Friday, March 7, 2008

What the garden is teaching me...

I planted tulips in November – red and yellow ones, according to the package. I’ve never planted anything in my life so I’ve been a bit worried about them. I did read the instructions and made sure to put them in right-side up. I had hoped that they’d be blooming by the time we got back from Rome. Now, part of my morning routine is peaking out the back door to see if there are any signs of life. Sister Charlotte has been encouraging me – telling me not to worry and that they’ll come when it’s time. She was right! There are a few teeny-tiny little stalks peeking up through the soil. The leaves look distinctly tulip-like, even in miniature. Somehow, the sight of them beginning to surface has filled my heart with hope.

As we move through our Lenten journey, immersing ourselves in the Paschal Mystery, we strain for a glimpse of the resurrection. It would seem that our loving GOD has woven the strands of hope into the creation itself. The St. Louis Jesuits sing, “Wood hath hope. When it’s cut, it grows green again and its boughs sprout clean again. Wood hath hope.” (The album titled after this song was one of my favorites in high school. The poetry touched me even then…the possibility of life everywhere in GOD’s brilliant plan.)

Today, we know now that even the smallest particles of a cell contain the recipe for life. Snowflakes and fractals reveal the uniqueness of all living things – the dynamism and beauty of Architect's blueprint. The whole cycle of nature – seasons that move toward death, then reveal new life hidden beneath the surface…the dark of night that yields to the power and beauty of the dawn. The prophet Isaiah confirms the plan for our blessing. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it (55:10-12).”

Tomorrow morning, Sister Andrea and I will journey to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to celebrate the resurrection of our friend, Sister Mary Paul. We will weep with her sisters and sing a song of praise to our GOD who, from the beginning of time itself, spoke the WORD who is life – Jesus, the Christ – in whom all suffering and joy find meaning.

Blessings and love to you all…

- Sister Vicki

PS – Look for a new blog on Sunday…

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Saint Gertrude Convent: Monastery in Miniature

I have two bedrooms and two offices - a very unusual circumstance, but part of living "on mission" in Richmond. At first glance the convent in Richmond is VERY different from the monastery. It is a house rather than an ecclesial structure. It had bedrooms that are probably 4x's the size of our rooms at Bristow. Here, I get to take out the garbage on Monday evening and grocery shop every other week. Saint Gertrude Convent is clearly a more domestic space. But, anyone who enters this space will sense something different going on - an unusual focus, a differently reality. Our house is a monastery in miniature.

We have a small oratory, or prayer space, where we three pray the Liturgy of the Hours - the same office being prayed by our sisters in Bristow. We have a dining room where the common meal is shared every evening. We share the "charges" here - everyone does the dishes and answers the phone. We take turns cooking Sunday dinner and rotate liturgical ministries - reading, planning hymns, presiding. Although our house is clearly a home, it is also the domus Dei - house of God.

I'll admit I was a little worried about how life would be here. I knew shifting from 35 sisters to 3 would be challenging. But, I've been surprised by how GOD makes a way for these changes in our lives. It seems that wherever my sisters are is home. As long as Sister Andrea and Sister Charlotte are here, I'm living community. Some refer to this as "stability of the heart" - our promise to live in THIS monastic community, with THESE particular women. Whether I am in my 8x10 room in the monastery or planting tulip bulbs in the backyard in Richmond, I am home.

It helps - markedly - that I have two of everything these days: two sets of office books, bed sheets, towels, and toiletries. It really helps not having to haul everything back and forth every time I return to the monastery. And here, I can eat my breakfast with my Spiderman cereal bowl and spoon every morning. (OK, over-sharing here, but it is a special joy.)

I love living with Sister Andrea and Sister Charlotte. I missed them so much while I was in Rome. Living "on mission" allows us to get to know sisters in new way and forge loving relationships. I am also missing our Sister Gertrude who lived here in Richmond for many years but went to glory in December. Her room is empty now...only three glasses to fill at dinner. I miss her smile and her listening heart. But, if I hadn't been sent to Richmond last September, I wouldn't be able to say that I really loved her. Isn't GOD good?

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A death in the "family"...

Sister Mary Paul McLaughlin, OSB, died last night. A Benedictine Sister of Ridgely, MD, Sister Mary Paul gave her life to GOD in the ministry of community and in service to the Gospel. The sisters of Saint Gertrude's Monastery, her family and friends are grieving this sudden and tragic loss. The Benedictine Sisters of Virginia send healing love and prayers to our sisters on the Eastern Shore.

It’s a very small monastic world. As my interactions with other American Benedictines became more frequent in initial formation and, in recent years through ministry, this sense of the scope and breadth of our monastic life has grown. Our study in Rome has only confirmed this reality and expanded my experience of the global monastic community. I have friends in Kenya now - Australia and Tanzania, too. It has forever changed the way I watch the evening news and shifted the boundaries of my personal prayer.

This death was very close to home. There are three monasteries in the Mid-Atlantic region: Ridgely, MD, Baltimore, MD, and Bristow, VA. The sisters in these houses are like our “cousins.” We travel to share the joy of profession rites, anniversary celebrations and to help bury our dead. Our prioresses meet regularly in an effort to share our resources and offer mutual support and encouragement. Though we are three autonomous houses, we are, in a very real sense, family.

Sister Mary Paul was prioress of Saint Gertrude's Monastery for many years. She has since served as Oblate Director and Vocation Director – and in this capacity she has come to be my friend and amma. There is no way to express the magnitude of this loss – for her community, family and friends. There is, however, a collective gasp of shock and a torrent of tears for Mary Paul among Benedictine sisters across North America. Her gentle spirit, easy laughter and faithful monastic heart will be sorely missed. Through the intercession of Saint Benedict, may Sister Mary Paul remain with all who love her and, by the grace of our loving GOD, may she know the inexpressible delight of love that awaits those who prefer nothing to Christ. Sister Mary Paul has finished her monastic journey. May her good zeal be her legacy to those of us who have many miles to go…

- Sister Vicki

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On "mission" in Richmond...

Today is my second day back at Saint Gertrude High School. I feel more myself - more rested from the travel and eager for a whole day in the office! This would probably be a good time to explain why a Benedictine Sister from Bristow, VA is living in Richmond. Briefly...our community was founded in Richmond in 1868 - just after the Civil War. The sisters came here to teach and to minister to the Catholic families in the city. In 1894 several sisters were sent to teach in Bristow alongside the monks of Belmont Abbey. In 1901 the monastery in Bristow became our motherhouse. (More history to come as we get closer to celebrating our 140th anniversary in May.) There has always been a Benedictine Sister of Virginia serving God's people in Richmond. Our prioress, Sister Cecilia, is committed to continuing our presence here. In that effort the community purchased a bigger convent and three of us make community for one another while serving in this diocese.

Sister Charlotte Lange, OSB works at St. Mary's Hospital - being a compassionate presence to the patients and staff there. Sister Andrea Verchuck, OSB staffs our Mission Effectiveness Office (located in Saint Gertrude High School.) Her ministry is to be present to our students, faculty, staff, parents, and board members - nurturing our charism in the school community. In Sister Andrea the Benedictine values of stewardship, peace, prayer, beauty and silence take on flesh and bone.

Me? I am serving our community as Director of Vocation Ministry. Normally, this is an internal ministry of the monastery. Sister Cecilia asked me to join the sisters here and to set up a satellite office in the diocese of Richmond. The president of SGHS, Mrs. Susan Walker, graciously found a space for me in the school, just down the hallway from Sister Andrea's office.

One of the "perks" of living "on mission" is the chance to be with young people again. I taught in Catholic high schools before I entered the monastery. Now...I hear giggling in the hallways, the mad rush of teenage feet as the last bell signals freedom, and "Hi, Sister Vicki" dozens of times throughout the day. Saint Gertrude High School has made a place for me literally, and in the community heart. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Blessings and love to you all...

- Sister Vicki

PS - For more information on our high school, visit the website at

FYI - Now that I have returned to Eastern Standard Time, look for a new blog each day around 10:30 am.

Monday, March 3, 2008

"No place like home..."

We’re HOME!!! Sister Veronica and I came in Friday evening (to the wrong airport, but that’s another story.) Our Community Room was filled with sisters ready to embrace us. It was a hug-fest of epic proportion!

I’ve had a couple of days to absorb the sweetness of home – the love that is a constant reminder that GOD is. There were a few tears of joy in chapel as we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours I have come to know and love so much. I think I grinned through most of the Sunday Eucharist. The joy of being back at our table…the music that is so much a part of my prayer life…and the extended community of friends and families that join us each weekend filled my soul with gratitude. If it weren’t Lent, the “A” word would have been the perfect outward sign of my inward joy. I guess I can wait three weeks for that one.

It is early morning as I write this. I can’t seem to sleep until my usual hour. And, at night, I can’t seem to stay awake past the evening news. But the transition feels so much easier in this direction. I was a mess for two weeks in Rome as my body adapted slowly to the new hour. I am writing from our convent in Richmond, VA. Sister Andrea, Sister Charlotte and I made the two-hour drive after Midday Prayer on Sunday. For the first time in two months, the three of us had Sunday dinner together and prayed Evening Prayer. I slept like a baby (only once waking and forgetting where I was.)

I am excited for the day ahead…my first day back at Saint Gertrude High School! I am teaching the 9th Grade today. I find them particularly dear and eager to forge a relationship with the sisters. For many, Sister Andrea and I are the very first they have met. Our lesson plan is supposed to be an introduction to monasticism, but I think their curiosity about my Roman adventure might slow us down a bit. No matter. It’s all good. The day will be what it will be.

I decided to keep the blog title as it is - first, for the benefit of those who have added it to their “favorites” (such an honor!) and second, because at the heart of the monastic life is the goal of heaven. Saint Benedict believed that loving each other in community was the key to eternal life for the monastic – that we would go to GOD together. So, the thirty-five women in this house are, quite literally, “monastics on a journey.” I hope these daily reflections on our everyday will be gift to you all. Thank you for the opportunity to dig deep and see our life with new eyes. I’m looking forward to sharing our journey with all of you.

Blessings and love,

- Sister Vicki