KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The co-founder of Operation Breakthrough, Sister Corita Bussanmas, died on Saturday ,the nonprofit announced.
Bussanmas died peacefully at her home with family around. She was 87 years old.
Mary Esselman, Operation Breakthrough CEO, said Bussanmas "exemplified servant leadership."
"From pumping gas to rocking babies, she was an inspiration to me and to so many others over the past 50 years," Esselman said in a news release. "Sister Corita was an educational pioneer. Her philosophy of teaching and learning is one many aspire to today — meeting each child where he/she is and providing a rich environment of unique opportunities and experiences."
Bussanmas was one-half of the driving force behind Operation Breakthrough, which Sister Corita and Sister Berta Sailer started in 1971 in response to requests for quality child care for children of the working poor.
For half a century, Sister Corita met the social, emotional and educational needs of children who were often unseen. Chris Waxter was only eight or nine years old when Sister Corita stepped into his life, changing it forever by giving him another place to call home and another person to call "mom."
“How many times in this world will you have the opportunity to meet a woman who sees no bad, and no one, I mean she says no bad in that one, who is the most beautiful," Waxter said. "Her heart is so beautiful and pure when it comes to humans and she has a special special special heart for kids.“
Esselman told 41 Action News that over the course of half a century, the Bussanmas sisters either adopted or fostered more than 70 children.
"What a legacy that is," Esselman said, "but then when you look at the thousands of kids they’ve touched, starting with four in their living room and now today over 700 -- and think about the fact that they knew kids needed not just education but social services and health services and they set out to do it no matter the barrier, and I think that’s where that name 'rogue' comes from because they found a way. They started with nothing, but they knew what they needed to do and they found a way to do it.”
Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas took to Twitter to comment on Bussanmas' death.
What an exceptional woman, whose gifts will ripple for generations in the lives of the thousands of families and young people she cared for.— Mayor Q (@QuintonLucasKC) March 27, 2021
We were blessed to have her in our community. https://t.co/bHy4OM3tWB
"What an exceptional woman, whose gifts will ripple for generations in the lives of the thousands of families and young people she cared for," Lucas said in a tweet. "We were blessed to have her in our community."
Operation Breakthrough was founded in 1971 and "provides a safe, loving and educational environment for children in poverty and empowers their families through advocacy, emergency aid and education," according to its website.
A celebration to celebrate Bussanmas will be held at 6:30 p.m., on Wednesday, March 31. The celebration will be virtual due to COVID-19.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Sister Corita Bussanmas' last name. It has since been corrected.