October 28, 2016

2016 Vocations Supplement

Rule of St. Benedict leads sisters to live vocation of mercy

Benedictine Sister Kathleen Yeadon helps a man at the Cathedral Kitchen on Oct. 19. The theology teacher at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis brought students of her social justice class to volunteer. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Benedictine Sister Kathleen Yeadon helps a man at the Cathedral Kitchen on Oct. 19. The theology teacher at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis brought students of her social justice class to volunteer. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

BEECH GROVE—When Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild-Horner thinks about the Rule of St. Benedict, she says mercy is one of the words that comes to mind.

“The rule is merciful,” says Sister Jennifer, prioress of the Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. “Because we were received by God, we need to receive others.”

So how does the Holy Year of Mercy play out in a community that already lives by mercy as a rule?

The Criterion spoke with members of the Benedictine community to discover how they have highlighted in a special way this year that trait that is so paramount to their vocation, and the different ways in which mercy is shown in the daily work of the sisters.

‘We receive all as Christ’

Being a community based on mercy, the sisters “did not suddenly start being merciful on the first day of the jubilee year,” says Benedictine Sister Mary Luke Jones, monastery director of development, with a chuckle.

“But the Year of Mercy as declared by the Holy Father has brought it to the forefront of our thinking and our reflection and our own prayer,” she says. “It has focused our attention.”

She lists special actions the community took to mark the jubilee year, such as having mercy-themed prayer services for the public (with the final one set for 4:15 p.m. in the monastery chapel on Nov.6). The efforts also include sharing quotes about mercy in donor “thank you” letters, offering a retreat on mercy at the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center, and publishing an educational article about corporal and spiritual works of mercy in the community’s newsletter.

Internal actions were taken as well, such as trips for the sisters to walk through the Holy Doors of Mercy at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, and Lenten reflections on Pope Francis’ letter announcing the holy year, “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”).

“We’ve been touched as a community by the Holy Father, his presence in the world,” says Sister Jennifer. “He is mercy. That’s how he wants to live in the world, and he calls us to live that way.”

Both sisters agree that much of mercy is seeing Christ in others, an action that lies at the center of the Rule of St. Benedict.

“I think the most important sentence in the Rule is that we receive all as Christ,” says Sister Mary Luke. “It underlies everything we say and everything we do, our hospitality in seeing and treating each person as Christ.”

Sister Jennifer sees mercy in the first sentence of the Rule, which states, “Listen carefully … and incline with the ear of your heart.”

“I think that also helps us to see Christ and to really listen to what [a person’s] need is,” she says. “I think if we listen long enough to people, we can get underneath something they’ve said or done. They may irritate us, but when you listen, there’s something else going on. It’s easy to judge and see what we see, but not know all the stuff underneath that makes that person be that way. …

“Because we were received by God, we need to receive others. And hopefully, that person receives others, and it goes on.”

‘I’m driven by mercy’

Benedictine Sister Kathleen Yeadon, a 53-year-old teacher of theology at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, defines mercy as compassion.

“It’s how you receive others, how you understand their own struggles,” she says.

Mercy was infused at an early age in Sister Kathleen, whose 17-member family operated a food pantry out of their basement for St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis.

“I’m driven by mercy,” she says. “You give it because you’ve been given it. I’ve been given so much of it and continue to be given it—why wouldn’t I want to give it back?”

And give it back she does, in many ways. While Sister Kathleen’s list of merciful activities includes volunteering for charitable organizations such as the Cathedral Kitchen in Indianapolis—where she takes the students of her social justice class to volunteer twice a year giving out clothes they collect—and bringing food to Help Our Own People, much of her mercy is given out on the fly.

“I like driving through neighborhoods and giving out stuff,” she says. “I drive south from Chatard, so I take extra food to shelters. If I see people on a porch, I’ll stop and say, ‘Can you use food?’ ”

It’s not just in the giving of needed goods, but in the interaction with those she encounters that Sister Kathleen finds the most mercy.

“I develop these friendships,” she says. “I feel God leads me to these people. There are a lot of cool things that happen when you interact with people not in your economic status. Most people I’ve met have been so kind to me. They remind you your life is not as bad as you think.

“Each time we meet people, you know because of God’s mercy to you that there’s so much more to their heart than what you see.”

Sister Kathleen looks to the current pope as a model of mercy.

“I think it’s great that Pope Francis teaches [mercy] all the time,” she says. “He’s everywhere doing everything.

“I love how he’s met with the different groups [each month during the Year of Mercy], so each time is a different group we’re supposed to reflect on, and we’re called to keep thinking about it.

“It’s that constant message—it doesn’t matter where you live, you’ve got to extend and receive mercy.”

Mercy is ‘a theme on my journey’

Benedictine Sister Heather Jean Foltz, 33, sees her vocation as a journey of unfolding mercy.

“It came in little seeds throughout my journey,” she says. “I received God’s mercy through times in prayer or special experiences I had along the way when others have given mercy to me. I’ve had people in my life who planted those seeds of mercy for me, and the desire to live a life of mercy and hospitality and as a faithful Benedictine bloomed from that.”

After entering the monastery in 2009, Sister Heather professed her solemn vows in June of this year.

“The Year of Mercy was really special to me, to be able to make my solemn profession during this year, because that’s been a theme on my journey—that I have received love and compassion that planted seeds that led to this life. Through living in community I’ve given and received mercy, so to be able to make my profession during this time was such a grace for me.”

She now lives the life of mercy not just in her monastic community but also in her job as director of social services at the sisters’ St. Paul Hermitage. The facility serves the elderly by providing independent living, assisted living and 24-hour nursing care.

“For me, it’s a gift to be able to journey with people in their final years,” says Sister Heather. “I journey with family while loved ones are passing away—being present, offering prayers and a listening ear. Being hospitable to them is an important piece of my job.”

She also helps newcomers transition into their new home, “plugging them into activities, finding ways they can continue to share their gifts in the community. … It’s important that people are able to share their gifts throughout their entire lifespan, doing those things they love to do all their life.”

While Sister Heather considers it a gift to have a job in which she is able to show mercy, she says that mercy “doesn’t necessarily have to be big acts.

“My definition of mercy is living a life of love and compassion. It’s those little things we do over time, like thanking a co-worker, or letting someone going through a hard time know I’m praying for them.

“I try to extend mercy in the way I live my life, and embracing whatever comes up in my life with love and compassion.”

(For more information about the Benedictine sisters of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, visit www.benedictine.com.)

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