Jackie Walsh, recently of Bloomington, Ill., became Sister Jackie at the age of 53 on June 11. She had worked, lived and studied at St. Mary Monastery for three years before receiving her Benedictine pin (given by Prioress Sr. Phyllis McMurray, right). It had been a leap of faith and a labor of love.
The journey to Sisterhood with the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, isn’t easy. Besides giving up her home and private possessions, Sr. Jackie had to get used to living with – and praying with, dining with and enjoying leisure time with – 50 other women. She had to learn new house processes and policies. Accustomed to living an independent life, she had to learn some interdependence.
Sr. Jackie has been generous in sharing her feelings and observations with Steps readers since before she even arrived at the monastery. Recently she agreed – again! – to answer some questions for us. Here are her answers.
Q. Before you entered the community, you were a business analyst for Country Financial. You had your own home, your own routine. You were active in your parish. How hard was it to give all that up?
A. I enjoyed my home and the space and privacy it afforded me. I was very sad the night before I moved; I remember crying as I scrubbed the kitchen floor of the apartment I leased! After spending some extra time in prayer, I came to realize it was a tremendous gift entrusted to me for a given period of time. That period was up, I was thankful for the time I’d enjoyed the house, but it was time to move on. Then I went to sleep peacefully and the move went very smoothly.
The most difficult transition for me was being away from the regular time I spent with my church, friends and biological families. Those were the people who really knew and understood me. I was afraid of losing touch with friends and of young nieces and nephews forgetting their Aunt Jackie.
As usual, when I let go and trust God, things work out as they should. I’m very happy with the path I’ve chosen to enter this community. My life’s experiences and relationships, with God and my Sisters, continue to blossom and unfold. My friends keep in touch and come to see me and I visit my family 2 or 3 times each year. Between those visits, my sisters do a great job of making sure their children know who I am.
I was comfortable with this community from the first day I ever visited. I didn’t feel fearful. I didn’t really act like the introvert that I am. It was so warm and open and loving that it gave me the confidence to be my self.
Q. Overall, how would you describe your last three years?
A. It has been a challenging, but deeply rewarding time. I’ve learned to rely on God first, trusting that God will act in the manner that is best for me. I’ve grown by what I’ve read and written, of course, but maybe even more importantly, from the experiences I’ve had through everyday living, sharing, praying and talking with the other Sisters here. It’s truly been a life-changing, transforming process. The wonderful part of it is…it doesn’t stop now that I’ve made my First Profession. Formation as a Monastic Benedictine is part of an ongoing process. In many ways, the journey is just beginning!
Q. Give an example of a challenging or stressful time.
A. Studying and writing papers this past semester was challenging. There were times when every spare minute was spent reading or writing 5 papers from January to early April in preparation for asking the community to make First Profession. Of course I had a full course load in college, but didn’t write papers, so this was a new experience! Also, I’m a different student in my 50s than I was 30 years ago in my 20s. In addition, I work and have obligations and responsibilities that I didn’t have when I was in college. I pray every morning for the graces needed to meet the day’s challenges and God continues to bless me with the support and encouragement of my Sisters.
Q. Give an example of a good time.
A. Five of us were playing cards one Tuesday evening during our community recreation gathering. Two sisters in the group are 90 plus, two of us 50 plus, and one in her 40s. Though we represented three distinctly different generations of life experiences, we laughed, teased each other and had a wonderful time together! We play whenever we can!
Q. What’s next?
A. Only God knows what the future holds. For now, I’ll continue serving at Benet House, our retreat center. Strengthening existing relationships and developing new ones goes without saying. Studying and papers are sure to be a part of my ongoing formation. My life is in the hands of those entrusted with our spiritual development and leadership. Together, with God’s help, we’ll discern what direction my life’s journey will take given the gifts and talents I possess.