Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sisters of the College of Saint Benedict

May is a month special for many. Certainly it is for the 494 women who were graduated from the College of Saint Benedict on May 8. As I watched the graduation procession on campus television, the concept of “value-added education,” popular a few years ago, came to mind. That outcome seems very appropriate for graduates from CSB. How much more value-laden can you get than to live in the very place—walking the grounds, praying in the chapel, attending campus events—as did the countless committed Benedictine women who for nearly 100 years have had and continue to have a part in the lives of college students.

It used to be that the College was all in the Main Building and everyone knew everyone else. How many stories there are of Sister Enid Smith, academic dean and philosophy professor. There were times when her piercing eyes gave added stature to her petite frame, making it all the easier for her to look right through you. You didn’t come to class unprepared and neither did she. What a new world of ideas she opened up to her students. I remember well the first question on the first test: “Give the metaphysics of a dimple.” Then there was Sister Remberta Westkaemper, biology professor whom you ran to keep up with as she led classes to the woods, often on muddy paths, to find and stand in awe at the earliest spring flowers. Who could forget Sister Mariella Gable? Students lined up to register for her classes—Dante and Shakespeare, popular but daunting. No one wanted to meet her in the corridor because, as likely as not, she would stop you with a question to which you had no clue of an answer.

A favorite in the Main Building was Sister Hugh Lanners. She ran the café, and even though she had no academic expectations of you, she would dish out advice with the brownies and ice cream you ordered. A quiet, gentle presence in the building that was easy to miss was Sister Erminilda Schulzetenberg. Under her guidance, the building was spotless with everything kept in working order.

In 2010—494 graduates. The College has grown in significant ways. And the Sisters remain. Some continue as faculty and staff. But many of us who live here at present are more like Sister Hugh—a friend, a mentor, a prayer partner, a compassionate ear, a spiritual counselor. There is no doubt in my mind that the Sisters who went before us—like those mentioned above plus hundreds more—continue to care for the students who over four years come to call this precious place home.
photos: top left: CSB class of 2010 students, photo by Adam Konczewski; bottom right: Main building in May, courtesy Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict archive.

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