Sister Mildred Slabenak was born in Cicero, Illinois on January 16, 1920. She was the sixth of seven children born to Frances and Frank Slabenak. Her Mother was praying for a daughter as she already had three sons and only two daughters so when her baby was a girl she knew God heard her prayer. Now, what would they name her? Being good Catholic parents, immigrants from Moravia in Czechoslovakia, they decided to baptize her Ludmilla after the holy, grandmother of good King Wenceslaus of Bohemia. However, when she started school at Our Lady of the Mount, Ludmilla sounded too “Czesky” so her name was translated to Lillian.
Lillian attended Our Lady of the Mount School in Cicero her entire grammar school years graduating in 1934. The Benedictine Sisters from Lisle staffed the school and she was very fond and impressed by the Sisters. She often spoke about the kindness and patience of Sister Adalbert, her 7th grade teacher and Sister Mary Bernard, the choir directress, who made her responsible for putting away the music sheets and keeping the cupboards in order. Sister Albina gave her instructions on how to clean the sacristy and asked her to help arrange the bouquets of flowers for the altars. This was indeed a privilege for Lillian and she loved working with the Sisters. Helping Sister Albina around the Altar gave her many opportunities to get away from doing tasks at home. When her Mother had work planned for her at home she would say in Czech: “Sorry Mom, I promised to help Sister in Church.” Lillian knew her Mother would never compete with the needs of the Sisters, as Mrs. Slabenak had the greatest respect for the Sisters and would always give them top priority. However, on the part of Lillian, her action could have been called: benign parental manipulation.
When Lillian graduated eighth grade, she found herself really lucky to be going to Sacred Heart Academy in Lisle. During her time in the Academy, she became an Aspirant meaning that she was actively thinking about becoming a Sister. She liked what she saw as the Sisters prayed, observed silence and seemed joyful in their composure. At this young age she began her serious discernment about religious life and she credited her pious Mother’s prayers for her religious vocation.
Soon after graduating from the Academy Lillian entered the Formation period and as a Novice received her religious name: Sister Mildred. Her consecrated life became real when she pronounced her Benedictine vows in 1941.
Sister earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Education from DePaul University in Chicago and through the years was sent to various Parochial Schools staffed by the Lisle Benedictine Sisters, namely: St. Michael’s in Chicago, St. Mary of Celle in Berwyn, SS Cyril & Methodius and St. Mary’s Assumption in Joliet, St. Thomas and St. Peter’s in Fort Worth, TX, and Holy Child in Prague, OK. Her final mission was her home parish, Our Lady of the Mount in Cicero, where she spent forty-two years. She first came there as a teacher, later became a principal staying in education there for twenty-three years. Then, as lay people took over the school, she stayed for nineteen more years in parish ministry. Her stability in the parish along with her personal witness brought about a peaceful approach to changes required especially to open the doors to a Hispanic presence and including these new arrivals into the parish community. This was a transition from a predominately Czech Parish. However, Sister continued to serve mostly the settled old- timers of the Parish as was her role.
Her Parish ministry blossomed and included bringing Communion to the sick in their homes, hospitals and nursing homes, driving those who had no way to get to their doctors’ appointments, maintaining the sanctuary and altar linens, beautifully decorating the altar ambiance with fresh flowers for Sundays and feast days, grocery shopping and cooking for the Fathers at the rectory (we heard she knew her spices and was a Gourmet cook) and wrote impressive reflections about those who died, congratulatory thoughts for anniversaries and thank you letters to those who were of service or gave donations. Because she knew the people she served so well, the flare in her writings was personal, heartfelt and included her clever words of humor.
Some of us who never lived on a mission with Sister Mildred, didn’t know her very well until she came home to the Monastery. However, one of the Sisters who lived with Sister Mildred told us she was a wonderful person to live with. One example of how she would liven up daily living was an incident during an approaching snow storm. The Superior told the two of them to get up at 4:00 a.m. to shovel the snow which was about to barricade the parish convent entrance. Sister Mildred and the other Sister saw it as a physically, strenuous job that would break into a good night’s rest. However, with Sister Mildred making wise cracks in the snow, the heavy job was made a memorable delight.
For her closing years here at the Monastery Sister Mildred was well known for her quick wit and for her eagerness to tell the fantasies of her dreams which she would recount in detail most of which had unfinished endings. She loved music and played Mexican music for herself in the evenings. She liked to sing and harmonize but found it impossible as she grew older. She was very fond of Fannie May Chocolates and her bedtime routine was to have two pieces of chocolate before she thanked God for her good life here every night.
Her final hours came gradually as her body weakened and her voice was almost mute. She enjoyed receiving visits from her dear, Sister Angie who preceded her in death about a year or two ago and the visits continued with her two nieces Marilyn and Donna and their husbands, Jack and Perry. She always looked forward to be with them. They renewed their loving relationship with her and were experts in cheering her on in her last uncertain years.
It was Saturday evening, April 28th, 2018 as the Sisters were singing God’s praises at Vespers, the vigil office of Sunday the 5th week of Easter that Sister Mildred saw the light of God’s glory. As her Benedictine Community learned of her final breaths they surrounded her with united hearts and petitioned God to receive her with a joyous welcome to the new life promised to faithful servants.
As Benedictine Sisters may we never forget our link with the communion of saints, and trust, that now with full voice Sister Mildred too, is singing the Benedictine psalmody of the Divine Office as she harmonizes with the Angels and Saints in the beauty of choral acclaim of our merciful Savior.
What does a real consecrated life look like today?
First, there is a sense of humor. Able to translate the mundane and the monotonous into a joyful event, Sister Mildred teaches us about holy love. In the words of St. Paul, we may sigh deeply about our condition in the flesh, but the Spirit always leads us to selflessness that can transform the world around us.
Second, there is always a vision of life. Able to speak and sing about God, Sister Mildred teaches us about how to be a child of God. In the words of St. Paul, we may sigh deeply about our condition in the flesh, but the Spirit always leads us to long suffering and forgiveness that can transform the world around us.
Third, there is always a confidence that God is in charge even when we are not sure where we are going. Only able to whisper in the last few months of her life, Sister Mildred teaches us to look forward to heaven.Jesus says, “Do not be agitated or unsettled. You already believe in God, so trust me when I tell you that I go ahead of you to get your dwelling place ready.” This was something that Sister Mildred taught us- that there is always someone else and somewhere else. That someone else is God, in God’s holy heaven, that begins now in our faith communities.
Yes, we lost a dear sister, a dear aunt and a dear friend. But the Communion of Saints has gained another “character.” In the words of Sister Christine, “Her consecrated life became real when she took her Benedictine vows in 1941.” I would add, “Her saintly life became real when she passed into eternity in 2018.” May she rest in peace as she joins her six siblings, especially her beloved sister, Angie.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. May all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in pace. Amen.
God is supremely good and by God’s providence, Marie and Patrick Fallon, parents of Sister Mary Patricia, settled in Chicago arriving from Roscommon County, Ireland in 1914. They became the proud parents of twelve children who they raised in their happy, Irish home. Sister Mary Patricia was number nine, born on November 30th, 1926. Her baptismal name was Catherine but her two-year-old brother, Eddie, was so awed by his lovable, baby sister that he claimed her as his own Dolly. That name took root and even now after five generations of nieces and nephews, and there are as many as there are stars in the sky, they still call Sister Mary Patricia: Aunt Dolly.
Sister Mary Patricia grew up at 3940 Polk Street, a half a block from Presentation Church and School in Chicago. The Fallons had a personal relationship with the Priests in the parish and the Sisters of Charity, the BVM’s, who taught in the school. Sister Mary Patricia was so inspired by the Sisters that even before first grade she wanted to be a BVM just like the Sisters she knew. Her Godmother and cousin, Sister Brigetta Burns happened to be an Omaha, Nebraska Servite Sister whom she also admired.
It was natural for Sister Mary Patricia to continue her education with the BVM’s at Cathedral High School in Chicago. However, in her second year she came down with Diphtheria. After she was well enough to return to school, she would become ill riding on the El train or bus. Some of the neighborhood girls were attending Our Lady of Lourdes Commercial High School at 15th and Keeler, which was walking distance from their home and persuaded her to transfer to Our Lady of Lourdes, taught by the Benedictine Sisters from Lisle. When she was a senior, the Sisters brought the girls to Sacred Heart Monastery to see what the Sisters do. Sister Mary Patricia was so uplifted when she heard the Sisters chanting the Divine Office that she knew her love for singing would be fulfilled if she joined the Benedictines. With the blessing of her family and the BVM Sisters, she was accepted as a Benedictine Postulant on September 8, 1944, the feast of the Nativity of Mary. There was, however, one huge concern. She was an Irish Lassie among a closed Czech group who had never before accepted a candidate outside of an Eastern European background, and, furthermore, the Czech language was still a spoken language even during table reading and evening prayer. How would she survive?
Well, Mother Genevieve was well aware of the possible difficulty Sister Mary Patricia would have and asked her how the community could help her fit in. Sister Mary Patricia was not dismayed by her different background and asked if she could study Czech because then she would know what was going on. Surprisingly, Czech classes proved to be a marvelous experience for her as she was soon able to pronounce almost all the words as well as the Czech Sisters and participate in the community entertainments the young Sisters would provide. At this point, who would have guessed she was Irish? But--- Irish she was and very proud of the fun-loving spirit of her Emerald Isle legacy.
Along with the other teaching Sisters in the Benedictine Community, Sister Mary Patricia became a teacher and she loved it and the students loved her as well. As the years went by, she taught every grade from 1st to 8th grade depending on what parochial school she was assigned to and she even taught English in High School. Later, she became principal at St. Vitus in Chicago, St. James in Glen Ellyn, secretary at St. Joan of Arc School in Lisle and the Community Council secretary here at the Monastery.
At every turn, Sister Mary Patricia was known as an engaging story teller, using her Irish DNA of wit and wisdom. Sister Joan Marie once jokingly said that Sister Mary Patricia would be comfortable in talking even with an elephant; so versatile was she in carrying on a conversation with whomever. Learning new things and keeping up with the trends of the times was also her gift. When the computer became the in-thing, she mastered it with the help of students or teachers and became a savvy computer user able to teach others. In her final years, she continued to be an active learner though legally blind. She listened to TV programs or to tapes for the blind. Socially and spiritually, she touched the lives of many members of her family and friends by showing concern for them through her telephone ministry; consoling those who needed to be consoled and grateful for the interest they showed in her declining health. Being gifted with a people-loving personality and a youthful heart she never grew old barring her poor health.
In her autobiography, she thanked the Sisters for enabling her to become who God wanted her to be and quoted the words of a song she felt applied to her, titled: THROUGH THE YEARS. “Through the years you’ve never let me down, you’ve turned my life around. The grandest days I’ve found, I’ve spent with you… Whenever things went wrong, together we were strong. I always knew--- I belonged right here, close to you--- THROUGH THE YEARS!”
Now as you leave us, we bless you, dear Sister Mary Patricia! May the angels carry your soul to the God who is waiting for you with outstretched arms to embrace you! May the sound of happy music and the lilt of Irish laughter fill your soul with surprise as your family gathers to greet you! May your joy and dancing never end! May you remember us here in the valley and sing out God’s praises with us every day--- till we meet again.
On Sunday morning, October 12, 2014, an Angel from God’s throne, came to announce to Sister Mary Gilbert Tuma that God wanted her soul to come to the special mansion prepared for her in eternal life. We weren’t ready for her departure but she was. Here in St. Walburga’s Care Center, day after day, Sister Mary Gilbert followed a set routine by praying her favorite prayers the entire morning after breakfast until she went to Mass. She often remarked that she wanted to be ready when God would open the door and let her come in to her eternal home to be with God who was so good to her all through her life. She also was very eager to see her Mother whom she had never seen.
Sister Mary Gilbert Tuma was born on March 25, 1923 and was baptized Julia. Due to serious complications, baby Julia’s mother died about four hours after giving her birth. Her Father would have liked to take care of her and try to nurture her as her mother would have, but having her to care for and three sons along with a job, which he needed to support the family, he would have had to have the gift of bilocation. So, early on, Julia was placed into the Guardian Angel Home for orphaned children in Chicago. Growing up as a motherless child was a big heart ache for Julia and she found it hard to fit in. She always felt different. As a teen ager, from Guardian Angel Home, her Father brought her to St. Joseph Orphanage here in Lisle where she was able to attend high school at Sacred Heart Academy. This turned out to be a huge blessing for her because it was Sister Mary Borgia who was aware of her musical talent became her violin and piano teacher. Most of all, Sister Borgia was a motherly mentor who understood Julia’s background.
After graduation from Sacred Heart Academy, Julia entered Sacred Heart Convent beginning her lifelong mission as a Benedictine Sister and was given the name of Sister Mary Gilbert. Just a couple weeks ago, on September 26, 2014, we were happy to celebrate with her, her 70th Jubilee and shower her with our love and gratitude for a fruitful life of service. She was quick to share her joy with us and was pleased that God had given her a long life in our Benedictine Community.
Through the years, Sister Mary Gilbert was known to be enthusiastic about her work. Like a Road Runner, she would be seen speeding down the corridor seemingly skimming the floor with her light feet as if there were a fire behind her. She had a mission to fulfill and her intent was straight forward. Her heart was in her work and it showed. We cannot forget how she would wake up at 2:00 a.m. in the morning and start baking Altar Breads in order to be ready for her working crew of Sisters to come after breakfast to cut, count and pack the hosts to be sent to the local parishes. They would produce 70,000 communion hosts per week. For Sister Mary Gilbert this ministry was extremely important and with reverence she knew she was preparing the substance that would become the body of Christ on the altars in the neighboring parishes in the coming days.
Going back to her years in Parish Schools, she was an accomplished Kindergarten or first grade teacher. She was driven with passion to perform her best for the sake of the children. She knew how to make learning enjoyable and vital. When she was missioned to the Monastery, we remember her musical performances in the Little Theater as her students played the pieces she had practiced with them. Then, no matter how tired she might have felt, she was energized to go to the students’ homes to teach them violin or piano when the Little Theater was discontinued.
I recall how in our transition period, moving into our newly constructed Monastery which had been the former gym, she went to Sister Judith Ann, the Prioress, and asked if she could be in charge of the new, monastic dining room. That to me was a heroic request being, that by then, she was in her eighties and in failing health. But yes, she became the care taker of the monastic dining room and with vigor kept the servery spotless, made sure the food was provided, took away the left-over food, cleaned the tables, set up the center pieces, and of course, on holydays and holidays she loved to decorate and fill the refectory with feast day trimmings galore. What pride she took in an attractive environment.
God must have been pleased with Sister Mary Gilbert’s intense dedication and now has come to take her soul to enjoy the beauty of everlasting happiness. May she be our valiant intercessor as she enjoys the glorious life we all hope for. May God be praised for her gift of new life!
It is with great sadness that I reflect on the life and passing of Sister Joanne Williams. We gathered as a community for a healing novena for Sister. It is fitting that we take a moment and recall a passage. All powerful God, creator of the heavens and the earth, we believe that you hold the world in your hands. Helpless we stand before you. We entrust ourselves to your wisdom.
Sister Joanne and I are both from St. Joan of Arc Parish. It seems like we’ve always been connected. Sister Joanne grew up here in Lisle on Maple Ave. just a mile or so from the Monastery. We started school together at St. Joan of Arc and she continued her religious education as an R.E. student with Sister De Paul. We reconnected and spent our high school years at Sacred Heart Academy.
Just as a tree goes strong when its roots are firmly planted she flourished in her religious community and her local communities and spent most of her life teaching in elementary schools. During her calling to the educational field that spanned over 24 years Sister Joanne taught in Ohio, Texas and Chicago.
Sister Joanne’s spent 10 satisfying years as a teacher and then went on to become principal of Our Lady of Lourdes in Chicago, which she quickly grew to love. At Our Lady of Lourdes she was touched by the extreme poverty of some areas of the city. After long hours as the chief executor of the school she turned her efforts to the needy. She entered into an agreement with Carson Pirie Scott to collect their excess clothing and home furnishings. She would organize her gatherings and invite the parishioners to “shop” at a greatly reduced price and then donate the proceeds back to the school.
God gifted Sister with a talent for art and she worked to receive a M.S. in Design Education. She put her talents to work creating an after school program called “Young Rembrandts” as well as becoming the Diocesan Art Coordinator for schools on Chicago’s west side. Music, another great love of hers, brought her to the parish choir. Once, while attending the funeral of the father of one of my teachers who was also a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes, I was struck by how much compassion and pure joy she brought to the music ministry. Her motto was, “Live your lives to the fullest, be happy and praise God daily.” Forever bringing the word of God to the people Sister Joanne joined Bishop Dempsey in his mission to form The Westside Cluster of Catholic Parishes, and visited various groups within these parishes.
Sister’s great devotion to the school and parish, her untiring work with both teachers and students, her deep and unselfish love for parishioners and students, were determining factors in her having been chosen as recipient of the Humanitarian Award.
In the early 90’s when the school closed, the parish priests gave each sister the gift of a vacation and for the first time Sister Joanne went on a trip accompanied by Sr. De Paul to Canada, Sea World and Disneyland. Returning from the trip of a lifetime, another challenge awaited Sister Joanne. She and Sister DePaul returned to Sacred Heart Monastery bringing along with them her cat, Sabrina. Upon her return Sister Joanne accepted the position of Hospitality Director at the Queen of Peace Center. Her outstanding attribute of hospitality kept her involved with the living facility in many different capacities. Sister Joanne did everything in her power to welcome new residents as they painfully left their own homes. She comforted and worked with them as they made the adjustment to their new lifestyles. She also served as the Alumnae Director for the Benedictine Sisters, staying in touch with all Sacred Heart Academy’s alums. Sister Joanne was so gracious, loving and gentle. Even in her final days, after recovery assistance, her response was a gentle "Thank You." Now as a community, we say "Thank You" to you for being such a gentle person. Our Benedictine community was blessed to have you as a member. So now, our beloved Sister Joanne, we ask the heavenly choir to welcome you, we ask the many residents of Queen of Peace who have journeyed on before you to see that you now enjoy your new heavenly mansion and we ask that the Lord welcome you and give you new life.
Goodbye my old friend, you were one of a kind.
May the Lord bless you.
May the Lord keep you.
May the Lord lift up His Divine countenance and bring you peace.
A reading from St. Pual's second letter to the Corinthians (9:6-15)
The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God, for the administration of this public service is not only supplying the needs of the holy ones but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God. Through the evidence of this service, you are glorifying God for your obedient confession of the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your contribution to them and to all others, while in prayer on your behalf they long for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Sister Mary Alma!
Rewind to 1954, Sister Alma’s parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and for the first time in their history Sister Immaculate, Annunciata and Alma were able to come to Colorado for a visit. What do I most remember about this experience? Sister Immaculate was a principal of Sacred Heart Academy for girls, she was tall, serious and for me intimidating. Sister Alma – where was her smile? Sister Annunciata – a gentle smile, simple, conversant with a limp as a result of polio. They were most proud of my Mom and Dad and all of us, promised us their continued prayers and said they would pray that some of us would find our way into religious life. Later, in vocation literature we found a warm smile on Sister Alma’s countenance. Wow- Alma can smile. My older sister of two years and I had thought about religious life but were quite clear that the personality of our Dominican aunt who came to visit almost yearly, played basketball with us and had a “fun’ personality would be our choice if religious life were in our future.
Fast forward to 1960, my married aunt and sister of the three sisters in Lisle wanted to gift my older sister a graduation from high school present – come to Lisle with them to help “babysit their 5 children and see Lisle. Impressed with the religious life and the Benedictine spirit of her aunts my sister asked my dad if she could return in the fall to enter religious life. My Dad was could see a plot in the graduation present as more than a gift or a baby-sitting job, and suggested that she wait a year, visit other communities and remember why she had early on divested herself of her interest in Lisle. Needless to say a year later she did enter here and I followed.
I tell this story because being a member of Sacred heart Monastery and coming to know my aunts very well has turned my first impressions and hesitations into deep appreciation both for the gift of Benedictine life and admiration for my aunts as models of Benedictine life and I now convincingly say “Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift called Sister Alma and my Benedictine way of life.”
Sister Alma, baptized Zita Bratrsovsky was born in Brainard, Nebraska, on December 10, 1917. Her first two years of high school were spent at the rural school in Touhy, Nebraska; Inspired by her sister Antoinette, a graduate of 1929, Zita decided to attend Sacred Heart Academy in her junior and senior years. Here she was loved by the Sisters as well as by the students. Quoted in the newspaper Echo, “Never in a hurry, but always thoughtful, prudent, and sensible, Zita proved to her fellow students the worth of the saying, “Slow but sure.”
Sister Alma, in telling her own story, wrote “I came to Sacred Heart Academy as a junior, and knowing that everyone would have wanted me to enter, made me very adamant and I did not want to do so. About a month before my graduation from high school, I started to think very seriously about my future. I realized that my obstinate nature obstructed my vision and stood in the way of my decision. I knew religious life was meant for me. We were poor, and did not have the money to go home and then come back, so I decided to enter on graduation day. I had won a scholarship to Mt. St. Scholastica in Atchison, but gave that up in favor of a religious vocation here at Sacred Heart.
My brother, Cyril, who knew that I had been determined not to enter, felt that there might be some coercion on the part of the sisters, so he sent my mother to my graduation to find out what it was all about.
Of course, my mother would not try to dissuade me. We had a nice visit and she returned to Nebraska without me, fully satisfied that it was my decision to enter. I entered, as planned, on June 9, 1935, and am forever grateful to Sister Coletta, my aunt, and my mother for my vocation. In her senior year Zita was vice president of her class, managing editor of the Echo, president of the Chemistry club, secretary of the Jaeger Debate club, and assistant librarian.
Sister Alma graduated from Sacred Heart Academy in 1935 and subsequently received a degree in Mathematics from DePaul University. She has served her community in many ways during her life at Sacred Heart. She was a teacher of Commercial Arts at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Chicago, math at Sacred Heart Academy and Benet Academy, and various grades in Joliet, Haugen, Wisconsin, Warren, Ohio and Fort Worth, Texas. At Illinois Benedictine College (now Benedictine University) she served 10 years as Financial Aid Director. Not quite ready for full retirement, Sister went on to work as a typist at Waste Management in Oakbrook for three more years.
Here, at home in the monastery, Sister was Sub-Prioress, Secretary, Treasurer and Community Archivist.
After a very full working life, Sister Alma enjoyed her retirement at the monastery. She stayed busy with a variety of tasks and had developed her already significant typing skills into very helpful computer skills. She helped with large mailings during the year. Sister Alma especially loved to stay in touch with relatives, friends and former students via email. Sister Alma loved to tat, an increasingly rare handwork art form, and made lovely doilies and handkerchief edgings. Her beautiful crocheted baby blankets and outfits have been treasured gifts.
Before we moved into the now Sacred Heart Monastery, Sister Alma wrote, “When, God willing, I will live to see my community in its new monastery, I will help create community within its new surroundings and I will continue to pray for those who have ministries outside the monastery. I will pray that the members of our community will, by their example, spread peace and harmony to our surrounding community and attract new members to our community.”
I did not know much about what was going on at Sacred Heart during my growing up years but I hear tell that while advisor of some of the classes at SHA some girls got away with murder and Alma was known to join in. At Alumnae gatherings she continued to be their favorite. She was always present at alumnae gatherings up to her 93rd birthday, I have heard stories that as study hall moderator she tatted as she sternly paced the floor – had a pretty good memory as one girl was known to have asked to use the bathroom two evenings in a row and was told no the second night because she had gone the night before.
While not in community, when Mother Amelia was prioress, I hear tell that Sister Alma, as sub-prioress, pretty much ran the show as Mother Amelia was often ill. They were best of friends.
Why do I say “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Sister Mary Alma!”
Well for one she is my aunt, she prayed me into this community which I love and for which I am grateful.
She has been a model to me and to our community of a generous and cheerful giver. She was very good at everything she did both at Sacred Heart Academy and in religious life. Until age 94 she remained an excellent typist. She would type anything for me, or for others, that was asked of her, she could skillfully email to me or to others what she typed, she assisted Sister Helen in the business office using excel with exactness. She liked being asked and loved doing for others. She never wasted time. At the switchboard she could be seen crocheting or tatting. Each of her family members owns a tatted rosary and many other tatted items. Late into the night she would pray the rosary with a tape or CD player while she tatted. She loved to watch football and tape the games for Sister Helen – again while she tatted. She wanted to be helpful and often asked how she could be. I called Archbishop Daniel Kucera a few days ago to apprise him of Alma’s declining health. He was most complimentary of her ten years of service to now Benedictine University as Financial Aid Director which leads me and all of us to say Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Sister Mary Alma!
She was most attentive to presence at Mass and Divine Office. Whether in the basket on her power scooter or on her walker she always had the worship aid The Word of God Among us.
Her family was most present to us. We have seen her brothers and sisters and their families often at jubilees. Now her Sister Jeanne and family is all that is left on earth. They have been most faithful to keeping in touch with telephone calls to Sister Alma, letters from her niece Mary Kaye and multiple trips to Lisle from her nieces and nephews.
Alma loved her desserts especially chocolate and ice cream. The first item on her tray for meals was always the dessert. Before Sister Afra, who was very thoughtful about seeing to Alma’s ice cream needs, went back to Africa she charged me with giving Alma ice cream at bedtime. An easy task because she was always grateful. Of course I enjoyed ice cream as well.
Alma was a late person for going to bed. Lately, I peeked in on her. One night – late- she was out of her room and I found her walking with her walker in the corridor in our St. Walburga Care Center. I said, Alma what are you still doing up? Her reply-Just what you are doing – walking the corridor – no, I am raiding the cookie jar.
Alma was good to us. She knew when to quit – be it teaching, driving, giving up jobs she loved, giving up her power scooter, her tatting and with less ease her bedroom.
So Sister Alma, we say goodbye to your earthly presence among us. You have modeled for us one who sowed and reaped bountifully. You have done it, without sadness or compulsion, for you knew that God loves a cheerful giver.
Now you are being enriched in every way for all your generosity, through the evidence of your service, you have glorified God, and we now ask you to intercede to God for our needs and we give thanks to God for you, his indescribable gift!
“To Labor is to Pray"As I struggled to put my thoughts about Sister Andrea down on paper, with pen in hand, two things came readily to mind: First - Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Once upon a time would be the other way to begin this ordinary - as well as extraordinary story of our sister, Andrea.
Born Josephine Kallus, the 4th of twelve children of Robert and Cecilia Kallus in a story book hamlet called Hostyn, Texas. Josephine lived an idyllic childhood as a farmer/rancher's daughter helping out at home and with her brother's and sisters. Out of this inner rhythm and harmony of a close family came the "extraordinary call" for Josephine and 4 of her sisters, to become Benedictines here at Sacred Heart.
Sister Andrea came to live with us at the age of 19 in April of 1936 after hearing about the Benedictine Sisters, their ministries and their commitment to hospitality, from two priests who traveled to her home parish from St. Procopius College.
From her gentle beginning in that small town overlooking the Colorado River, Sister Andrea brought her talents for care and comfort to St. Procopius College, St Joseph Orphanage, St. Joan of Arc, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Benedict's Home for the Aged in Niles and Holy Mount in Cicero.
For thirty years, until her retirement from St. Joan of Arc Parish, Sister Andrea shared her quiet elegance and gifts in the culinary arts with her family in Christ. One can't help but envision her performing duties with much grace as sacristan for the church where she moved almost silently cleaning the sanctuary, taking care of the altar and providing clean church linens, setting the table of the Lord with skill and determination. From God's earth to His table Sister Andrea provided the sisters, priests and staff of the parish with delicious meals and baked creations. Each weekend she brought mouth watering houska and kolachky to the priests and sisters. After her retirement, Sister took up the stewardship of the land and worked to make the world a better place with her recycling efforts.
A gentlewoman with a quiet, unassuming manner, Sister Andrea accomplished much in a loving and giving way. Living according to the Rules of St. Benedict Sister Andrea showed great concern and care "...in the reception of the poor and of pilgrims" where she showed "the greatest care and solicitude because it is especially in them that Christ is received..." Sharing her ministry even more, Sister managed to be an active participant in the Ministry to the Homebound, using her free time to share her rare gift of comfort with those parishioners who needed a listening ear.
Finding grace in daily living depends on how much we participate in finding it. Sister Andrea was always engaged, sought out God's presence, and found grace in the process - along with a surge of energy, as well. When I think of Sister Andrea, I think of her hands; they were much like my mother's hands and just looking at them brought comfort and wonderful memories. With her hands Sister Andrea put her heart, spirit, thought and love of the Lord into action. I've always looked at the table as a sacred space for everyone in community to give thanks and to come together, both as individuals and as community. I will never look at a well dressed table without thinking of Sister's Andrea's gifts and talents.
Sisters table was the extension of the Eucharistic Table. In the Eucharist we are fed. At the Monastic table we are both spiritually and physically fed. Especially when the bread is hearty and good, the meal enables us to taste and see that the Lord is with us.
Sister Andrea brought hearty bread and plates ripe with the Lord's bounty to the table. She said of herself, "My special joy is cooking and has been my main ministry throughout my religious life."
When word came to me that Sister had died I said a heartfelt prayer and went in search of my copy of Shel Silverstein's “The Giving Tree.” When I think of the tree in the story it reminds me of Sister Andrea. It always has. How she gave and gave and gave, asked nothing in return and then gave some more - and how in the end she was happy.
Some time ago, Sister was anointed and she told the nurse she was happy - and would be busy; that she was going far away and that she would be very busy. The nurse questioned her, "Where are you going, Sister Andrea?" "I'm going to heaven." Sister answered. But we all know that Sister was too busy to go. The energizer bunny just would not quit and she kept going. That is how I want to remember her - always going……now gone to heaven with so many things to do when she arrived.
There are but a handful of people who come into our world, and touch our lives in a dramatic fashion. Some are just flickers of light during a long life, while others are consistent and glow for years. Sister Andrea was a constant shinning star. Her way of giving, of comforting, and her zest for life along with her quiet peacefulness are an example to all. Sister Andrea was born from God's circle of light. She lived her entire life as a spark from that Great Light. She has now returned to the Great Light.
But the Lord will be your everlasting light, And your God will be your glory. "Isaiah 60.19
Bless you Sister Andrea and all who are here today. May the light of the Lord and the spark that is Sister Andrea shine in all of you.
These words were well imprinted on Sister Margaret’s mind. It was with attentive verbalization that Margaret would repeat with us these words as we put her to bed during these last, declining years of her earthly life. Though her verbal responses of late were minimal, the remembrance of the “Our Father” truly portrayed her innate understanding of who God was for her.
Margaret Bebb was born on October 30, 1926 in Wichita Falls, Texas. The story of her life is truly, a magnificent unfolding of God’s plan for her. Being the only girl and the youngest child in her family, she was brought up by devoted parents, Kenneth and Gertrude Bebb and two protective, older brothers, Edwin and Kenneth who both became surgeons. She, on the contrary, was not meant for the world of medicine but to be a music teacher of prominence. At age six she began taking piano lessons and later studied the cello as well. She received her Master’s degree in Musicology from Texas State College for Women and then was on the faculty of the music department at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. It was from there that she met Mademoiselle Gousseau, the renowned concert pianist from Paris who was on tour in the Dallas area and Margaret was asked to accompany her on the tour. At a French restaurant in Dallas, over French cuisine, Mademoiselle Gousseau suggested that Margaret would come to Paris to study with her. Margaret was surprised at such an offer and with excited delight was wondering how this could happen. The next day she was in her brothers’ medical offices to determine how she could bring about this miracle. Her brothers knew a millionaire cowboy, an oil man who could lend her money, interest free and when her brothers asked him, he offered her a sufficient sum of money for her two year expenses, which when she returned she gratefully paid him back in monthly installments.
Little did she know how much her life would change from this point on. So, from 1954-1956, in the National Paris Conservatory, she was spending six hours a day practicing piano and going to or performing in numerous concerts. In her autobiography, she states “those were two fantastic years. I knew they were God’s gift to me”. She loved living close to Mademoiselle Gousseau’s brother’s family of nine children. The Gousseau family’s Christian example had a great influence on her. The children were creative and bright and would often put on short plays for her. The family was Catholic and she was inspired by the family’s devotion to their Catholic faith. She decided to join the Catholic Church while in Paris. She said the Church ceremony of her acceptance to the Catholic faith was all in French and she didn’t understand a word of it. She would need to learn more about the Catholic faith when she came back to the States.
I was stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas at Our Lady Queen of Peace school, when Margaret had just come back from her two-years in Paris. Her conversion to Catholicism did not sit well with her family especially with her Mother. She greatly needed a Catholic, support group of friends so she first came to us and was a frequent visitor. With our Benedictine Sisters’ guidance, she soon joined our parish choir, later became the organist and you can imagine how much our admiring parishioners loved her musical talent. Always emphasizing the importance of enunciating well every sung word in proclaiming the Gospel message, the choir became perfected under her direction. She also started a boys’ choir and taught music in our school staying in touch with the spirit of the Catholic faith. As a cello player in the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra, she would offer us free tickets for their concerts.
Her visits with our Benedictine Sisters continued to be frequent and when asked to visit with us at Sacred Heart Monastery in Lisle, she jumped for it. There was something drawing her closer to a dedicated life and she wanted to experience our daily horarium. In 1962-1969, Margaret became a member of our Benedictine community. With her Mother’s death in 1969, it was her decision to leave in order to take care of her beloved Father. However, Margaret and her Father would visit us in the summers as her heart remained in Lisle. After her Father died, in 1988, Margaret told her private music students and their parents that she had plans to re-enter the Benedictines. She then distributed all her goods and responded whole heartedly to God’s call to make her monastic profession. Continuing her musical teaching background, she was invited to teach music at Benedictine University and also gave private music lessons. In her history of giving piano lessons she not only taught music but related well with her students, listening to them and counseling them in their character formation as well. She was a brilliant woman who led her students to excel in their musical talents many of whom were winners in state competitions and would become professional musicians.
In 1992, Sister Margaret received her Master’s Degree in Religious Studies from Mundelein College in Chicago and received an assistantship to work on the development of the Center for Women and Peace. Bringing her knowledge back to the Monastery, she became involved in the formation of the peace and justice ministry of the Sisters. She was given the charge of the PADS program (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) and this program, in our DuPage County, was hosted by our Sisters on Thursday nights when homeless guests came to our Monastery gym for food and shelter for the night. Sister Margaret worked hard with the volunteers; teaching them to see Jesus in the homeless as he also walked the streets and depended on people to feed Him. It was a charitable work and Sister Margaret was at her best making sure the guests had gloves, warm socks and caps to keep them warm as they spent their days out in the cold. She did this until we began our construction project for Villa S. Benedict. Around 2004, Sister Margaret was aware of her failing memory but kept up with helping in many ways. She helped take care of the dining room, folded laundry, worked on word games and puzzles, listened to music and kept following our daily horarium of prayer and meals. Slowly, her memory kept declining but always she accepted her cross graciously. We all loved to tease her and make her smile. Her winning smile was a trademark of her joyful, loving spirit. In the last few years, she could no longer do the things she was able to do but she was in her world of dreams when listening to music, whether of the classical greats like Mozart or Beethoven or Pachelbel but even the contemporary greats like Andrea Bocelli, El Divo, Josh Grobin and many others. She retained her deep-seated love for music and would respond to the sound of music, often by tapping her toes or swinging her fingers as if directing an orchestra.
We loved her and will miss her bodily presence. However, our faith tells us she is with her loving Savior singing the praises of God and loving it. In thanksgiving for her full and wonder-filled life we will continue to sing God’s praises with her: “Come; let us sing joyfully to the Lord. Let us joyfully sing out our psalms. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice. For the Lord has come to save us.”
As Jesus was going around selecting his apostles he saw Nathanael coming toward him and he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him. Nathanael said, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel." Sister Roberta’s character was quite similar to that of Nathanael. Jesus too would say of her, “Here is a true child of God, there is no duplicity in her.” She would then say, “How do you know me?” Jesus would reply, “I have known you from your birth; you have been precious in my eyes,” and she would respond, “Jesus, You are the Son of God; You have been born for us to be our Savior and to be the King of all the nations.
Those of us who knew Sister Roberta well, know that she was a true-blue child of God, there was no guile in her. This purity of heart was evident especially in her last days. She was completely centered on God and was very appreciative of others. As her admiring family circled around her recliner chair in St. Walburga’s Care Center here last Sunday; in a presiding mode, she delivered her “state of belief” address. She told them that God was going to call her home soon. She instructed them to remain pleasing to God and always do God’s will. She reminded them that she loved them and that they would see each other again after the resurrection of the dead when they would all live together for all eternity. Then as the family prayed for her, she interrupted them saying, “Let us also pray for world peace.” Her reassuring speech was a touching manifestation of her profound faith. That evening as we were positioning her to make her comfortable for the night, she thanked us for the good care we had given her and said she loved us all. A few minutes later she drew her last breath being welcomed into the arms of her merciful Savior. It was the feast of the Epiphany, January 3, 2010.
In 1956, I first got to know Sister Roberta. First of all, five of us Sisters were assigned for a new school at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Wichita Falls, Texas. On meeting with the Monsignor Pastor when we arrived there, he asked who of us could play the organ. All of us agreed we could find middle C on the piano and one Sister proudly announced she could play Chop-Sticks with two hands. That was not good news for the Monsignor so he went back to the rectory and called the Reverend Mother here in Lisle. Two days later Sister Roberta, who had barely made her first profession, arrived to be not only the organist but also a school teacher. With Sister’s arrival we were a happy community of six and, of course, the pastor was most happy to have an organist.
After five years in Texas, Sister Roberta was always missioned from now on with a double ministry as organist and teacher. She served at Our Lady of Lourdes School and later St. Vitas School in Chicago and then at Sacred Heart Academy and stayed at Benet Academy in Lisle for over 20 years. Since 1968, Sister Roberta helped as part time organist at our monastery and some years later became full time along with being choir director, composer and compiler of music for the Sisters’ Liturgy of the Hours and the organist for the daily Mass attended by the Sisters and later as well, by the Villa St. Benedict Residents.
Sister Roberta had received her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from St. Procopius College and a Master’s degree in Mathematics from Boston College. This was her background for teaching Math at Benet Academy and it also accounted for her measured preciseness and good stewardship in everything she did.
Her desire for advancement in music was evident when in 1991 she began working for her second major in music with a concentration on Piano Pedagogy at Benedictine University. This gave her credibility to give private music lessons. Her greatest love, however, was to be able to play the piano and organ well for the Liturgy. She was a member of the Benedictine Musicians of America an organization that meets biennially for the development of worship in the light of the Second Vatican Council. The thrust of this group is to encourage musicians to be men and women of prayer and to be faithful to the Benedictine legacy. Though Sister Roberta never made a big deal about it, one of her compositions entitled “I Will Sing Forever of Your Kindness and of Your Love, O Lord” was accepted for publication by the Benedictine Musicians of America. Many of the antiphons we use in the Liturgy of the Hours are her compositions as well. Perhaps the most beautiful are those she composed for the feast of St. Scholastica.
In her modesty, Sister Roberta would never have considered herself as a remarkable organist but I believe she was. In 2005, using our new digital organ for the re-dedication of our chapel, her performance was outstanding. When I complimented her saying that her organ playing sounded like a full orchestra, she responded, “I didn’t play alone, I had Divine Assistance.” However, due to her failing health in the last few years, she lacked the energy needed for this awesome, daily task but she continued to push herself to do it as best as she could.
Besides being gifted in music and mathematics, Sister Roberta loved to go fishing. Almost every summer she would go fishing with her friend Noreen in Wisconsin. Other times when she went on vacation with her Sister Betty’s family, even if her family didn’t schedule a fishing trip, she herself would conjure up someone who would rent her a boat. It was her time to relax, catch some blue gills and maybe meet the Lord in person on the lake.
For Sister Roberta now, her earthly days are done, and now her desire to please God has taken on a new, unbroken day of love, light and peace. We took her for granted when she was with us but now, we miss the faithfulness she had for her ministry and her gentleness of spirit. We are blessed to have had her as our Sister. To quote one of her favorite psalms of praise and thanksgiving, we pray with her now;
"Life Steeped in the 'mysticism' of the 'ordinary' daily human experiences"
These words were written by Sister Celine as the last verse of a thank you note to her family and our community. Before I read her note of thanks, let me reflect on her life based on a Magnificat she also wrote during retreat in 1988.
“My soul exults and rejoices in you Yahweh my Savior. You bestowed countless blessings on me--- and always held me in the palm of your hand.”
“What a beautiful day! The sky is blue; the sun is shining….One day closer to spring”.
These words Celine often spoke at breakfast table in the last few months of her life. She longed for the beauty of the new growth of spring and the brightness of the new day sun. The beauty inside the monastic walls, the decorations in chapel and the outside world always touched her. Her love of nature took her for many a walk outside with Sister Margaret or going on a trip with Villa St Benedict, St Joan of Arc Golden Agers, the Park District to the Flower Show or through Morton Arboretum as the seasons changed. She traveled to different parts of the world with her sister, Cele, enjoying the beauty of each trip. She loved singing praise to God, whether it was singing the “Easter Alleluias”, leading prayer as a cantor, taking her science classes on a nature hike, walking to the Grotto with the sisters in the novitiate to sing a Gelineau Psalm or visiting Father Gilbert and his many rose bushes at St Procopius Academy. Her dedication to community involvement, community prayer, singing in choir and lectio was a constant. These were many ways for her to express her joy and love. Yes, her soul still exults in the Lord.
“You have given me the loving and stable support of my community and my family and friends.”
Sister Celine Laketek, (Rose) was the fifth of six children born to Czech immigrants, John and Frances Laketek on February 12, 1920 in Chicago, Illinois. She is preceded in death by her parents, 2 brothers, Father Victor and Father Gilbert of St Procopius Abbey; and two sisters, Anne Kment and Mary Binder. Her sister Cele remains as the sole survivor of this close knit family. They grew up in the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago, a community closely connected with their church, St Vitus. Almost every corner had a church of a different ethnic back ground; even today you identify yourself by the church you belonged to. She was taught by the Benedictines at St Vitus Grade School and came to Lisle to attend Sacred Heart Academy along with her sister, Cele. Sister Celine’s aunt, Sister Josephine Prince and a cousin, Sister Dolorosa were Benedictines and that’s how she came to be introduced to the monastery. She entered Sacred Heart Monastery in August 1937, making her Monastic Profession on August 15, 1939.As a child Celine grew up during the Depression. When her father lost his job, the family became very poor. Yet her mother always had something extra for a neighboring family that might also be struggling. The concept of taking care of and being with her sisters in community began with family influence. It was very important to Celine to have a connection with community. She spent many a day or night sitting with a sister that was hospitalized. She regularly visited the sick and did pop in visits to the Benedale residents. If only a couple minutes, she stopped in to reassure them that someone remembered them and was praying for them. If we had guests she made sure she introduced herself and talked with them. She made weekly phone calls to friends that lived alone, making a connection and promising to pray for them.
In her most recent years Celine would often say, “Don’t get old, it’s no fun.” She had her share of surgeries throughout the years. Celine was very private about her own well being; in fact she thought it was none of our business. On one occasion she went to the hospital for a serious surgery and probably told only the Prioress about it. As she was leaving with a small suitcase to go to the hospital, one of the sisters told her to have a good time, not knowing she was having major surgery! As the aging process caught up with her, she dealt with a loss of hearing. Hearing aids and she were not good friends. I remember her telling me a few times how lonely she felt because she couldn’t hear the conversations at table. She wanted to be connected with us. Celine always gave her piece of wisdom to us. It would be highly unusual for her not to make a comment at the dining room table or a community meeting.
Sister Geraldine is a lifelong friend. They grew up together, went to the same schools and entered the convent together. They remained good friends throughout the years. Recently Sister Geraldine wrote to Celine “The last time I came to Lisle you and I came to the realization that our earthly sojourn some day will end, and we said our good-byes, knowing well that we would never see each other again. Now, Celine, it seems your strife is almost over and your battle has been won. I wish I could be with you in person for this last journey. We’ve walked a long way together and I trust we will one day be together again.” “Let us continue to pray for each other as we always have. If we do this, our friendship will reach its fulfillment in the love of God and his holy mother. Yes, family, community and friends were her love and support.
“You have guided me in the various ministries of my life. I believe in your unconditional love. I entrust my life and all those I hold as precious to your faithful love.”
Sister Celine started her teaching career in 1939 at St Michael’s Grade School and then moved on to Holy Mount, St Joseph Orphanage and the Junior High at Sacred Heart Academy. Gifted will a good mind, she studied at and received a Bachelor’s of Science degree from St Louis University. She then taught Biology for 3 years at Sacred Heart Academy until she was asked to be the Novice Mistress. For 16 years she helped form those who entered our community. We all have many stories to tell, whether it was working in the garden, dusting chapel, working in the laundry, climbing apple trees, picking beans, doing dishes or having class with Sister Mistress. We learned the liturgical year and all the feasts; read “Little Placid”, studied the Rule and learned Gregorian chant. It had to be a proud moment when each of her understudies became professed as a part of this community.
With the change of administration, Celine went back to teaching Junior High students in Queen of Peace School, Wichita Falls, Texas, St Joan of Arc, Lisle and St James the Apostle, Glen Ellyn.
One of the loves of her life was reading. Her sister Cele tells of the times they would go to the library to bring back arm loads of books. When asked what they would do with all those books, they answered “Read them!” When they couldn’t find any more good books at one library they would go to another library to fill their appetite for reading. With this in mind, it is no wonder that Celine would go on to study Library Science, getting a Masters Degree at Rosary College and then spent 10 years as Librarian at St Joan of Arc School. While still at St Joan of Arc, she was also the Sub Prioress and house coordinator at the monastery. It was during this time that she saw a need to take care of our retired and aging sisters. Knowing she would need some training for this work she went by train to Hinsdale Hospital School of Nursing to become an LPN and then worked in the infirmary for many years. She also extended her services to the local community as she went on a regular basis to the Park District to take blood pressure for the senior citizens.
Always knowing the importance of being active and moving around, Celine took an exercise course called Body Recall. She would have exercises with our infirm sisters and also with the Assisted Living residents. She would have the group “catching butterflies, playing the piano, or tossing a sponge ball to help keep their muscles toned. She knew that even if you are infirmed and in a wheelchair, there still are exercises that can help you. This also became another way for her to mingle with and be present to the Villa St Benedict residents.
In the final chapter of her ministerial life, Celine was the community archivist. She worked many hours organizing our history. A special bulletin board was put up in the 1st floor hallway of the new monastery so that she could display pictures of our farm, early building projects, snake hill (Maple Avenue), the original convent building and grounds, the chapel old and new. She wanted us to always remember the past and the sisters who got us here. Yes, Celine was given many opportunities for enrichment and studies; these blessings she turned into going the extra mile to use her talents and energy for her community, Villa St. Benedict residents, family and friends.
And as a final thank you, Sister Celine wrote the following words. (I quote): “I am grateful to God for the years spent in the service of the church in this community.I thank all my OSB Sisters for their love and support. I am grateful to my family for their steadfast and caring presence in all life and for their unfailing goodness to me at all times. My appreciation for my community and family has, indeed, increased through the years. I thank God for the gift of a simple, unheroic life and for the grace to be of service to others. My life has been steeped in the “mysticism” of the “ordinary” daily human experiences.”
Sister Celine, we thank you for your faithfulness and ever present love to all of us. Yes, as Sister Geraldine said “we’ve walked a long way together”. May you rest in peace!
It started early in life, this love for chocolates. Knowing Virgie’s weakness for them, her mother made sure that they were kept out of sight and out of reach, the urge for sweets would not be that tempting. The old-fashioned walk-in pantry with high shelves was thought to be a safe place. However, little Virgie was not going to be defeated when it came to indulge in a Fannie Mae. She therefore instigated her brother Chuck to help in the conspiracy. “I’ll boost you up and you get the box,” she told him. As the climb was about to be completed, Virgie suddenly heard her mother’s footsteps. Quick as a flash, Virgie took to flight, leaving poor Chuck hanging in mid-air, forcing him to take the punishment for the attempted chocolate robbery.
This example leads me into showing the sweetness and happy disposition of her life. Happiness, which is the meaning of her family name, was truly lived. She was born and raised by her parents, Charles and Mary Vesely in Cicero, and attended St. Francis of Rome Grammar School. On occasion she attended church services at Our Lady of the Mount. High school days were spent at Sacred Heart Academy. Here she observed the lifestyle of the Sisters. After graduation she decided to make her home with them, and so serve the Lord in prayer and work, under a new name, that of Sister Charlotte. Her beautiful voice was an asset to the community choir. At any given moment she was able to sing and carry the tune.
Sister Charlotte was trained, disciplined and exercised in performing many tasks. I’ll mention a few. At Sacred Heart Academy, she sponsored the freshmen, to whom she endeared herself. Her jolly and friendly ways uplifted their spirits, especially when they felt the absence of home and dear ones.
Later she was to be sent to Texas. At first this was thought to be a hardship. Going to the state of Texas with only one companion and to be a pioneer to a new mission, felt impossible. However, her qualms and fears quickly vanished. With a smile on her face and a concealed tear, she and Sister Raphael headed out to Texas where they were received with open arms. St. George’s Parish was not to be their home for the next several years.
St. Thomas’s another Texas mission was the fortunate recipient of her talents. Here, her gift of music was put to work. Many hours were spent in choir practice, thus producing beautiful singing. At the same time she managed to keep a full-time teaching schedule. Never the less, work did not prevent her from having a good time. She found ways and means to bring cheer at the end of a busy day. The holidays were also a delight. St. Nick and his angel always managed to bring gifts and yuletide joy.
Her ambition and knowledge led her to greater heights. Taking the opportunity of being school supervisor, she visited classrooms and also prepared young Sisters to enter the field of education with vim and vigor. Sister Charlotte also gave many years of faithful service to St. Mary of Celle Parish in Berwyn. As principal and organist she again experienced success. Her method to gain the love and respect of children was not a chocolate, but an open door to her office. The cure for a culprit or sick child was an aspirin, band aid, lolly pop or a kind word of encouragement. This was the soothing, sweet chocolate milk-shake that brought comfort or healing.
Sister Charlotte’s disposition enabled her to meet challenges bravely and cheerfully. Time came again to prove her courage. Benet Academy opened its door to have her impart the knowledge of English and Literature to classes of jolly teenagers. Like the intake of a cool chocolate drink, she found her task refreshing.
The high light of her life was to be elected Prioress of this community. Was this to be her crown of glory? Only time would tell. Tough, difficult, changing times prevailed. Her desire and determination spirited her to go forth and forge in a field that would flourish and prosper. She persevered and served successfully and untiringly for twelve years.
Pain and suffering spare no one. Sister Charlotte was not exempt. Powerlessness to move about and the partial loss of sight, confined her to a wheelchair. This was not sweet milk-chocolate, but rather that of dark bitter sweetness. Still her positive attitude, cheerful spirit and perhaps the indulgence of a chocolate allowed her to remain light-hearted and happy. Often, she was seen with a smile on her face and a song in her heart. She knew that the Christ within her was always the Master. He was her true life, strength, sight, peace and well-being. She trusted the working of her heavenly Father. She let go and allowed Him to do His work. Because of her patient endurance, may this queen be rewarded with a crown of gems, brightened by the gold of her pleasant smile and good works.
May St. John Bosco and all the Saints welcome her to the heavenly confectionery to enjoy everlasting sweetness.
As a tribute to her, let us become a radiating center of divine love and bring peace and harmony to those we meet. Let us be that yummy chocolate that spreads joy and good will wherever we go. Dear friends, should you indulge in a sweet milk-chocolate, please think of Sister Charlotte and remember her in prayer, and keep smiling.
Fifth Prioress of Sacred Heart Monastery from 1973-85, Sister Mary Charlotte Vesely died on November 14, 2008, at the age of 90. The Wake was held at Sacred Heart Monastery on Sunday, November 16 with the Mass of Resurrection and burial taking place on Monday, November 17.
The daughter of Charles and Mary Vesely, members of St. Frances of Rome Parish in Cicero, Virginia Vesely had one sibling, Charles, now deceased. She is survived by two nieces, Carla (Bob) Priban of Normal, Il. and Mary Ann (Joseph) Franks of Bolingbrook, IL. Her nephew, Mark (P.A.) lives in Cypress, TX.
A graduate of Sacred Heart Academy in 1935, Sister entered the Benedictines that same year, and made final monastic profession in 1937. Earning a B.S. in English from St. Scholastica College in Atchison, KS, and an M.A. in Education from DePaul University in Chicago, Sister Charlotte had a long career in education as teacher and principal. Sister Charlotte taught English, Voice and Music at Sacred Heart Academy. She was also involved with the Minim Department, where she taught Sacred Heart Academy’s elementary age students in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Sister Charlotte’s teaching career took her to Ft. Worth, Texas, where she opened up St. George School. She also served as the principal of St. Mary of Celle School in Berwyn, Illinois, and taught English at Benet Academy for five years. In 1973, she was elected Prioress and ministered to the Benedictine Sisters in that capacity for twelve years. Under her leadership, the community renovated the Academy in 1977 to be used as the monastery. Gifted with a beautiful singing voice, Sister Charlotte was a faithful cantor and choir member at the monastery. Following her years as Prioress, Sister Charlotte worked in Benet Academy’s Alumni Office and spent two years on the staff of Villa St. Benedict.
When we come to Community we leave behind our families and become members of a greater family. Most of us have lived together here at Sacred Heart for over 40 years. Perhaps we could conclude that our “desert years” have taught us to love and cherish each member. We have had time to meet each others families, identify each other’s gifts, pray together the Divine Office, eat at the table of the Lord numerous times, and celebrate each others successes. Together we witness the love of God through our hospitality to family, friends and strangers. While all days are not perfect as we see them, all days bring us graces to continue in this Benedictine way.
Sister was a true friend to me as well as to you. She was born in Seymour, Texas and named Mary Georgia. She is welcomed into heaven by her parents, her brothers Wence, Timothy and Frank and her sister Angela. Before entering this community she worked as a bookkeeper for a roofing company and a cashier for a jewelry store in Wichita Falls. She also attended a nearby college for classes in accounting.
Marcie loved to teach whether it was elementary grades, high school or college she put forth great effort to do it well. She especially liked teaching at Benet…Business Law, Typing and Accounting. Her greatest joy in her studies was the attainment of the title Certified Public Accountant (CPA). In community she felt honored to have been asked to share her talents as Treasurer, a job she never considered taxing. She helped me set up our first journals for the Queen of Peace Center, while she was learning to put her journals on our first computer system. Without her aid we surely would have struggled to meet our deadlines.
Marcie didn’t work all the time, though it seemed so. She loved to get outside either to walk around our grounds or to plant and care for a number of our garden areas. She loved to bake bread and pies, often spending precious time in the kitchen around holidays. She was not a reader, per se, but she loved to listen to tapes, especially those “self-help” tapes – why? Because she always felt the need to improve herself. She also listened to CD’s with a spiritual message.
While hospitality is our mission, Marcie’s hospitality extended beyond this Monastery. If she attended a Rotary function, Eyes to the Skies, a Dinner/Dance at St. Mary’s, a golf outing dinner, she was the one who put on an apron and went around selling raffle tickets. She really couldn’t sit still and loved making conversation with others.
When her term as Treasurer ended, some thought she would retire. However, Marcie needed to be busy. She still had much to give. With God’s help, she answered an ad to use her talents assisting Naperville ENT and truly loved to be with the Piazza’s, all the doctors, and Mike, Marilyn, Gina, and was blessed to receive hugs from Sally and Dominic when they visited the office. Leaving them was a very difficult day for her.
Marcie was as astounded as we when she learned that she had liver cancer. When we thought that she might not make it through the surgery, she surprised us by responding well. She coped with chemotherapy and, when told that the tumor’s growth could not be controlled by chemo any more, she submitted to hospice care. She faithfully attended the Divine Office and Mass each day, often praying the rosary with the Villa residents.
For Marcie who loved life, delighted in dog sitting (a true animal lover at heart), enjoyed a game of tri-ominos, laughed at crazy things, may she rest in the loving arms of the Lord. She has truly prepared well during her journey here on earth. She leaves behind her nieces Ranee and Theresa, and her nephew Mike and their families. For us, we have yet another saint in heaven who will lovingly accept us when it is our turn to end this pilgrimage.
Sister Mary Louise Hartwig, OSB, fourth prioress of the Benedictine Sisters in Lisle died at the age of 93 on September 4, 2007.
From St. Vitus Parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Illinois Agnes Hartwig attended Sacred Heart Academy in Lisle. After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Loyola University, Sister taught at Sacred Heart Academy and grade schools until 1947. Sister then to moved to assuming leadership roles as Treasurer and Prioress until 1973. After her term in office she returned to the educational field and parish work as secretary and organist at Holy Trinity Parish in Haugen Wisconsin until 1985, when she retired.
A highlight of Sister’s career was receiving certification for transcribing Braille for the blind, and then working as a volunteer to assist them. Sister also enjoyed assisting with the PADS Program (Public Assistance to Deliver Shelter) for the homeless. Sister served as the editor of the Lisle Benedictine Women during the 70’s.
After funeral services on Saturday, September 8th, Sister Mary Louise was buried in St. Scholastica Cemetery on the monastery grounds. Surviving members of her family are her brother Edward, nephew Brother Louis Hurcik, CSC and nieces Mary Lou Johnson, & Valerie Navarre.
As a former teacher, Sister Generosa taught us some valuable lessons by her living example since she returned home from the nursing facility a year and a half ago.
The first lesson she taught us was to respect her life. Due to the loss of her cognitive functions of memory and rational speech, and her inability to walk because of her crippled legs, she was totally dependent on others. She must have been aware, to some degree, of the physical hardships she was experiencing. A normal question for her would have been, “What was there to live for?” In our mindset of faith, however, we knew that God had given Sister Generosa the gift of life and she in turn gave us the gift of her disabled life. It was for us to learn to see the suffering Savior in her. We were to care for her by keeping in mind the day of our own judgment before God when we will be asked: “What did you do for the least of my Sisters and Brothers?” The second lesson she taught us was that peace and happiness are the result of embracing God’s will. A sense of peace and joy were the expression on Sister’s face as she dozed daily in her chair in the infirmary lounge. Passersby would remark at how angelic she looked. On awakening she would often smile and show recognition with her eyes of whoever was near. At times, she would try to speak though it was not understandable. Sometimes she would giggle and since we were unaware of what she was laughing about, we surmised it must have been a funny joke an angel had just whispered to her.
The third lesson she taught us was that God looks at the sincerity of one’s heart not so much at high sounding words. The saying that when a baby babbles, God becomes ecstatic and interprets the babbling to be a grateful song of praise from this little creature. In the same way, Sister Generosa, in her child-like innocence, would chant a repetitious babble in the evening which sometimes sounded as if she were campaigning for Obama, bama, bama. However, God hears things differently than humans do and must have been very pleased to hear her mantra chant of praise.
The fourth lesson she taught us was that we do not belong to this world. The world no longer had a hold on her. Often when she was being fed, she would stop and gaze toward the ceiling, sometimes blinking her eyes as if celestial beings were present in her visual field. She no longer had any interest in daily events, stories or music. She was totally immersed in a world of tranquility, and in her vulnerability, God was slowly carrying her away from us over the eternal bridge to that wonderful place of blessing.
Then, what homework did she assign? She assigned only one thing and that was for us to be her friends. In other words, to confirm her human dignity by feeding her when she was hungry, keeping her clean and comfortable, visiting and consoling her when she was lonely or crying, and above all, praying for her, thereby keeping her directed toward God, her one and only desire. We are grateful for what Sister Generosa taught us and we praise God for taking her away from us on the feast of the Immaculate Conception since in her lifetime she was so devoted to the Blessed Mother. We visualize her now as God’s precious soul in total rapture as she worships God in spirit and in truth. May she enjoy God’s promise of immeasurable happiness where divine and human love dwell in fullness forever. Amen.