Our gentle little Sister Coletta Goetz lived by the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. In reflecting on her life one might say that she was a living gospel. In the early hours of February 20, 2009, Jesus called this diminutive Sister into His loving embrace, gently walking with her through death into new life. For several days, members of Sr. Coletta’s family and the Sisters living in Mercy Franciscan Terrace and St. Clare Convent kept a prayerful vigil at her bedside. Several witnessed Sr. Coletta’s effort to continue to pray, attempting to make the sign of the cross and mouthing the words to the Hail Mary, even to the end of her life.
Anna E. Knoechelman and Joseph A. Goetz were the proud parents of nine children, five boys and four girls. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 11, 1912, Edna was the fourth child. The family made their home in Cold Spring, a small town in Campbell County, Kentucky. The family attended Mass at St. Joseph Church and the children attended the parish school. Edna’s grade school teachers were the German Notre Dame Sisters, and she thought that some day she would enter their Congregation. Sr. Coletta’s childhood memories were of a happy family life. When their father went to market, the Goetz children watched anxiously for his return so that they could search his pockets for hidden treats. During Lent Mr. Goetz led the family rosary. Their mother led the Litany of the Blessed Mother in German. Edna was puzzled by the response repeated after every invocation. She finally asked her mother why they kept saying “bed first” (the response in German is betet für uns).
When Edna was just eleven years old, tragedy struck the family. Five days after the birth of Teresa, Edna’s mother died and Edna’s sixteen-year-old sister Loretta assumed the role of “mother” to her younger siblings. When she was old enough, Edna went to work as a housekeeper for a local family. She earned ten dollars a week. On payday she gave her father nine dollars for the family needs and kept one dollar to pay for her transportation to and from work and for her personal needs.
One day as she was working she heard a persistent inner voice saying that she would not enter the Notre Dame Sisters. She found this revelation disturbing until one night she dreamed that she found a cross with a picture of St. Francis and St. Anthony on it. The dream left her with a sense of peace and the realization that she was to be a Franciscan. She went to her parish priest and told him her story. He gave her the phone number for St. Clare Convent. . .
In 1937, two years after consulting her pastor and a few months before her twenty-fifth birthday, Edna prepared to leave home to join the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. She had her suitcase packed to begin her new life and planned to leave home on February 2. However, God had another plan in mind and severe winter storms caused the Ohio River to flood. On January 26 the water level in Cincinnati reached 80 feet, making it impossible to cross the bridge from Kentucky into the city. The waters finally fell below flood level on February 5, allowing Edna’s father to take her to St. Clare Convent on Sunday, February 7.
Edna was in love with her Creator and entered into her new life with enthusiasm, willing to learn everything she could about religious life. After six months as a postulant, Edna received the name Sr. Coletta and was invested with the habit of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. Following the novitiate, Sr. Coletta made her first profession of vows on September 8, 1939. Sr. Coletta made her perpetual profession on September 8, 1944.
Sr. Coletta served in the dietary departments of St. Francis Hospital, Columbus, OH, St. Elizabeth Hospital, Dayton, OH, St. Elizabeth Hospital, Covington, KY, St Mary Hospital, Cincinnati, OH, and St. Francis Hospital, Cincinnati, OH. Sister was assigned to St. Clare Convent several times and was responsible for preparing nutritious meals for the Sisters who resided in the Convent. Sr. Coletta was a good cook. The work in the kitchen could be difficult; the pots and kettles were heavy, but Sister always seemed to be filled with joy. Sister was a favorite “boss” of the newest members of the Congregation. At Christmas time their assignments included decorating the windows with stencils. If a novice had a nursing background, Sr. Coletta teased them by instructing them about the “symptoms” that indicated a dish was ready to be served.
Sr. Coletta served the poor in a more direct way at St. John Social Service Center in the Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati. She helped prepare and distribute sandwiches and sorted donations of clothing. Sr. Coletta also provided for the Sisters by cooking for the small community.
In 1981 Sr. Coletta returned to St. Clare Convent and accepted the position of Sacristan. She loved her work in the Chapel and experienced a special closeness with God as she scrubbed floors, washed and ironed the Chapel laundry, prepared the altar for Mass or Benediction, laid out vestments for the celebrants and the other chores associated with the services held in the Chapel. After lunch one could find Sr. Coletta in her room where she went to spend some quiet time in prayer. You would find her sitting in her favorite chair with her feet propped up, her Office Book on her lap or her rosary in her hand. But as you surveyed her face, her eyes would be closed and she would have a warm, relaxed smile; in peace she rested with her divine spouse.
At the age of 88, Sr. Coletta climbed her last ladder needed to reach the higher places in the Chapel and retired to Mercy Franciscan Terrace. The transition was difficult, but soon she was engaged in the activities in her new home and she continued to participate in Congregational activities as her health permitted. She graciously received visitors in her room and particularly welcomed visits from her family.
Sr. Coletta, your presence among us will be missed, but we know that you have earned a precious place in the heart of God. Your frail body has now released your spirit to the freedom of new life. It is a gentle God who welcomes you into your eternal home. Remember us to Jesus as you continue to pray for us.
Sister Arleen Bourquin, SFP