January 14, 2005

2005 Religious Vocations Supplement

Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove
celebrates 50 years

By Brandon A. Evans

The Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove have spent five decades turning a plot of swampland into a blessing for others—and in turn they feel blessed.

Thus, the sisters will spend the whole year celebrating the anniversary with various people: prioresses from around the world, alumni of the former Our Lady of Grace Academy, family, friends, oblates, other communities and even the neighborhood. The sisters have made a lot of friends in the past 50 years.

When the first group of 113 sisters came from Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, Ind., they did so because the community had grown too large to be one community any longer.

With sisters already ministering in both the Diocese of Evansville and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, it made sense to place the new community in the urban area of Beech Grove. Ground was broken at the end of 1954. It was a big change for the sisters.

“We were in a rural area with very little contact [in Ferdinand], and we came up to an urban situation where your phone never stopped ringing,” said Sister Theresine Will. She is the only living sister who was among the group of seven that came to spend a year preparing the new monastery for its community.

“It was very difficult to leave Ferdinand—it was hard to pull away,” Sister Theresine said. But the busy day-to-day work of getting everything ready kept her busy.

Even though the 106 other sisters ­didn’t come until summer 1957, Our Lady of Grace Academy opened its door to freshman the previous year. It also included a kindergarten in which Sister Theresine taught.

St. Paul Hermitage, a retirement home open to retired lay people, regardless of faith, was dedicated in 1960 as another major ministry of the sisters.

Nearly 20 years later, economic hardships caused the closing of the academy, but three years later, in 1981, the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center opened its doors to those who wanted to continue growing spiritually.

Ten years later, the monastery also starting seeing its first lay Benedictine oblates commit to that way of life.

The closing of the academy was in some aspects symbolic of the way that the ministry of the sisters has changed over the years. Whereas most of the sisters were teachers, they now are using their individual talents in a variety of ministries, said Benedictine Sister Carol Falkner, prioress.

The sisters are principals, pastoral associates, nurses, librarians, chaplains and a host of other things. Many sisters have gone from one field to another.

The one thread that is constant, though, and which is the core of their community, is prayer.

“Really we’ve had uninterrupted prayer since [the sisters] arrived in 1956,” Sister Carol said. “We do gather three times a day—it’s the focal point of our life.”

Sister Norma Gettelfinger, one of the founding sisters, said that the sisters have their own Divine Office and music.

“I consider our ministry here as a little oasis of peace and hope to anybody that wants to come here,” Sister Norma said. She is excited about celebrating the 50th anniversary of the monastery.

Sister Catherine Gardner, also a founding sister, described being able to see the fruit of 50 years of communal ministry as “a thrill.”

She recalls the first summer she was at the monastery, when there was a lot of work to be done weeding the grounds and planting flowers—all done without the benefit of air conditioning, not even in the chapel.

But now, all the work has paid off.

“It’s such a pleasure to walk out in the grove and walk around the community and see the grounds,” Sister Catherine said.

Sister Norma also remembers the hard outdoor work, and doing things like taking the packaging off new bathtubs. But the sisters weren’t alone in their labors—oftentimes their neighbors in Beech Grove would help them with various tasks.

That is only one way in which the sisters feel as if they have been helped by those outside the monastery walls.

“We feel blessed being here—blessed by the Church of Indianapolis, blessed by the people who have supported us and blessed by the parish of Holy Name in which we rest,” Sister Carol said.

Still, it takes a lot to keep Our Lady of Grace Monastery going, and so even the retired sisters have things to do.

Sister Catherine is retired, but serves as the coordinator of guest services for the monastery.

Sister Theresine jokingly said that no one retires at the monastery, they just get recycled. In her career, she has been a teacher, worked in health care at the monastery, then served as the housekeeper for Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, a position that she held until recently.

Sister Carol, before becoming prioress, served at different times as a teacher, principal, administrator of the Benedict Inn and in the development office.

With the sisters’ ministry having changed so much in the past 50 years, Sister Carol predicts that it will continue to change as is required.

“We will be a monastic presence always,” she said. “And flowing from that … we will continue to serve the Church as the Church needs to be served.

“I think that in 50 years we might still see ourselves in some of these ministries, but they’ll look different,” she said.

“As the world turns and changes, we will too,” Sister Theresine said. †

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