Christ’s Love in Action: The Benedictine Way

Christ’s Love in Action: The Benedictine Way

By Susan Flansburg
Benedictine Sisters Communication Director

If someone asked you what it means to be Christian, what would you say? Would you refer to dogma? Would you cite the Creed or catechism?

Jesus told us to love one another, even as I have loved you. His entire ministry was built around such love, given freely whether it was “deserved” or not.

He said we are to treat one another with kindness by feeding the hungry, sheltering the needy, visiting the imprisoned, caring for the ill, welcoming the “stranger.”

He modeled the precept, as the apostle John wrote in his letter, that we should love with actions.

This is the way the Benedictines practice Christianity. In accordance with their founder, St. Benedict, they greet – and treat – all as Christ. They love with actions, including prayer.

In honor of National Catholic Sisters Week, we invited friends of the Sisters to share how they’ve witnessed this love in action. It may provide an antidote to the vitriol that fuels so much interaction these days ... and balm for the spirit.

Rose Anne (Tanner) Shansky, St. Mary’s Academy, ‘62

I have so many fond memories of these wonderful women over the 10 years I spent at St. Mary's.

Sr. Teresa Ann’s approval of my Jewish fiancé was all I needed to assuage my guilt about not marrying a Catholic.  

Sr. Stephen (Marilyn Ring) has been a source of inspiration until the present time, with her deep understanding of spirituality and activism.  

Sr. Camilla insisted I learn algebra, even when I didn't care.

Sr. Placide ran a strict classroom, but she also read to us every day for the last 20 minutes of school.  The gift of being read to is priceless. 

I could mention every Sister I knew over those years and recount only loving and caring acts (not to mention the fun they provided)! These Benedictines ARE the Catholic Church for me.

Benedictine Sisters and students march for equal rights in Nauvoo IL

Mary Ann Messer, 
St. Mary’s Academy ’67

One memory was marching the streets of a very white Nauvoo, IL on a Sunday afternoon in 1965 with Sister Marilyn Ring. We marched and sang, “We shall overcome!”  

Then there was Sister Ambrose (Sister Kathleen Aubry). Her mantra could have been Choose Kindness. 

Sister Joan’ Kupfert, our Principal, along with so many other Sisters, like Gabriel, Sean, John Marie (Margaret Suerth), Dolores, Clare, Gregory, Helen Carey, Thomas, and Antonio (Katherine Keogel) used their time, talents and treasure to preach the Gospel and – if necessary – used words!  

Sister Bobbi Bussan welcomes children to monastery grounds

Terry Martz, 
Benedictine Volunteer

I have been with Sister Bobbi as she greets the youth group during visits on Fridays in the summer. She takes time to talk to the kids one on one. She organizes the lines for the kids to come thru and get a lunch and drink and find the bathroom to wash up.

All the time she has a smile on her face and genuinely is happy to see the kids and help them.

Also, I have seen the Sisters be equally welcoming while serving at the food pantry. They help package up food, organize and give it out, always with warmth and encouragement. 

Laura Gallagher, St. Mary’s Academy, ‘80

The Sisters created a sense of community and stability by acting upon Christ’s love.

I now live these values in my classroom, my home and in my community. I am forever grateful for the gifts of Benedictine values that I have grown to hold so dear.

Their gifts live on through me, which I now pass on to the next generation. I pray that my efforts to continue their work will live on.

Carolyn Lutz, St. Mary’s Academy, ‘60

It has been a long time since the Sisters welcomed me at the Academy in Nauvoo.

I was starting 7th grade and was somewhat apprehensive. But Sister Delores was so cheerful – calling me Merry Sunshine – that I felt better about myself and accepted. 

The Sisters used positive reinforcement to teach the values that I still hold dear today. At Benet Hall they had our pictures on the wall surrounded by rays with different virtues they felt we practiced.

In so many words or actions, they told us we were good, and so we tried to live up to their impressions of us. 

I am forever grateful to the Sisters for their impact on my life.

Sr. Marilyn Hettinger enjoys time with Oblates.

Denise Gard, 
Benedictine Oblate

My memory goes back to the late 90’s at our St. Thomas More’s Ministry Fair.

Sister Marilyn Hettinger and Oblate Elaine Caco were at the Oblates of St. Benedict table. They spoke to me about the Oblates and their values.

I was struck by the word “balance.” 

Sr. Marilyn invited me to come to the next meeting ... and I never left.

I treasure Sr. Marilyn’s wisdom and her mentoring our group. It was that simple warm invitation that changed my faith journey. Her spirit is still present at our meetings.  

Kathy Craig, St. Mary’s Academy, ‘62

I went to St. Mary’s in the early 60’s and once while there had a conversation with Sr. Virginia that really helped me with something that was bothering me.

I confided to her that I didn’t get along with my mother. I was embarrassed about it because I assumed that all the other girls had great family home lives, but I did tell her because I didn’t want to misrepresent myself as a “good girl.” 

I thought somehow that I was guilty because I couldn’t get along with my mom during those years.

Sr. Virginia told me that a lot of the girls there did not get along with their mothers. She helped me to not feel so bad, and to know that my problem wasn’t unique or something to be ashamed of. 

Lois Fister Steele, St. Mary’s Academy, ‘57

The Sisters were my guiding star during a transition period of my life. They were and are inspiring.

Sisters Claudia and Helen in the library

Linda Haas, 
St. Mary’s Academy, ‘67

I remember Sister Sheila McGrath’s gentle, kind, supportive presence.

I loved Sister Helen Carey and could see how intelligent she was. Later, I was impressed that this well-educated woman who'd earned her PhD treated me as a peer and a friend. 

Bill Maakestad, Benedictine Oblate

Sometime in the mid-1990s after returning from a summer conducting research in Boulder, Colorado, I attended a weekend “Centering Prayer” retreat led by Sister Audrey Cleary.

Having been introduced to sitting meditation at Naropa, a Buddhist college in Boulder, I was more than a little nervous about attending the retreat. 

I was concerned that the discipline I had been taught, which was in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, might be completely incompatible with the Christian tradition of Centering Prayer. 

I will never forget how Sr. Audrey’s welcoming and ecumenical approach made it clear that though there were differences, there was much more in common than not. 

As a result of Sr. Audrey’s wisdom and guidance that weekend, my concerns were alleviated and, more importantly, I have been engaged in meditation ever since.

Carol Morris, St. Mary’s Academy, ‘62

Many of the Sisters impacted my life.

I think immediately of Sister Gregory. I admired her intelligence and efficiency.  She was always willing to answer a question.  Her unspoken message was, "You are worth my time."   

I think, too, of wonderful Sister Ambrose (Kathleen Aubry), so talented at both math and art, so kind to us. 

Sister Patrick always had a smile and a twinkle in her eye for us. You could tell she felt good inside, and she shared it. 

One more - I had a wonderful "big sister" when I came to St. Mary's Academy – Marlene Miller. She was kind and helpful. 

How is any of this like Jesus?

We are all called to be kind and helpful to others, to be joyful and grateful for our blessings. We are okay just the way God made us.

God (and the Sisters) will love us no matter what we are going through on our earthly journey!

Sr Mary Core with preschool children

Betsy O'Meara McNeil, 
St. Mary’s Academy, ‘86

The role the sisters played in the lives of SMA alums then and now is immeasurable. SMA was our home. They stepped in and acted as mothers, fathers, psychologists, mentors and teachers without ever asking anything in return other than our own self love and respect.

I am forever grateful for my growth and experiences at SMA and the friends I have today.

Here are just a few of the Sisters for whom I’m grateful:

Sisters Marlene and Phyllis were our fearless leaders.

Sister Veronica taught us the world of art and expression.

Sister Martha was so kind in every action and move she made.

Sister Mary Core, our librarian, had the highest level of tolerance in any person I’ve ever met.

Sharon Dodd, Benet House Retreatant

I recently attended a silent retreat at Benet House. They showed phenomenal care and planning for our 3 days. The Sisters always think of others, even if they are using a walker or wheelchair.

An example occurred every day in chapel. They made sure we had the right book, and if we were sitting alone, one of the Sisters came to sit by us. You never felt you were alone.

This was a silent retreat, so we received many smiles. We knew they were praying for us during the day. You just felt it.

At the close of our retreat, when we could talk, many shared their feelings about the prayerfulness of the Sisters. They pray slowly, and with meaning. That pace set the tone of calmness for us.

The Sisters are so hospitable to all of us. They set an example for us to follow, in how to be there for others.

Rose Anne (Tanner) Shansky, St. Mary’s Academy, ‘62

One of my earliest memories is of Sister Jerome (Rosemary Murphy).  

I went to St. Mary's Academy in the Fall of 1952 when I was in second grade. For the first 3 years the "little girls" slept in a large room on the second floor of the old Academy building.

Our prefect was Sr. Jerome, who slept in the same room in a curtained-off corner. 

One night I could not get to sleep, and after some time, I went to that curtained area and told Sister.

She took me back to bed, tucked me in and sat down on the bed next to me. She suggested that maybe I would be able to fall asleep if I practiced my multiplication tables.  

So we began..."Two times one is two, two times two is four...."

After the first set, I said, "Well, I know the twos all right, but I'm really scared I don't know the threes." So then we went through the threes.  

After each set, I expressed fear about the next number, and Sr. Jerome sat there patiently, listening to me recite multiplication tables until we got to the tens.  

She never appeared impatient or indicated that she might be tired herself. She just sat by my side until I got sleepy; a warm, nurturing presence. 

Sr. Jerome remained a loving guide to me through high school, prefecting my Freshmen year, teaching home ec, re-making an old dress for me to wear for induction into the National Honor Society.

I will always remember her ready smile and the warmth of her deep voice and free laugh.

Sr Catherine Cleary with Benedictine Oblates

Bill Maakestad, 
Benedictine Oblate

A few years ago, M, the 20-something daughter of a friend was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.  The cancer had recurred and the prognosis was not good.

I asked her parents if they thought she might be interested in driving up to St. Mary Monastery with me to meet and perhaps pray with some of the Sisters. They said yes.

By this time, the chemotherapy she was receiving was causing M to drift in and out of wakefulness. 

After we attended prayers, Sister Catherine Cleary was moved by the suffering M was going through, and offered to spend some private, prayerful time with her. 

Before she died, M recalled that moment and expressed her gratefulness for Sr. Catherine’s kindness.

Rose Anne (Tanner) Shansky, St. Mary’s Academy, ‘62

During music lessons one day, Sr. Francine (Rose Johnigk) knocked on the door. She asked if I had an uncle that lived in Carthage (my home town, just 12 miles away). 

My heart sank. My uncle was a hopeless alcoholic. I loved him, but the fact that he was at St. Mary's during the school day meant one thing to me: He was drunk!  

The main entrance to Benet Hall was a wide foyer perpendicular to an even wider long main hall. Off of that hall was a narrow hallway flanked on both sides by practice rooms where we now talked.  

When I told Sr. Francine that I did, indeed, have an uncle in Carthage, she replied gently, "Well, he's here to see you."  

She conducted me out of the practice room to the end of the narrow hall where she paused and said, "I'll be right here."

Humiliated, I walked down the main corridor, turned the corner to the foyer, and met my poor uncle who showered me with slurred terms of affection.  

I have no idea how long he stayed, not long I suspect, but it seemed like an eternity.

When I was left alone there, crying with shame, Sr. Francine appeared.

She put her arms around me and said, "You know, you are so lucky! All these other girls come from conventional, boring families, all tidy and proper. Just think of all the wonderful experiences you'll have to draw on when you're a great actress!" 

(Ever since 4th grade, I had established myself as the "actress" in the school, taking elocution lessons and occasionally performing at dinners hosted by the Sisters.)

To think that Sr. Francine lovingly turned that moment of humiliation into one of triumph!

Suddenly, it was a badge of honor to have a drunken uncle! I cannot ever tell that story without tearing up, and I have told it often over the years.



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