you did.
TB: Yes. And he had great empathy for people who were imprisoned and wrote that book called
something about the sin of punishment or… And he went to the prisons and talked to the
prisoners. In fact, at one point in the days when the prisons were a little freer than they are
now—I can't imagine them letting me do this now—but I was connected with the minimum
security prison through worship, and I took three of the men from the Stop Violence group, put
them in my car, took them out to visit with Dr. Karl…
JK: Really. [00:18:49]
TB: …at the Menninger Foundation. And I ended up being at his bedside in the days before he
JK: Really.
TB: Yes. Anyway, he had great empathy with them.
JK: I haven't heard that name for a long time. You probably should spell it for the transcriber.
TB: K-A-R-L, Dr. Karl, and M-E-N-N-I-N-G-E-R.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 9 of 24

JK: Thanks. You've been involved in social justice, a ministry that I really admire personally.
When did you realize you wanted to take part in changing society for the better? [00:19:41]
TB: As I reflect when I made my first communion at eight years old I prayed for an end to the
Korean War.
JK: Oh, really.
TB: I don't even know how quite I was aware of that. But I remember that specifically. And as a
high schooler I was aware of the mistreatment of people who were black, especially noted that
some motels allowed dogs but not people who were black. That was an underlying thing. So,
perhaps God's spirit in me was nudging me early on to be an advocate.
And then the Sisters of Charity in the days when I was teaching school in Los Angeles and then
taking care of kids at St. Vincent's. Like our Sister Eileen Sheehy, along with many other faith
leaders, answered the call of Dr. King to come and join them in walking across the Edmund
Pettus Bridge. I think I'm remembering that incident correctly.
JK: Really.
TB: And we have her picture doing that.
JK: Was she injured? [00:20:50]
TB: No.
JK: Good.
TB: He asked them to come after they had been met walking across that with the fire hoses and
the dogs. So, at that point it went peacefully, I think. And I don't know specifically about the '60s
and '70s, but I know Sister Marie de Paul Combo, who was my mentor and a leader among us
SCLs, she was a leader to call us to live out our constitution where it said we commit to justice
and charity. And she highlighted the distinction. Charity is giving to people; justice is looking at
why people are poor, why people have these needs and looking at more systemic things. And
Marie de encountered lots of resistance. Social justice really was a bad word throughout a lot of
the community.
JK: Is that right?
TB: But she trudged on through it all calling us…
JK: I was going to ask why was there resistance. [00:21:58]

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 10 of 24

TB: I think people felt like that as a religious that wasn't our job.
JK: I see. Charity was but social justice was out of the realm.
TB: But she called us to boycott the grapes for the farm workers. She called us to advocate for
debt relief at the turn of the century. She called us to advocate against the welfare reform that
was being proposed in 1996. She had the total community make a statement against the death
penalty. She just kept at it. And she tried to get us to understand the power of institutions like the
World Bank. And the good of people like the United Nations. And to this day I stand on her
JK: Oh, that's wonderful. And how much older was she than you at the time? [00:22:55]
TB: She's in her 90s now, and I'm 72, so she's probably 20 years older than I am.
JK: Right. Ok.
TB: And she came from a background that her father was a union man for the Butte mines in
Butte, Montana.
JK: Oh, wow. Yes.
TB: But she was dogged in her not giving up when it would have been easy to give up.
JK: And so you stood with her.
TB: Not always, no. No. She did that. I got into that circle at some point. When the community
decided to have a Social Justice Committee in the community and I was one of the beginning
members of that committee. And I even forget what date that was but Sister Mary Kathleen
Stefani was our leader at that time.
JK: Great. So, what were your early experiences in advocating for social justice? What issues
did you take up? [00:23:57]
TB: So my chaplaincy at the hospital and at the prison, and that was just on Sundays, was a halftime position. So I asked the community if I could volunteer two days at the Emergency Center
for the poor in Topeka. And through that I got connected to the capitol and some of the issues
around poverty in the Kansas Legislature. So, I asked if I could spend those two days during the
legislative session that I spent at the Emergency Center, if I could spend those at the capitol. And
that happened in 1987 which was the year that we had a new governor in Kansas who said he
was going to have a death penalty bill signed on his desk by March the 1st. And I have to say that
I just noted to me… I was concerned because we had elderly losing care because of our budget

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 11 of 24

issues. We had farmers losing their farms because of… and we're talking about the main priority
is the death penalty? It was a political wedge in those days.
And in the past six or eight years the legislature had passed death penalty bills but then-Governor
John Carlin always vetoed them. So, it seemed like a shoe-in to get this passed. So, I started with
the death penalty issue in the Kansas Legislature. And it began to teach me the system. So, the
House passed a bill to reinstate the death penalty. The senators went slower and I think that
myself with another young man named Michael, who really taught me how to even find these
offices, we talked to every senator and six senators changed their vote, so we had a vote that they
did not reinstate the death penalty.
JK: Really. [00:26:12]
TB: And in some ways that was not a good introduction to legislative work because most things
you worked on for years. And I remember Father John Stitz, who was a great friend of the Sisters
and worked farm issues in the legislature, calling me up the night of the vote and saying, "I am
so jealous, because I can't believe that you all got this in your first year."
Well, one of the big things I learned is that things come back. So, the next year they're back at
trying to get the death penalty reinstated. I was just shocked. After you do all that it's back the
next year.
Another thing in 1998 when I was working with the Kansas Catholic Conference they had a big
tax bill they were working on. And the Conference—and I was the lead person in the Conference
with this—advocated for a refundable earned income tax credit in the Kansas tax system, so it
would add to what people get from the federal earned income tax. And it was basically for lowincome working parents. And still today that puts nearly 90 million dollars in the pockets directly
of low-income working parents who file their tax returns and have earned income. [00:27:31]
Then in 2004 one of the issues that we worked… We began to work the immigration issues and
Kansas was one of the first states to give in-state tuition to young people who are not citizens but
who graduated from high school, and they could go to any Regents university for in-state tuition.
JK: Interesting.
TB: Yes. People can hardly believe that. So, some of the things I learned about that was that in
the legislature you have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in advocacy and among
the legislators. You never really know who your friend might be. And you might win one year
and next year you're back at it. Like I'm saying, every year there is always an effort to repeal the
in-state tuition and an effort to repeal the refundable income credit.
JK: But they haven't passed yet.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 12 of 24

TB: They haven't passed. Just this past year again the earned income tax credit we have…
JK: So, your legislature then must be somewhat liberal, much more so than I thought if they're
not passing that. [00:28:42]
TB: (Laughs) No, you've heard rightly. On the immigration issues we have a strong business
JK: Oh, I see.
TB: They're not necessarily out in front like on the in-state tuition but they'll talk about it behind
the doors, and they are the people who give money to these legislators. And plus the education
community has been very strong. The Regents—we've had Regent leaders who come in. And
these are also people that legislators know. So it's been a miracle that, right, the in-state tuition
and that we've held onto that and the earned income tax credit. And to be fair that Governor
Brownback behind the scenes, he didn't want an in-state tuition repeal on his desk.
JK: He didn't.
TB: No, no. No. I mean he's not going to come out front about it. And he behind the scenes said
we're not going to do anything to refundable earned income tax credits. But I've learned that I
always need a team and I'm a good team member. Also, another thing I've learned legislators are
called to do an incredible amount of listening. I mean it has to get boring because it's boring to
sit there, and I don't have to do it as much as they do.
So, when I give testimony I pray to the Holy Spirit to help me be creative and say something to
engage them. So, I have this reputation now in the legislature as a testifier that is creative so
people… I feel some pressure now that they're listening to what Sister Therese is going to say in
her testimony. (Laughs)
JK: Oh, that's great. (Laughs) So, you did some personal social justice work in your prison
work. Can you tell us about working with the prisoners and what you learned? And then you also
mentioned you have an adopted son, Gary. So, if you could tell us a little bit about that part of
your life. [00:30:51]
TB: Ok.
JK: And social justice too.
TB: I trace my prison work back to my Grandpa Bukoff (phonetic) who was on the Falls City
City Council, and he took the responsibility for the jail. He said nobody else wanted it. And he
said, "They aren't bad fellows." And he would take them out of the jail and have jobs for them to

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 13 of 24

do and then he would go get them Cokes and candy. So, I say my prison thing came from
Grandpa Bukoff (phonetic).
So, I started in the prisons in '73 when a Sister from another community invited me. And that led
me to go weekly to the Mass at the Topeka prison with the priest. I forget kind of the timing of
this but at one point, I say this with humility I hope, but he was a terrible homilist, and it just did
not ever connect, from my point of view, with the prisoner's lives. So, I asked him if I could do
the homily. And he told me I could.
JK: Oh, good.
TB: He was pretty forward thinking. Anyway, so I begin to preach in the prisons but nobody
cared about who preached in the prisons. So, I did that for years. Then when I took the
chaplaincy of the Topeka State Hospital that also included that piece to go weekly to the prison
and do the Catholic service. So, I did a communion service which was the liturgy of the Word,
really the same structure that we have at Eucharist. And then I would go to the Our Father, to
that place, and we would have a communion service.
And through the years, the 13 years, they opened a minimum security prison. I took that on every
Sunday. And then when they moved the maximum security women from Lansing up here to
Topeka I started doing the service there and then trained lay people to do the communion
services. And a piece of my prison ministry that I'm most grateful for is that four of the lay
people I prepared to do communion services are still at the prisons today ministering there and
doing that. So when I left Topeka that continued which I have always felt…
JK: That's good. Yes. [00:33:26]
TB: I mentioned something that probably not a lot of people know that at one point in my prison
ministry at the maximum security diagnostic center a prisoner lingered after the Sunday service
and then he grabbed me around the neck. And my response was immediately to push back. And I
got away from him and went… moving out of that room and right into a pod of all the men
saying, "Officer, officer." And the guy was behind me saying, "Don't tell. Don't tell." And I said,
"You've already done it. I'm going to tell." I mean I remember saying that.
So, of course investigators talked to me etcetera, etcetera. And my thought was they're going to
say at the prison that this little woman can't do this anymore. But, instead, they gave me an
officer, so after that I always had an officer in the room with me; before I had not. [00:34:25]
So, I go to pray with the prisoners because I need their witness of their faith, those who choose to
come. I'm dealing with those who choose to come to a worship. Because of their humility most
of them face their sins and their depth in breaking the Word. I've always dialogued with them
about what the scripture means for them. Praying with them helps me.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 14 of 24

I've also learned how vulnerable the kids at St. Vincent's are and those like them to ending up in
the prison system. How those with mental illness end up there.
JK: Was the one that grabbed you around the neck, did he have mental illness, do you think?
TB: I don't know. I kind of presume he did. They told me he had been aggressive with one of the
nurses too.
JK: Oh, really.
TB: Or at least something about women—that he didn't like us.
And also how vulnerable so many are to the call of the streets, I call it, and then a system that's
ready to eat them up.
JK: What do you mean by that, gang activity or being homeless on the streets? [00:35:50]
TB: I would mean more gang activity or maybe "gang" in quotes. That you get with your
buddies and then the smart buddies don't do the things that get the most time. I mean they have
those who are, I want to say, not as smart do the things that… or the young ones go and do things
and they get involved in things that are way over their head.
And one of the questions, if I might say, you ask about fix for prisons—what would be my take
on that. I think we have to continue to work on the systemic causes of poverty. I'd like to see us
reinstate the Pell Grants that allow those in prison have education. That's been taken away. And
I'd like to see more societal law enforcement energy on white collar crime, 'cause I think you can
send people to war on a false pretense and not have any repercussions. And it seems to me at
times that kills a lot more people. Or you can cheat the poor and not pay them wages or not pay
them living wages. Some of those things to me are things that need more emphasis, 'cause we
talk about all the violence is the shooting and the fights and that's not all the violence. Poverty is
a violence.
JK: And would you include funding education well in that? [00:37:33]
TB: Surely, because we know there are great discrepancies in the public schools where I am.
And I would say one of the things when I moved to Wyandotte County was my horror at what
people got As and Bs for. I mean it's not grades that are important. It's can somebody read? Can
somebody think? And so this just passing people along, it's wrong. Yes, I would include… But
it's very important that we keep the public education system strong.
I can go to Gary now if you're ready for me to go to Gary. (Laughs)

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 15 of 24

JK: Yes. Tell us about Gary. [00:38:21]
TB: Gary's been the biggest surprise of all God's gifts to me. Some parts of his story are his to
tell. However, I was his childcare worker for him and his younger brother, Michael, when he was
nine and Michael was six when I first met them and that was at St. Vincent's Home. I left after a
year there but always kept some touch with the two of them. So, when Gary got out of foster care
he had no one. I stayed connected and served as his CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocate,
in Juvenile Court until he was discharged at 21. And one day he introduced me to a friend as his
mom. Well, I kept my startle to myself but I continued our walk. And once you give me that title
he was stuck with me. Although I'd say along the way he would have liked to have gotten rid of
me. I tell people that his "moming" me was no honorary title that we've walked the walk.
He has been one of my favorite and most influential teachers. He's taught me a hint of what it
means to belong to no one. A hint of the white privilege that I live with, a hint of the financial
struggles of making it on your own, a hint of the emotional challenge of living as an adult with
the effects of childhood trauma. And a hint of the burden of racism and the incidents that never
quit. And I proudly claim him as my son, as a wonderfully compassionate person who's very
much respected in his profession as a fine dining waiter.
JK: Oh, that's great. So, where does he live now? [00:40:26]
TB: He lives in… well, really he lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.
JK: Oh.
TB: He works in Old Scottsdale but had been in Tempe for nine years and recently moved.
JK: Sounds like he's done very well.
TB: I don't ever want to undermine his struggle but, yes, he has.
JK: You mentioned it in your bio form that you filled out so he must mean a lot to you.
TB: Yes, I'm his mom. And in my family kids are tops. So, yes.
JK: Oh, that's great.
TB: He's been a surprise gift, as I say.
JK: Going back to the death penalty, why do you think it's been so difficult particularly in
certain states to overcome this horrible practice? [00:41:32]

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 16 of 24

TB: My experience is that people feel a loyalty to the victims and the victim's family. And most
of us, including the legislators, are pretty uncomfortable with those who've lost loved ones to
murder. Their pain is very raw. So, when they come and talk about it it's very raw. So, to get
beyond that, what feels like loyalty to the victims, to a place of the reality of the death penalty…
like Sister Helen Prejean says there are three things that get you on death row. You're poor; you
killed a white person and who your lawyer is.
Pope Francis recently just in the last couple months said the death penalty is a mortal sin. That's
the strongest church statement we've ever had on this issue. I've been working against it since
1987. I have almost daily contact with the issue in some way, and you won't convince me that it's
helpful to anybody. Although I advocate for replacing it with life in prison without parole I have
to say that deep in my spirit I have concerns about life in prison without parole too. I think some
people, for the safety for themselves and the community, need a structured environment for the
rest of their lives. I'm not sure everyone does. And I remind people that in the Scriptures that we
hear we hear from Moses who killed in a burst of emotion. We hear from Paul who killed, was a
murderer. We hear from David. I pray his psalms daily, his songs (phonetic). David had the most
planned, calculated, premeditated murder of Uriah and not just Uriah but his troops, of anybody
and the love that came to his heart in his asking for forgiveness.
My other example is when Jesus was on the cross with the two others and this one man who
society thought was so terrible they should kill him recognized not only that Jesus was innocent
but also that he had a Kingdom that was not of this world. And I think he brought Jesus great
comfort when they're hanging there naked. And Jesus must have thought what's this all about? I
think he brought Jesus great comfort in that recognition. So, those are some of the core things
that keep me involved in this issue.
JK: And yet there are so many people that are adamant that it should remain. [00:44:54]
TB: That has changed some in past years, and there are fewer death penalties being given in the
United States, but people in Europe think we're just crazy...
JK: I know.
TB: …that we have the death penalty yet. Yes. It's a tough issue. And really my involvement
with the death penalty was one of the reasons when I came to Wyandotte County besides a friend
of many or our Sisters, Marianne Slattery in the district attorney's office in Wyandotte County,
said, "Therese, I think you should consider being a police chaplain." And I thought I don't want
people saying that naïve Sister (I don't like the word nun) that naïve Sister doesn't know what
she's talking about when she talks about what the church says about violence and the death
penalty etcetera. Even though with police chaplaincy I've been to many homicide scenes I've
never been convinced that more violence or the violence of the death penalty is a solution to any
of this.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 17 of 24

JK: So, for the past 21 years, I believe you said, you've been a police chaplain. [00:46:03]
TB: Right.
JK: So, you've been on the other side.
TB: Yes.
JK: This is really interesting. Well, you just mentioned how you kind of got into it. What exactly
do you do as a police chaplain? [00:46:20]
TB: So, for about 17 years for 48 hours a month I would carry the police beeper and if they had
a call during that time whether it was two o'clock in the afternoon or two o'clock in the morning
they would beep you and ask you to come to the scene. So, I say is that in my life before that I
always had the protection of a system around me or a structure like a hospital, even in the prison
there's a structure. But you are right at the scene so there's no protection for any of that.
So, you go to the scene and as one of the men who I really liked, the chaplain said, "I get a
tightness in the pit of my stomach every time that beeper goes off. But I say, ok, God. I'll get
myself there and you have to take over from there." And that's really… 'cause there's no
playbook to tell you how to deal with the scenes. So, you go to the scene and…
JK: I'm sorry. Where are you working in Kansas City? [00:47:28]
TB: Kansas City, Kansas, in Wyandotte County.
JK: Kansas City, Kansas.
TB: And you go to the scene and the Holy Spirit is faithful, and you learn a lot about Jesus and
the Holy Spirit at those scenes that you don't learn any place else. And sometimes you're just
standing there with chaplain on your back. Lots of times you look for some person in the family
that might be a connection for you to reach out to the family.
JK: The victim's family.
TB: The victim's family.
JK: Ok.
TB: And sometimes you can be somewhat helpful about… that the body's still laying on the
ground and they have to wait 'til they take all their pictures and until the morgue comes to pick
the body up and that always seems to take a long time. So, you can just say that they need to do

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 18 of 24

their investigative work, pick up the evidences so it can't be contaminated. One of the hardest
things is ordinarily they don't let the victim see the body.
JK: Oh, they don't. [00:48:39]
TB: Not at the scene or even in the hospital and that's a really difficult thing for family
members. Very difficult. And we've worked on that but it's very difficult for them.
JK: What has it been like to work with the police? How do you see the police in Kansas City,
Kansas? Kansas. [00:49:04]
TB: Yes. I'm not naive that there are some bad police officers, but my experience is that the
greatest percent of them are good. And I tell them that good police officers are holy, and I
believe that deeply. Who deals with the poor in the community? It’s the police. It's a call just like
my call. And recently I had a detective say to me, "Nobody leaves this job without having
posttraumatic stress syndrome."
One thing that I say when people tell me with the death penalty we have it to protect police. I
say, "Are you aware that more police die from suicide than from homicide? What are we doing
to support them in," I say, "just the bruising and the daggers in their spirit with the things that
they encounter day after day?"
JK: Do you spend time with them after a traumatic incident ever? [00:50:14]
TB: I'm a woman so most of them don't want me to do that, if I can say that bluntly. Although
around Detective Lancaster's murder which happened last May I've been able to have some
conversations with detectives that I've never had before that were very important to me, and I
think important to them.
JK: What was the story of Detective Lancaster's murder? [00:50:43]
TB: He was shot by a man named Curtis Ayers when he approached him because the
Hollywood Casino had called and said we have a person that we're concerned about. And Mr.
Ayers had a gun and he shot Detective Lancaster and took his car. And Detective Lancaster died
at KU Hospital.
So, with an incident like that I got a text that said a police officer's been shot. If you're available
please go to police headquarters. And police headquarters is two blocks from my office so I
vigiled with mostly the women in the detective bureau that are their support staff for that. And
we thought that Detective Lancaster was doing fine and then he wasn't, and then we got word
that he died. So, I have walked that walk with them and walked anniversary time. I've observed
his widow saying that she agreed to the plea of life in prison without parole. So, Detective

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 19 of 24

Lancaster was murdered in May of '16. The person who pled guilty, Mr. Ayers, was sentenced in
March of 2017 and that was completed.
And I didn't have any police officer, and I checked with five to ten, say, oh, he should have had
the death penalty. They respected her decision and one of them said to me, "It's God's place to
judge not mine." Another one said, "We make mistakes. I don't think the death penalty is
necessarily a good idea." And they all know all the legal procedures that happen so it stretches
on and on.
So, again, I learned. I learned.
JK: So, you mentioned your being a woman had a bearing on working closely with the
detectives. Have you been able to form close relationships with any of them and what kind of…?
TB: I wouldn't call them close relationships. I would say that I have very respectful relationships
with a number of them. I wouldn't call them close relationships. But I've made myself available.
On the day that Detective Lancaster was shot and one of the police officers who was with him,
another police officer wanting to help him said, "Sister, will you come with me and offer to visit
with him." So, I went in and he wasn't interested in visiting with me. One of the women up in the
department said, not a woman police officer but a support staff said, "You're a woman. I'm used
to that all the time." So, it's still a man's profession although there are a lot of women there, and I
also respect them.
JK: But no women police detectives. [00:54:02]
TB: Oh, yes. There are women police detectives.
JK: But not in this particular office.
TB: Yes. Uh-huh. There are.
JK: Oh, there are.
TB: But it wasn't the woman who had been directly with the police officer, who had been with
Detective Lancaster when he was shot.
JK: Do you have anything else to share about your police…? Oh, you mentioned earlier where
you live with the Sisters in doing your work. [00:54:49]
TB: As Sisters of Charity we have an intentional house that was at 8th and Quindaro, which in
Kansas City Quindaro was known as Blood Boulevard at one point because it was a high
violence area. And we moved into the old rectory which was next to Our Lady of St. Rose

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 20 of 24

Church, Catholic Church at 8th and Quindaro. So, it began with five of us. When I left last year
there were just two of us left. Really, I was going to be the last one left.
But we intentionally lived there in the low income, high violence area to be a presence there.
And we went out from there to do all our different things. Again, you learn. Just being in that
neighborhood you learn a lot. And you learn the quality of the grocery stores.
JK: For example. [00:55:43]
TB: For example… For one thing they're more expensive. They're dirty. The quality of the food.
You get the things that are dented and the things that are close to date of "Best by" if they're not
"Best if used by." And you just notice those things. And then eventually those all closed and it's
at least a half an hour to a grocery store. People in that neighborhood don't walk for exercise.
They walk because that's how a number of them get around.
The children, you don't see them outside a lot. There's a swimming pool that's on Quindaro that's
four blocks down that I worked with all my years there for one thing—to get them not to close it
at six o'clock and to have them open until eight o'clock at least. And then you see the kids come
out and walk to the swimming pool. But lots of you say where are these kids coming from? Or
when they get on their school busses but you don't see them at other times.
By the time we left a lot of immigrants were integrating into that neighborhood and rebuilding
the ramshackle houses.
JK: Oh, were they? [00:57:10]
TB: Yes. So, interesting, yes, interesting changes.
JK: And when did you leave? [00:57:16]
TB: Last September. September of 2016.
JK: Do you live here now? [00:57:22]
TB: I live in Kansas City, Kansas yet.
JK: Oh, ok. You don't live here at the Mother House.
TB: No. I do not.
JK: You've also been active lobbying the state legislature and you've worked with the Kansas
City Catholic Conference. Can you tell us about that experience and what you've learned in the
process? [00:57:49]

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 21 of 24

TB: I was brought onto the Catholic Conference team to advocate on poverty issues which I did
for a number of years and I've forgotten how many. Then our director died of cancer, and after
two years under the new director I was informed that they had restructured and they no longer
would have my position. So most of us know what restructuring means.
TB: The new director with the support of the bishops narrowed the issues we worked on to what
really, at that time, were the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops priorities—abortion,
gay marriage, religious freedom.
JK: Oh.
TB: So, as one of the Catholic legislators noted when SCLs allowed me then to lobby in their
name it really left me freer. It was a gift of the spirit. So, I could go back to lobbying on the
issues of poverty. And I would note that there is significant angst among some of the legislators
who are Catholic about the seeming non-voice of the Conference of issues that impact people in
poverty. So, I carry the water, in a sense, for the church about those issues, and I'm grateful for
that role but that's a tension that's…
The church has such a rich tradition of Catholic social teaching and now the words of Pope
Francis about the poor. And as SCLs we had Vincent and Louise and Mother Xavier and our rich
tradition, so I'm grateful to be a voice within these traditions for the Gospel Values.
JK: It's fortunate that you're there, that you are the voice. [00:59:39]
TB: It's a gift to be there. I've been there 30 years. And I'd like to mention here the teamwork
that I've done with justice leaders of Sisters in five of the Sister communities that are located
here in Kansas. So, if something comes up in the legislature I email them out and we physically
met at times. And I rely on good info, at times from Catholic Charities, from the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops and in particular Network which is the Catholic Sisters Social
Justice Lobby that was begun. I think we must be close to 50 years now.
JK: The New York Times recently published an article about liberal religions working together
for change. How have you found that experience? Or do you have that experience, and what
types of projects have you worked on together? [01:00:44]
TB: I have to say I don't like the word "liberal."
JK: Ok.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 22 of 24

TB: I prefer… Now, people would probably call me liberal. I like to say I'm not Democrat or
Republican. I'm for policy and advocate for what promotes the common good, because to me
liberal gives a label that is not positive to some people.
JK: To some people that's true.
TB: Just like conservative gives a label that's not positive to some people, and really I don't like
either of those labels.
JK: Ok.
TB: So, I would say I've done more ecumenical work than I have interfaith, and that's, I think,
from being in Kansas for one thing. So, for over a decade I have planned with the United
Methodist Women their day, their advocacy day that they do at the capitol. And anyway I've
been part of their planning team to do that. I should say the United Methodist Women are the
leaders of it but other faiths are invited. The Church World Service women are invited.
But at the same time I've worked with a woman of the Jewish faith who led the efforts in
Johnson County around public school funding. This past year Kansas Interfaith Action had a
Muslim day at the capitol. So, those things might be increasing. I say the broader we can make
the tent for the common good the better off we are. So I invite those kinds of interactions, and,
again, I learn. I really don't know that much about the Muslim religion. So, those are ways that I
can learn.
JK: How has prayer facilitated your work? [01:02:55]
TB: I say that prayer is the patchwork quilt that covers all my work. And my mother had a great
devotion to the Holy Spirit. So, that seed was planted in me and I depend on the Holy Spirit in
my work. I've always loved the Psalms and the Gospels and they feed me and send me. And as
I've gotten older my prayer has fewer words and more silence but I still have many distractions.
Community prayer with my Sisters is important to me and vital. So, yes, I say that prayer is at
the center and my relationship with our God.
JK: And you pray with your community and how else has your community supported you over
the years? [01:03:55]
TB: I would say Sister Sue Miller who was our leader for12 years and then a councilor. She was
my councilor before that. She, when I was in Topeka, when I asked her if I could volunteer two
days a week at the Emergency Center she said yes. When I asked her if I could change that from
the Emergency Center to go to the legislature she said yes. And at one point when I shared with
her my concern that you seem to get more attention in this community for being sick than you do
for having courage she offered to come to the legislature with me, and she did. So, those were all
significant for me.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 23 of 24

JK: Sure. Yes.
TB: So, when you look at the array of things I've done I could never have done those without the
community support. For one thing they clothe me, and they feed me, and they house me, and
they see that I have a car that gets me back and forth to Topeka and other places.
JK: And they support you emotionally I'm sure. [01:05:05]
TB: Exactly, exactly. And then most recently Sister Eileen Haynes who's the councilor that I
touch base with is very supportive of my advocacy work. And I would say Sister Maureen Hall
who was our community leader for six years, she was my councilor when we made the move into
Quindaro and she helped me when one of the leaders said, "Oh, Therese, you're going to move
into this house. It has a hole in the wall," you know. And, "Do you think you could find another
house in the community?" But it was Maureen who understood the importance of the connection
next to the church, you know. So, we fixed the hole in the wall and then we have a lovely home
which children in the neighborhood called a palace.
JK: Yes. So, if St. Vincent and Louise visited you today would he recognize the SCL? Would
they recognize the SCL as theirs? [01:06:12]
TB: I hope Louise and Vincent would recognize us. But we live in a lot of abundance. I live in
abundance. I have health insurance. We know what an issue that is for so many people. I have a
car that runs. I have a home where the bills are paid without worry. But the passion and the
service continue, and I'd just like to quickly share two stories from Sunday.
I walked in the door on Sunday for our Jubilee celebration with Sister Judith Hayes, and she said
to me, "Therese, you've made me a political radical."
JK: (Laughs)
TB: "I'm calling those senators," she said. "I've got Mitch McConnell's number in my phone. I
have his phone number in my phone. And I have Senator John McCain. I have his number in my
phone. You've made me a political radical."
JK: (Laughs)
TB: And then told me a couple of things she said which were right on, you know. Then later in
the afternoon I ran into one of our… Sister Anne Callahan who just had her 88th birthday. And
she said, "Therese, I always call when you send out those alerts, because I pray and I ask Jesus,
and I say I can't ask Jesus to do something if I'm doing nothing." So, that example of the passion
that's still there for the poor, for the poor, I know Louise and Vincent would recognize that.

Sisters of Charity, Leavenworth, Kansas
Transcription of Sister Therese Bangert
Interviewed by Jane Kenamore, June 29, 2017
Transcribed by Jessie Lehman, September 7, 2017

Page 24 of 24

JK: Absolutely.
TB: The abundance is a question.
JK: And our last question is what do you think is the future of religious life in general and the
SCLs in particular? [01:0810]
TB: I think for me the question is what's the future for God's Kingdom? And I see and hear
people, not Sisters, doing what I believe is the work of God's heart and hands without calling it
what I call it. I think of three national, international organizations in particular and the people
who staff them.
Jubilee USA which works on debt relief issues for countries where they pay more on their debt
and the interest on their debt than they do for healthcare and education in their countries because
of unscrupulous leaders and unscrupulous hedge fund buyers who already have more money than
they need, but Jubilee USA works that.
I think of the Nonviolent Peace Force which came out of the inspiration of a man from the
United States, and I forget where the other man was from, but they have people that are like the
army except they're not armed. And they go in to negotiate in these places of violence to bring a
place where people can safely come together to bring safety to like women that are going out to
get firewood etcetera. But that whole concept of a nonviolent peace force to me is the work of a
Then there's the Center for Justice and Accountability. Their primary staff recruits pro bono
lawyers who go after the higher ups in the human rights abuses. So, they're the people that are
looking at who murdered Archbishop Romero, who caused some of the massacres in El
Salvador. They just have had a case about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge or… I don't know if
I'm saying the name right. But they're doing bold and much more courageous things than me.
And I believe that those are about the Kingdom.
So, I believe God's spirit is alive and well in the world. I've been gifted to be a SCL and I'm
gifted to serve here, but I'm not worried about what's ahead and I don't know what's ahead but I
know the Kingdom, God's Kingdom will continue to come.
JK: Thank you so much.
TB: Thank you.

Dublin Core


Bangert, S. Therese, Oral History, 6/29/2017


Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth; Social Justice; Chaplain; Vatican II


Sister opens her interview by speaking about her family and upbringing in Nebraska. She mentions that the teachers at her local school were SCLs, creating an early introduction to the community. Initially resistant to the idea of religious life, she clearly remembers the moment she was called to the community during a school trip. In her reflections on her early days in the community, she speaks about the modernization brought about by Vatican II and the difficulties of losing close friends as they chose to leave the community. Her initial posting at St. Vincent's home taught her about the struggles people face as a result of social injustices. She later worked at the Topeka State Hospital, trained as a chaplain, and worked in prison ministry. The trajectory of her mission work illustrated how people can become trapped in the system and drew her to be involved in the Social Justice Committee. While working in Topeka, she also became involved in political issues such as immigration and the death penalty. She also speaks of her adopted son, Gary, and the lessons he has taught her.


Bangert, S. Therese; Kenamore, Jane


Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth






All rights belong to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth






Oral History


Bangert, S. Therese; Kenamore, Jane



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Kenamore, Jane


Bangert, S. Therese


Digital Sisters Files

Original Format





Bangert, S. Therese; Kenamore, Jane, “Bangert, S. Therese, Oral History, 6/29/2017,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed July 14, 2024,


Allowed tags: <p>, <a>, <em>, <strong>, <ul>, <ol>, <li>

Document Viewer