Dale Bauermeister keeps a reminder of his mother in his pickup truck, a plaque that reads, “Faith comforts the soul.”  “And I live by that,” he says. SUSAN SZALEWSKI

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From the Cross to the Resurrection and new life: One man’s story of suffering, faith and forgiveness

“Forgive! Have a big heart that is generous in forgiving. This is the measure by which we will be judged. As you have forgiven, so you will be forgiven, in the same measure. Do not be afraid to forgive. Sometimes we have doubts; look to Christ. There, there is forgiveness for all.” – Pope Francis

Dale Bauermeiester remembers times and dates meticulously.

Three days in particular can’t be erased from his mind. They were life-changing for him, he said, akin to his own Calvary, Resurrection and Pentecost.

Nov. 16, 2017: The day his world came crashing down, when he and his niece found his sister, Beverly Diane Bauermeister, beaten to death at her Bellevue trailer home. They also found Bauermeister’s 90-year-old mother, Beverly Jane Bauermeister, who had been living in the home and had been without food, water, medicine and other necessities during the eight days since the killing. As a result, she died 12 days after she was found.

Aug. 20, 2019: Sentencing day for the man convicted in the crime, Alan Stack, his sister’s longtime boyfriend, who later died in a hospital while serving prison time. That date was also when Bauermeister’s victim impact statement was read to the court.

The statement didn’t ask for leniency for Stack, but it did provide a breakthrough for Bauermeister. That day, he says, God gave him the grace to forgive Stack, to forgive despite the injury he caused to Bauermeister’s loved ones. It was a day of freedom, the day a heavy load was lifted off him, he said. Through forgiveness, he was given new life, a foretaste of the Resurrection, he said.

May 16, 2020: The day Bauermeister fully entered the Catholic Church at St. Matthew the Evangelist Parish in Bellevue. There he learned of “redemptive suffering,” a way to help others by uniting one’s crosses to Christ’s,  thanks to discussions with his pastor, Father Leo Rigatuso. As a new convert, Bauermeister dove into his faith, “giving 100%,” Father Rigatuso said.

Since the time of his sister’s and mother’s deaths, Bauermeister has become a different person – 180 degrees different – his pastor said. “Granted, he’ll tell you he’s no saint, but he’s a changed man.”

Bauermeister has journeyed from his family’s “darkest hour” to being able to share his story of hope and forgiveness with his fellow parishioners.

“Rather than being an angry and bitter man, he’s the opposite,” Father Rigatuso said.

“Forgiveness for me is like the Resurrection, because it saved me,” Bauermeister said. “Yeah, literally. … That’s from the bottom of my heart. I don’t even want to think of where I’d be right now if I hadn’t (forgiven). I remember the load being lifted off my shoulders during closing arguments.”

THE CROSS

Bauermeister is no wimp. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound U.S. Marine Corps veteran “can probably bench press a small bus,” said Satch Bradford, a friend of Bauermeister who also served in the Marines and is a member of St. Matthew. The two work together at Offutt Air Force Base.

Bauermeister, 56, said he’s experienced multiple traumatic events. But finding his mother and sister that day was the worst.

“I served in combat in three conflicts,” he wrote in his victim impact statement. “But nothing I had experienced in a military career could prepare me for the violence I witnessed taken out on the women dearest to me.”

“My mind is seared with the images of (Beverly) Diane lying on the floor in gore,” he wrote. “My mother was so emaciated. I will never forget or recover from those images.”

MOM

Beverly Jane Bauermeister, was “Mom, caregiver, teacher – and the boss when Dad wasn’t home,” for Dale Bauermeister and his five siblings.

“She was loving and firm,” Bauermeister said. She taught her children to cook and bake and “was there helping us with school when we were procrastinating and had finals or a project due the next morning.”

His parents met during high school, when she was a cheerleader at Omaha Central High School and his late father, John, was a basketball player at Elkhorn High School. While cheering, Beverly Jane jumped and kicked, tripping her future husband as he was driving down the court with a basketball.

KID SISTER

Beverly Diane, who was known simply as Diane, was 51 when she was killed. She was the kid sister to five boys in the family and was two years younger than her brother Dale.

“And she was the rebel,” he said. The two “fought tooth and nail” sometimes, but they loved each other.

“She was tough, I was tough,” Bauermeister said. “We were besties in high school, then we went our ways.”

Diane developed problems with drugs and alcohol, but she turned her life around during the last nine months of her life, her brother said.

Even in tough times, Diane “took people in,” he said. Her family was amazed at her funeral when people they didn’t know spoke up to eulogize her.

One friend said she met Diane at a bus stop, where Diane gave her her coat and “seven bucks for a pack of cigarettes and a Coke.”

Diane had only $35 after giving plasma that day.

“That woman drove 14 hours to tell that story,” Bauermeister said.

Others knew Diane as the neighbor who split her meal in thirds to share with them when they had no food; as the woman who called a cab for a then-stranger who’d had too much to drink; and the person who fixed a plate of food for someone who hadn’t eaten for two days.

‘DIDN’T DOUBT’

Bauermeister, at a recent parish study on the Eucharist, was asked to pick a moment when Christ died for him.

“And I said Nov. 16, 2017. That’s when Jesus put me and my niece there, because he knew we could handle the situation.”

“He puts us in places to test us,” Bauermeister said. “He knows our plate, but he never overfills it.”

“I didn’t doubt Christ, but I was wailing for 72 hours,” he said. “Why, why, why, why, why, why, why?”

Twenty days after that harrowing day, Bauermeister returned to work but he found little support there. “Oil and vinegar,” is how Bauermeister described his relationship with many of his co-workers at the time. “Everybody’s staying away.”

They didn’t know how to approach him, he said, and sometimes said hurtful things, perhaps out of anxiety or trying to connect with him.

Bauermeister counted the days from when police apprehended Stack until his sentencing: 604 days.

“And I battled in those 604 days,” Bauermeister said.

His first thoughts about the killer: “Hang him on a cross and use rusty nails.”

But friends worked on Bauermeister, telling him: “If you don’t forgive him, you will never get rid of that burden.”

Bauermeister, a former Mormon, started looking at the Catholic faith, discussing it with Bradford.

They’d talk, Bauermeister would ask questions and Bradford would do his best to provide answers. He invited his friend to visit St. Matthew Church and eventually introduced him to eucharistic adoration.  Bauermeister became hooked.

He began classes for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), with Bradford as his sponsor.

Bradford describes the steps that led Bauermeister into the Church as “bread crumbs.”

“It was like these small bread crumbs leading up to this point,” changing Bauermeister and helping him to forgive, his friend said.

Bauermeister describes the process as a journey, beginning when he and his niece entered the trailer, crawling through a window because the door was locked, and finding the horror inside.

“It’s a journey because when Christ put us there, he put the burden on our shoulders,” he said. “And every day that went by was a day further away from the incident. He lifts the burden, not all the way off, but part of the way off, so we can grow and learn.” 

RESURRECTION

“Christ was in that courtroom” on sentencing day, Bauermeister said.

A prosecuting attorney read Bauermeister’s statement, which took him 12 weeks to write with the help of others. Sometimes he just wrote two or three sentences a night and cried himself to sleep, he said.

He didn’t ask for mercy for the killer, but “I forgave him and the burden was on him. I know through God’s grace, he can find Christ through that. But I’m not the one who judges. There’s only one who can judge.”

Bauermeister said he still carries his cross, but it’s there to learn from and “not weighing me down. Because through forgiveness, you take all the bondage and chains and tear them off you, and in a sense, put it on him (Stack).”

The judge sentenced the boyfriend to 80 years to life in prison for second-degree murder and 40 to 50 years for use of a weapon to commit a felony. Stack had a history of abusing Diane, which she hid from her family.

He served 15 months before he died Nov. 20.

When a sheriff’s official first notified Bauermeister of Stack’s death, at first he felt happy, Bauermeiester said.

“I was cussing and swearing: ‘Damn right! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! … And then towards the end of the conversation, Christ took over and softened my heart. And that’s when I had a little empathy for him.”

“When you take yourself out of your heart and you put Christ in … and you live a Christ-centered life, he seems to settle the waves,” Bauermeister said.

PENTECOST

Bauermeister said he still cries and struggles sometimes. But he learned from Father Rigatuso about redemptive suffering.

The Blessed Virgin Mary offers a perfect example of redemptive suffering, especially for people like Bauermeister, who struggle with the death of loved ones, he said. At the foot of the cross she watched her son suffer, took it all in, and still forgives, uniting her suffering to that of her Son, he said.

Bauermeister said he offers up his pain for his sister, mother,  father – and even Stack.

Bauermeister has talked at Masses and other gatherings about his redemptive journey. He begins saying: “My name is Dale Bauermeister. My story begins November 16, 2017. …”

When he’s finished, it’s quiet.

At the parish Bauermeister is always willing to help, Father Rigatuso said, and is involved in nearly everything, especially Mass and eucharistic adoration.

“I never want to lose the presence of Christ,” Bauermeister said. “It’s the Eucharist that sucked me in. Every time I go to adoration, I just feel like the Lord’s pulling me in.”

“His spirit reminds me of St. Paul: no holds barred, right out there in his faith,” his pastor said. “It’s no longer I that lives but Christ within me,” he said, referring to St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

Father Rigatuso said he’s told Bauermeister: “Thankfully you were open to God’s grace, and you allowed it to guide you.”

“The pain of those tragic deaths didn’t end,” the priest said, “but he’s moving on, allowing God to work through those pains.”

 Bauermeister’s son and daughter tell him he’s become kinder and gentler.

“The rock is off my heart,” their father said. “I’m more approachable. Life is better with Christ in your heart. Life is better forgiving someone for what they did to you. … It freed me.”