July 17, 2009

New prioress seeks to help her sisters be ‘women of prayer’

Benedictine Sister Juliann Babcock stands in front of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove on July 9. She was elected the new prioress of the monastic community on March 7, and was installed and began her six-year term of office on June 7. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Benedictine Sister Juliann Babcock stands in front of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove on July 9. She was elected the new prioress of the monastic community on March 7, and was installed and began her six-year term of office on June 7. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

BEECH GROVE—On March 7, the Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove elected Sister Juliann Babcock as their newest prioress.

The election followed a discernment process of several months where members of the community prayerfully considered and discussed what kind of leader they needed for the future.

Sister Juliann was installed and began her six-year term on June 7.

She leads a community of 69 sisters who minister in the archdiocese in a variety of ways, including two ministries based on their grounds in Beech Grove: St. Paul Hermitage, a retirement and nursing facility, and the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center.

Other sisters from Our Lady of Grace minister in various parts of the archdiocese in educational, health care and parish ministries. They also have sisters who minister in Newburgh, Ind.; Louisville, Ky.; Dayton, Ohio; and Clearwater, Fla.

Sister Juliann, 60, grew up in Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis and graduated from the former Our Lady of Grace Academy in Beech Grove in 1966. She joined the monastic community that same year, and made her first profession of vows in 1968 and perpetual profession of vows in 1973.

During 43 years of religious life, Sister Juliann was an educator for 10 years, on the staff at the Benedict Inn, and served as vocation director, formation director and sub-prioress (second in leadership in the monastery).

She talked with The Criterion for an interview a month after she was installed.

Q: What was your reaction when you realized that the sisters in your community had chosen you to be their next prioress?

A: It was very humbling to hear people speak of gifts they feel you have to serve the community. It’s hard to put into words what that felt like. It was just humbling, and I felt a great love for the community at that time.

I said to myself, “Can I really do this? Do I really have these gifts that they’re speaking about? Is this what the community needs?”

Yet I also tried to trust God and trust the Spirit.

We went into this process praying that whoever God chose would be the right person for us at this time. My prayer was to offer her my support and my service. So when you hear your own name, it’s just very humbling.

Q: How would you say that growing up in Our Lady of Lourdes Parish had a formative influence on you and your vocation? Did any of the first sisters of Our Lady of Grace teach at Lourdes and have an influence on you?

A: My family was very much involved in Lourdes Parish. Our parish was a big part of our life growing up. My mom was active in the women’s club, and was our Scout leader all the years that my brother and sister and I were at Lourdes. She also had a booth each year at the Fall Festival which involved the whole family. My father also did a lot of volunteer work at the parish. So we were taught, by word and example, the importance of our faith and our parish community.

The Franciscan sisters from Oldenburg taught me all eight years. They certainly did influence me greatly. My seventh-grade teacher, Sister Bernice, was especially influential in my life. My mom would often drive the sisters to Marian College on Saturdays and I would ride along. I got to be with them both in the classroom and also in informal settings.

I also have an aunt who is a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary [in Dubuque, Iowa]. She would often come and visit during those grade school years. My dad had a couple of good friends who were Holy Cross brothers. They taught him when he went to Cathedral High School. So I was used to having religious sisters and brothers as part of our family.

Then I went to high school here at Our Lady of Grace. And that’s when I met the Benedictines. It wasn’t really until my senior year that I decided to join the community. I hadn’t given it serious thought until then.

One thing that was significant to me during those years was that I was the editor of the school newspaper. I spent a lot of hours at the academy in the evenings and on Saturdays. Often, sisters would stop by and talk with us. I felt like the sisters enjoyed their life and enjoyed one another.

Our principal at that time was Sister Louise Hoeing, who is now working at Bishop Chatard High School. She was very influential and very helpful to me in this discernment. I will always be grateful to her for that.

Q: What hopes for the future do you have for your community, both in the years that you’ll be leading it and for the long term?

A: As a Benedictine community, our charism is prayer, work and hospitality. Our life is centered around our prayer and our community life. Our values are very important to us, and we work to keep deepening them.

My hope is that we continue being the monastic women we are called to be, that we keep deepening our prayer life, serving other people by sharing the gifts we’ve been given, and welcoming our guests as Christ. We have a lot of guests who visit our monastery, and we’re grateful for each one of them.

Our sisters are engaged in a variety of ministries in the archdiocese, and we want to continue serving in those areas as we are able.

I think the most important thing is that we be women of prayer—women of grace. We want our monastery to be a holy place, a place of spiritual growth. We take time every day for lectio divina. We gather to pray the Liturgy of the Hours three times a day. So my hope is that we continue to deepen that which is the essence of our monastic life.

… We want to invite more women to join us. Vocations are a very important part of our energy right now. We feel that monastic life has a place in the world and has something to offer: our simplicity, our silence, our prayer, our hospitality, our humility—all those values that Benedict calls us to live in his Rule. I think these values have a great deal to offer to the world today.

I find people are longing for simplicity of life and silence. There’s so much noise in the world.

I don’t think we have to create something new. We just think we have to continue doing what we’re doing and doing it well.

We want vocations because community life is so important to us, and we feel a responsibility to pass on the Benedictine charism to future generations. What I heard when I was formation director for many years is that women are searching for two things. They’re seeking a prayer life that is supported by a community whose primary work is prayer.

Q: You’ve been involved in vocational discernment and formation for your community as vocation director and formation director. How do you see your role as prioress in the years to come relating to encouraging women to consider a possible vocation to your community and in the formation of its newest members?

A: I will teach the Holy Rule of St. Benedict to our new members all through these six years, as the past prioresses have done. So I’ll be meeting with them on a regular basis.

I’ll be working closely with the vocation director and the formation director, and supporting them in their efforts.

Even though we’ve made our perpetual profession of monastic vows, it doesn’t mean the end of our formation. We’re in formation all of our lives. So I feel that as prioress I am to be a spiritual leader in offering opportunities for sisters to keep deepening their own monastic life as well as tending to my own. I certainly have to be about ongoing formation for myself, deepening my own prayer life.

…Whenever I’m in the public forum, I’ll talk about our community. We want to invite women to consider joining us.

When we have young women here from [Bishop] Chatard or Roncalli, we say to them, “Come and see! Ours is a wonderful way of life. It’s something for you to consider as you discern what God is calling you to do.”

Who we are also speaks to people. I hope we encourage vocations by the witness that we give. I do love monastic life. I really do. And I hope that my way of living reflects that to people.

Benedict asks in the Rule, “Does the novice truly seek God?” I think that’s the important thing. Do we seek God? Whether it’s someone who’s coming in for the first time as a postulant or all of us who’ve been here for many years, we always keep asking ourselves, “How can we best seek God?”

I think that’s one thing I want our community known for, that we truly do seek God through our prayer life, through our community life and through our ministries. That is what will encourage other women to join us in serving the people of God.

(For more information on the Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, log on to www.benedictine.com.)

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