Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Turkey Girls, part 2

Last week, Sister Dolores Super posted a blog entry about the Turkey Girls who worked at the monastery raising turkeys for sale and use in the monastery and school. This story was also part of the 2009 exhibit at the Haehn Museum at Art and Heritage Place at the monastery. The exhibit, By the Work of Our Hands, focused on sustainability and management of resources during the monastery's 152-year history. Before the exhibit closed on December 23, I went through it with Sister Moira Wild, the museum director, and she told some of the stories on video. Here is one -- that of "The Turkey Girls."

(Note: I will be posting more videos from this tour in the next few weeks. You can find them if you click here.)

submitted by Susan Sink, communications director

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Gift

Whenever a child is born, we see the fulfillment of love’s desire to share life. At Christmas we celebrate God’s desire to share our life, and to share divine life with us. This December that message came home to me more tangibly that usual in a visit from two of my cousins, elderly brothers who are both being treated for cancer. They came bringing a large flower pot containing shoots from their deceased mother’s Christmas cactus. They told me their mother had received the plant from her mother, our grandmother who died before we were born.

I was touched by their desire to share this heirloom, and with the expert help of Sister Johnita, I was able to give each of my siblings a shoot from this precious plant. More than ever, the meaning of Christmas was clear to me. Christmas is about God sharing life with us, and about our calling to share life with others. It sounds so simple, but simple isn’t necessarily easy!

Delores Dufner, OSB

This Christmas Eve, the monastery schola sang a variety of beautiful carols for Christmas. Below is "Of the Father's Love," by Aurelius Prudentius (4th century) as arranged by Sister Christine Manderfeld. (Sister Delores Dufner on organ.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

High hopes for life worth living

Susan Boyle is singing about "high hopes for life worth living" from the song "I Dreamed a Dream" while I finish wrapping Christmas presents and put them under the tree. Taking a break, I pick up The Week magazine (December 20, 2009), and turn to the section called "The Last Word." Here journalist Hank Stuever writes about the "single largest communal event in America": Christmas. Stuever, author of the book Tinsel, writes about his search for Christmas presents, and what he calls the biggies: "our weird economy, our modern sense of home, our oft-broken hearts, and our notions of God." In searching for a Christmas present he writes:

"I came upon one word over and over, emblazoned on various plaques, ornaments and other bric-a-brac. It was at every holiday crafts bazaar I went to, or somewhere in the holiday decor of every house I visited -- soldered in pewter, or sewn into Christmas stockings, or decoupaged onto wood. The word was BELIEVE. A team of reindeer pulled it, B-E-L-I-E-V-E, across a front lawn. Believe people kept telling me."

This afternoon in one brief space of time, I am confronted with high hopes for life worh living, our sense of home, our notions of God, and the blessedness of believing. And I thought how each of these come together in an astounding way in the birth of Jesus Christ, some 2000 years ago. God incarnate comes to make a home among us in order to show us how to live a life worth living, to set straight our notions of God, and finally, to give us Someone in whom we can believe without our hearts being broken. This Christmas in the year of our Lord 2009, may we believe there truly can be a shift in world consciousness, bringing peace on earth and good will among all persons of every race, religion and nation.

A blessed Chritmas to all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Turkey Girls

The Christmas season is very important in our monastery with liturgical celebrations a top priority. But also important is the common table and the festivities that surround it. I'd like to share the story of the “turkey girls,” who added significantly to holiday celebrations in the 1930s.

The Depression years were hard for everyone. Here at Saint Benedict’s it was doubly hard because of the nearly $2 million debt on the newly-constructed St. Cloud Hospital which the sisters opened in 1928, shortly before the financial crash. To help reduce operating costs and hopefully, realize some funds, Sister Ruth Kann, who worked with aspirants and postulants (those newly come to the monastery), initiated the turkey project in spring 1931. With 27 eggs and the expertise of postulants from farms where poultry was raised, the turkey industry began at Saint Benedict’s. Fifteen chicks were hatched from the first 27 eggs. The first chick, already spoiled by the time all were hatched, was named Bernadine.

A space in a sheep pasture was fenced off for the turkeys. More eggs and several turkeys were brought from the home farms of postulants. A shed was built for the birds. Those postulants with turkey “experience” took charge of the brood. In between classes, after school hours, and on week-ends, the “turkey girls” could be found feeding, watering, cajoling, and taking care of any sick birds. By November thirteen birds provided the main course at Thanksgiving; another thirteen in December for the Christmas dinner at Saint Benedict’s. Others were dressed and sold. Ten hens and two gobblers were kept to be the start of the second year’s flock.

In spring 1932, turkey raising began in earnest. A turkey committee was formed and decisions made about the amounts of proper feed, the best incubator to purchase, where and how to house the growing flock, and who would take responsibility for what. Another decision became identifying new “turkey girls” when the postulants who were caring for the birds would enter the novitiate.

Many of the details of the venture were recorded in yearly reports prepared by the “turkey girls” themselves. It is evident that they enjoyed their work, took their responsibilities very seriously, and loved the birds: “Every evening before coming home the turkeys were well sprinkled with Holy Water and our Blessed Mother was implored to protect them” (Ottilia Bleth 1933). “Delano [one of the flock] had a bad cold. We put Vicks in her nose and fed her with wormwood tea….You could hear that her windpipe and nose were all closed up….After a few months of conscientious doctoring, she was healthy again” (Theresa Weber 1934). “To be sure, the girls had a few pets—Blindy, Grandpa, Peacock, and a few others—who received individual attention and special lunches” (Mildred Blatz 1936).

The enterprise continued to grow. Sister Carolinda (Catherine Medernach, who celebrated her 75th jubilee last year) continued to work with the flock when she completed her novitiate in 1934 and assumed responsibility for the enterprise in 1937. The postulants discontinued their work in 1938. Sister Carolinda with help of farm employees continued the operation until 1961.

During 1937, the last full year of work for the “turkey girls,” the number of birds sold to butcher shops was 1,515. The average price received per pound was 23 cents. After expenses were paid, the profit realized was $1,767.95. The year’s report ends with a sentence that reflects the tenor of all the years: “We all had a very successful and happy year” (Evelyn Reller). Way to go, “Turkey Girls.”

by Dolores Super, OSB

photos: top left: novice Veronica (S. Ruthelda) Klein holding a turkey
center right: the turkey girls of 1933
bottom left: Sister Carolinda Medernach with turkeys.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Power of "Wow"

Two weeks ago I was walking with the faculty, staff and principal of our local elementary school during a day long retreat. I got to thinking how life giving it can be to give myself to a quiet space. In that space I get to marvel, at least for fleeting moments, at all kinds of nature-things that surround me. It’s during those times that I hear myself saying, “Wow, I never saw that before.” And almost simultaneously I notice I’m either smiling or giggling softly. The more often I hear myself say “wow”, the more readily it comes to my lips.
It made me think of the time I was sitting in our oratory praying noon prayer next to a sister whose first language was German. We came to line in the psalm that says, “God gives to the vower a vow”. And those of you who know German know the “v’ is pronounced like a “w” in English. So what my pew-mate said was, “God gives to the wower a wow”. I immediately thought, well of course, that’s it, every “vow” is really a “wow”. It makes me wonder, if we are willing to be “wowers”, how many “wows” God will give us in a day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Long is our winter, dark is our night

As we approach the winter solstice next week, there are times during these weeks of the shortest days of the year when I think that bears have the right idea: hibernation seems an attractive solution to rising in the dark and to long winter evenings and nights. Yet we in our day have electricity that helps to stretch out the day; so much so that it is easy to be oblivious of the dark. For many the dark can be a fearful thing; I often think of the settlers of this area of the country and how long the winter nights must have been for them. Imagine a family living miles from the nearest town or the closest neighbor. They lived by candles or kerosene lamps, both dangerous for starting fires; their use was limited to just a few hours a day and only when absolutely necessary. Anyone who has been awake for several hours during the night because of illness or for some other reason knows how difficult it is to keep hope alive during those dark hours. Will daylight ever come?

Although hibernation along with our brother bear might seem a good idea to some, we would never have the opportunity to see the extraordinary beauty and brightness of a winter night sky. Also, during the darkest hours of the night it can be reassuring to know that around the world there are monks and nuns who rise from sleep to keep vigil and in doing so they keep hope alive that God is with us, even in the dark and through the night.

Every year we are certain that the days will start getting longer after December 21; as did the human family of several millennia ago we celebrate the lengthening of days, but we who believe in the Light of Christmas have an added reason to rejoice:

“Longing for light,
we wait in darkness. . .

Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!”

  (From the song: "Christ, be our light" by Bernadette Farrell)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

South Africa Here We Come!

As one of the faculty at CSB/SJU (College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University), I have the privilege of directing programs for students wanting to study abroad. This particular Liberal Arts Institution is noted for its excellent programs, numbering 17.

I was the Director for South Africa in 2003 and am preparing to take a second group of thirty students spring semester. The picture here gives you a sense of their enthusiasm and wholesome attitudes. We have spent the semester prior to departure getting together for orientation sessions and fundraising.

While in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, we will volunteer our services at a primary school named Pendla and at an AIDS Haven for children.

Students performed a variety of tasks in the classroom, depending on the expectation of a particular teacher. In all classes students can expect to do some teaching under guidance from the teacher. Our students will work with individual students on their homework.

At the AIDS Haven, House of Resurrection, they build one-on-one relationships with the children not yet school age. Their role is to prepare the children for school by stimulating their cognitive skills, teaching them good manners (i.e. cover mouth when coughing), learning courtesy phrases, good behavior, and teaching them to be good listeners.

The service they give is much needed and deeply appreciated as well as rewarding for them personally. Many come back changed.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. Psalm 42:1

I remember.

Freshly fallen snow glistened like jewels across the landscape of the monastery grounds. The crisp air and the brilliance of the sun was winters lure that had me stepping out into this new day. It was particularly inviting to me since I had just returned to the monastery after spending my first semester of study amid skyscrapers and city noise. I could not ignore the invitation that brought me home to myself.

I loved the sound of winter crunching beneath my feet. I welcomed the chill of morning kissing my face and leaving its mark. I walked with no particular destination in mind and yet surprised by where I found myself. I had walked into silence … into the monastery woods. I was standing upon a rock and looking at the statue of Mary. Without prompting, my words were spoken for a dear Sister who was at the threshold of death and yet seemingly found it difficult to release herself into this great mystery. “Mary, please mother Coronata into her death”. Tears filled my eyes as I held my gaze on the weathered statue of Mary. Instinctively, I looked a bit to my right and there I was held by the gaze of a deer. I knew in that moment that all would be well for Coronata.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Liturgically, Advent is my favorite season. The antiphons and hymns in particular, for both Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, move me more than those of other times. An air of expectancy is very strong and it is a joy-filled season. Happily, this year we come close to a full four weeks.

Often Advent gets clipped by the calendar. I want the full four weeks every year! Worst of all is the “shorting” being done by the commercial interests. It seems impossible to avoid this annual “hurry up” process. However, it could be worse . . . note the November 27th Peanuts comic strip. Lucy tells Charlie Brown that her mother is taking her downtown to see all the Christmas decorations. But Charlie tells her, “You’re too late. They’re starting to put things up for Easter.”

I recall a former chaplain on our college campus—in the 1970s—insisting that Advent must be kept in its entirety, meaning no putting up Christmas lights or decorating trees and no public concert of Christmas songs during that period. Some of us, faculty and students, joked that CSB was “the Advent capitol of Minnesota and possibly the world.” The policy (admittedly tough and not very popular) is long gone and I doubt we can halt the “shorting” of Advent. Still, we enter the season with joyous expectation, awaiting once again the glorious celebration of Christ’s birth.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Communal Anointing at the Monastery

Early in November of this year I was among the sisters in our community who had the comforting and touching experience of the a Communal Anointing of the Sick. Having reached the age of 80 and having recently experienced some heart challenges, I asked to be among those receiving the sacrament. It was so supportive to have over a hundred of my sisters present with me in the Chapel for this beautiful liturgy.
Our Prioress, S. Nancy Bauer, and a Benedictine priest, Fr. Dale Launderville, conducted this communal service of prayer, song, psalm and ritual. They began with a short prayer and went immediately to those of us being anointed and laid hands on each sister’s head. After that our sisters came forward and one after another placed their hands on our heads and prayed silently. I looked into the face of each sister as she lovingly placed her hands in blessing on my head. Here were women who have shared life with me for so many decades in this community.

We live closely in the monastic community, praying side by side, eating meals together and sharing life in small groups here. Thus this experience of Communal Anointing seemed like a fitting continuation of the many blessings and kindnesses that make up our life together.