ROCK ISLAND — As Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB, considers her future as the new prioress of St. Mary Monastery, she acknowledges that there’s “a huge mixed bag” of emotions to sort through.
In that bag are awe, gratitude, immense respect for the giftedness of the members of her Benedictine community and a sense of coming loss as she prepares to leave her ministry as pastoral associate at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Coal Valley, where she has served since 1997.
Her election took place on April 22 and came after a long discernment process that included developing “direction statements” that will guide the Benedictines over the next four years.
Sister Sandra succeeds Sister Phyllis McMurray, OSB, who is completing her second four-year term as prioress. She will be installed in ceremonies at the Rock Island monastery on Sunday, June 17 — a week after celebrating her golden jubilee of consecrated life.
“It is still kind of sinking in,” she told The Catholic Post the day after her election. “I am feeling just full of awe. I truly am. I’m humbled by the affirmation I’ve received from the community. I am very grateful for their trust.”
She also admitted to feeling “almost overwhelmed with a sense of the responsibility I’ve said yes to.”
After her installation, Sister Sandra will consult with the members of her community about the selection of a subprioress to assist her. She will invite other personnel to join that core leadership team as time goes on.
TAPPING INTO GRATITUDE
She explained that the “direction statements” the community discerned prior to her election will help them to focus on where to spend their energies in the days and weeks to come.
That discernment process revealed a very deep sense of the gifts the community has received through their monastic life, living together in community and seeking God together, Sister Sandra said.
“In a concrete way we are very grateful for the transition our community has lived through, leaving Nauvoo and coming to Rock Island” and how they have been enriched by the way they’ve been able to share themselves with the people of the Quad Cities, she explained. “Consciously and in a daily way we want to tap into the energy of our gratitude and carry it into how we pray and how we are for each other and those we minister to.”
Another big focus is seeking out creative ways to serve, to attract new members and to share their resources with others, Sister Sandra said.
It was the rhythm of the Benedictine way of life, their shared prayer and active involvement in ministry that drew her to consecrated life in the first place.
“I still have a natural attraction to silence and stability,” Sister Sandra said.
She wouldn’t become acquainted with the Benedictine Sisters at Nauvoo until her family moved from Indiana to Quincy at the end of her junior year of high school. She entered the community after graduation and professed her first vows at St. Mary Priory in Nauvoo on July 11, 1962.
“AN INCREDIBLE GIFT”
Sister Sandra taught at Holy Family in Peoria, St. Anthony’s in Atkinson, St. Mary’s Academy in Nauvoo and Alleman High School in Rock Island before serving as a campus minister at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois. With the exception of a two-year stint as flood relief coordinator for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, she has been involved in faith formation either in a parish or her own Benedictine community since 1977.
While she didn’t know any of the Sisters in the Nauvoo community when she entered, Sister Sandra is grateful for the giftedness of the Sisters she has come to love over the course of five decades.
“I shared with the Sisters this weekend over our ongoing discernment that being in this community has really held me to the fire and given me a deep desire to seek God,” she said. “To have a community of people who have seeking God at the center of our lives has been an incredible gift for me.”