Sharing Our Talents: Oblates Inspire Each Other, Sisters


Oblates listen to Bill Maakestad’s presentation.

By Sister Ruth Ksycki, OSB

On the crisp autumn morning of October 22, 2016, 48 Oblates of St. Mary Monastery gathered for our annual Oblate Day. The theme was “Sharing Our Talents.”

Sister Sandra Brunenn, Prioress, welcomed our guests and gave a brief report on the monastery future planning process. She invited the Oblates to partner with the Sisters in living and carrying the Benedictine way of life into the future.

Sister Ruth Ksycki, Oblate Director, then gave an overview of the work of the Oblate Advisory Board and Oblate Jean Wolf reported on a conference entitles “Shared Leadership” at the bi-annual regional meeting of Oblate Directors and Oblates held at St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, IN.

Presenters spoke of the need for oblates to become more directly involved in the leadership of their respective oblate groups, review the characteristics of good leaders in the Rule of St. Benedict, and develop the skills for shared leadership. The mutual responsibility of the Sisters and oblates for one another was emphasized throughout the conference.

Oblate Gloria Delaney-Barmann led us in a refreshing 10-minute session of chair yoga.

Then, 5 oblates shared how they had used their talents in initiating or furthering projects for others and how the Rule of Benedict informed this work. What an inspiration they were to all who were present.

Feli Sebastian described the process from the “ground up” to bring Labyrinth House from a dream to a reality. Not only was it place to house 8 previously incarcerated women, but also to provide the support staff to assist these women in re-integrating into society. Passion, commitment and perseverance were hallmarks in partnering with service agencies, working with the city, and a host of volunteers as well as raising funds. Labyrinth House is a stable place for these women to be encouraged and aided in their struggle to start anew in life and not return to prison.

Bill Maakestad was already familiar with the people of Wesley Village because he had entertained them a number of time with his country music programs. (He has also shared this program with the Sisters.)

After taking a two-year course at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM, he needed to put his study and reflection into action. He chose to record interviews with some elders at Wesley Village to discover what they considered as “the Good Life.”   Through the time spent with them, he learned about the good and sad things in their lives and got in touch with the richness of their lives. He discovered that the “Good Life” was being listened to, being able to reminisce and to be grateful for what they had. The interviews were recorded and copies given to their families. Throughout the process Bill had to learn to listen deeply and not let his thoughts get in the way. “Listening with the ear of the heart,” St. Benedict would call it.

Ric Smith was leading a men’s retreat this weekend so his wife, Cynthia, stepped in to share with us about the Serve Haiti Project in Grand Bois.

The project is an American, non-denominational organization that works in solidarity with the people of the region. In 2013 a small group of youth and adults sponsored by the Muscatine Youth Choir made their first trip to Haiti. The idea was to make music education and enrichment more available to schoolchildren and teachers. Five groups have gone and a sixth will go in January 2017. Each trip gives them 18 hours of classes in 3 days. In the classes they sing songs, play games, dance with scarves and drum. They have translated a number of songs in Haitian Creole, and are also learning some Haitian folk songs. Through a fun activity they learn structure and knowledge.

Ric generates great enthusiasm for the project and others who have gone have started their own initiatives to provide shoes, blankets, and backpacks. Because of his enthusiasm, I have gone on 3 of the trips and will continue to go. Our attitude and aim for this mission is not so much to “change the world,” although we are confident that our ongoing presence there is positive. Our aim is more to “be changed.” We have seen a dramatic growth in the youth that go, of an expanded awareness of how so many people world-wide live. How difficult life can be, just to have clean water and food.

After the monthly Taize Prayer was discontinued at a church in Davenport, IA , Oblates Maureen Bennett and Linda Clewell along with a group of other women decided to continue the Taize prayer service and made arrangements to have it at Benet House at St. Mary Monastery. Each month has a different theme (e.g. compassion or thanksgiving). Meditative singing and readings with periods of quiet reflection in a room looking out at nature amidst lighted candles provides people with the gift of calm and peace in God’s presence.

Florrie Dammers did not initiate the centering prayer group in Bloomington nor the Centering Prayer Retreat at Benet House. Rather, she stepped in to lead the centering prayer group when Sister Audrey Cleary left Bloomington and later led the retreat when Sister Audrey was no longer able to lead it. She credits her journey into this ministry to God’s grace in her life and the years that she was instructed and mentored by Sister. Discernment was a key practice to assist her in the decisions along the way. Under her leadership the ministry has continued to flourish. Florrie has also mentored other oblates as co-directors. Gratitude was a hallmark of her presentation.

The morning concluded with the oblates joining the Sisters for Noon Day Prayer. Within the Liturgy of the Hours before Sister Sandra Brunenn, Prioress and the Benedictine community, Spencer Gillespie became an oblate candidate. Rose Mary Fay, Sharon McNamara, Jana Schopp, and Christine Spencer made their oblation. The other oblates renewed their oblation. At the end the prioress asked God’s blessing on the labora (work) the oblates would be doing in the afternoon.

Following a sack lunch, the oblates embarked on various tasks at the monastery, both outdoors and indoors. They did a host of work: gardening, edging by sidewalk, clearing debris and collecting kindling on the path in the woods, sweeping sidewalks, repotting plants, helping in the kitchen, polishing silver, sewing, pre-school project preparation, ironing, visiting the sisters and taking them for a walk or wheelchair ride, signing Christmas cards for those in prison, cleaning chairs in the chapel and dining room, washing dining room windows, cleaning cars, and preparing props for the Sisters’ Christmas program. Some oblates also received pointers on photography or watched a the “Lanugage of Flowers,” a DVD meditation by Chris Kraft.

Several oblates provided morning and afternoon snacks. What an enjoyable day was had by all! The Sisters thank you for your presence and your labors of love.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s