Thursday, May 03, 2007

Devotion of a Life Time - 55 Years as a Contemplative Nun

Sr. Paula Rae Schmidt - 2007 and c. 1957

Today we celebrated the

feast of the Apostle Saints Philip and James by singing from the Common of Apostles for the Office (Liturgy of the Hours). Another way in which we traditionally mark such feasts is by enjoying conversation at our typically silent noon day meal. Today there was another reason for our Easter joy. It was a day filled with especially meaningful memories for our Prioress, Sr. Paula, who marked the 55th anniversary of her profession of vows in Toronto, Canada. Sr. Paula is a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the tender age of nineteen, in the middle of her college sophomore year, accompanied by her somewhat reluctant mother, she traveled by train to the only Redemptoristine monastery in North America at that time. She had not seen the monastery. Nor had she ever spoken to the sisters. A simple exchange of letters satisfied to gain her acceptance for entrance into the community. The decision may have been a foregone conclusion since she had four cousins who were Redemptorist priests.

Our table conversation was a feast of memories. Sr. Paula told of thinking that she had been told to bring enough regular clothing for one year (the sisters really meant underwear) and bringing a trunk full of lovely clothes which were promptly sent home. During their first conversation with a few sisters, Paula found that her mother was answering all of the questions really addressed to her as if her mother wanted to assure that the community would know they were receiving a prize. One accomplishment mentioned was that of being able to play the piano. The next evening, with mother now gone, Paula was asked to play the piano at recreation. She really did not know anything classical by heart so she played "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

Gradually the memory sharing moved to the families left behind, how difficult it was to know that you would never be going home again and the sacrifices made by family members to come to the monastery to see their much-loved daughters and sisters. Sr. Peg spoke of her mother who visited her here in Esopus every year traveling by train from Toronto and staying overnight in Albany to wait for a suitable time of arrival according to the monastic schedule. In the end grandsons came along to carry the luggage of their 80-year old grandmother.

Sr. Lydia spoke of leaving mother and father and seven brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and how one brother visiting a year after her entrance tried to persuade her to quit it all and come home with him. She just laughed.

All of these sisters agreed that the reforms of religious life which followed the Second Vatican Council allowing them to leave the cloister upon the death of a parent, to assist in caring for a sick family member or to be present to families now expanding with nieces and nephews was a sound, compassionate and grace-giving change. Each visit was an occasion to consider again the nature of ones commitment, the needs of those in other demanding vocations, the realities of life 'in the world', and the necessity of prayer. Such trips away from the monastery are also opportunities for a loving exercise of generosity on the part of the contemplative monastic community whose memebers make it possible for a sister to be present to her family in times of joy and in times of sorrow.

Today were are exceedingly grateful for the perseverance of Sr. Paula and the other senior memebers of our community. And we are blessed to be given the gift of their sharing of memories. We are blessed also and encouraged by their model of faithfulness, charity and love for their Spouse, Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

Mema said...

Multos Annos, Sister Paula.