File photo: Monroe Police Sgt. Brian Johnston with Sister Barbara Geib in 2014.
File photo: Monroe Police Sgt. Brian Johnston with Sister Barbara Geib in 2014.

Pastor Michael Hanford believes Sister Barbara Geib cast a stone across waters in the community of Monroe.

She knew she wouldn’t change the world alone, but that she could “create many ripples,” as the Catholic nun and missionary Mother Teresa once expressed. She embodied God’s love. Through her faith and unwavering dedication to service she touched so many, he said.

“I have experienced a life of many gifts and blessings,” Geib once wrote, according to her fellow Sister Elisabeth Tiernan. “I pray that I may use the gifts and blessings that God has given me to share hope and love with everyone I meet.”

Known as Sister B, the longtime Monroe Police and Fire District 7 chaplain died on Sunday, Feb. 4. She was surrounded by friends and St. Mary of the Catholic Church parishioners — members of the flock she found among and outside her congregation in the more than four decades she called Monroe home.

Myriad stories have bubbled to the surface in the days since her passing. Themes of admiration, friendship, commitment and compassion were woven through each.

Mayor Geoffrey Thomas made a proclamation recognizing all she “contributed to the well-being and welfare of people in the Monroe community” during last Tuesday’s Monroe City Council meeting. He spoke of how she “counseled and comforted people in and working for our community, caring for others by giving tirelessly of her time and energy without asking for recognition and compensation.”

Geib first came to the rural community, not far from where the Snohomish and Skykomish rivers converge, in 1967. She was called at the time to fill the role of a parish sister at St. Mary of the Catholic Church. By that time she had already been teaching as a Sister of the Notre Dame de Namur for more than 20 years in California, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.

Tiernan said Geib entered the Catholic order in 1952. She was well aware of her desire to live the vision of their community’s founder, St. Julie Billiart, who too had an exceptionally close relationship with God, she said.

St. Julie made every effort to let His goodness be known, Tiernan said. She was born in France and lived through the French Revolution, when girls were not permitted to get an education. Much of her life’s worked involved ensuring young women were given those opportunities.

Tieran often says their community was started in the heart of a 10-year-old girl. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have very much preserved that dedication to the support of women and struggling populations through the following centuries. Many of the sisters, including her and Geib, taught in Catholic schools.

Nearly two decades after Geib arrived in Monroe, Monroe Police Lt. Colleen Wilson, who later became chief, decided she wanted to bring a chaplaincy program to her agency, and attended the first training held by the Washington State Criminal Justice Department; now those workshops are scheduled annually, she said.

Sister Barbara was a member of Wilson’s church, and the first recruited chaplain volunteer. The two worked to establish a course of action, with few examples to work with. Even in those early days Wilson recalls Geib with a twinkle in her eye and always laughing. Wilson met Geib’s parents and said her mother had the same wonderful sense of humor.

“While she lived this life to the fullest, I am sure she is already living it up in the next life as well,” Wilson said.

It was apparent Geib had a natural ability to lead, Wilson said. She was the glue that held together many local organizations and parts of the community. She constantly tried to learn how to better interact with the women and men she met who were in crisis, she said.

Wilson watched Geib’s quiet patience as she gave people room to express their grief at death notifications. She could draw people in. She talked to everyone in the same way, but approached them exactly how they needed, whether it was a listening ear, or as a mentor, she said.

“To me, she was always a shining example of how all of us should be living,” she said.

Geib’s love that developed for the city’s police and firefighters was never questioned. She didn’t let them.

She partnered with Hanford to establish Monroe’s annual Police and Fire Appreciation Week nearly two decades ago. Monroe Police administrative director Debbie Willis remembers the car Sister Barbara drove around town, a string of blue and red bows always flickering on the antenna.

“She professed to pray for us every single day,” Willis said. “I believe that. There’s not a doubt in my mind that she did that.”

The Rev. Phillip Bloom at St. Mary’s said Geib’s prayers were incredibly powerful. He recalls telling her about a nephew of his who was going through a challenging time. Once she had set her mind on him, the consequent transformation he witnessed was extraordinary.

Wilson said Geib’s experience with religion was always very matter of fact, but her dedication to the Catholic faith was never exclusive. She understood others loved God in their own ways.

Officer Darryl Stamey recalls Geib always coming from a place of understanding. No matter how he spoke, she didn’t pass judgment. More often than not she would respond with a witty quip of her own, he said.

Willis remembers her friend always asking what she could do for others. Wilson said Geib always turned the conversation toward how the people she worked with were affected. In return, those she impacted showed up in the same way.

Geib served as a domestic violence advocate for two decades, retiring a few years ago, Willis said. She would go out with officers on calls to be there for comfort. She would ask staff for cases to follow up on with a phone call to make sure the victims were all right or if they needed anything more, she said.

Fire District 7 Assistant Fire Chief Jamie Silva said he couldn’t recall a time when Geib did not come when she was needed. Geib kept a spare set of keys at the department in case she locked herself out of her house, Willis said.

Officers would help her put up Christmas lights if she needed the help. They would even mow her lawn if she asked, Stamey said. He worked with Geib for nearly 30 years.

At night he would often head to his desk to find her on his computer, checking her email. When his wife had a miscarriage, Geib was with her by the time he arrived. Sister Barbara was there for weddings, retirements, funerals and whenever the department was celebrating something, Willis said.

Monroe City Councilmember Kevin Hanford said when he was laid off a few years ago, she gave him work around her yard, so he could continue to provide for his family. She volunteered at the lost-and-found booth at the Evergreen State Fair, Pastor Hanford said, helping kids reconnect with their families after being separated. She helped put on soccer camps. She loved the children, he said.

Stamey was in the rotation of community members who sat with Sister Barbara during her 12-hour wake at St. Mary. It lasted from Wednesday night following her vigil service through Thursday morning. Whether he would be there was never second-guessed.

“Anything I could ever do for her...,” he said.

Stamey, Willis and others from the agency visited Geib at Monroe’s Regency Care Center in her final days. After so many years of visiting patients, she had become one herself. She was able to hear Sgt. Brian Johnston perform the bagpipes a final time — it was one of her favorite things, Willis said.

Bloom said she developed dementia in the months leading up to her death. She eventually stopped eating, even her favorite foods like milkshakes. Despite her mind deteriorating she connected with people until the end, he said.

Sister Tiernan said everything she heard about Geib’s role in the community did not prepare her for the reception they received when arriving at the medical facility. Nurses, physicians, cafeteria workers and physical therapists soon filled her room; they had been waiting for her, and were so glad she was there with them, she said.

“Sister Barbara is precious to a lot of people,” Tiernan was told.

Geib died at EvergreenHealth Monroe on Sunday, Feb. 4, with a room full of friends singing “Amazing Grace,” her obituary reads. Wilson remembers her reaction when Geib had passed — that the sister was already with the Lord and telling him a funny story.

A Mass of Christian burial was held the following Thursday morning. Community members who knew her shared testimony, and one her best friends, Sister Margaret Lederer, sang the songs Geib wanted performed at the vigil held the night before, Tiernan said.

The community’s response to the death of their sister is not typical, Tiernan said. Geib was exceptional, she said. 

She is survived by her brother, Gerald, and her cousins, Fran and Mary Croak. She will be interred in the sister’s plot at Holy Cross Cemetery, which serves the San Francisco area, according to Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur communications associate Rachael Bertone. The site is not far from where she was born, and where she graduated from Notre Dame High School in Belmont.

“She left a wonderful legacy,” Hanford said.