Sister Beth Akins: Never losing touch with God’s call

Sister Beth gathers the children of St. Alphonsus Parish for the children’s liturgy on Oct. 23.

Sister Beth Akins first thought about becoming a sister when she was in the third grade, while praying before the Stations of the Cross. She thought about it again as a junior in an Ursuline-run high school.

But it was not until she was 51 years old that she entered the Ursuline Sisters as a postulant. By then, she was a widow with experience operating restaurants and craft stores, but she felt God calling her to religious life. A parish priest told her the total of her life experiences would be much to offer a religious community.

The community she chose was the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, Kan. By the time she made her temporary profession, that community was on its way to merging with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.

Today, Sister Beth is living at the Motherhouse in Maple Mount and serving part-time as the director of faith formation at St. Alphonsus Parish, just across the road. She is also taking classes at Brescia University in pursuit of a ministry with addiction counseling, and she continues to get to know the sisters in her community as she prepares to make her final vows next year.

“Beth is truly a woman of deep prayer, a great spirit of hospitality and service,” said Sister Alicia Coomes, who as director of the temporary professed is Sister Beth’s companion on her journey to final vows. “Anytime she is asked to provide transportation for one of the older sisters she is most generous with her time. She truly enjoys being with people and helping them in their own faith life, whether that is in a religious education class or with adults in the RCIA process. She is a great listener, which will help her greatly in her ministry.”

At St. Alphonsus, she works with children in religious education, oversees sacramental preparation, runs the RCIA program, takes Communion to the homebound, offers some grief counseling and helps train the servers.

Sister Beth oversees some of the children’s coloring pictures of a family.

Father Ray Goetz is the pastor at St. Alphonsus, but he also is the chaplain for the Ursuline Sisters and teaches at Brescia. “I’m kind of a part-time pastor, but Sister Beth is there,” he said. “She does a lot of visiting, a lot of educational programs – she’s everywhere. The whole parish appreciates her.”

Aside from working hard and being organized, Sister Beth’s greatest strength is her concern for the parishioners, Father Goetz said. “She really cares about these people,” he said. “I don’t know where we’d be right now if we didn’t have her with the people.”

It was Sister Alicia who suggested Sister Beth take some classes at Brescia. Her desire to study addiction counseling probably stems from working with different parishioners through the years, she said. “It seems I have an ability to listen and to help some people with their addictions. There’s a great need for that,” Sister Beth said. “I do better one on one with people.”

Growing up

Beth Feuerborn was born on a farm between the small eastern Kansas towns of Garnett and Greeley, the third of what would be 11 children born to Clifford and Pat Feuerborn. “The Ursulines taught at East Scipio School (a public school), Sister Judith Osthoff was my first and second grade teacher,” Sister Beth said. (Sister Judith is retired at the Motherhouse in Maple Mount.) “I went to Mass every day. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized Scipio wasn’t a Catholic school.”

When Sister Beth was in the second grade, her family moved to the Kansas City, Kan., suburb of Overland Park. “My dad worked for a construction company, he usually worked in the city, and was driving an hour for work each day in Kansas City,” she said.

“I was a member of the largest class in Scipio, there were 10 of us in a school of 48,” Sister Beth said. “When we moved to Overland Park, I went to Queen of the Holy Rosary School, which had 1,035 kids in the school, and my second grade class had 48 kids. It was quite a culture shock. I went from being the popular girl to the new girl in school who didn’t know anybody.”

Though she had more Ursuline teachers there, it was a lay woman, her third-grade teacher Miss Malloy, who had a great impact on her. “She was a sharp dresser, the kids liked her. She was very strong in her faith and urged us to be,” Sister Beth said. “She challenged us to go to the Stations of the Cross at night. When I was there, by myself as a third-grader, I had this thought that I could be a sister.”