From the beginning of recorded time, living as a religious Sister has been countercultural. We give up our possessions … our bank accounts … our cars. We take on a new set of priorities. We take on a new set of responsibilities.
In other words, it’s no longer about “me.” It’s about “we.”
What might make someone take such a radical, countercultural step? It’s sure not the salary. (There is none.) It’s not the easy lifestyle. (We begin our days before dawn in chapel for Lauds.) It’s not the nightlife. (Unless that’s what you call a rousing game of cards on Community Night!)
No, the reason has something to do with a nagging sense that won’t go away. A nagging sense of “something more.” We term it “call.” Although the sense of God’s call is something we Sisters have experienced – and continue to experience – it develops and becomes apparent in different ways for each of us.
Which is why we share Sister vocation stories. This month’s story features our new prioress, Sister Sandra Brunenn. If it resonates for you, please contact us. We look forward to helping in any way we can!
Q. As a young girl, your family moved around a lot. That might have made you restless, or discouraged any desire to settle down. And yet you have been a Benedictine Sister for 52 years.
A. My father’s job took us to Joliet, Peoria, Mattoon, Springfield (all in Ill.), Indianapolis and Quincy (Ill.) before I graduated from high school. I suppose moving that much might have been detrimental. But I came from a very stable family environment. And we – my younger sister, Jill, and I – always attended Catholic school. The church was a constant in my life.
My formation was centered in the church, and my values were centered in family. That fit with the Benedictine value of stability, of being rooted with a particular group of people in a particular place. I found – still find – that value very attractive.
Q. Did you ever have Benedictine Sisters as teachers?
A. Not in grade school. In fact, I have a vivid memory from 5th grade in Mattoon, when my teacher – a Dominican Sister – said, “Now Sandra, if you ever become a Sister, please don’t forget the order that taught you first.”
Q. You had Benedictine Sisters in high school?
A. Yes, I did. In my junior year, my family moved to Indianapolis. My father started work in July, but the family couldn’t join him till fall. Mother and Dad wanted us to start school right away, so they sent us to Our Lady of Grace Academy in Beech Grove, just outside Indianapolis. We boarded there for one year. The seed of my Benedictine vocation took root there.
I joined the Sisters every evening after study hall for Compline. It was a great introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours.
Q. What happened next?
A. We move to Quincy, where I attended Notre Dame High School. Daily Mass became part of the rhythm of my life, and got involved in the Sodality of Mary. I felt my love of prayer and service continuing to grow.
At the end of my senior year, I had to make a decision regarding college. I registered to attend Quincy College, but my heart kept tugging at me to check out religious life. I decided to explore the Benedictine community 50 miles down the road in Nauvoo.
Q. What, besides prayer and stability, attracted you to the Benedictines?
A. The Benedictine love of silence and nature fit with my own attraction to it. My parents loved fishing, and I spent lots of time on my grandparents’ farm. I remember many walks in the woods, sitting under trees, sitting in a boat, fishing. Silence and nature gave me a deep sense of peace. It was somehow connected to my experience of God. The beauty of life, the bigness of life, and the mystery of God.
I love praying in community. I love the support of this group of women. I love the rich, full inner life that I’ve been able to nurture here. I love my life of ministry as well. I’ve always felt I was in the right place for me.
Q. Do you have any advice for our readers?
A. Pay attention to your heart, and that nagging sense that there must be something more. Seek someone you trust to share your thoughts and feelings with. Finally, be ready for an adventure. This is a very vibrant, meaningful life!