Celebrating the Sisters of the order of St. Benedict

Categories: Around the Diocese,consecrated life

During this Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis instructs Catholics to “look to the past with gratitude … live the present with passion… [and] embrace the future with hope.” The Visitor will to help commemorate the past, present and future of the religious communities housed in the St. Cloud Diocese, in the lead-up to the Mass for Consecrated Life at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. This is the first in a series.

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

You can’t move forward without knowing where you’ve been.That’s what Benedictine Prioress Michaela Hedican believes. With more than a thousand sisters buried in the cemetery at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, the stories of the sisters who have come before her “take her breath away.”

“We have a practice of saying aloud the names of the deceased sisters on the anniversary of their death during our daily prayer,” she said. “To think that they are also praying for us and to remember their stories is a great grace. I am profoundly grateful to the sisters that have gone before us and I am inspired to live now and serve in new ways with as much passion as they did.”

Grateful remembering

As a little girl, Sister Michaela and her mother and brother lived with her grandparents in Virginia, Minn., while her father was serving in the military.
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Sister Michaela Hedican

Her grandmother often brought her along on trips to the grocery store with Benedictine sisters living in the area.

“The sisters didn’t have cars or driver’s licenses back then,” she recalled. “I remember being in the back seat and wondering who these women were and wanting to be like them. I was captivated by their joyful, caring examples.”

She also remembered how they loved to stop for an ice cream on a hot day. “Sisters still get excited about ice cream,” she laughed.

Sister Michaela was eager to enter the monastery as early as eighth grade but her parents suggested she wait.

She entered St. Bede Monastery in Eau Claire, Wis., as a senior in high school where she served until their community merged with St. Benedict’s in 2010. She was elected prioress of the monastery, now home to 237 women, in February 2011 and installed the following June.

Sister Michaela is grateful for — and excited about — the Year of Consecrated Life.

“Pope Francis has given us an open forum to talk about our lives as religious sisters,” she said. “There are so many misunderstandings. People knew what sisters were many years ago and they are not sure what we are now. The Year of Consecrated Life gives us an opportunity to open our doors even wider and invite people to come in and see us at work and at prayer, to help them understand our life.”

Living the present with passion

Since 1857, the sisters of St. Benedict’s Monastery have sought God in their daily lives according to the Gospel and the Rule of St. Benedict. Using core values such as community, listening, hospitality, peace and stewardship, the sisters live out their call of “ora et labora” — to pray and work — all while responding to the needs of the church and world.

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Sister Karen Rose

For Benedictine Sister Karen Rose, following Christ in the ordinary events of the day is especially meaningful.

“I was basically happy in my former life, but I wanted a way of life that was less busy and enabled me to focus more on prayer and my relationship with God,” said Sister Karen. “I felt that was what living as a Benedictine monastic would offer.”

Sister Karen entered the monastery in 2007 but not before living an extensive life in Manchester, England, about 200 miles northwest of London.

“I’m a late vocation,” Sister Karen said. “I was in my late 40s when I first visited the monastery, so I’d done quite a lot before I came here.”

She has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology from Oxford University and worked in general medicine and surgery as a staff nurse and then as a research nurse in palliative care. She went on to receive her master’s and doctorate degrees and subsequently worked in health care research.

After attending a Benedictine retreat in England, friends suggested she explore Benedictine spirituality in the United States.

“I had a bit of study leave due, a small grant for foreign travel and I’d never been to the U.S., so I thought it would be a nice thing to do,” she said.

She visited St. Benedict’s in 2005 and again in 2006. During the latter visit, she realized she was called to monastic life. Now Sister Karen serves as the director of communications, responsible for the monastery’s external communications, website and social media.

“I’m a person who lives very much in the present,” she said. “The past is important because it makes us who we are today and it’s important to look to the future and have a sense of where we’re going. However, we only have now.

“I live the present with passion by heeding St. Benedict’s words, ‘Keep death daily before you.’ I don’t do that in a morbid way but to remind myself that it’s essential to regard every moment of every day as significant in my journey toward God. Benedict says in the Prologue to the Rule, ‘Run while you have the light of life.’ Life is a gift. I’m passionate about making the most of it all the time.”

Embracing the future with hope

At age 85, Benedictine Sister Linda Kulzer is still excited about the contributions she is making at St. Scholastica Convent, the retirement and health care portion of the community located in St. Cloud.

“I don’t know anyone else in the world who can retire and still get to do the work they love the most,” she said. “That is prayer. We pray together for the world every day. What I love so much is that the purpose of our life continues.”

Several of the sisters there have physical and mental challenges but Sister Linda says their hearts are strong.

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Sister Linda Kulzer, center, prays with the sisters at St. Scholastica Convent. Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor

“Many of the sisters are blind but they still come three times a day [for prayer] and sit with us attentively listening. Others can’t hear but they have their prayer books open and follow along, watching carefully. Their hearts tells them they want to continue to do this as long as they can and in whatever way they can. I just cannot believe what a wonderful choice I made in becoming a Benedictine sister and how it keeps on being meaningful to me.”While attending the boarding high school at St. Ben’s, Sister Linda remembers a theology class during her junior year that discussed the attributes of God.“When I heard that, I thought there was nothing else I would want to do but to give my life to God who is so unconditionally loving,” she said.After joining the monastery, Sister Linda attended the Diocesan Teachers College in St. Paul and taught seventh and eighth grades at St. Anthony Church in St. Cloud.

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Sisters gather for morning prayer in what they call the ‘Park and Pray’ area of the chapel at St. Scholastica Convent in St. Cloud. Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor

Her community asked her to get her master’s degree at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. When she returned, she became principal at the boarding high school she attended and then went on to teach at the College of St. Benedict. She later received her doctorate degree from Syracuse University.

But when her younger sister, Benedictine Sister Marilyn Kulzer, who had followed her to the monastery, retired, it was Sister Linda’s turn to follow.

“I was at St. Ben’s and still very active but I wanted to be with my sister,” she said. “I was with her two years before she died. It was wonderful to go from being sisters to being best friends.”

When she retired, she was able to work on writing some books including “Benedict in the World: Portraits of Monastic Oblates,” “Medieval Women Monastics: Wisdom’s Wellsprings” and “Purity of Heart in Early Ascetic and Monastic Literature: Essays in Honor of Juana Raasch, OSB.”

“I still find so many interests that retirement has kind of eluded me,” she said. “I love life out here. The pace is slower, more time for prayer and quiet.”

It’s challenging to live in the community where people are suffering, she says, but it’s a gift to “see them to the door, into the passageway.”

“When you live in a retirement center, you know that the final journey is the one you are going to make here,” she said. “That can be very hard. But it gives you a chance to see that you spend your life giving it lovingly to others and to God.”

Current ministriesOne of the priorities of the sisters at St. Benedict’s Monastery is to engage in woman-to-woman ministry.“We look at areas where little or nothing is being done and we ask: ‘What can we do?’” said Sister Michaela Hedican, prioress. “We really put a lot of time and energy into efforts that support women because we feel that these are issues we understand.”Working closely with the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph and the community at large, they have established programs to benefit people of all ages:

• Prayer
The sisters offer a full schedule of worship and liturgy opportunities. They also want public to know that they regularly pray for people. Prayer requests can be made by phone. They are added to a “wall of prayer” and remembered each day at evening prayer.

• 3G: God, Girls and Good Times
A summer camp designed for girls in grades 4-8 teaches them about Benedictine values and community life while they also enjoy prayer and recreational activities with the sisters. Mother-daughter days are also offered during the year.

• Spirituality Center
Located on the monastery grounds, the Spirituality Center offers a place for spiritual direction with trained sisters, individual or group retreats, and educational opportunities in the form of presentations and workshops.

• Common Ground Garden
The garden is a community-supported agriculture project intended to provide healthy produce for its subscribers. In addition, the sisters and local food shelves receive some of the produce.

• Studium
The sisters offer the Studium program to scholars and others who might be trying to finish a project or other work and need a place to work and pray, free from distraction.

• Benedictine Women Service Corps
This program gives recent graduates of the College of St. Benedict the opportunity for meaningful service in the world.

• Monastic Enterprises
This initiative manages the work of sisters who are artisans (e.g. candle-making, sewing, quilting, cards, etc.) and is responsible for finding ways to sell the goods outside the monastery.

• Art and Heritage Place
Whitby Gift Shop and Gallery sells handmade items from sisters and local artists as well as fair-trade goods. The gallery exhibits work of Minnesota artists. Haehn Museum hosts an annual exhibit which tells the story of an aspect of the community’s history.

More information is available at www.sbm.osb.org.