June 5, 2015

New prioress looks forward to being spiritual leader of community

Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild Horner enjoys a moment of quiet prayer at the Sisters of St. Benedict’s Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove on June 1, six days before her installation as prioress of the monastery. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild Horner enjoys a moment of quiet prayer at the Sisters of St. Benedict’s Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove on June 1, six days before her installation as prioress of the monastery. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Michaela Raffin

BEECH GROVE—Life’s journey has certainly been different than most for Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild Horner.

She was born in Zambia and raised in South Africa, where she was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister of the first integrated church there.

She survived a near-fatal car accident and later was received into the full communion of the Church as a young adult.

All these experiences have more than prepared Sister Jennifer for her role as prioress of the Benedictine Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, which she will officially assume at an installation Mass at the monastery on June 7.

“I guess there are several words to describe how I feel,” she said. “One would be deeply honored and blessed by this community, that they would entrust me with serving them, because it really is an honor.

“And also, it’s really entrusting me with a lot, and that means a lot. I don’t take that lightly. I’m really called to serve each sister. Together, we are to go to God.”

The entire Beech Grove Benedictine community will welcome Sister Jennifer as their prioress when she is installed. Sister Jennifer’s mother, sister and brother and many Catholics across central and southern Indiana will also be there to support her during her installation, which will be presided over by Benedictine Sister Joella Kidwell, president of the Benedictine Federation of St. Gertrude.

Benedictine Sister Juliann Babcock, the community’s most recent prioress, described Sister Jennifer as an especially loving member of their community.

“She definitely has a Benedictine heart. She loves Benedictine life, and that’s evident in her personal life, her dedication to our community and in her ministry,” said Sister Juliann. “She has a wonderful spirit of service and enjoys being of service to others.”

Sister Jennifer most recently served as director of vocations for Our Lady of Grace Monastery. That role fit her strength as a keen listener, someone who loves to hear the stories of others.

“One thing that’s always been an important part of who I am is that call to listen deeply to people,” Sister Jennifer said. “To be able to really listen, listen deeply to the sisters, listen deeply to God and how God is calling us, listen deeply to the world around us.”

As someone who came to the Catholic Church as a young adult, Sister Jennifer knows how to deeply listen to God and to the longings of her heart. Her family moved to America after her father received deportation papers from the South African government because he refused to keep quiet about the apartheid laws that discriminated against the African people.

Sister Jennifer became acquainted with the Catholic Church while attending Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, pursuing a teaching degree.

“When I walked into the Catholic church at the Newman Center at Boise State and I knelt down. I felt like I had come home,” she said. “I just felt a deep peace within me that this was where I needed to be.”

After a near-fatal car accident on the way back to school from spring break, she knew that she had to respond to God’s call to become Catholic.

“That experience made me realize that, you know, you don’t have forever to follow God. I knew God was calling me to be Catholic, but I was just afraid,” Sister Jennifer said. “You only have today. I could have died in that accident.”

Several years later, she responded to another of God’s calls—this time to the religious life. After getting to know a community of Benedictines in Idaho, Sister Jennifer knew she had to see what religious life was all about.

“I loved the sisters. I loved the prayer. I loved all of it. When I went in the church at the monastery to pray, I knelt down and I had that same feeling of home,” she said. “I loved the way the sisters seek God together, and the joy that that brings. So I found myself going back and going back, and finally, I realized that I needed to at least try it.”

She made her final vows in 1995. Three years later, she became the director of spirituality for the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove. During that experience, she lived at Our Lady of Grace Monastery and fell in love with the community of religious sisters there. She asked to transfer her vows to the monastery and became a full member in 2004.

Since then, her dedication to the community has been evident in all of her ministries.

Benedictine Sister Maureen Therese Cooney describes how Sister Jennifer, while director of vocations, trained for the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis in order to spread the word about religious vocations through community involvement.

“That was important to her. She and I trained for the Mini and we didn’t run, we walked,” said Sister Maureen. “But to me that shows such a commitment to the community and to spreading vocations—her willingness to step out of her comfort zone. We were out there walking in all different kinds of weather, and our motto was not to get picked up by the bus!”

Community life is integral to the Beech Grove Benedictines, and Sister Jennifer described the installation ceremony as a very powerful moment of community. After she has taken her oath of installation, every sister in the monastery will come forward where Sister Jennifer is standing and offer individual signs of peace to her.

“That’s a very powerful moment, we do that at final profession as well, only two times,” she describes. “So they each come forward, and that’s the part that will totally do me in.”

This dedication to her community, along with a deep love for the monastic life, are skills that she will bring to her community throughout the next six years.

“I love our way of life. The most important part of being prioress is being the spiritual leader of the community. That’s the key thing,” Sister Jennifer said. “And I think my love of the monastic life and my desire to really help us continue to go to God together will be what I bring to the community.”

Although she may feel overwhelmed by the responsibility, Sister Jennifer expressed true joy when speaking of her new position at the monastery.

“I’m really excited about working with the community. In the role of prioress, you get to know the sisters differently,” she said. “And I look forward to that journey with them and to hold each of their stories sacred, and to really listen to the yearnings of each sister’s heart because that’s who we are as Benedictines.”

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

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