Sunday, June 29, 2008

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Feast Day of
Our Prioress
Sister Paula
Schmidt, OSsR

To this day, in many monasteries, the feast day of the prioress is a major affair. Small gifts and cards would be arranged at her place in the refectory. She would be relieved of all tasks by her loving sisters. In our monastery every sister's feast is a special day and there is no array of small gifts. However, the honoree may chose her favorite foods for a celebratory dinner, her place at table is decorated especially for the occasion including flowers and mass is generally offered for her intentions. Our Sister Paula always has the benefit of this extra special feast day in the Church for two most important figures in its history. And it works out particularly well for her since when she professed vows fifty-six years ago she was given the name of Sister Mary Peter. So this feast of Saints Peter and Paul is perfect for her.

Sister Paula was one of the founding sisters of this monastery. Having first entered the Redemptoristine Nuns in Toronto, Canada, she never expected to see the United States again. Yet the mysterious workings of God brought her back into the country only eight years after her entrance to co-found this monastery here in Esopus, New York.

It has been my pleasure and great blessing to know Sr. Paula for over eighteen years; first as my spiritual director for ten of them, then as my postulant and novice mistress and now as the superior of this community. She is a small woman, very dainty and completely unassuming. Those who meet her always comment upon her gentleness and wisdom. She has been a vital, intelligent and faith filled influence in this monastery through all the years of renewal and through the process of writing new constitutions and statutes for the Order when she attended many international meetings. And she has been a wise, supportive model and praying presence for the many Redemptorist students who studied here and now for the many Redemptoristist priests with whom she enjoys friendship and mutual respect.

I admire her fortitude and perseverance through thick and thin. And any life that endures will experience both the thick and the thin. In religious life, the challenges can bring a sister to question her own vocation, especially in those years when there were so many leaving communities. I do not fully understand how their spirit was kept alive except by deep personal faith and courage and profound relationship with Jesus.

It was especially fortunate for this very late vocation to have Sr. Paula's gentle guidance through the thick and thin of initial formation. Sometimes I think of the stupid, obnoxious, or boastful things I said and grow red with embarrassment to realize how patient she was with me. But then, she'd had a lot of experience with people like me, especially the slow learners like me! And I am still learning.

Monastic contemplative community life would not go on generation after generation were it not for Sr. Paula and others like her living and praying and loving in monasteries all over the world. They teach by their lives. For this I am grateful.

Blessings on your feast day, Sister Paula!

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