*** If you have missed previous Featured Member postings or would like to revisit them, go to the Featured Member Archives page.
The Benedictine sisters in Atchison have, like everyone else, experienced disruptions to their normal way of life. We had to forego our normal fundraising auction and dinner, but our virtual auction and prize raffle were a success. In addition to not having the opportunity to enjoy a banquet with supporters, the past year has meant we were not able to engage in many social activities for which the community had budgeted, such as family visits, education and enrichment, vacations and recreation. Knowing that these sacrifices were minimal when compared with the sacrifices of many of our neighbors, we had our own fundraising dinner within the monastery where the sisters could donate the money they would have spent on themselves to provide assistance to several local charities.
Sisters donated such personal services as special meals, sewing, cleaning, driving or baked goods that the other sisters could bid on in both a silent and oral auction. The money that was raised was donated to the local Catholic Charities, utility relief and other programs that would benefit the people of Atchison.
Sister Irene Nowell will be the honoree at this year’s “Abbot’s Table,” the benefit dinner for the monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. She will receive their Lumen Vitae Medal, an award given each year to “recognize those who have followed Christ in service to his people and the church.” The monks have chosen her to honor her outstanding scholarship in biblical studies, including her numerous books, work on the St. John’s Bible and role in establishing the Give Us This Day worship aid, in addition to her local contributions in many years of teaching and administration at Benedictine College and as a novitiate instructor for monks and sisters. The event will be a hybrid so, although the sisters cannot attend in person, they will gather as a community for a meal provided by the monks and the virtual presentation of the award.
Sister Judith Sutera’s new book(s) debut from Liturgical Press in April. St. Benedict’s Rule: An Inclusive Translation and Commentary introduces a literal but gender-neutral version of the Rule of St. Benedict that is being hailed by some early reviewers as a new standard for contemporary readers. It will be accompanied by a day-by-day commentary that combines explanation of Benedict’s context with remarks on relevance in today’s world. A second book has only the translation without the commentary for ease of reading just the Rule.
When last we shared our story, we were within 75% of our new monastery Capital Campaign goal. Last summer, we met and exceeded that goal and have begun construction. How exciting to have a front row seat to watch the progress of our soon-to-be new home! If we can get the cooperation of our snow loving sisters to pray for temperate weather, we will remain on track for a move-in date during January, 2022. In preparation for that, Sister Joanna Burley, our Prioress, launched the “Tidy Town” initiative so we can begin sorting through our personal and community items and organize/downsize for our move. Recently, we named our two residential wings (Scholastica and Benedicta), and sisters were able to choose their rooms, sparking animated conversations among new neighbors and “wing-mates.” We could not have done this without so much support from our Northern Virginia and Richmond area friends. We echo Sister Joanna: “In the vision of the new monastery, I see faces and names of so many people who believe in us and who are God’s gift to us.” We are grateful and joyful indeed!
We have laughed, cried and celebrated special days and events with our sisters in 2020. After not losing anyone for four years, Sisters Mary Leo Wirt (4/9), Romayne Schaut (6/8), and Henry Marie Zimmermann (10/24) claimed their eternal glory. Sister Charlotte Lange was able to celebrate her 60th Jubilee right before the pandemic hit. Sister Cecilia Dwyer, whose outgoing Prioress sabbatical was delayed a year so she could be our Saint Gertrude High School’s Head of School, finally got to spend three months away at Springbank Retreat Center in Kingston, SC. There, she was immersed in learning about eco-spirituality and tapped into her artistic side. We enjoyed her art exhibit when she returned.
In January, 2020 our all-girls Saint Gertrude High School joined our brother school, Benedictine College Prep, to form the Benedictine Schools of Richmond (BSoR). Both secondary schools remain single-gender, but they are united on BCP’s campus in Goochland, co-located with Mary, Mother of the Church Abbey. Despite Covid, the schools were able to open this past fall and are finding their slogan, “Stronger Together,” to be true. BSoR has launched a Capital Campaign to build SGHS a new school building overlooking the James River.
Finally, a few words about that 2020 elephant in the room: Covid-19. Thus far, our monastery has been blessed to be virus-free, but like many of you, our daily monastery hospitality has been curtailed, and public liturgies and activities cancelled. Our two schools, SGHS and Linton Hall School on our campus, have safely held in-student classes, while our adult literacy ministry, BEACON, has gone to all distance learning. Two of our Oblate deaneries were able to resume in-person (and socially distanced) meetings, as Zoom continues to host our larger Bristow deanery. Our Benedictine Pastoral Center’s activities have been impacted the most, although their spiritual directors have found creative ways to meet with their directees. Our Place of Peace Columbarium is busy with interments, while our monastery grounds have become the local neighborhood park. Sister Kathleen Persson, our Vocations Director, has launched a YouTube channel as outreach to women in discernment. Our Rosary group will continue their Covid rosary until this pandemic is over. May 2021 eventually find us all healthy and back to our pre-virus routines!
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to be silent and a time to speak". Eccleciastes 3:1-2,4,7
This reading, like so many others, has permeated our experience in 2020. We continue to transition into the New Year, bringing with us new ways of living and adaptations we learned from the past year. The pandemic has taught us that by accepting and incorporating a few changes we can continue to: live with purpose in community and grow spiritually despite being in isolation; safely reopen ministries with restrictions, connect with our Oblates, benefactors, family and friends virtually, through print and social media, phone calls, and drive thru celebrations; attend conferences and network thanks to Zoom; pray more fiercely for peace, justice and healing; and find value in social distancing and wearing face masks.
These times have challenged us in many ways, but never broke our spirits. Like many, we had to close our St. Scholastica Monastery and cancel major events. We also closed our Boerne ministries last March, including Omega Retreat Center, Health and Wholeness Center, and Sisters' Attic Thrift Store. The thrift store reopened in July and the Health and Wellness Center's pool reopened in late September. We have had to limit occupancy at both ministries in accordance with safety guidelines. Unfortunately, the Retreat Center remains closed and we have no way of knowing when it can be safely reopened.
In addition to these closures, our four-year old Monastery air conditioner broke down in March and we endured the inconvenience until mid-May when the Texas heat and humidity put our Sisters at risk for heat related illnesses. We were forced to move to a residential space on our grounds at our Omega Retreat Center. We stayed there until late fall when the weather cooled down and the A/C repairs were nearing completion. Living in our original Monastery allowed us to take time to share memories, to laugh about “the good old days”, and to truly appreciate the gifts that God has given us through the years.
Jungian analyst and storyteller, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, writes:
“Stories set the inner life into motion, and this is particularly important where the inner is frightened, wedged, or cornered. Story greases the hoist and pulleys, it causes adrenaline to surge, shows us the way out, down, or up, and for our trouble, cuts for us fine wide doors in previously blank walls, openings that lead to the dreamland, that lead to love and learning, that lead us back to our own real lives…”
Our Sisters serving in our Corporate Responsibility Ministry in San Antonio and our Caridad de Corazón Ministry in Eagle Pass continued to work tirelessly in 2020 to bring immigration updates to constituents and the public as well as serve the needs of immigrants and those less fortunate on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border.
When our founding Sisters arrived in Texas in 1919, they taught at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Las Gallinas. The school was closed not long after, and St. Joseph's Catholic Church was destroyed by fire in 1983. However, the community never forgot the importance and impact of the school and the church. A historical marker was placed on the site where the school and church once stood by the Atascosa County Historical Commission on October 17, 2020. Our Sisters were invited to take part in the event and several attended. Sr. Frances Briseno, Prioress, said the opening prayer.
We closed out the year, with just the community, with a beautiful Christmas Eve Mass and meal followed by the exchange of gifts and a game of Bunco.
We quietly welcomed the New Year and expressed our hopes as we begin again, in 2021, to share our Benedictine values with those we serve.
On January 16, Sister Chon Nguyen, OSB made her First Profession. She is such a blessing to our community! January also brought a light dusting of snow to the Monastery, and we were so grateful to get our first of two COVID-19 Vaccines!
We welcome February …. a time to celebrate St. Scholastica’s Feast Day, St. Valentine’s Day, and Mardi Gras before Ash Wednesday when we begin the Lenten Season. May 2021 hold many blessings for all.
Our mission is to seek God in community and to respond in ministry through sharing our spirituality and addressing the needs of the people we serve, especially the poor.
To learn more about the Benedictine Sisters of Boerne, please visit our website: www.boernebenedictines.org and Like and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
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