Thursday, May 27, 2010

Companions on a Journey

As a sister at Saint Benedict's Monastery I have had the opportunity to walk with several students in a program at the College of Saint Benedict called "Companions on a Journey". This program began about eight years ago with a very generous grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. Companions on a Journey is "vocation" project. We sometimes understand "vocation" as relating to a call to religious life but "Companions" is much more than that! It is about discerning during a woman's college years where she is being called to serve beyond college. Frederick Buechner describes vocation this way: "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." One of the arms of the program is the Journey group. About one tenth of the student body at the College of Saint Benedict is registered in a Journey group. The group is made up of 4-5 students and two co-facilitators. Students can sign up to be in a group beginning in their first year and they remain in the same group with the same co-facilitators for all four years.
The group of five students who I have journeyed with for the past 4 years graduated at the beginning of May. We met for two hours every month during the academic year. Our meetings always consisted of a small meal during which we would do a check-in . . . what is new, what is going on, what has changed since last month, etc.? Then we would have an opening prayer, followed by each woman sharing as much as she felt comfortable sharing on the topic of the month. The monthly topics are prepared for us by the Companions on a Journey office and they are geared to first year, sophomore, junior or senior students. After a student is finished sharing we take a moment of silence and then the other women can ask clarifying questions, reflect back something the student said or make a comment about what someone heard. We do not fix or take care of a woman who might be struggling with an issue. Rather we give her the opportunity to share as much as she wishes to share on the topic of the month.
Many of my sisters are co-facilitators and while I can't speak for them, I believe that many of them would agree that to have the privilege of walking with these young women during their college career is a gift and we learn so much about the beauty of their hearts and souls. I know I did.

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.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Summer and Salads

With the onset of 80 degree weather my thoughts turn to summer and delicious light salads. One of my favorites is Black Bean Quinoa Salad. According to the National Academy of Sciences quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is one of the best sources of protein in the vegetable kingdom. It is grown in the Andes Mountains of South America and has been a staple of the Inca civilization with ancient origins dating back over five thousand years.

Quinoa is a complete protein with an essential amino acid balance close to the ideal set by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It can be substituted for almost any grain in almost any recipe. It’s especially tasty in soup, as a pilaf, in stuffed peppers and various salads. The handy box of organic quinoa contains a booklet of more than 10 recipes. And of course, the web provides many more.

Just in case you like experimenting with new recipes, here’s the one I referred to above.

Black Bean Quinoa Salad
1 C. quinoa, cooked in 2 c. boiling water for 15-20 minutes
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
½-1 C. cilantro, chopped
3 green onions, sliced

1/3 C lemon or lime juice
1/3 C. olive oil
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp coriander
Salt to taste
(optional: ½ tsp. chili powder)
Garnish: ¾ C. toasted pumpkin seeds. Adds great flavor

Tastes wonderful over fresh spinach
I think I’ll head to the kitchen right now.

note: image comes from

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Grotto Pilgrimage

Recently I came across the song title “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” by Jack Johnson. When I read it, I thought of all the things in our world and church today for which we are sitting, waiting, wishing. Sometimes we feel helpless in the face of the enormous challenges all around us: the oil spill off the shore of Louisiana; the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the horror of physical abuse of children in China and the horror of sexual abuse within our church; the stumbling and lurching of the global economy that affects thousands of lives. But on the cool, rainy evening of May 12 a group of pilgrims were Walking, Believing and Praying together. On that evening we did not feel helpless but only filled with peace and warmed by the solidarity we experienced in the pilgrimage.

About twenty people joined together at the monastery for a pilgrimage to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Many of the participants called to mind past religious processions that bonded people together in prayer. Our pilgrimage began in the Gathering Place of Sacred Heart Chapel, where participants where handed lighted candles, colorful scarves and baskets of flowers. Before beginning the procession, those gathered could write a petition that they would later place in the cracks of the stones.

The grotto was designed by Raphael Knapp, OSB, brother of Sisters Felicitas and Justina Knapp and was built in 1910. In 1939 the grotto was redesigned and dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, and in 2005 it was repaired. Sometime in the 1960s the statue of Bernadette disappeared. This year, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the grotto, Oblates and donors Lynn and John Crowley generously decided to donate a statue of St. Bernadette to be placed at the grotto for its centennial. The statue arrived in Minneapolis from Rome on May 10. The Crowleys carefully put her on a truck for the trip to St. Joseph. Bernadette is permanently in place now at the grotto.

You are invited to visit the grotto, to bring your own hopes and prayers and place them in a niche in the stones. Spend a few moments at the grotto, and on your way back stop at the sculpture of the Crucifixion in our cemetery where Mary also is and pray for your beloved dead. Then stop at the fish pond and pray for the healing of our earth. You might close your pilgrimage by stopping at the statue of Mary in Sacred Heart Chapel. Sitting, waiting and wishing are good, and so are walking, believing and praying.
photos: statue of Bernadette with lilacs at the end of the Grotto pilgrimage on May 12 (photo by S. Linda Dusek); petitions tucked into the stones of the grotto; for more photos of the pilgrimage and delivery of St. Bernadette on our Facebook page, click here

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rural South Africa

As our time in South Africa comes to an end, we took a day trip into some rural areas very near Port Elizabeth. Our tour guide, Bradley LeVack, often is a consultant on land issues in these areas and at the same time tries to bring tourists to these areas so that they are able to glimpse the life of poor indigenous peoples. These areas are not far from cities by car but impossible distances those who must walk to the city.

We were especially impressed by the spirit of the people, because they were extremely happy to see us and expressed pure delight that we came to visit them. In the village of Bhica, all 42 of the school children came on a Saturday to their mud hut school so they could see us and sing for us.

We witnessed a strong community spirit; not only were the children at school on Saturday, but so too were other villagers, especially mothers. In fact, they also entered into the singing and started moving and dancing to the rhythms. Even though the people have very little, they are happy. Our guide and friend, Bradley, used some of our fees to give the children two soccer balls that they immediately started using, since they had been using a homemade ball. Because they are building a kindergarten, he also donated R2000 (approximately $300) of our fee money towards that project.

Upon leaving this small village, we travelled on more dirt roads into Hamburg, where women from the Keiskamma Arts Project made a native Xhosa lunch for us. We ate deliciously cooked umxoxzi (squash), iimbotyi (beans), umnqgusho (samp with spinach), inkukhu (chicken), igusha (lamb), irostie (bread), ginger beer, juice, and kafi (coffee) or tea. After lunch, we learned a new dance and drumming on African Djembe drums. Our host proudly explained that this project empowers 40 people to make and sell their products at the craft centre. Our last stop at the Studio and Centre proved to us that these women and men are unbelievably talented.

Throughout our day, we had experienced the true meaning of the African spirit: ubuntu.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Holy Mary, mother of God ...

The month of May holds in respectful pondering the person of Mary, mother of Jesus. Tradition within the Catholic Church has us singing Marian hymns. Some faith communities continue the ritual practice of May crowning. Through the Spirituality Center we are hosting a simple pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, on our monastery grounds, the evening of May 12.

I am confident that there are many reasons as to why Mary holds our hearts in grateful wonder. We need only to search out the Scriptures or the many litanies written and prayed over the years to see that Mary has deeply touched the human heart, the human experience of God with us.

Holy is Mary, as a young Jewish woman of faith, her heart is open to the wondrous mystery of call. Echoing within her are the words you are chosen … blessed are you among women… Mary engages the messenger with a question, how can this be? The dialogue keeps Mary attentive as well as receptive to God acting in her life. In the exchange of promise Mary gives her fiat, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) And from this faith-filled response “the world is about to turn.” (Canticle of the Turning by Rory Cooney)

Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us:
In the poverty of our spirit
In the cry of the suffering
In the ache of human longing
In the desire to be bearers of life
In the hope that the world will turn towards your Son, Jesus the Christ
(Painting, The Annunciation made in Paris, France 1898, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1859-1937. purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oh, the Merry Merry Month of May

Some of my fondest memories of childhood revolve around the month of May. Besides the lushness of late spring -- ever-greening trees, bushes and plants -- there was the promise of soon-to-be freedom from school and lots of time to do mostly fun things. Early May brought the crowning of the Virgin, her statue wearing a wreath often made of lilies of the valley. I never got to be the crowner, but still I enjoyed the singing and pageantry of the event. We never danced around a May pole, however, and I am not aware of any of our friends and neighbors doing so either.

In these recent years, I have been seeing and reading much about Cinco de Mayo, a celebration particularly dear to those of Mexican descent. While I never actively participate, I am always aware of the event and happenings associated with it. This celebration was barely in my vocabulary even ten years ago. How nice to see that Minnesota is becoming ever more diverse!

Memorial Day remains a holiday” biggie,” not surprisingly. Here in the monastery we do it up well: special prayers and songs at Mass and Liturgy of the Hours plus, most years, a fine picnic in the north or east court/garden. Patriotism is alive and well in our monastery and usually lots of red, white and blue accompanies the meal.

May with its myriad events is a grand kickoff to summer and one rejoices at both spiritual and material blessings, those delivered and those anticipated.

photo: A wind chime hangs from a flowering tree in the monastery courtyard. Blossoms fill the drive by the old Cloisterwalk.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Saying Good-bye

Last month on March 16, I had the experience of being present at the death of a very dear friend, Sister Janice Wedl. As the gravity of S. Janice’s illness became clear she became equally clear about the fact that she wanted only comfort care and wanted to go home to God. Knowing that she was approaching her death, she was able to say her good-byes to each of us. This was a profound experience.

She remained conscious a day or so longer, but Sunday forenoon, March 14, was the last time she was conscious enough to recognize us and respond when we greeted her. That morning I greeted her and was so delighted when she recognized me. The only words she said to me were, “Linda, you have to let me go.” I tried to assure her that I was letting her go and that I appreciated her good-bye to me. Those final words puzzled me because I felt that I had indeed accepted her wish to go home to God. In our good-bye I had told her that I would miss her, but that I wanted to bless her longing and her journey.

As I pondered her words, all I could come up with was the sense that she was conscious of my delight as I noted that she could still respond to me. Was she sensing the grief I would feel when that communication was no longer possible? Was she trying to help me face the coming deep sense of loss? I have come to believe that her last words were not about her needs, but about the concern she had for me as she prepared to go home to our Mother God. I consider her final words as a gift that I am trying my best to unwrap and study.