At age 25, Bev Krassner-Bulas, a young bride and a registered nurse, moved to India with her husband who was conducting a yearlong research project on tropical parasites at a Calcutta university. She didn’t have a license to practice nursing in India, so she socialized with other English-speaking ladies in the city, mostly spending afternoons playing bridge and drinking gin and tonics. “I have nothing against bridge or gin, but really, it wasn’t something I wanted to do every day,” says Krassner-Bulas. “One day I met a British woman at Mass who had started volunteering at a local orphanage and I thought, ‘that sounds interesting.’”
Little did she know that she would be working shoulder to shoulder with one of the greatest saints of the 20th century, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The year was 1961 and Mother Teresa had just received a donation, two years prior, of a large home that she transformed into a convent and orphanage for girls. “We only had girls at the orphanage because in India, boys were highly valued but newborn girls were often left out in the fields to die. Mother and the sisters were trying to teach the women to bring their girls to the orphanage instead.” This was long before Mother Teresa’s work had captured the world’s attention.
Bev served under Mother’s daily supervision, not only with the orphaned girls but also with lepers. “Our leprosy clinic consisted of a card table on a dirt road. Since many of our patients were illiterate and unable to count, we would make little packets from old newspapers or magazines given to us by the U.S. Embassy. In each packet, we would put seven pills, and instructed the patients to take one pill per day and return when the pills were gone.”
She sorted donations of all kinds, including such gifts as tuxedos, tutus and ball gowns. “People had no idea what we were dealing with in Calcutta, we appreciated their generosity but it was really funny to see what people sometimes thought we might need!”
Helping others was nothing new to Bev; she spent her youth in an ethnic neighborhood in upstate New York. Her father was a first-generation Polish immigrant. Taking care of each other was one of her family’s core beliefs. “My grandparents had a small grocery store and were always doing things to help others. They gave store credit to people who couldn’t pay for necessities. I don’t know if my grandfather ever collected the money.” As a young woman, she was not a volunteer per se, but when she saw or knew of someone who needed help, she was always willing to lend a hand.
After their time in India, Beverly’s husband accepted one of the first teaching professorships at the newly established University of California, Irvine. She has lived in Orange County ever since. Packed prominently among Bev’s keepsakes was a spirit of volunteerism inspired by Mother Teresa.
In the 50 plus years since, Bev practiced nursing, raised two children all the while volunteering for countless causes and services. Today the octogenarian keeps a schedule that would leave a person half her age breathless. She is a founding member and still quite active in UCI’s Town and Gown. She is a master gardener of the University of California’s Cooperation extension, which includes bee keeping six hives. “We have agricultural land on Irvine Boulevard where the university conducts research on fruits and vegetables. We recently harvested wonderful potatoes that local high school students had planted.”
She delivers food for St. Vincent De Paul Society, visits juvenile hall, serves in a number of ministries at her parish, Elizabeth Ann Seton in Irvine, and is a daily communicant. She is also passionate about civic engagement. She is a board member of “Women For of Orange County”. The group sponsors non-partisan educational events armed and helping citizens understand the complexities of our local problems such as homelessness, environment, slavery, and many other issues.
It is no wonder that Bev was among 30 nominees at this year’s Women-of-the-Year benefit luncheon and fundraiser for Catholic Charities. In front of more than 600 guests, she was named Catholic Woman of the Year by Bishop Kevin Vann who honored her for the lifetime of service to her faith and her community.
Kathy Benoe, president of the Catholic Charities Auxiliary, described the importance of Catholic Charities in our community. “Of the 3.3 million people in Orange County, half a million live below poverty, many are children. Through Catholic Charities more than 100,000 meals are served and no one is ever turned away. We have helped 13,000 people with immigration, assimilation and citizenship issues.”
Beverly Krassner-Bulas wakes up every morning saying: “Yes! I got another day.” And with each new day she blesses everyone around her with her dedication, enthusiasm and joy. So, get that woman a gin and tonic and congratulate her on being selected the 2017 Catholic Woman of the Year! Then do as she does and think about how you can live your faith in action.