St. Ambrose Church: Where Sister Claudia is Supposed to Be

Benedictine Sister Claudia Scharf, OSB runs the administrative office at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Milan, Ill.

Although she loves the people and enjoys the variety of tasks the job presents, it wasn’t too long ago that she found herself wondering whether it was the right ministry for her.

“You don’t always get much feedback from people,” she says. “But I got my answer recently when a parishioner who had lost her sister called. Her sister had been ill, and she had cared for her. She just wanted to talk. At the end, she said, ‘Oh, Sr. Claudia, you are so easy to talk to.’ She was crying.

”I got off the phone and cried,” Sr. Claudia says. “I said, ‘Okay, Lord, I guess I’m where you want me to be.’

Here’s an inside look at the place, the job and the Sister who is where she’s supposed to be.

It’s a busy Monday morning at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Milan, Ill. In just a couple of hours, Sister Claudia Scharf, OSB, will take a dozen calls and greet two guests at the door. As a parish administrator, she has funerals to help arrange, hospitalized parishioners to add to the bulletin and a deposit sheet to review from the weekend. Later, she’ll walk over to the church to hang a poster for an upcoming event.

Sr. Claudia’s office occupies what might have been a parlor in the 1900’s house-turned-rectory next to St. Ambrose Church. The parish copier, supplies and workspace are tucked into a couple of back rooms, while the kitchen and dining room still serve those their original purpose. The pastor lives upstairs.

It’s a homey place to work and visit, but that’s not what Sr. Claudia loves about it. She loves the people, whether they are parishioners or down-on-their-luck folks who have stumbled upon the place. In fact, she never knows who might be at the door.

“One guy came to the door who had just had surgery,” Sr. Claudia says. “He’d been off work, and was short on funds. I took him over to our food pantry and gave him four bags of groceries.

“I asked him for his first name. I always ask. I feel the need to make personal contact. He was very gracious. I helped him load the car and said – I always say – a prayer.”

St. Ambrose closed the church food pantry a few months ago (another organization has stepped in to  fill the need), and Sr. Claudia misses it.

“I almost want to stock food in my office,” she says. “I miss that connection with people. But the new site isn’t very far away.”

And not everyone in need asks for food.

“A family came knocking at the door,” Sr. Claudia says. “They were driving to Minneapolis. They wanted to know if I could help them find gas vouchers. I called several places, but had no luck. I gave them $20 out of my own pocket.

“I never know who will be on the phone or at the door, but I want to meet their needs. I listen to their stories. I pray for them.”

For Sr. Claudia, prayer begins long before she reaches the office in the morning, before she knows who will need her help, or why.

“I pray with my Sisters at Lauds and Mass,” she says. “I spend time in personal prayer. I say, ‘Okay, Lord, let me be open to others today. Let me greet people like Christ.'”

Sr. Claudia glances at the clock. Usually, Trinity Hospital has called by now to let her know of any parishioners who have been admitted over the weekend. The phone rings. It’s a parishioner with a Mass intention. Sr. Claudia helps arrange the date.

“Living the Benedictine life is great preparation for this ministry. Living in community with all the different personalities of our Sisters helps me to deal with the people who come to me. Our prayer life prepares me to be calm. It helps foster a good prayer-work-home balance.”

It’s close to lunchtime now. Sr. Claudia will make her lunch in the kitchen, drive to a park and eat it there while watching the birds and trees and clouds. Like Benedictine Sisters everywhere, Sr. Claudia needs some contemplative time away from the phone and office demands.

More phone calls and knocks at the door, bookkeeping and payroll will fill the afternoon. Then it will be time to turn off the computer and lights, lock the doors and drive home for Vespers.

“This ministry is ideal for me,” Sr. Claudia says. “I get to learn all kinds of new skills, like bookkeeping and computer programs. And I get to connect with people, to be here when they come or call, no matter what they need. I’m grateful for it.”

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