Anita Caspary, IHM, who led the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart as they answered Vatican II’s call for reform by ultimately founding an ecumenical community, was a visionary, prophet, precursor to modern U.S. Catholic religious sisters and a steadfast friend to many during her long and productive life, say those who knew her well.As Oct. 22 funeral preparations continued this week for Caspary, who died Oct. 5 at age 95, some of her colleagues and friends shared with The Tidings their memories of a woman both praised and criticized for what were regarded as challenges to church authority.Marie Egan, IHM, S.T.D., professor emerita in Christian Ethics and retired from Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, was an 18-year-old Immaculate Heart College student when she first met Caspary, then-Immaculate Heart Sister Humiliata, who taught her freshman English class.At Immaculate Heart College, Caspary, who had a Ph.D. in English literature from Stanford University, served as English Department chair, graduate dean and later was president of the college from 1958-63.“She was the primary inspiration for me to enter the convent over 50 years ago,” said Egan. “Since then our paths have intertwined at many points. For me, she was an extraordinary teacher, an inspiring leader and a loyal friend.“She will be remembered for her vision, for her fearless struggle for self-determination of women in the church, and for a firm but gentle way of pursuing her goals. People like Anita come along very seldom in history and in our church.”Elected as Mother General in 1963, Caspary began her leadership for ten critical years as the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart evolved into a new relationship as Immaculate Heart Community in response to a Vatican II call for renewal of religious life.Their reform efforts were rebuffed by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre and appeals to the Vatican were denied, so a majority of the nuns (more than 300) made the difficult choice to ask that they be released from their vows. The Immaculate Heart Community was officially established in 1970.“I regret that the Vatican and local church authorities did not understand the IHM response to the Second Vatican Council,” Caspary told The Tidings last year on the occasion of the IHM community’s 40th anniversary.“I am both surprised and gratified that the IHM community has flourished for 40 years,” Caspary said, adding that today’s 160-member IHM community “with its present remarkable growth is a viable example of what we envisioned.”“In the face of many setbacks, the IHM community’s existence is a miracle and a sign of God’s ever present love for us,” said Caspary, who was living at the IHM retirement home in Los Angeles when she died peacefully surrounded by family and community members.“She was a courageous and visionary woman,” said Jesuit Father Tom Rausch, T. Marie Chilton professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University who knew Caspary from the days his sister attended Immaculate Heart College (which closed in 1980).“She led the IHM sisters to renew themselves in accordance with the Second Vatican Council, especially its documents on religious life,” said Father Rausch. “The IHM community was ahead of other congregations in this. They ran into difficulties because they were the first.”Msgr. Clem Connolly, pastor emeritus of Holy Family Church in South Pasadena who was priest secretary to both Cardinal McIntyre and his successor, Cardinal Timothy Manning, told The Tidings that he thinks Caspary “was before her time.”“What she was advocating would be standard thinking today,” said Msgr. Connolly. “She was a prophet. A prophet is meant to interpret what is happening at the moment, and the destiny of a prophet is to be persecuted.”In her reflections sent to The Tidings last year, Caspary noted: “It appears that some [religious] communities were influenced by not only by our rules but also by our IHM Spirit. Contemporary communities of women religious now more fully understand that our decisions to change were grounded in the teachings and documents of the Second Vatican Council. We hear from other communities who are evaluating their rules that our changes assisted them to continue their renewal and to grow.”A prolific writer throughout her life --- she was anticipating the publication of a new book of her poetry at the time of her death --- Caspary chronicled the struggles of the post-Vatican II years in her 2003-published book: “Witness to Integrity: The Crisis of the Immaculate Heart Community of California.”Her longtime friend, Holy Names Sister Susan Maloney, Ph.D., board chair of the Western Association for the Study of Religion, said Caspary waited so long to write about the crisis because of her innate scholarly nature.“It took Anita 37 years to write of this critical period in the history of the IHM community,” noted Sister Maloney. “As a scholar, English professor and administrator, she possessed the patience to understand how time would provide her reflective wisdom in writing ‘Witness to Integrity.’“With the advent of Vatican II,” said Sister Maloney, “Anita and the IHM sisters immersed themselves in the study of Vatican II. They were faithful to the call of John XXIII and the Vatican II documents which mandated a renewal of the Catholic Church.“Contrary to uninformed opinion,” she added, “the IHM community did not leave the Catholic Church, but rather created an ecumenical community in which many IHM members are faithful Catholics and other members belong to various Christian denominations.”According to Sister Maloney, Caspary was, “without exaggeration, an extraordinary person because of her brilliance, scholarship, leadership and spirituality. She had a classical education in the liberal arts. She was steeped in the Catholic intellectual tradition of the Church which teaches that faith and reason are not in conflict.“Anita and the IHMs,” she declared, “were the precursors to modern U.S. Catholic religious sisters. Anita had a deep spirituality and was a very faithful Catholic all her life. Her life was an answer to God’s call.”A native of South Dakota who grew up in Los Angeles, Caspary is survived by three sisters, Gretchen De Stefano of Los Alamitos, Marion Roxstrom of Newport Beach and Ursula Caspary Frankel of Costa Mesa; and a brother, Gerard Caspary of Las Vegas.Caspary’s funeral Mass will be celebrated Oct. 22, 9 a.m., at Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. Longtime friend, Bishop Remi De Roo, retired bishop of Victoria, B.C., will preside at the Mass.

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