Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teresa of Avila

Today on the feast of Teresa of Avila I thought I’d reflect upon this complex and paradoxical saint and share of my favorite quotes from her. Teresa was born in 1515 in Spain, and her grandfather had been Jewish at the time when Ferdinand and Isabella gave the Jews the choice of converting or being expelled. Teresa’s early spirituality was based in boldness and fear. At the age of seven she and her brother ran away from home to be martyred in the name of Christ. An uncle found them and brought them home. At the age of 14 her mother died and Teresa appealed to the Blessed Mother to be a mother to her. Later at the age of 17 she determined that being a religious was the “safest course” for her.
               Her early life as a Carmelite did not go well. She became seriously ill and three years later had to return home. She recovered but for eighteen years lived in a dark period of doubt and illness. At the age of thirty-nine she experienced a profound conversion. She sought out confessors who encouraged her not to doubt her spiritual experiences and to concentrate on the passion of Christ. In 1560, unhappy with the unreformed Carmelites, she began to meet with a group of like-minded sisters who wished to establish a new monastery based upon the primitive tradition of Carmel and the discalced reform of Saint Peter of Alcantara. The monastery would live entirely by alms and the sisters’ own labor; they would be vegetarians and adhere to a rigorous schedule of prayer. At this point she began to write her autobiography under obedience to her confessors and later wrote the Way of Perfection and the Interior Castle even though she said she had neither the health or intelligence for writing.
Painting done in 1575 by Brother Juan
de la Miseria. Teresa said upon seeing
it, "God forgive you, Brother Juan!
How ugly and bleary-eyed you have made
              Her reforms were not universally accepted and 1576 she was put under house arrest and her new convents were forbidden to accept more novices.  In 1580 partly because of the intervention of King Phillip II, her Discalced Carmelites were made a separate province from the unreformed Carmelites.
               The main themes of Teresa’s spirituality are friendship with God, love of neighbor, obedience, humility, humor and the integration of contemplation with activity. Teresa herself says:
        Mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing other than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with the One who we know loves us.”
        The Lord does not look so much at the magnitude of anything we do as at the love with which we do it.
        We cannot be sure if we are loving God, although we may have good reasons for believing that we are, but we can know quite well if we are loving our neighbor.
        Well, come now, my daughters, don’t be sad when obedience draws you to involvement in exterior matters. Know that if it is in the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pots and pans.
        “When I fast, I fast. And when I eat partridge, I eat partridge!”  (to a critic of her gusty enjoyment of a good meal)
        What a brain for a foundress! But I can tell you I thought I had a great  brain when I made up this.(after re-reading some verses she composed)
        I was amused at your remark that you could sum her up immediately if you once saw her. We women cannot be summed up as easily as that.(Speaking to Ambrosio Mariano who presumed he could judge who would make an acceptable Carmelite candidate)
     In 1622 Teresa was canonized; in 1970 she was made a Doctor of the Church.
         Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Celebration of 60 years of monastic profession

     At evening prayer last Saturday we celebrated with four Sisters who renewed their religious profession that first occurred 60 years ago.  As they stood before us I became emotionally overwhelmed as their long and varied “careers” jumped into my thoughts.  I was amazed.  So here is a quick overview.  Join me in being thankful to them and to God whose call made it all possible.
     Sr. Ann Middendorf (known for a while as Sr. Ann Joseph) was an elementary teacher from the little ones to 7th grade.  She then trained for special education and for many years taught in Good Counsel School dedicated to schooling those with special needs.  Eventually Sr. Ann retrained and became a parish minister for Blessed Sacrament Church in Fort Mitchell KY.  I was especially in awe of her ministry to the sick and the homebound.
     Sr. Denise Gough received her training in nursing. She worked in the hospitals run by this community in Colorado and then in the Kentucky mountains.  The hospitals were small and in small towns so her tasks were many and varied.  As years went on
Sr. Denise specialized as a nurse-anesthetist finishing her nursing days at St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, KY.
Left to right: Srs. Rosemary McCormack,
Martha Walther, Mary Catherine
Wenstrup, Prioress, Denise Gough,
Ann Middendorf.

     Sr. Martha Walther (Sr. Janine) began her ministry as an elementary teacher and soon moved to high school specializing in Spanish.  The call from the Pope for missionaries took her to Pomata in Peru where she again used her teaching skills. After returning home she became executive director of Northern Kentucky Interfaith and worked with the Exodus Jail Ministry Program.  In the years following she served in the Tribunal Office of the Covington diocese.
     Sr. Rosemary McCormack (Sr. Adrian) was an elementary teacher and principal at several schools in Northern Kentucky and also in Colorado.  She claims to have taught every grade but the first grade and served as choirmaster.  After “retiring” from teaching she took up parish ministry at Jesus Our Savior parish in Morehead KY and was recently honored for completing 25 years of serving as Director of Religious Formation.

     As one of the Jubilarians exclaimed, “It was anything but boring.” 
      Sr. Mary Rabe, OSB 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Family member’s breast cancer scare turns out to be a false alarm.
Death of 95 year old cousin is the last of the “Akron gang.”
The ritual of a military funeral is inspiring.  It has a certain sacredness about it.
     With smiling enthusiasm, Patty becomes a postulant.
October dawns with crisp air and a panoply of color.
Tomato plants to pull—fried green tomatoes to enjoy.
         Single mom spends herself to feed, clothe and pay bills for young family of five.
The desire for life keeps a Sister returning for treatment.
Elderly Sisters get life from “pop” visits from family and friends.
         Is “practicing Catholic” defined by one’s contributions to the Church?
A young nephew searches for a job.
A niece and her husband look forward to having a family.
Assembling photo albums is a treat, reviewing life in its stages.
Printed photos stop where cell phones begin.
         Life begins anew for two sisters moving from a small house to the Monastery.
         Four sisters celebrate 60 years of vowed Benedictine life at Evening Prayer.
The original Benedictine Foundation in the United States closes with a yard sale of belongings.
         It is a time to hope.
         A time to dream.
         A time to trust in the loving God who sustains us.
                   Sr. Kathleen Ryan, OSB

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Feast of Our Lady of Ransom (de Mercede)

       It’s my first blog – and it comes on the feast day celebrated by one of our Sisters for many years, Sr. Mercedes.
        When I first met her, I was an eighth grader at St. Henry, and she was a first year teacher there, barely twenty years old, maybe even nineteen. (Sisters went out early in those days to parish schools.) Very likely she was the youngest Sister of all of them at our school, and I was drawn to her, especially on the days when she had “hall duty” in the old gray frame school building. I would go in during noon recess, and ply her with questions: What’s it like to be a Sister? When did you first start to think about it? How did you know it was the right thing to do? Are you happy? Do you like it? What do you do after school? Where did you go to grade school? Where did you go to high school?
          She patiently answered all my questions, and I was hooked.I became ever more sure that I too wanted to be a Sister and teach children like she did. Truthfully though, it was all the Sisters at St. Henry who fascinated me in those days. I had Sisters as teachers since first grade; my piano teacher was a Sister. She taught me to play the organ for parish Masses and rosary devotions, and the Sisters came up in the choir loft to sing. They impressed me as good people, happy people, in love with Jesus, with God’s work. And I so wanted to be like that!
           Now, sixty-five years later, I am grateful.  But what about our eighth graders today?  What are their questions?
            Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann, OSB

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Life Lessons from My Mother

       When the schedule for us bloggers came out this summer I saw my turn for today and I thought I would write about my new position as treasurer and how I am adjusting to not teaching after 40+ years.  That thought changed on August 1. 
       On August 1, my mother went into surgery for a routine procedure at 1:30 in the afternoon, something that several sisters had had with great results.  At 2:00 the nurse came out to tell my brother and me that they couldn't finish the procedure and that the doctor would talk to us. We thought that they would just do the procedure a couple days later. When the doctor came out of the room the chaplain was with him. We knew that this was not a normal problem with her procedure.   My mother’s heart had stopped and she had been revived. She was unconscious and on a ventilator.
       Naturally we were shaken but called our sister and brother who came to the ICU right away. After several hours watching Mom struggle even with the ventilator we made the decision to remove it. While we knew this was her wish it was a traumatic decision for us. She was able to breathe on her own overnight but with no hope of recovery. She was moved to hospice and lived for about four hours. She peacefully breathed her last in the early hours of August 3.
       I have learned so much since her death and her funeral. The support and love of so many friends, community members and family in the days that followed was overwhelming. I received letters from former neighbors and Villa Madonna alumni, from former Villa parents and Mom’s friends whom I had never met.
       Those who knew her praised her kindness and generous spirit. She would have been humbled to hear their comments. She didn't live her life to be honored; she lived it to be a good person and live the teachings of love she learned from her earliest days in her Catholic family and school.
       Another lesson that stays with me especially is that “we never know what each day will bring.” I can only hope that I will have lived my life as well as Mom and will be ready when that day comes. As we finished clearing out Mom’s apartment, my brother said, “I can’t believe that it’s over.” Her earthly life may be over, but Mom lives on in our memories and in the lives we now live as she taught us. 
       Sr. Nancy Kordenbrock, OSB

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Vade Mecum

     Whenever I leave the monastery overnight I always take a paperback bible with me. This bible also serves as a collector of various notes or messages I’ve randomly received. When I opened it this morning in the Great Smokey Mountains I re-found a birthday gift (the reused front of a note card!) from a deceased member of our community, Sr. Anne Beard. Her gift was a list of seldom used words, the first being vade mecum: walk with me.
     Over the past few weeks the community and I have been walking with another member of the community who is walking with her own serious health issues. It’s what we do—walk together with each other. God’s gifts are good—even the hard ones.
      Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Resilience and the Providence of God

       As one ages, it is a blessing and comfort always to be mindful of God’s loving providence. A day or so before the beginning of this year’s annual retreat in a casual conversation relating to a community survey, I could not recall the name of a magazine cited in the survey. A day later an issue of WEAVINGS focusing on Resilience, appeared in my mailbox.
       Retreat with its leisurely schedule of talks, prayer, silence and time for reflecting reading enabled me to absorb excellent articles, especially on by Robert Mulholland entitled “Resilience, a rhythm of life hid in Christ.” Mulholland roots his words in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:6-7: In nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your minds in Christ Jesus. Mulholland then develops clearly and movingly five rhythms—prayer, supplication, thankfulness, requesting and centeredness in God
       As we moved through retreat concentrating on the Rule of Benedict, this message from Paul hung over and around me. I compared the translation of 4:6-7 in various sources, my New American Bible and commentaries. As the retreat progressed, Fr. Joel Rippinger, OSB in one of his talks cited Genesee Diary. the personal account of Henri Nouwen’s seven month sojourn with the Trappist monks of Genesee Abbey. I had read this book earlier in the 1970’s, interested because I had visited Gethsemane in Kentucky. Also I was acquainted with John Eudes Bamberger’s family from Holy Cross Parish, the church of my youth. I decided to re-read the book.
       After these many years, I was grateful to meet Henri Nouwen again in his struggle for resilience. How did God’s providence work here? Nouwen’s diary entry for Sunday, September 1, 1974 (p. 107) says but if there is anything you need, pray for it asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving and that peace of God which is so much greater than we can understand will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. And Nouwen concludes, That must be enough for me. (And for me as well!)
               I shall remember and reflect on Phil 4:6-7—a sign of God’s providence at this special time in my life.

                              Sr. Andrea Collopy, OSB