Wednesday, August 29, 2018

(Extra) Ordinary Time

Have you had a peak experience recently? A real mountaintop? Or just feeling on top of the world? Don’t let go of it. Remember it!
            Recently we celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration; for us at this monastery it was at the end of our community retreat – a peak experience for me as summer nears its end. “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”  Peter exclaimed in the Gospel for the day. And the next day, like the three privileged apostles after their vision, it’s back to reality – ordinary places, ordinary people, ordinary time!
            I was reminded of a similar experience I had one summer participating in an NEH Seminar on Early Christian Monasticism. The final week was a full immersion in a Trappist monastery with the final day ending on – you guessed it – August 6, the Transfiguration. It was so good for us to be there. But then, we had to say Good-bye to the sixteen other persons from all over the country whom we’ll never see again on this earth, and we remarked that we had been to the mountaintop.  Now we go back home, remembering, and living what’s been learned.
            So here we are, August 2018, once again another year that goes back to “normal, back to “ordinary time.” For a new school term has begun, and that means for us teachers, life seems to be normal, ordinary, after a summer break, after Transfiguration. Have we been changed by it? Sure, there will be new students along with the old, maybe new subjects, new ways of approaching the old familiar ones. Or is it now just the “day-to-day,” the “same old same old” ordinary time?
            Can we enrich it with the good news we experienced in the Transfiguration moments? Christ gives us a glimpse of His glorious, Godly self, and promises the new life after our resurrection from the dead. Surely this memory can permeate our everyday actions with the joy that is to come. Not just for ourselves, but pass it on to those we meet in our everyday life. It could be an “extra” ordinary time! Lord it is good for us to be here, too! Joy! Joy! Joy!

Sr. Mary Carol Hellmann, OSB

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Bananas in the Meatloaf

           The call went out, Peach party at 10. Eight sisters showed up to peel and chunk a large quantity of peaches for cobbler—a gift from a benefactor. That prompted memories of other “parties” at the monastery, some featuring our own farm produce and some from generous families and neighbors. Every sister remembers her novitiate as including lunchtime “recreation” at these extra work details.

           Picking blackberries on the property seems to have been a common experience. The berries were not thornless; the ground was not chigger-free (Off was yet to be invented), but the dessert was great! Apple trees produced well. Concord grapes purpled the pickers’ hands and sometimes their coifs, when served on Sunday as grape juice. There were trips to a strawberry farm near Union, and to Scott’s peach orchard on Amsterdam. You might get sent to the field to cut kale or to squash bean beetles.

           And then there were the train wrecks and overturned trucks full of produce. When the produce company was not able to sell the contents to a store, communities of sisters were often the beneficiaries. No one will ever forget the bananas. There was a silent retreat going on, and at every meal sisters looked for the form the bananas would take. Banana bread, or banana slices on top of the chocolate pudding, or underneath in the leftover pudding. Lots of eyeball rolling at the silent meals. One night no one could find the bananas, but the tablewaiters knew, for they ate before the others. Someone in the kitchen had let it slip that the bananas were in the meatloaf!

           A few years ago Sr. Cathy started a garden in our back yard, growing cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, dill, lettuce and sunflowers. We enjoy year-round pickles owing to her efforts and that of a few others. Families and friends still provide us with produce, sometimes in large quantities. A generous local market gives us a range of produce.

           Once in a while we get bananas. Someone makes banana bread, but there have been no repeats of that famous meatloaf!

            Sr. Christa Kreinbrink, OSB

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

       On a practical note, this is the big feast of Mary on which many young women, especially, entered religious life.  So, many sisters remember celebrating this feast with joy, and then got ready to go off to their teaching assignments or to College classes.  I happened to attend my cousin’s making her first profession in another order on this feast and then I entered one week after the others in my postulant class.

       Now some 60 years later the feast carries a new meaning, as I serve as greeter at our Cathedral twice a month, The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, in Covington, KY. I call it the Jewell of Greater Cincinnati, because of its magnificent architecture and beauty.  On a typical day there will be visitors from all over the world, some as individuals and some on Tour busses in groups, hoping for a docent to show them the high-lights.The 86 stained glass windows cannot be missed, along with the largest one that is claimed to be the largest of a religious theme in the world, (67x24 feet) depicting the Council of Ephesus in 432, affirming that Mary is “The Mother of God.” The Gothic arches, the mosaic Stations of the Cross, and the three pipe organs are other specialties. Among the art treasures are two murals by a local artist from Covington, Frank Duveneck (1910)  Now of international renown, his works are on permanent exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
       On this particular feast, I would point out the ascending Madonna at the tip of the baldacchino in the sanctuary. (See right)  She was the one who announces in the Magnificat, “All generations will call be blessed, for he who is mighty has done great things for me.” ( Lk 1:48-49)  And I would take the group to the front of the Cathedral to see the sculptures by a local craftsman, Clement Barnhorn, who did the relief of the Assumption of Mary into heaven accompanied by the Angels, above the main doors, as well as the central statue he called “The Alma Mater” with child.  They are outstanding works of art.
       Let us all give praise and thanks to God for the Gift of Mary and for her being gifted with eternal life with God a prefiguring of our future glory, in the words of the Preface of today’s Mass:
“For today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven as the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim peoples; rightly you would not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb since from her own body she marvelously brought forth your incarnate Son, the Author of all life.  And so, in company with the choirs of Angels, we praise you, and with joy we proclaim:  Holy, Holy, Holy..”

       Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB

Editor's Note: For a great picture of the baldacchino where you can see a close up of the ascending Madonna go to

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Living and Knitting in Color

        I love starting a new color. Here I am talking about my knitting, specifically the shawl I am making, designing as I go, whether this is a good idea or not. A couple of years ago someone gave St. Walburg Monastery a lot of yarn – about 5 big plastic storage containers full – it seems like they are mostly left-overs from projects, many balls/skeins without wrappers which name the color and give specifics regarding the fibers.
        For the most part, the items which have been made have washed well and the acting assumption is that they are polyester. Several of our sisters have made lovely afghans, lap robes, shawls and other items. 
        I have been making different kinds of things that use multiple colors because there is not enough of any one color of yarn for a big project. I have made some large items like afghans, as well as smaller ones like hats (for cancer survivors), baby items, etc.
        A few weeks ago I picked out “yarn” that is really thin, probably 2 ply, more like cord for wrapping packages. There were several balls of various colors and I decided to knit them into this shawl I am currently working on. Because the yarn is so fine, I use small needles (size 4) and it is taking about an hour to work across each row. So you know that it is going to take a long time to finish the shawl. With each color I also vary the pattern for those rows. It’s a way for me to stay interested and I am a little surprised at how it’s turning out.

        All of this, of course, is a metaphor for life. We don’t have control over the yarn/ gifts that come to us, but we do have choices about how we use them. We seldom have just what we want or enough of it, but we find ways to “make do” and, if approached with a positive attitude, that usually works out well. The gifts and people who come into our lives bring with them blessings and challenges. And, when we let the Spirit guide us, we can come up with works of art (or develop into Works of Arts).  All colors be welcome!

       Sr. Dorothy Schuette, OSB

Sunday, August 5, 2018

An Annual Retreat and the Questions of Life

            From Sunday evening, July 29, through Friday afternoon, August 3 the community was engaged in our annual retreat. Our retreat director was Abbot Paul Mark Schwan, OCSO, (pictured below right with Sr. Aileen Bankemper, our prioress) from The Abbey of Our Lady of New Clairvaux in Vina, California. Fr. Paul was our first Cistercian retreat director and he was a delight and blessing to our
            The title of the retreat was For what have you come? and Fr. Paul focused on some of the questions in the Rule of Benedict. He began by talking about the art of the question, particularly the questions God addresses to us in our daily living of the Rule. Each talk centered around one of the questions from the Rule:
  •             What does the Spirit say? (RB  Prol  2)
  •             Who is it who desire life and longs to see good days? (RB Prol 15)
  •             What can be sweeter to us than this voice of the Lord inviting us, dearest sisters? (RB Prol 19)
  •             Lord, who shall dwell in your tent or who shall rest upon your holy mountain? (RB Prol 23)
  •             Do you not know that patience of God is leading you to repentance? (RB Prol 37)
  •             How could you see a speck in your sister’s eye and not have notices the plank in your own? (RB 2:15)
  •             For what page or what words are there in the divinely inspired Old & New Testaments that are not a most direct norm for human life? (RB 73:3)
  •             Are you hastening toward your heavenly homeland? (RB 7:3)

            In each conference Fr. Paul’s unique approach was telling a story from the Gospels that he related to each question. He was good storyteller and didn’t try to draw direct parallels to the questions and the Gospel story. It was up to each of us to explore the Gospel and relate it to the question from the Rule. Sometimes that left us with more questions. As I listened I was reminded of the quote from Rainer Maria Rilke about the great questions of  life.
            Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves . . .       Live the questions now.
           Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the
            Fr. Paul’s closing conference, entitled When does the journey end?, explored the Christology of the Rule and illustrated the centrality of Christ in the monk’s life.
            On Friday evening we had an informal discussion with Fr. Paul beginning with a brief video on the Cistercian life at New Clairvaux. We were impressed by the work of the monks’ hands—harvesting walnuts and plums for prunes. New Clairvaux also has a thriving vineyard which produces internationally acclaimed wines. The community has recently completed a capital campaign that allowed them to use stones from an 800 year old extinct monastery in Spain, brought to the US by William Randoph Hearst, to build a new chapel. Our discussion with Fr. Paul allowed us to understand the Cistercian life and charism better as it is lived in this young, diverse monastery. We now feel a connection with the monks at New Clairvaux and will always have an interest in their well-being and an affection for their abbot.

      Sr. Deborah Harmeling, OSB