“Be not afraid,” is a timeless message proclaimed by the life of Sister Elizabeth (Betty) Vetter, SDS, (formerly Sr. Kenneth). Sr. Betty answered the call to serve at a young age, entering the Sisters of the Divine Savior Congregation just after eighth grade in 1957. Her entrance into the Candidature followed in 1961. While she had some say in choosing her life’s work, Sr. Betty bravely left the final decision in the hands of her congregation leaders. She submitted two suggestions–teaching chemistry and practicing nursing– as possible life paths. She was guided toward nursing, an occupation which would reveal her ministerial gifts.
After earning a bachelor of science in nursing at Marquette University, she worked at St. Mary’s Hospital in Wausau, primarily in intensive, coronary and intermediate care units for 12 years. During that time, she also took on rigorous studies to earn her master’s degree as a clinical specialist in cardiovascular nursing from The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. in 1976.
In 1983, Sr. Betty went to the Cheyenne River Reservation in Aberdeen, S. D. to interview as a nursing instructor at Presentation College-Eagle Butte Campus. After her interview, she was offered the directorate for the nursing program without even applying for the position. Sr. Betty courageously accepted the offer, and used her quick wit and problem-solving skills to establish a successful department on campus. She recalls taking initiative to ask whatever questions she needed to organize a program to help students learn and reach their full potential. Pushing beyond her personal comfort zone, she fully embraced the Salvatorian mission to promote justice and improve quality of life with special attention to those most in need.
Sr. Betty challenged herself again when she submitted her name for international ministry. She was chosen to travel to Philippines and India, where she worked as formation director with new members of the Salvatorian Sisters in each locale. She helped to develop their educational programs, as well as their ministries among the local people. Sr. Betty recalls an encounter with a group of people in India, when she asked if she could watch them harvest rice. They told her, “A Sister has never asked that before.” She could see they were so happy that someone took an interest in their lives. Thanks to Sr. Betty’s bold and spirited outreach of solidarity, she still has fond memories of her time spent with the people there.
Upon her return from foreign missions, Sr. Betty continued the legacy of the first Salvatorian Sisters who came to the U.S. in practicing home health care. As a hospice nurse, Sr. Betty provided comfort and support to patients and their families who knew their loved ones were near death. She observed that those who are dying often fear the unknown, and she offered an empathetic ear and open heart to those who just needed someone to listen. As Sr. Betty celebrates 50 years of vowed religious life in 2014, she is engaged in multiple ministries, which include guiding her Salvatorian Sisters with health concerns. Her encouragement and gentle nature put them at ease as she shares God’s comforting message, “Be not afraid.”