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Monasterio Pan de Vida: January, 2021
A Glimpse of our life during the Pandemic.
What began as a “normal” year with challenges and opportunities, by spring had become anything but normal for us and for the world.
In March, when the Covid-19 health crisis was beginning to get serious, our oldest member, Mother Mechtild Swearingen, surprised us with a brief illness followed in a month by her departure into God’s loving embrace. During her final days, when she couldn’t speak or swallow, Mechtild blessed us with her loving and patient smile. This monastic woman who little by little had been growing in her abandonment to God, continues to be a light for us as we journey toward the fullness of life. We experienced her heart “overflowing with love” in her silent presence and simple and stable service in community. And so, in her we have witnessed what it means to be a Benedictine to the end of our journey, and how God sustains our vocation and gives us strength and perseverance on the way to the fulfillment of the divine promise to “bring us all together to everlasting life”.
With these, and other events, we continue in training for life in the new normal that Covid-19 has brought. As we move forward with uncertainty and expectation, we ask God to guide us and make us a tiny ray of light and hope in our region. This virus that has paralyzed the world, has brought us face to face with the unexpected, our false securities, and, above all, with humanity’s vulnerability.
Back in March and April, one of our first concerns as a community was to check on our neighbors and those who live in the surrounding area, to find those in greatest need and respond in some small way by sharing what we have with them. At the same time some friends and small organizations approached us, who wanted to help and be assured that their donations would reach families in need. So, during these past months, we have been able to offer food boxes and take time for a brief conversation “at a safe distance” with some who are suffering not only material need, but also from isolation. The virus has helped us to open our eyes and make us aware of much hidden pain in our surroundings.
As the confinement continued, we became more adept at using ZOOM for spiritual accompaniment, vocation ministry, classes and workshops. We’ve become more tech-savvy in the process and have even shared prayer online a few times; but we have missed our onsite encounters and the mutual enrichment that comes from physically sharing prayer, reflection, work and fun.
We’ve dedicated community meetings to prepare for the election of prioress and visitation, that were scheduled for August and postponed until March, when we hope to combine in-person and online meetings.
On the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in August, Alejandra made her first monastic profession in an intimate community celebration. We will join with her family and friends to commemorate the occasion when it becomes safe to gather again.
Our virtual community retreat with Bonnie Thurston, theologian and poet, was a wonderful opportunity to listen with the ear of the heart and reflect on the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel.
In November, at the beginning of Advent we were delighted that Ruth returned to community after four months spent with her family. Michele, with the help of Ale and Ruth, gave us a beautifully renewed Advent and Christmas hymnal.
At this time for us, as for many others, community life has become more intense, something like a second novitiate! We’re making new discoveries about ourselves and above all, having the opportunity to be surprised by each other’s gifts, some of which had gone unnoticed. One significant learning has been to trust even more than before, in each other’s contribution within the monastery and at the service of the larger community.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of confinement has been for us not to be able to say “Come to visit!” or “Come in!” and “Welcome! Join us for prayer and for a meal!” But the friendship, the mutual care, community support, prayer, work, study and fun-times together have kept us centered on our search for God and service of others.
In this sense, the pandemic has become a kairos, an opportune time to broaden our awareness and enrich the meaning of mutual care, as sisters and brothers in Christ.
This second year of living in our Newark Monastery is a far cry from our “open door
policy” of last year when the richness of our Benedictine Hospitality was so very evident.
The 2020 year of COVID-19 moved us, like so many others, into a more intimate enclosure of community living, community isolation and spiritual growth.
Social distancing is not that easy for us since we live in a much smaller community setting. Our community meals and prayers have not been altered although our environment is closed to most outsiders. The Parish, of which we have become an intimate part, has been off limits for over six months. We join together for Eucharist twice weekly in our own chapel or community room.
As the book of Ecclesiastes reads “there is a time for everything “ and in this unprecedented time of pandemic, we have become sensitive to and more aware of the great needs of others; we have concerned ourselves with those less fortunate who are suffering in our own local communities. Our community prayer life and petitions address circumstances we never dreamed existed but yet have become a very intimate part of our Benedictine life.
“Behind every dark cloud, there is a silver lining.” That has certainly been the case for our archives. Having to remain in place has enabled Sister Marylou Robino to reorganize sisters’ personal file boxes as well as all the materials in the file cabinets. It is a joy to open the files and see everything in order and easily obtained.
We didn’t let the virus affect any of our celebrations. Four of our Sisters, Marie Becker, Gerard Falkowska, Mary Agnes Dugan, and Vincent Schroeder each had a very festive 85th birthday, and Sister Ann Miller celebrated her 95th with lots of cards, goodie bags, and smiley faces. How blessed we are to have our senior sisters.
In order to assure that the oblates and inquirers would remain connected with the community, meetings were and are held on Zoom. The plan is to continue using Zoom into the coming year. We would prefer to be together, but oblates and inquirers have noted that they appreciate the opportunity to connect with others. Ridgely and Newark now have their own deans, and a director has been appointed to work along with the present Sister director. Being prepared for the future has been a top priority for our oblates and its council. May the rest of your 2020 be happy, grace-filled, and safe, and may we all bid a grand farewell to the Coronavirus in 2021.
Ministry in the age of Covid-19
The 2020 Virtual St. Scholastica Academy, Chicago Reunion, offered opportunities for our Alumnae currently living in diverse places such as Croatia, Ecuador, Italy, and througout the United States to gather together and share about how life has been over the 10-70 years since graduating from SSA.
Learn more about our alumnae here:
Our Oblates gather monthly via Zoom for fellowship and Lectio Divina. We welcomed new Oblates in Pueblo, CO (once it was safe to gather) and we look forward to welcoming a few more to our Chicago group of over 150 Oblates total for St. Scholastica Monastery.
Learn more about our Oblate program here:
To learn more about the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago, please visit our website: www.osbchicago.org and Like and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
St. Walburg Monastery, located in the rolling hills of Kentucky, is home to 37 women seeking God through community, prayer and work.
The community continues to enjoy magnificent sunsets, spectacular views of nature, and a variety of wildlife. Activities abound as we adapt to life with Covid-19. Special dinners, bingo, card tournaments, movies, birthday celebrations, and weekly spiritual offerings enrich life in community.
The community welcomed two new members this past year. We are thankful for their choosing us. Ministry these days, spiritual direction, parish work, vocation ministry and oblate programs occur mainly through internet and phone conversations. This fall our Academy celebrates its third Blue Ribbon Award. The south west end of the property sold last year to a developer is presently being transformed into a subdivision bringing new neighbors to the area. Sister Mary Catherine Wenstrup is a recent recipient of a Papal Honor, the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.
Life at St. Walburg Monastery is busy, enriching, and filled with activity as we look forward to once again being able to welcome family, friends, oblates, and acquaintances into our presence.
The Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery hold you in prayer.
Federation of St. Scholastica
916 Convent Rd NE,
Cullman, AL 35055