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Autumn/Winter 2013

Connecting Point As Our Seasons Change ... In a way Winter is the real Spring - the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature. Edna O’Brien

Poets liken our lives to four seasons. We celebrate spring in our youth, charge through summer in our childbearing years, enjoy the fruits of our labor in autumn, and warm ourselves by the fire as winter takes hold. Yet in reality our lives are much more nuanced. We pass through the seasons again and again experiencing light and darkness, growth and dormancy throughout our lives. To see any single run of years as a season, with a defined beginning and end, is to miss the value of constant change. Sister Mary Jane Wallace, OSB, a now-retired retreat director who specialized in programs on aging, says using a loose framework of seasons to examine our lives is both useful and poetic, but urges us not to get stuck there. “Living is a lifelong process of becoming who we are,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “Our goal is to learn something of value every day, no matter what our age.” We begin learning as children in a season of growth, of spring.

Spring, when all is new See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:19

As children, everything is new. We grow our minds, spirits and bodies. We learn how to please others. When we reach our majority, we move on to summer. Yet, as Prevention columnist Thomas Crook, PhD, writes, “If you seek out new experiences throughout life, your brain will keep growing - sprouting new cells (neurons) and the branches between them (dendrites) - no matter your age.”

That is, not only should we revisit the spring of our lives, we should keep it active within us. We should embrace change, newness, learning. This flexibility will - as new sprouts that bend in the spring breezes – keep us from growing brittle and rigid. It will keep us from breaking. Is there anything from childhood that would be good to leave behind? “Oh, yes,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “As children, we work to please others. We want to gain praise and acceptance. That’s natural. But it’s liberating to leave that behind as we mature.” Continued next page

Sisters of St. Benedict

St. Mary Monastery

Rock Island, Illinois

Letter from the Prioress

Sr. Sandra Brunenn, OSB

A Season of Gratitude It has been a season of loss for us. In August at the beginning of our annual community meetings, Sister Phyllis was called to eternal life. Phyllis, our former Prioress, shared with all of us her journey of faith and her incredible love of life. Even as we miss her we celebrate her new freedom in God’s loving embrace. Our experience of loss Sr. Stefanie MacDonald, OSB lights a vigil candle for has continued as we have bid our deceased Sisters on All Saints Day. farewell to Sisters Benita, Marguerite and Cabrini. How touching it has been to hear from so many former students of these sisters and to be reminded of the impact they have had. In faith we know that this is also a season of transformation. We are confident that our sisters are now sharing in the eternal presence. And their hidden presence continues with us as we hold them in memory, share stories with each other, and put into action the goodness they inspire in us. Our season of loss and transformation has become — most of all — a season of gratitude. May they rest in peace!



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Summer’s song In summer, the song sings itself. - William Carlos Williams Early summer is a matter for great vigor, certainly. In our 20s and 30s, we are flowering – marrying, entering religious life, choosing careers – and finding success. As spring, summer is a season to revisit throughout our lives. “We are nourished during these years by our career successes, our social lives, our material acquisitions,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “Some of that will naturally take a back seat as we continue to grow. But some of it will evolve into questions of how to live. We come back to these matters after we retire. What will we do now?” Late summer might represent our 40s and 50s. At the peak of our earning potential, we are enjoying prestige and influence in our community. The children – if we had them – are launched (although our parents may need assistance). Continued next page

Seasons (cont’d. from page 2) “Now it’s the balancing act,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “Our values are beginning to change. We no longer feel that youthful need to please. But while we are in command of ourselves, we are getting stretched too thin. It’s time to reevaluate what makes us happy and fulfilled.” Autumn’s exquisite beauty How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days. John Burroughs Now we are in our 60s and 70s, and we are retired or thinking about it. We have fully moved into ourselves. With deadlines and professional ambitions largely gone, we can begin to harvest the fruits of all those years of working, striving and struggling. In other words, we can take a giant step toward becoming. “We’ve finally achieved balance, and it feels great,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “We have time to pursue what really matters to us. We’ve given up trying to please everyone. We travel, spend time with family, pursue hobbies we’ve never had time for.” She notes it’s not about changing who we are, but about growing into who we are. “We don’t change as we get older – we just get to be more of what we’ve always been,” Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, writes in her book, The Gift of Years. “It is exactly the time to grow in new ways. It is the period in which we set out to make sense out of all the growing we have already done.” So perhaps fall is the time to let the past go, and begin preparing for the rebirth of spring. “Only one thing is necessary now: we must

choose to begin a new kind of life, related to the past, of course, but free of the strictures that bind us to it,” Sr. Joan writes. Winter’s quiet story Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour. John Boswell And in our 80s, 90s and above? That’s when we finish the job of becoming. “The question we face now is, Who am I?” Sr. Mary Jane says. “When our jobs are finished and no one is clamoring for our attention, who are we? We live in a culture where we ask each other, What’s your name? What do you do? In this season, we’ve moved beyond that.” The key is to let it go, and move fully into becoming who we are meant to be. “All through our lives we’re trying to be someone or do something,” she continues. “Because we live in the Perfect 10 Society, we see the negative, the limits, the weaknesses. This is the time we must learn to be more gentle with ourselves. “All we have is the now. We have the gift of life. This moment. We must realize we can always begin again. Have a fresh start.” And the quiet of winter is the perfect time to do it. “Winter reveals those things that summer conceals,” writes Kathleen Fischer in Winter Grace. “We can see farther and with clearer vision. … There is an inner life and awakening; beneath the shell of the bud is sap in gestation.” Winter is the time, then, to prepare ourselves for spring. Continued next page


Seasons (cont’d. from page 3) Revisiting the seasons again and again Regardless of our age, we experience growth, vigor (of thought if not of body), balance and becoming throughout our lives. And if we don’t? “We’re stuck,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “When we wake up in the morning, the word should be gratitude. We should be grateful for the gift we are to others, and the gift others are to us. The seasons of our lives help us grow gratitude, when we allow them to.” How? Sr. Mary Jane suggests we develop a practice of gratitude. “Every day, we can say: I am grateful to grow in my love and caring,” she says. “I am grateful to enjoy flowering relationships and ideas. I’m grateful for the joy I feel living in my own skin. And I’m grateful for the quiet in which to reflect, to be.” And how shall we grow our capacity – no matter the season – for a life of loving and thinking and feeling joy? “Become a student again,” writes Richard A. Friedman, PhD in the July 20, 2013 edition of the New York Times. “Learn something that requires sustained effort; do something novel. Put down the thriller when you’re sitting on the beach and break out a book on evolutionary theory or Spanish for beginners or a how-to book on something you’ve always wanted to do. Take a new route to work; vacation at an unknown spot. And take your sweet time about it.” After all, what the heck! Finally, Sr. Mary Jane urges us not to take ourselves too seriously. She says she learned this in her kindergarten classroom years ago. “I was trying to get the kids (right) to dance in a certain way,” she says. “I was playing the piano and having to jump up to put them back in form. I’m up and down, up and down. I think they could tell I was getting frustrated. “Then Abby – a little blond girl with pigtails – said, ‘My mom just says, What the heck, it doesn’t really matter!’ “I went home for dinner and told the Sisters that night, ‘Well, I found out what’s wrong with us today. We don’t say What the heck enough. We all got a good laugh out of that one. But it’s true.” As for the seasons of our life? “We grow older, we change,” Sr. Mary Jane says. “That’s good. But let’s remember to learn, to laugh. Laughter is a wonderful gift. Let’s use it!” 4

The Stories of Our Lives: Making the Parables Relevant Benedictine Oblates gained some new insights into Jesus’ parables during their annual retreat day at St. Mary Monastery in October. Abbot John Klassen, OSB, St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minn., noted that the purpose of parables is often to teach by startling us with unexpected twists. Abbot John used the Prodigal Son, or, as he titled it, the Man with Two Sons (“I don’t want to minimize the roles of the other two characters”), to illustrate his point. The Prodigal Son was smelly from living with pigs. His clothes – once grand – were torn and ragged. His honor was gone. His very identity was compromised, replaced with profound insecurity and anxiety. In fact he was a lost little boy, stumbling toward home. In an unexpected twist – at least for firstcentury listeners who would have expected anger or dismissal from an autocratic father – the prodigal’s father embraced him with joy, calling him “my son.” That act communicated the father’s unconditional love, Abbot John said. The child, who may have left seeking such love in all the wrong places, had the chance to see it had been right in front of him all along. Sound familiar? Probably. And that’s because the parable is still relevant, especially when we read it in the context of our own lives, replacing gender, role and setting as appropriate to ourselves. For example, if you are a mom going through trouble with a daughter (or spouse or friend), try viewing the parable through that particular lens. And try relating to all of the characters, asking: Have I

looked for love in the wrong places? Have I felt as lost and lonely as the young man? Have I wrestled with betrayal? Have I felt as indignant as the older brother, watching his father’s embrace of the delinquent one? Oblate Nancy Houston, Schererville, Ind., said she was inspired by Abbot John’s presentation. “His thoughts on the parables shifted the way we read them,” she said. “I loved the abbot’s idea that each person has a role that we can relate to. Putting ourselves in the shoes of any one of the people in the parable sheds a different light on it.” Exactly so, said the abbot. “All God language is metaphorical. We trash religious language when we make it literal. Consider the Psalms. They are densely packed with metaphor. ‘My rock, my fortress, my stronghold.’ God is not literally a rock or a stronghold.” Rather, God is like a stronghold where we can hide; like a shepherd caring for us; like a parent giving unconditional love. The standing-room-only crowd discussed the morning’s presentation at table. “Abbot John made the parables feel so vibrant to me,” Oblate Toni Petersen, El Paso, Ill. said. “I hope I can always read them with this renewed spirit.” Oblate Chuck Brown, Dowagiac, Mich., agreed. “Our dialogue has been energizing and inspiring. I always enjoy gathering as a community.” Oblates are lay women and men who follow the Rule of St. Benedict in association with a monastic community. The group enjoys fellowship and support as they live the monastic values of charity, justice and peace-making. For information, please contact Sr. Ruth Ksycki at rksycki@ or (309)283-2100. 5

Life Lessons: Gifts of Wisdom The ear that listens to wisdom rejoices. Sirach 3:29 Wisdom often comes in the form of lessons, whether from a teacher, a mentor or an experience. Indeed, those lessons – whether hard or easy – are gifts. They guide us and, if we share them with others, they can guide many. Here are a few lessons from the Benedictines who are happy to share some of what they’ve learned. Expect Miracles When Sister Rita Cain, OSB visited home after joining the community, she took a Benedictine pin with her. She planned to attach it to the sleeper of her sister’s new baby. He had been quite ill. Sr. Rita said she told her sister that healing the child would be her first miracle. Her sister replied, ‘Your first? I have them every day.’

Sr. Rita Cain, OSB

Sr. Rita says her sister echoed the lesson they had experienced growing up. It’s one that continues to guide her today: not to complain about difficulties or problems, but to do what works. Pray.

“We didn’t recognize a tragedy if we had one,” she says. “In a family of 12 kids things would happen. We faced crop failures and hailstorms and droughts. We lived with them, took care of them. We prayed. “‘There are real bad tragedies in the world and ours are not them,’ is kind of how we looked at 6

it,” Sr. Rita says. “We didn’t have tragedies. We had miracles.” It is, she says, a way of looking at the world as well as coping with it. That is, miracles are God’s response to us, and God’s response is good. Sr. Rita offers an example. “We might pray for a loved one’s healing,” she says. “That healing can come as reconciliation with someone, or maybe in a peaceful death.” Bottom line? “You know bad things are going to happen,” Sr. Rita says. “Life’s not perfect. But when you pray for and expect miracles, you get them.” Learn to Listen Sister Martina Brinkschroeder, OSB was a novice sister when one of the elder sisters called her to go help Sister Modesta. The elder hung up before the novice could ask where, exactly, she was to go. Sr. Martina followed her hunch, and found Sr. Modesta picking grapes in the lower vineyard. “I told her of my experience and Sr. Modesta said, ‘Remember, nine times out of 10 your first hunch will be right.’ I believe she was correct. You must learn to listen and pay attention, though, as St. Benedict instructs in the Rule. When you do, you’ll Sr. Martina be able to trust your instincts. Your Brinkschroeder, first hunch will likely be right.” OSB

Say Yes to New Experiences “I had been teaching for 21 years when I was asked to become formation director,” Sister Sheila McGrath, OSB says. “That was hard to do. I really enjoyed teaching. But I said yes.” And because Sr. Sheila said yes, she ended up becoming a hospital chaplain - a mnistry she never dreamed of doing. “To prepare, I went to Aquinas Institute of Theology. As part of the formation program, I had to intern in hospital ministry for three months. “Medicine and nursing were never anything I was interested in, despite the fact that my dad was a doctor. But I enjoyed chaplaincy so much that when I completed Sister Sheila McGrath, OSB visits with a couple who have benmy service as formation director, I applied for a position efitted from the Parish Nursing program Sr. Sheila helped found during her ministry as a hospital chaplain. as chaplain at Lutheran Hospital in Moline. remember one day very well. Mom had dressed us in “Saying yes to the community’s request led me into 12 beautiful new pink dresses for a party. Our hair was years of some of my happiest ministry experience,” Sr. perfect and our shoes were buckled. We were to wait for Sheila says. her to get ready and then we would go. But how can we know when it’s right to say yes?

“Well, I don’t remember why there was an open can of paint but there it was. Oh, my, we had fun giving the wall “Talk to people who know you well,” Sr. Sheila says. a new look. When Mom came out, all ready to go, she had “Let them ask you the tough questions. Anything new can a real surprise. She saw two little girls covered in paint. produce a bit of fear, but if you’re paralyzed by your fear, She had to start all over. that’s counterproductive. “I have no doubt that it took all the patience and love in “Check your gut,” she says. “It should feel right, and like the world to take care of us. She was a wonderful role it’s the right choice for the particular time in your life.” model. She was a living example of Jesus’ words, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ What a wonderful Love One Another lesson to learn at such an early age.” Half of a team of twins, Sister Catherine Maloney, OSB can relate hijinks and Leave Space for Being schemes from her childhood that would Although Benedictine monastic women value silence make the most patient parent grow faint. and contemplation, they, too, are subject to busyness. As many in today’s culture, they can find themselves running Sr. Catherine “My twin and I were always up to from one obligation to another, working late to finish Maloney, OSB something,” Sr. Catherine says. “I Continued back cover 7

Monastery Notes Feeding Young Bodies and Spirits I was hungry, and you gave me food. Matthew 25:35 Walk through the front door of this two-bedroom aluminum sided house in Davenport, Iowa, and you see kids of every age playing games, coloring, laughing and squabbling. You hear a din of voices. And today you smell … cake. The Project Renewal Treat House was founded in 1973 to serve the kids of the neighborhood, and this neighborhood is no picnic. Marked by at least one former crack house (it was raided a couple of years ago), a soup kitchen, transitional housing for newly released inmates and a rehab facility for delinquent boys, many would call the place a bit dicey. But for the kids, it’s just home. Emily gives a Project Renewal child a piggyback ride during Sr. Mary Making 321 Cake Today the kids are making 321 Cake in mugs. Core’s youth group’s mission trip to inner-city Davenport, Iowa. Volunteers from Sister Mary Core’s youth group are in charge, but even the little ones can make their own, spooning a bit of batter into a cup, nuking it for a minute and decorating with store-bought icing.

Sr. Mary’s teens moved in Sunday night – they roll up their sleeping bags during the day – and will stay through Friday. The Treat House welcomes such outreach all summer long, never mind the tight quarters. From ‘whupping’ to please The youth group – Ashley (right), Bradlee (below), and Emily (above) have fallen in love with the kids and the ministry. “I don’t want to leave at all,” Ashley says. “I feel like this all is a large family. I love the kids so much.” Bradlee says she was nervous before coming. “I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “But I love it. I never realized how close poverty was. You expect it in California and Chicago and New York. But here it is. And I’m glad I can help.” Emily lists a little to one side as she comes by to chat. She’s got a 6-year-old on her back. “The kids all look good here,” she says. “You wouldn’t guess they live in poverty. But you can tell from how they talk to each other what kind of home life they have. This little girl said, ‘Give me a piggyback ride or I’m gonna whup you on your bottom.’ I helped her ask nicely, with a please. But that’s what she hears at home.” Working up an appetite for service Sr. Mary has brought her group here to help the teens see poverty up close; to help them see the kids as real people. It’s working. “I love working with youth,” she begins. “I love helping them see that God loves them. I love 8

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helping them see God in others. Here, they are seeing God in people they’ve avoided or not had the opportunity to meet before. It’s just wonderful.” Sr. Mary loves helping her teens engage in Catholic social justice values, as well. “Whether we’re here in this troubled neighborhood, or we’re making warm blankets for those in need, or we’re caroling at senior service agencies, we’re modeling Christ’s values,” she says. “The teens’ pay is in thank yous. They are developing an appetite for service; for doing things for those who need it because that’s what Christians do.” Indeed, the food here ends up nourishing everyone, from those eating the cake to those making it.


Sister Phyllis McMurray 1943-2013

Sister Phyllis McMurray OSB, 70, died Sat., Aug. 3, 2013. Phyllis was born February 13, 1943 in Peoria, a daughter of Mitchell and Victoria Moses McMurray. She attended St. Patrick School and the Academy of Our Lady, Peoria, earned a BA in Elementary Education from St. Ambrose University, Davenport, and an MA in Educational Administration from Western Illinois University. Sr. Phyllis entered the community on Sept. 13, 1961 and made her first profession June 15, 1963. Her ministries included teaching school throughout the Peoria Diocese; serving as math teacher, resident advisor and director of St. Mary Academy, Nauvoo; and vocation director, communications coordinator, and prioress of St. Mary Monastery.

Sister Benita Reavy 1919-2013

Sister Benita Reavy O.S.B., 94, died Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Benita was born on Aug. 14, 1919 in Galesburg, a daughter of Frank and Anna Klein Reavy. She attended St. Mary’s Grade School and St. Mary’s Academy, Nauvoo, and graduated from St. Ambrose College, Davenport.. Sr. Benita entered the community on July 26, 1939 and made her final profession Aug. 21, 1944. Her ministries included serving as an elementary teacher in the Dioceses of Peoria, Gary, Ind. and Chicago. She also did Pastoral Care Ministry in LaSalle and Monmouth.

Sister Marguerite Adams 1918-2013

Sister Marguerite Adams O.S.B., 95, died Tues., Oct. 1, 2013. Margaret was born Jan. 28, 1918 in Peoria, a daughter of John and Verna Miller Adams. She attended St. Boniface Grade School and Manuel High School, Peoria, and graduated from St. Ambrose College in Davenport with a BA in Education. Sr. Marguerite entered the community on Dec. 8, 1942 and made her first profession Aug. 21, 1944. Her ministries included teaching school in the Peoria and Chicago Dioceses.

Sister Cabrini Rael 1928-2013

Sister Cabrini A. Rael O.S.B., 85, died Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. Susan was born April 25, 1928 in Puerto de Luna, New Mexico, a daughter of Frank Rael and Susan Page Rael. She attended Santa Rosa Elementary, Santa Fe, New Mexico and St. Mary’s Academy, Nauvoo, Ill., graduated from St. Ambrose College, Davenport with a BA in Education. Sister Cabrini entered the Benedictine community on Dec. 8, 1948 and made her final profession June 24, 1953. Her ministries included teaching school throughout the Peoria Diocese. 9

SMA News 1960 Gwen “Frenchy” Labelle is searching for classmates’ email addresses. Contact her at

1962 Rosemary Pancake will defend her thesis at Denver’s Regis University and hopes to begin CPE training soon. Currently she is interning at HPH Hospice in Fla.

The Class of 63 gathered July 26-28, 2013. Back row l-r: Paula Doyle Lenz, Marguerite Miller Svenson, Barb Sejda, Sherry Zachmeyer Letchford, Sharon Murray Lysaught, Jackie O’Neill Evans, Mary Margaret O’Connor. Front row l-r: Lark Paschon Sheriden, Elaine Prentkowski Pitts, Jo Kelly Kirshner, Kathy McGrath Ludolph, Mary Ellen Olson.

1972 Alice Jasinski Wilson has two great sons, Evan, 21 and Chuck 23. (The younger boy is very much

like me. God help him!) I live in Lombard, Ill. so if anyone wants to connect please email me at!


Sue Huber Bartlett has a 19-year-old daughter. She is a physician assistant in Rushville, Ill. Contact her at At left: The Class of 1968 celebrated their 45th anniversary Aug. 23-25, 2013. Front row l-r: Pam Simmons Fogle, Sandra Catelyn VanderMeersch, Peg Heinzmann Ekerdt. Back row l-r: Kathleen Gahagan, Mary Jane Porter Blixen, Sherryl Britton Zimmerman, Rita Ross Connolly, Marj Berchtold, Emily Yehl Landers, Cindy Flesher Barrios, Cheryl Costello. Not pictured: Susan Haas Maerz.


Reunion Announcements Class of 1948 April 11-12, 2014

The Class of 1973 enjoyed a wonderful reunion at the monastery Oct. 11-13, 2013. Back row l-r: Therese Scott Jenkins (‘71), Jane Heinzmann Genzel, Patti Birtcher Castor (‘72), Valerie Greer Weeks, Cindy Gera Howard. Middle row l-r: Cecilia Ross, Loretta DuBois, Mary Beth McKinney, Ellen Wangler Staples. Front row l-r: Mary Lynn Vuagniaux, Linda McEntee Fasching, Maggie Foresman Kindig, Elizabeth Startz Stec.

Class of 1994

May 30-June 1, 2014

Class of 1964 August 15-17, 2014

Class of 1962

September 19-21, 2014

Class of 1953

September 2014 For information, contact Mary Lou Goebert or Sheila Butler.

Class of 1954

October 10-12, 2014

The Class of 1953 celebrated their 60-year SMA and SS. Peter and Paul reunions Sept. 14-15. L-r: Bob Baxter, Bob Huffman, Mary Lou Hecks Goebert, Mary Ann Cahill Weakley, Nona Harp Bauer, Maureen Howe Hauersperger, Sheila Cain Butler.

In Memoriam ... Suzanne Sullivan ‘52, died June, 2013 Mary Lou Thomas Spitzer ‘51, died Oct. 12, 2013   Marion Grivetti, mother of Theresa ‘67 and Carol, ‘69 died October 2013. Laverne Maletick, mother of Cindy Black, ‘68 and Adrienne, ‘70 died Nov. 6, 2013.  

Connecting Point Autumn/Winter 2013 Published three times a year by the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, IL 61201 Phone: 309-283-2100 Fax: 309-283-2200 Editor Susan Flansburg


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projects, collapsing in exhaustion at the end of the day. Sister Mary Core, OSB says she learned many years ago that doing was important, but so was being. “An elder sister told me she wished she had spent more time reading as a young woman,” Sr. Mary says. “Now that she was into her 80s, she Sr. Mary Core, was enjoying doing so, and having time to ask the big questions. OSB

“She said she found it more difficult to do, instead of be, as she grew older. Now, she was focusing on reflecting and praying and building awareness of who God wanted her to be. She said that was more important than doing. That really spoke to me.” Sr. Mary says the temptation to always do rather than be is even greater today than it was back when she was given those words of wisdom.

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“We are bombarded by our screens,” she says. “Our phones, computers, TVs, iPods are constantly available for updates. We text, email, watch and work at the same time. Multitasking is taking up all the white space that used to surround us. “I want to do the doing well and think most people do. But I also want to leave some space for being. Because I think we’re being people.”

Cp winter 2013 for issuu  
Cp winter 2013 for issuu