Life in a Benedictine community

Let clothing be given to the brethren according to the circumstances of the place and the nature of the climate in which they live…  Rule of Benedict

When Sisters Martha Herzog and Rosemary Murphy entered the Sisters of St. Benedict, they became part of a 1500-year-old tradition of seeking God in community. For Benedictines, that means praying, working, eating, conversing and enjoying leisure together. For Srs. Martha and Rosemary, community life has meant family.

"I come from a large family," Sr. Rosemary says. "We were taught to share what we had with others. During the Depression, that meant sharing with those who had nothing. Dad hired poor men to help out on the farm, so they would have money to provide for their families. Mother kept coffee hot on the stove for them. We always shared our food.

"I was drawn to this community because they reached out to the poor. Sr. Martha always gave food to the men - we called them tramps - who came to our back door. In school at the Academy, I remember taking Thanksgiving dinner to an old lady who was sitting alone in the middle of her living room next to a cob stove. I thought, if I entered this community, I could continue to reach out to the poor. That was important to me. The community's family spirit, and their collective desire to help the poor, reminded me of my own family. I felt right at home.

"In community, we share everything. That has been easy for me, coming from a large family. I still love to share my gifts, my prayers, my time and energy with my Sisters. I'm willing to share anything and everything. I'm called a 'secondhand rose,' because I always give away gifts I know someone else would enjoy more than I. I find when I cast my bread upon the waters, it comes back buttered."

That's a line that Sr. Martha has herself uttered many times. Although she came from a very small family - she was an only child - Sr. Martha says she entered for the same reason as Sr. Rosemary: family.

"I grew up planning to get married and have a large family," Sr. Martha says. "But God had different plans for me. God gave me a huge family of Sisters. I went to the doctor recently and was told it was a good thing I entered the monastery, because I couldn't have had children. I would have been broken hearted. Here, I have had the big family I wanted."

Like Sr. Rosemary, Sr. Martha first learned how to share with others as a child.

"Every Sunday my dad gave me a dollar," Sr. Martha says. "Half of the dollar had to be spent on someone else. I would take a friend to the movies, and buy popcorn for her, too. It became part of my life."

Srs. Martha and Rosemary recently were the recipients of many cards, flowers, gifts and well wishes as they celebrated their jubilees. At dinner that evening, they dined on the fine china that Sr. Martha had acquired decades ago, using Betty Crocker coupons.

"They called me the Coupon Queen," Sr. Martha remembers. "I collected green and yellow stamps, too. We bought all kinds of things with them.

"I've tried to give everything away wholeheartedly," she continues. "It's been a wonderful life. I have the love of my Sisters."

Like Sr. Rosemary says: "When I cast my bread upon the waters, it comes back buttered."