Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God. Rule of Benedict
The Sisters of St. Benedict seek to serve God’s people in ministries ranging from prayer and spiritual direction to retreat, parish and social work. We are teachers and campus ministers, hospice and food pantry volunteers. Our ministries are an outgrowth of the cherished values of prayer and community life, which form our identity as Benedictines.
While most of our 60 Sisters live at the monastery, several live in small groups in nearby towns, continuing ministries in education, pastoral care, canon law and outreach to the poor begun by the Sisters decades ago. In addition, our community serves — by way of prayer and financial support — our “twin” Benedictine community in Lipa, Philippines; an education project in Pokot, Kenya; and many communities via Aid to International Monasticism.
The following stories offer some information on our current ministries. For more information, please contact us.
A third grade boy changed Benedictine Sister Rosemary Becker’s life. Authorities had found him on the street, digging around in a garbage can, looking for something to eat. After a little investigation, they discovered that his parents couldn’t take care of him, so they placed him at St. Vincent Home for children in Davenport, Iowa. And that’s where Sr. Rosemary met him.
“I was serving as a house mother to the little boys,” Sr. Rosemary says. “And they brought this child in. I remember he wouldn’t go to bed one night. He said he was going to go out and find his father. That broke my heart. His father was an alcoholic truck driver. I tried to reason with him. I told him it was late and dark, that he would get lost. Finally he fell asleep in his clothes. I put him into bed and covered him up. But I didn’t sleep well at all. I woke up every half hour all night long, worried he would sneak out.”
Eddie (not his real name) struggled mightily with his grief that first year, Sr. Rosemary remembers. He acted out in many ways, from stealing money to failing classes. “I felt so sorry for him, but had to be firm. When his teacher called to tell us he was stealing from other kids, we marched him home and set him to washing the stairs. The failing grades were another problem. Finally we realized he had learning disabilities, and got him into special education classes. There, he began to bloom. He completely turned his life around.”
Watching Eddie’s metamorphosis triggered a passion for helping children that has lasted more than half a century, Sr. Rosemary says. But that new passion came as something of a surprise. “I was a teenager when I discovered I wasn’t too keen on taking care of children,” she says. “My adult relatives had gone to Ohio to watch my cousin get ordained, and had left eight little children with me on the farm. I was in charge. I spent four days cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and making peace. I said to myself, Do I want to do this the rest of my life? And the answer was No! That clued me in.
“Shortly after that, another cousin, Sr. Madeleine Henkel, came to visit from the Benedictines. She asked if I wanted to go back with her to see what religious life was like. I agreed, and had a wonderful time. Everyone was so happy and nice and peaceful. I decided to enter, and I’m still here!
Ironically,Sr. Rosemary continued taking care of children – only a lot more children at a time now than during that long weekend on the farm in 1947. Until her recent retiremet, Sr. Rosemary served as assistant principal at Holy Trinity Junior High School in Bloomington, Illinois.
Sr. Rosemary says she “tried to model a spirituality of hope to the children. I tried to witness how to be gentle and attentive. I’m not perfect, but God’s given me these gifts and I am committed to using them as God wishes.”
John* was 17 years old when his world was turned upside down. A soccer star who had been looking forward to playing professionally, John sustained a career-ending injury in a moment of searing bad fortune. Then, as he struggled to regain his balance, he was seized with mind-bending delusions and a rage that threatened not only himself but everyone around him. The diagnosis: schizophrenia.
"The mental health field has changed a lot since I first became a social worker," says Benedictine Sister Norma Reiplinger, OSB. "The medical model used to focus on the limitations of one's disorder. The thinking was, 'You have schizophrenia? Too bad. Your life, as you knew it, is over.'
"Between new medicines and a new recovery model, the prognosis for many disorders has been greatly improved," Sr. Norma continues. "We believe that the power of the individual is key: you can guide your own life. But it won't happen overnight."
John's family lived with his disorder for ten years before seeking help. By the time Sr. Norma got to know him, he was living in the basement and uncommunicative. "John was symptomatically active and psychotic," she says. "We moved him to the residential wing of our facility where he totally shut down. He wore a hooded sweatshirt even though it was summer. He sat two feet from the TV and slept a lot. He refused to admit something might be wrong. It took two years for him to really start coming around. Now he is stabilized and connecting with others. He is conducting exercise classes for the other residents! And he is beginning to think about looking for a job as a coach."
Jobs can be difficult to come by for those who battle mental health disorders: employers worry that they may prove unreliable on the job. Sr. Norma chuckles and says we all have issues. "None of us are mentally stable all the time," she says. "We really need to work on our open-mindedness. Normalcy is a very relative word."
In fact, Ben* looked perfectly normal. About 40 years old, he was well groomed and handsome. But his family was concerned: he never left his apartment, would no longer look at them when they stopped by, and barely responded when spoken to. "Ben was severely depressed," Sr. Norma explains. "But when I saw him I thought, 'Somewhere deep inside he has a ray of hope.'And inch by inch, he began to open up. He began seeing a doctor, went on medicine and joined our group. After a while, he applied for and got a job.
"It was like watching a flower bloom!" Sr. Norma continues. "Ben is now working forty hours a week. It took a leap of faith for him to believe that he could succeed, but he did it." It took a leap of faith for the employer, as well. Many people like Ben have no work history to review, no proof that they are worth investing in. "We all are worth investing in," Sr. Norma says. "God invests in us every day. God gives us the hope that, no matter how dismal things may seem, things can be different.
"As a social worker, I'm a door opener," Sr. Norma continues. "I'm an instrument through which God works. This job has made me more tolerant, not only of my own limitations but of others' limitations. It constantly reminds me that I am an interdependent being: I am dependent upon others, and I am certainly dependent upon God."
* Not their real names.