October 31, 2014

Religious Vocations Supplement

Heavenly desserts and unexpected ingredients add a sweet taste to Franciscan sister’s faith journey

Franciscan Sister Madeleine Schumacker prepares a dessert on Sept. 23 in the kitchen of the Mishawaka, Ind., motherhouse of her religious community, the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. Previously a member of St. Louis Parish in Batesville, Sister Madeleine professed perpetual vows earlier this year. (Submitted photo)

Franciscan Sister Madeleine Schumacker prepares a dessert on Sept. 23 in the kitchen of the Mishawaka, Ind., motherhouse of her religious community, the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. Previously a member of St. Louis Parish in Batesville, Sister Madeleine professed perpetual vows earlier this year. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The natural temptation is to describe her chocolate-laced desserts as heavenly.

And that was the reaction Franciscan Sister Madeleine Schumacker received after she recently made a flourless chocolate cake with Chantilly cream and a mousse-textured dessert called chocolate espresso panna cotta for a group of lay leaders from the Franciscan Alliance health care system.

“They enjoyed it so much that the leader of the group said that all the cardiologists in the system would be thanking me,” says a laughing Sister Madeleine, a Batesville native who is a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration.

While the rave reviews were exactly what Sister Madeleine was hoping for her desserts, her recipes for becoming a religious sister and a chef-in-the-making have deliciously unexpected ingredients to them.

In fact, she may have set a record for the least amount of time it took her to go from being someone who had fallen away from her faith to being someone who seriously began to consider a religious vocation.

It all took place on a weekend 10 years ago when she was 22 and a recent college graduate. Knowing she had a degree in broadcasting and a plan to work for a television station, the youth minister at St. Louis Parish in Batesville asked her if she would videotape a weekend youth retreat. Their friendship, not her faith, made her say yes.

“Prior to that, I had fallen away from the Church for about five years,” she recalls. “I wasn’t claiming and living my faith.”

That reality began to change on the Friday night of the retreat. As she stood in “the back corner of the gym with an old VHS recorder,” she videotaped the talk that Father Jonathan Meyer gave on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.

“I had a St. Paul moment,” Sister Madeleine says. “Suddenly, it clicked that Christ was in the Eucharist, and he loved me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew in that moment that something had to change, and it had to be me.

“After the talk, there was time for private prayer. I turned off the camera, and I knelt there on the floor. I thought of the sinful woman who bathed Christ’s feet with her tears and wiped his feet with her hair. From there, I knew I had to change. It was the beginning of the decision to move forward and live my faith.”

A day later, she went to confession for the first time in eight years. Yet the most astonishing moment for her came on Sunday when Father Meyer asked if anyone on the retreat had thought of a priestly or religious vocation during the weekend.

“I’m in the back corner again, and my hand is in the air, and I don’t know why,” she recalls. “I wanted to get married and have a huge family with a lot of kids. I kept telling myself, ‘Put your hand down.’ But I didn’t.

“Two of the sisters from my order now were there. One of them was a new sister. She was 20. She was happy, joyful. Both of them were.”

When she returned to the home of her parents that Sunday afternoon, she told them about her experience. Joseph and Kathryn Schumacker couldn’t believe the transformation in the youngest of their five daughters. Neither could she.

But she didn’t resist. She started going to daily Mass and receiving the sacrament of reconciliation on a regular basis. She also put herself in God’s presence every day for 20 minutes, asking, “What do you want me to do?”

In 2005, she accepted that God was calling her to religious life. To test that call, she made a visit to the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, Ind.

“It was like I was being welcomed home,” she says. “I got out of the car, and all the sisters, novices and postulants came out of the house. And they were happy to see me. It was beautiful.”

She entered the order in 2006. She professed perpetual vows in August this year. Her mother still remembers how the St. Louis Parish community joined in the celebration at the family’s home. Kathryn Schumacker also remembers that life-changing weekend when her youngest daughter videotaped the youth retreat.

“She didn’t want to go,” Kathryn says. “Now, she’s absolutely happy, and that’s all a mother can ask for. We gave her the background and the basics she needed to come back. That germ of faith was still there.”

Another twist to that 2004 retreat is that the youth minister who asked her to videotape the event eventually discerned a call to the priesthood: Father Jerry Byrd. He’s the administrator of St. Mary Parish in North Vernon and St. Ann and St. Joseph parishes, both in Jennings County. He and Sister Madeleine are still friends.

“She’s a great person—fun, kind, generous. I could go on and on,” he says. “Most of all, she’s authentic. She wants to be the woman God has called her to be, and she’s found that calling.”

It still makes him smile that the videotape session helped her find her true path in life.

“It’s awesome that God brings us around to where we need to be when we need to be there.”

After professing temporary vows, Sister Madeleine served her order in the Franciscan Alliance health care system for four years, including working as a patient representative at Franciscan St. Francis Health in Indianapolis and Mooresville.

In January of 2013, she was called back to the motherhouse in Mishawaka, to help in different areas there. When the community’s cook developed health problems that year, she began to work in the kitchen to help take up the slack.

“For the first six months, the sisters would look to see how many bandages I had on my fingers and my arms,” she says with a laugh. “I could make a soup, fix a piece of meat. I could do the basics. Slowly, I’m growing in my skills. I haven’t burned or cut myself in quite a while.”

She is now enrolled in an associate degree program in culinary arts at Indiana Vocational Technical College in South Bend.

“I’m getting to live my two passions,” she says about her love of cooking and her life as a religious sister serving God. “I like making meatloaf. I make a really good mac and cheese, if I say so myself. I’m starting to learn some more advanced dishes, too—osso buco, and chicken legs stuffed with prosciutto and mushrooms.”

Add the chocolate-laced desserts and there’s a sweet and satisfying taste to a story and a life that Sister Madeleine once would have never imagined for herself.

“It’s been incredible. The love and support of the sisters has been beyond what I imagined. It’s a great adventure. It’s also a great story. It’s living out what we will all be in heaven. We’ll be totally Christ’s. We will be totally his.”
 

(For more information about the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, Ind., log on to www.sstpa.org.)

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