In Praise of a Franciscan Friend Whose Legacy Reflected Her Life
“I loved her dry sense of humor and her ability to engage you in intelligent conversation,” says Sister Ann Bartko, abbess of the Monastery of St. Clare in Cincinnati, of the late Barbara Sonnenberg. “ I experienced Barbara as a woman with integrity who did not put on airs; she was true to who she was.”
Barbara was one of the most Franciscan people I have ever known. She was a Secular Franciscan in St. Margaret of Cortona Fraternity for over 50 years. She held every office there and many of them multiple times. Barbara served well on the advisory board of St. Anthony Messenger Press for many years.
After leaving generous gifts to two friends, Barbara gave the bulk of her estate to Cincinnati’s Poor Clare nuns and the friars of St. John the Baptist Province.
She was especially concerned about the senior friars, whom she sometimes joined at Mass at St. Margaret Hall, not far from her home. She brought Holy Communion to parishioners and Catholics in two senior residence facilities. Barbara brought Holy Communion to sick members of St. Mary Parish and assisted at countless funerals there over the years.
Before she retired from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, she served in several branch libraries and eventually headed the lending department at the main library downtown. Barbara was a great promoter of literacy and for several years tutored adults who were learning to read.
“Barbara and I shared a birthday, which bonded us,” says Natalie Schoeny, a longtime friend and fellow parishioner at St. Mary Parish in Hyde Park. “I am so honored to have known her and been a party to her dry wit as we volunteered together! She made the ordinary a bit more extraordinary as she would weave her stories of daily life. She often would say ‘Do you get it?’ or ‘that kind of thing,’ trying to get reactions worthy of her storytelling. She never wanted to be in the limelight, but to me she was the limelight, shining happily or sarcastically on many occasions. Missing her till we meet again!”
A Franciscan to the core, she felt very much at home whenever she was able to visit Assisi. Her sense of humor was very sharp but never mean; no irony ever escaped her. This picture, my favorite one of her, resulted from being coaxed into allowing her friend Natalie Schoeny to take it after a St. Patrick’s Day party.
I will miss my dear friend but her Franciscan spirit lives on, both in the life she lived and the legacy she left. She steadfastly avoided public recognition; she will certainly have something to say about what I have written here!
Fr. Pat McCloskey, OFM, is the Franciscan Editor of St. Anthony Messenger magazine.