50 years: Beverly Dunn, SP

Sister Carol Ann

Beverly Dunn knew she wanted to be a sister by age 10, and had been taught by at least four religious communities by high school. Her last teachers, the Sisters of Providence, were not a shoo-in. “It was a definite process to decide which one,” Sister Beverly said. “The Sisters of Providence wore a really weird habit in comparison.” Nevertheless, she added, “I chose them because they were the most real people.”

She was born in Lawrenceville, Ill., to a family that moved frequently. “I never lived in one house more than three years or in one area more than five years.” After graduating from Providence High School in Burbank, Calif., she entered the Sisters of Providence in 1962, just one month before the opening of Vatican II. Her novitiate and juniorate at Providence Heights in Issaquah, Wash., hinted at new possibilities for religious life.

Teaching at the root of career

“I had only known teaching sisters, but I knew the Sisters of Providence did other things,” Sister Beverly said. “Even at Providence High School we were right next to the hospital, so I had met nursing sisters.” But inclination to teach popped out of her mouth when Mother Judith (Theresa Lang) asked her, ‘What do you see yourself doing?” Teaching has been at the root of her 10 years in the high school classroom, her parish ministry and pastoral ministry work, and even in her work as a canon lawyer.

Sister Beverly made final profession in 1973 in Beaverton, Ore. She earned bachelor’s degrees in social sciences and chemistry education from Seattle University while living at Providence Heights and Providence Hospital. She taught science at Providence High School, Burbank, Calif., Central Catholic High School, Portland, Ore., and Immaculate and O’Dea high schools in Seattle from 1968 to 1976. “That love of science has never left me,” she said, adding that she still is intrigued by cosmology, human migration, natural history, geology and paleontology.

Additional years of parish ministry, campus ministry, young adult ministry and pastoral planning were in the archdioceses of San Francisco and Portland. She completed the CORPUS program for ministers at Seattle University and also earned a master’s degree in theology at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif.

Path to canon law providential

The path to canon law was providential. Sister Beverly was a pastoral associate at All Saints Parish in Portland, Ore., when the pastor’s sabbatical left her in charge of parish administrative duties. “Since I was administering the parish, I really needed to know what the rules were,” she explained. She began searching for a short course in canon law for pastoral ministers, but found herself embarking on a journey to Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, that ended up in a master’s degree and then a doctorate in canon law. She served as a canonical consultant to Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy.

Sister Beverly has been a canonist for the Diocese of Stockton, a trustee for the Mother Joseph Province Retirement Trust, a member of the advisory board of the Community Health Benefits Committee for St. Joseph Hospital, Stockton, Calif., and a canonical consultant to other dioceses, organizations and individuals when called upon.

That knowledge of canon law has come in handy. The most dramatic application, Sister Beverly said, was in wading through the complexities of the Vatican-ordered apostolic visitation of communities of women religious that began in 2009. That knowledge also has been useful in chapters and other community meetings. “I consciously make sure people operate with the greatest degree of freedom,” she said. “The law sets parameters and limits. My role is to make sure that people understand the full range of options available to them.”

50 year mark a surprise

Sister Beverly is a member of the formation team for Mother Joseph Province and has coordinated the province’s Come and See House in Seattle. In addition, she works with the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Marriage Tribunal, a court system in which she formerly served as a judge. For the past three years she has been making the case for the validity of marriage as a defender of the bond. She also works at St. James Cathedral as part of the catechumenate team.

Asked if she ever thought she would make the 50-year mark as a Sister of Providence, Sister Beverly responded, “Goodness, no!” When she entered the religious community, she explained, sisters came to their 50-year Jubilees in wheelchairs. “They didn’t even celebrate the 60s and 70s in the public ceremonies.”

What she values most as a community member has been the long-term relationships with “people I have known and shared my life with for 50 years,” including high school classmate Sister Teresa White, also a Jubilarian. “That is something we share that is very, very precious, to be and work together before God.” There are many differences in the religious community since they entered it, Sister Beverly added. “We’ve weathered it all together, the joys and sorrows, the successes and failures, the excitement of changes and the disappointments, all in the confidence that Providence does provide.”

Sister Beverly is looking forward to this Jubilee celebration as a reunion of family members from southern California, some new to the Northwest, and from Idaho’s Boise Valley. Ever the teacher, she is looking forward to exploring the area with them.