FORT SMITH The sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery, along with the family and friends of 10 Jubilarians, celebrated the 620 years of combined service of the 10 sisters during the 2009 Jubilee Celebration recently.
In the monastery's second-floor chapel, the rite of Jubilee celebrated the journey of the monastic, from their first profession of vows through each one's significant moments of a deepening relationship with God, self and community.
"The community celebrates a 'yes' that was spoken in the past, a 'yes' that has brought them to this special moment in time, and a 'yes' that impels them into the future," the Jubilee program stated. "This rite of passage assembles the community and the broader church, primarily those persons who have been an integral part of the monastic journey of the Jubilarians."
Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Little Rock diocese presided over the Jubilee Mass, which coincides with the feast of the birth of John the Baptist.
"We are here to celebrate 620 years of service offered to the Church," Taylor said as he opened the Eucharist.
During his homily, Taylor said he was always amazed as a young boy at how much a person can see when the moon is out. Then he discovered it wasn't the moon that was shining - the sun shines both day and night. It was the moon reflecting the light of the sun.
"John the Baptist knew that he was to reflect the light of the Savior," Taylor said. "When you go out at night and the moon glows, it provides atmosphere. John the Baptist, he apparently glowed. In him, people could see a reflection of what God was doing in people.
"With 620 years of religious commitment to the Lord, all those years you have glowed with the love of the Lord," Taylor told the 10 Jubilarians, seated on the front row in the chapel. "You, like John the Baptist, reflect the light of the Lord and bring that light to others."
Sister Maria DeAngeli, recently installed prioress at St. Scholastica, led the sisters in the renewal of their monastic profession. She said the women come from all walks of life: Teaching, nursing, dietary, culinary, writing and music.
"Many of these gifts have touched God's people," DeAngeli said.
During the vow renewal, DeAngeli invited the Jubilarians to respond again to the question posed in the Holy Rule: "What is it you seek?" she asked.
"To seek God in everyone and everything," the 10 sisters responded.
After Communion, the Jubilarians, the rest of the community, and family and friends proceeded to the dining hall for a celebratory lunch.
Sister Annella Reginelli, now 93, was 16 when she entered as a monastic candidate and 18 when she made her profession. From Lake Village, she taught school almost 50 years and served as administrator of St. Joseph's Orphanage in North Little Rock six years.
Bro. Joseph Koehler, a monk at Subiaco Abbey, was on hand to help Reginelli celebrate 75 years of monastic life.
"When I was a small boy, she took care of me at St. Joseph's in Little Rock," Koehler said before lunch was served. "I always loved her because she thought I was a good boy - and not everyone felt that way."
Also celebrating 75 years was Sister Cordelia Lange, a native of Nazareth, Texas, who spent most of her career as an elementary and secondary school teacher in Arkansas and Texas. She assisted in the monastery formation program and enjoys jigsaw puzzles.
"I enjoyed my time and know that I made the right decision when I became a Benedictine sister," Lange said in an Horizons newsletter article.
Sisters Herbert Huber and Xavier Perona celebrated 70 years of living in community.
Like Lange, Perona also made the right decision for her life.
"I always dreamed I was going to be a nun," said Perona, 88, a native of Tontitown. "It was always in my heart and soul."
As a nun, Perona enjoyed a long career as a nurse in community-sponsored hospitals, and served as outpatient coordinator for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fayetteville. She still actively assists in the monastery, caring for the altar linens and doing household chores.
"I've lived quite a life," Perona said, sitting at a table with her nieces and nephews.
Huber, born in Oedsbach, Baden, Germany, spent many years as an elementary school teacher and German translator. Following her retirement from teaching, she continued to tutor and serve as chauffeur for the monastery. She participates in the twice-weekly senior exercise class and said she enjoyed her teaching career and "appreciated seeing those little eyes excited about learning."
Celebrating 60 years were Sisters Audrey Becker, Andrea Loran and Brendan Siebenmorgen.
A Barling native, Becker taught for 40 years in schools in Arkansas, Missouri and Texas. After her retirement, she served as assistant director of the monastery's Retreat Center. Since 2001, she has served as monastery secretary, and enjoys swimming and jigsaw puzzles in her spare time.
Loran, from Rhineland, Texas, was an expert in the culinary arts and spent her career preparing meals in many of the monastery's institutions. Since 1997, she has been one of the core members of Hesychia House of Prayer in New Blaine and has enjoyed her time as a sister in prayer and contemplation.
It was Siebenmorgen's aunt, Sister Benita Wewers, who inspired and encouraged the Morrison Bluff native to become a sister. She worked for 38 years as a health care professional in monastery-sponsored hospitals and continues to work in the monastery as a companion to sisters living in the infirmary on doctor visits.
"God has a plan for all of us," she said in the Horizons article. "I thank God every day that He gave me the inspiration to hear his call and the strength to continue His work."
Joining Sisters Jo Ann Senko and Macrina Wiederkehr in celebrating their golden Jubilee was Sister Barbara Bock, who originally made vows at St. Scholastica with the other two, but who has since moved away and now serves at Our Lady of Grace in Columbia, Mo.
Senko, born in Slovactown, has had a varied career in teaching, as a hospital dietitian and social worker. She now works in the monastery as a receptionist and volunteers at Sparks Regional Medical Center.
An Altus native, Wiederkehr also has had a varied career, working as an elementary school teacher, parish worker and vocation director. Since 1985, she has been on the retreat center staff and is an internationally known retreat director. She has authored seven books on spirituality and is a columnist for the Little Rock Scripture Study newsletter.
Reflecting on her monastic journey, Wiederkehr compared it to a comfortable pair of shoes she has finally grown into.
"Community living has not always been a perfect fit for me. It has been a bittersweet struggle and I have often asked myself 'What am I doing here?"' she said in the Horizons article. "Yet, as I look around the circle of sisters who have become my spiritual family, I know this is my home and I am glad to be here ... My living with a community of other seekers has nourished and deepened my desire for God."