A scientist whose faith sustains her and inspires others

BROOKFIELD—As her 80th birthday approaches, Dr. Barbara Ina Anderson, a research scientist and longtime parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Brookfield, looks back on her life and says it was governed by a simple spiritual principle that will work for everyone.

“My faith journey has basically been to say, ‘Thy will be done.’ With so many good situations in my life, I have to believe that God was always there and knows more than I do about what I should be doing.”

That approach has served her well and led to a strong commitment to her family, her parish, the diocese, her professional work and the needy. Dr. Anderson, who was last year’s recipient of the St. Augustine Medal, was honored by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in recognition of her willingness to share her time, talent and treasure for the Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury, St. Joseph Catholic Academy and several parish ministries.

With her brother Hal and sister Faith, who are now deceased, she was the inspiration behind the parish’s “Helping Another Live” project, which was named in honor of Hal and was distinguished by the yellow tote bags used to collect food for the Brookfield Food Pantry.

“Barbara is a blessing to our parish as someone we can count on when we need assistance to further many of our ministries. She is a woman of great faith whose life epitomizes Christian discipleship,” said Father George F. O’Neill, pastor. “Her selfless offering of her time, talent and treasure is what makes St. Joseph Church such a welcoming and caring community. We are a better parish for her presence with us.”

Joseph Gallagher, chief development officer for the diocese who has worked with her on various projects, says, “Barbara exemplifies what it means to be an active Catholic of faith. Her devotion to her family, to St. Joseph’s, to the Diocese of Bridgeport and to the Dorothy Day Hospitality House illustrates her love and service to God.”

Dr. Anderson, who had four cousins who were priests, says her Catholic faith has always been a central to her life: “My parish is like a big family to me, and I appreciate it now because I can give more time to it.”

God has been always been there for her in the good times and in the bad, she says. But life can be messy, and that’s when she applies a lesson she learned from her hobby of weaving, which inspired her devotion to Our Lady Undoer of Knots. Popularized by Pope Francis, the devotion is based on a painting of Mary untying the knots that represent the problems in our lives.

While caring for her sister Faith, who suffered from a debilitating case of Lyme disease, she took up weaving at the Brookfield Craft Center and eventually bought her own loom.

“From weaving I learned that by gently fingering the knots, they all drop out, but if you pull on them, they only get tighter,” she says. “So instead of saying, ‘my way, my way,’ I turn it over to God. It’s pride that makes us say, ‘I am right and my way is the best way.’”

While she was weaving, she had a spiritual inspiration that serves as her motto: “If you proceed at a slow speed, you will receive all that you need.”

“In our lives, if we pull on the knots, it makes the situation more difficult, but if you just drop the knot, it becomes untangled and you’re on God’s time,” she says.

For more than 40 years, Dr. Anderson was a scientist at the Schulumberger-Doll Research Center in Ridgefield, which provided research for the world’s leading supplier of technology and information solutions to companies in the oil and gas industry.

As a woman, during the 1960s and 70s, she was a pioneer in the oil service business and gained recognition for more than 70 technical papers she authored and co-authored.

In 1997, she enrolled in the PhD program at Delft University in the Netherlands and received her degree in 2001. Her thesis work involved the complex topic of “inversion of triaxial induction data to determine resistivity anisotropy.”

She and her two younger siblings grew up on the family farm in Newtown surrounded by relatives. They drank milk from the cows and ate fresh eggs. At the time, her father was a selectman in Brookfield and later ventured into real estate, while her mother commuted by train from Danbury to New York City for her job as bookkeeper.

Dr. Anderson graduated from Newtown High School and went to Western Connecticut State University and graduated first in her class in 1963.

“I was one of those geeky kids,” she recalled. “Math and science were my favorite subjects because there was no argument with the teacher about what was the right answer.”

Her sister Faith was a member of the first graduating class at St. Rose School, where her mother Barbara taught CCD. Dr. Anderson did some substitute teaching at St. Rose and took courses in computer programming and numerical analysis for her master’s degree at Fairfield University.

The computer programs she wrote helped her get a job at Schulumberger-Doll Research, and for most of her career, she worked in electromagnetic department, which provided drilling measurements for oil companies.

After her father died, she and her siblings built a house in Brookfield and moved there with their mother in 1968. At the time, Faith was in high school and Hal was in the army, so Dr. Anderson became the breadwinner for the family.

Faith, who later taught elementary school, contracted Lyme disease. After a round of antibiotics, the doctors thought she had been cured, but the disease led to cardiac problems and affected her neurologically, causing her to limp.

“Over the course of five years, she began to decline,” Dr. Anderson said. “I was there all the time with her. She lost weight and was down to 80 pounds. Eventually, she was admitted to a nursing home. The last week of her life, they put a cot for me in her room, and I was there when she died.”

With Faith’s passing in 2017, Dr. Anderson started looking for other things to do. “St. Joseph School had opened, and I made contributions for science and field trips because of my love of science,” she said.

She often accompanied students on their excursions and was involved with them in different projects about weather, raising trout, technology and water quality.
“We also went on the bus to Shepaug Dam to watch bald eagles,” she said. “Even though I didn’t have kids, I could go places with the students, and they let me be involved. I guess I’m still a kid.”

In recent years, she has discovered other opportunities. She volunteered at Dorothy Day Hospitality House and served meals through Catholic Charities. During the coronavirus pandemic, she made sandwiches at home and dropped them off at the church. She also has assisted the Morning Glory program in Danbury and helped served breakfast. At St. Joseph’s, she is active in the Respect for Life Ministry.

“Now that I’m at the older end of life, I see the importance of right to life for the unborn and the elderly,” she says. “When I visited my sister at the nursing home, I saw how unconnected older people can feel.”

Looking back on her 80 years and the work she has done, Dr. Anderson says, “I’ve had a good life. I’ve enjoyed it. I enjoy my work. I enjoy my hobbies. I even enjoy my retirement. I keep active in my parish, and I keep in touch with the people I worked with, and we write technical papers together. I’ve had a good, long life. I will be turning 80, and the 80 years have been pretty good. I don’t think of myself as old because there are so many things I can do.”

What’s her secret? “Thy will be done,” she says. It works every time.

By Joe Pisani