Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Immigration – Pausing to Reflect

             In my sophomore year at Villa Madonna Academy I wrote a short story about a teenage girl arriving at Ellis Island from Europe, much as my grandmother had many years before. I remember trying to “put myself in her shoes”.  I don’t think that the story was very good from a literary view point, but that is beside the point here. I tell you that to let you know that I have always been concerned about people who are immigrating to our country.
Our Benedictine foremothers arrived here from Germany in 1852, recruited by American bishops to teach and otherwise care for the German immigrants flooding into the cities. As I grew up everyone I knew was a member of a family from somewhere else – mostly Western European countries: Italy, England, Ireland, France. Some were even the exotic “war brides” from the Philippines. I knew there were Federal Immigration Policies, but they did not seem to be overbearing and impose hardships. But in more recent years much has changed.
“Nationwide, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been conducting target enforcement actions, focusing on immigrant women and children who have arrived from Central America in the last two years. With the presence of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) in the greater Cincinnati area, fear continues to plague the local immigrant community, many afraid to leave their homes for work or school. Cities across the nation including Chicago, Minneapolis, and Raleigh have held public protest and vigils in opposition to these enforcement tactics asking DHS to stop separating families.” (from the press release about the 9.18.16 Rally and March)

This is the background for my getting involved in planning the Rally and March for Immigration Reform that took place this past Sunday, September 18 in Newport, KY. The event was held at Holy Spirit Church with a march to the World Peace Bell. Approximately two hundred people participated to hear the stories of young people tell of their need and desire to come and stay in the United States. We sang to the music of Christo Rey Parish musicians and those of the Guatemalan Catholic Community who worship at St. Anthony parish, Taylor Mill. And we committed ourselves to hold our elected officials accountable for enacting just and comprehensive immigration legislation now. If you would like to join me in the action, please email me at
Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Prayer for Children

     How fast the days fly!  Soon it will be time for interim reports at school.  Yet, I am still striving to learn the names of all the students I contact daily.
    The third graders, most of whom I had for religion last year, have grown some.  I am delighted to have them again, along with our current second graders.  Not a single Catholic among them, yet, most claim the parish church as their own.  It is there that they participate in a weekly Mass or prayer service.         
     In these children, I see the light of God’s love shining out. Their innate goodness and desire to trust humbles me.  They are so ready for the Good News!  They love hearing about Jesus. After yesterday’s lesson, one youngster asked if she could be a Christian even if she’s not baptized. 
            During morning prayer, on this feast of the Holy Cross, this child and all the others, came to mind. 
        Lord Jesus, I place these children and their families
        in your heart, along with children throughout the earth.
        May your cross be for them a tree of life, a fountain of
        blessings and a shield in adversity.  Grant that all may
        come to share in the glory of the redemption that you have
        won for us.

            Sr. Sharon Portwood, OSB

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Monastery Workout

       “March!  March!  March! ...” At Sr. Andrea’s bidding five to ten pairs of feet move up and down.  It is either Tuesday or Thursday at 10:00 sharp and we are seated in a circle and beginning an hour of exercise.  “Charlie Chaplin went to France to teach those ladies how to dance.” We repeat the chant over and over as our feet make scissor motions on the floor.  Coursing blood, give praise.
       “Raise your legs and point your toes. Heel, toe, heel, toe…” Flexing muscles and stretching tendons, give praise.
        “Let us do the Sr. Carmella (member of the group until she died at age 104) swing.” We put our arms above our heads and let them fall to our sides. Bones and joints, give praise. Mystery of gravity, give praise.
       “It’s time to do funny faces; that’s an easy one!”  We recite the five vowels while contorting the muscles of the face.  Spoken word and magic of language, give praise.
       “Twist on your seat, feel it in the lower back. “ “Let your head go round and round; now the other way.” Amazing circular motion, give praise.
       “It’s time for the rub down. Rub that old forehead, rub it and rub it. Now your temples. Then cheek bones. Cheeks. Chin. Down that old neck. Arms. Legs, down to those old ankle bones and back up again.” Unique faces and variety of shapes, give praise.
        “Let us do the dive.” Hands together; arms move up on the right and then down; up on the left and then down.  “Up and down, up and down…”  Beating heart and warm bodies, give praise.
        “Grab a star and throw it….” Our arms flail in the air.   All the world, give praise, sing praise and exalt God forever.
       After a rest out comes the ball. A beach ball is batted around the circle. The object is to keep it moving. We develop our concentration, hand to eye coordination and move all parts without thinking. Freedom of movement, give praise. Spirit of joy, give praise. All who move upon the earth, sing praise and exalt God forever.

(Paraphrase from the book of Daniel.)
     Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB

Editor's Note: This post cries out for a picture. We will get one up next Tuesday.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Three August Harvests

             August is the month when we expect and usually get a large harvest of cucumbers, basil and tomatoes here at St. Walburg Monastery. This August we received three unexpected harvests from seeds we had sown years ago.         

            On August 9 in an article in the Northern Kentucky Tribune, an online publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism, Theresa Vu, owner of Theresa’s Alterations in Erlanger, told the story of her family fleeing Vietnam in 1981. Her family left on a makeshift 30-foot boat and spent three years in different camps in Thailand and the Philippines. In late 1984 the Diocese of Covington arranged for them to come to Covington. Theresa says, “We came here with $20 in our pocket and the clothes on our back. We were helped by the Benedictine Sisters at Villa Madonna.” Because Theresa was highly skilled in sewing, she got a job at an alterations shop in Covington and now owns her own business. We were pleased to see Theresa’s story and to recall the ministry Srs. Thomas Noll and Sylvester Shea (pictured above with Theresa and her daughter) undertook to help Vietnamese refugees.

             On August 10 Thomas More College officially named its library the Benedictine Library to honor the Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery. The sign with the name of the library was unveiled at a ceremony on the campus and is the result of an anonymous $4 million matching gift to
the college. The donation, the largest in the history of Thomas More, came with the stipulation that the Benedictine Sisters be honored “in a significant manner.”

In 1921 the Benedictine Sisters began Villa Madonna College in the 1907 Villa Madonna Academy building to prepare Benedictine sisters and laywomen to teach in Catholic schools. In 1928 the college became a diocesan college under the auspices of the bishop and in 1968 it was renamed Thomas More College. At the unveiling ceremony, Dr. David Armstrong, President of the College said, “We educate students of all faiths, to examine the ultimate meaning of life, their place in the world and their responsibility to others. The Benedictine Sisters have been living that mission from day one and certainly did it in the founding of Villa Madonna College/Thomas More College.”

We are proud of the flourishing educational institution Thomas More College has become and are grateful to the anonymous donor for the honor of having the library named the Benedictine Library.

               On August 31 we received a letter from David Hastings, Executive Director of Housing Opportunities of Northern Kentucky (HONK) recalling the project we undertook with HONK in 2009 as part of celebrating our 150th anniversary. We partnered with HONK to raise $100,000 to build a new house not far from our original monastery in Covington’s Eastside. The house was named the House of Blessing and in the summer of 2009 a young self-employed family selected by HONK moved into it with the dream of making the house their own. HONK sponsored programs which taught them how to manage finances while living in the home they were working to buy They also learned how to care for the home and what it meant to be a homeowner. From 2009 to 2016 they experienced significant setbacks which could have discouraged them from continuing. They became homeowners this summer and HONK created a book of photographs chronicling the story of the House of Blessing.

These three stories of seeds we planted becoming “good fruit” leave us full of gratitude. We are honored to be part of these three harvests and we praise God who continues to bless the work of our hands.

 Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

      In June I was blessed to be part of Villa Madonna Academy’s trip to Italy. It was a fantastic trip to a truly remarkable country. Two important events from that trip left a lasting impression.
       First was our visit to Monte Cassino. the most famous of St. Benedict’s monasteries where he actually lived and died. Being at Monte Cassino was such a blessing for me as a Benedictine. As we approached Monte Cassino after a harrowing bus ride up any number of hairpin turns the first thing we saw was the main door with the word PAX above it: PEACE! A feeling of peace really did overwhelm me.
       Monte Cassino is a beautiful, light and bright monastery with a beautiful church and museum. It’s amazing that it’s even there. The monastery has been destroyed and rebuilt four different times since it was built in the early 6th century. The last time was after it was almost completely destroyed in the bombing of World War II. I can still see the room where St. Benedict lived, now a small chapel, and his tomb which was not destroyed in the bombing of World War II. We saw many other parts of the monastery but the PEACE door stays with me the most.
       We, as Benedictines and Catholics, carry that tradition of PEACE forward in whatever we do as we strive to be respectful and helpful and peaceful. I thought to myself, what if we put the word PEACE over every door throughout our homes and work places. Would that encourage all of us to be more peaceful; more aware of the need in our world and in our lives for PEACE? I think it’s worth a try.
       On our second last day we were in the 10th to 12th rows at the Pope’s audience in St. Peter’s square. It is hard to express how moved I was, and I’m sure others were, just by being in Pope Francis’ presence. This second experience with Pope Francis was equally as remarkable as being at Monte Cassino.  First of all, when he passed us in the Pope-mobile I am sure that he was waving just to me. We made eye-contact, for sure.
       His message that day which was translated in five languages was one of acceptance of each person as a brother or sister. He spontaneously welcomed a group of about 10 refugees that he had spotted in the crowd to join him under the canopy. It was a moving moment for all of us. He truly lives what he proclaims.
What would be the effect if we also welcomed others who are not like us? What would happen if we truly showed mercy to those in need? I believe that can be the path to true peace.
       And finally, shortly after we arrived home from Italy the sniper shootings in Dallas occurred. I have good friends in Dallas and contacted them to be sure they were okay.
When I expressed my feeling of hopelessness in the face of such senseless violence my friend offered the advice that we should all pray ceaselessly for peace.
       I was humbled that she had to tell me that. I think that would be St. Benedict’s and Pope Francis’ advice as well.
       So, in our world, so in need of peace, let us make it our goal to live in peace, to proclaim peace, to write it in our hearts and minds, and pray for peace every day.

       God bless you and your school year. 
        Sr. Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Summer's Abundance

Cucumbers picked daily multiply.
They become pickles--sweet and dill--when canned.

Peaches come in by the basketsful.
They become jam, peaches on ice cream, cereal or peach cobbler.

The raised garden shows off its giant sunflowers.
They look down on the vine-covered fence.

Flowers and vegetables thirst for rain.
The sun sears with heat.

Sr. Cathy in front of the garden .
Rain comes in downpours.
Branches fall but life revives.

A special oblate dies.
Do those who mourn realize their loss?

Politicians rant and rave.
Who will save?

Guns and suicide bombs kill and maim.
Who will save?

Compassion and mercy are Pope Francis' plea.
Who will listen?  Who will act?

Summer days grow short.
Will the night bring peace?
Will the morning bring new life?

Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Culture of Fear

           On July 16, just a month ago, we prayed the following verses from Isaiah 25: 1-4, 6-9 during Morning Prayer:

       On this mountain
       God will destroy the shroud that is cast over all people
       the sheet that is spread over the nations
      God will swallow up death forever.
      God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
      will take away the disgrace of the people from all the earth,
      for God has spoken.
           The day before, a man drove a large truck through crowds of people celebrating France’s Independence Day on the French Riviera, killing dozens and wounding many others.We keep having these incidents, and throughout our country too, bombings and shootings galore.It happens in schools, a church, a restaurant, and all kinds of places where people are gathered together. So what do we do? We lock all our doors, we go around scared of everyone. Is it safe to go grocery shopping in a store where people may carry concealed weapons?
           I prayed the psalm again, using “terrorism,”  “shooting” or “bombing” in place of shroud, “fear” in place of sheet.
           I grew up with little or no fear, even though WW II was raging across the ocean as my two uncles in the armed services defended us. In primary grades I walked almost a mile to school every day, crossing five side streets. At age eight my mother put me on the bus to go downtown for swimming lessons at the YMCA and uptown for piano lessons, then crossing a four lane highway with no traffic light to get home.  As a high school student, I got off the bus many a Saturday night after YCS dances to walk up a dark winding street with no lights. I heard rustling in the bushes and field, prayed to my guardian angel and was assured it was only a bunny or squirrel nestling in for the night. As an adventurous adult, I was not afraid to walk the streets or to use public transportation in London, Vienna, Cuernavaca or Washington, DC. I was careful but not na├»ve.
           But now? Are we to think of every human being we meet as a potential thief, or killer?
Back to prayer:
        God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
        will take away the disgrace of the people from all the earth,
        for God has spoken.
           Yes Lord, You have spoken. Are we listening? With Your help, surely we can make a difference. Can we deal with anger, resentment, injustice, vengeance, the bullied child, and the bullies? Can we turn this energy into good for others? Can we turn the culture of fear into a culture of trust and mutual respect?          
                Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann, OSB