Sister Barbara Geib liked turtles, or at least the idea of a turtle. The slow-and-steady creatures were a sort of symbol for the nun, who was Monroe’s first police chaplain and for 41 years a cherished presence at St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church.
“A turtle doesn’t make any progress unless it’s willing to stick out its neck,” said the Rev. Phillip Bloom, pastor of the Monroe church. At a funeral Mass on Thursday for the woman parishioners knew as “Sister B,” the priest shared memories and stories of Geib, calling her “my support, my friend, my right arm.”
Born in San Francisco on Oct. 3, 1932, she took vows to join her order in 1952. She taught in Catholic schools in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Seattle before coming to St. Mary of the Valley as a parish sister in 1977. She became Monroe’s first volunteer chaplain in 1983, serving the police and fire departments.
She was a tenacious advocate for victims of domestic violence. “She would call victims to connect them with resources. She’ll be missed in this community,” said Cindy Chessie, a detective sergeant before retiring from the Monroe Police Department.
Notifying families of deaths and being with people experiencing other crises were the chaplain’s hardest duties, Chessie said. “She had compassion. I just loved her. We laughed and cried through many things.”
Ken Ginnard, deputy chief of the Monroe Police Department, said Geib ministered not only to victims but to officers.
Marysville police officer Kelly Pitts, formerly with the Monroe department, recalled going to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center after a 3-year-old was injured in a fall from a window. “My daughter was 3 at the time,” Pitts said. “I was so glad she was there to talk about anything. She was always just there. She had seen so much.”
At the police department, Ginnard said, “she didn’t come in and preach religion.” She was there to talk about whatever was going on. It might be a happy occasion, like the birth of an officer’s baby. Geib often brought little gifts. “She was one of those individuals you’d see in town and sit down and have lunch with her,” Ginnard said.
Police once played a trick to teach Geib a safety lesson. “Sister Barbara used to leave her car parked behind the police station, unlocked,” Ginnard said. “The guys kept telling her, ‘You need to lock up your car.’”
One night, officers moved her car. When she went out, she thought it had been stolen. Police made her write a witness statement and created a “mock pursuit of a stolen car” on a secure channel, Ginnard said. It was quite some time before they let her in on their ruse, he said.
A hush fell over the crowded church before Thursday’s service ended with Monroe police Sgt. Brian Johnston playing “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes. Johnston had surprised Geib in late January by visiting and playing a bagpipe tune at Monroe’s Regency Care Center.
In a moving display of what Geib meant to the community, six police officers and firefighters escorted her casket to the parish hall for Thursday’s reception. Nuns from her order’s center in Belmont, California, were to take their sister home for burial.
Sister Elisabeth Tiernan, a member of Geib’s order, delivered a eulogy in which she noted Geib’s “joy and laughter.” Tiernan recalled a familiar “Sister B” saying: “A great, great gift is a sense of humor. Don’t leave home without it.”
At times, though, her friend couldn’t hide “the sorrow and pain of tragic situations she had faced alongside police and firefighters,” Tiernan said. “She was deeply involved in compassionate care.”
Geib once said that “Every day I begin with a prayer. Please help me face all the challenges I need to face.”
Her tenure at St. Mary of the Valley spanned decades of church leadership. “I was her seventh pastor here in Monroe — lucky seven,” Bloom said.
Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said Geib recruited him to teach children’s classes at the church when he and his wife, Elaine, joined St. Mary of the Valley in the mid-1980s. His wife sings in the choir. “Sister Barbara was a wonderful, sweet, feisty person, the heart of the parish,” said Somers, who attended Geib’s service.
“Sister Barbara loved children,” said Camille Pauley, whose daughters Juliette, 8, and Elizabeth, 5, were with her at the service. “She was very good at teaching children about the Mass.”
Bloom said Geib prayed for “things small and large,” and included President Donald Trump and “our hurting and divided country” in those prayers.
Monroe’s Mary Davis came Thursday to pay tribute to the woman she met at the Monroe/Sky Valley Family YMCA. “She swam at the Y and did water aerobics,” Davis said. “She always had a smile on her face.”
In 2012, before celebrating her 60th anniversary as a nun, Geib was interviewed by The Herald’s Rikki King. She summed up her years of serving the church and its people, and of working with police, firefighters and people in crisis: “Most of my life here has just been being there for someone, no matter what the situation is,” she said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.