November 2, 2018

Vocations Supplement

Benedictine sisters reflect on values promoted in order’s Rule

Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild Horner, prioress of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, greets Pope Francis during an international meeting of Benedictine sisters in Rome in September. (Submitted photo)

Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild Horner, prioress of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, greets Pope Francis during an international meeting of Benedictine sisters in Rome in September. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

BEECH GROVE—In reflecting upon her opportunity to meet Pope Francis in September, two memories stand out for Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild Horner.

“He marched in [to the hall] with a big smile on his face,” recalls the prioress of the Benedictine sisters at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. “He is a very joyful person. When you spoke with him, you felt like he really wanted to be with you. It was an experience I will treasure for a lifetime.”

The second moment was when Pope Francis read an address praising the Benedictine values of hospitality, creation care and prayer.

“We are meant to live in this time and in this place,” says the prioress. “The values of the Benedictine life can make a difference if we do it well.”

Below, Benedictine sisters Jennifer Mechtild and Sheila Marie Fitzpatrick, facilities director at the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center, reflect on the three Benedictine values of hospitality, creation care and prayer.

Treating all as ‘vessels of the altar’

“For your theme, you have taken an exhortation from the fifty-third chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict: ‘All are to be welcomed as Christ.’ This expression has given the Benedictine Order a remarkable vocation to hospitality, in obedience to those words of the Lord Jesus ...: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ [Matt 25:35].” —Address of Pope Francis at the International Communion of Benedictines

When reflecting on the pope’s address to the Benedictine sisters, one message particularly touched Sister Jennifer Mechtild.

“He said, ‘Your life in community bears witness to the importance of mutual love and respect. … (T)he way you accept one another is the first sign you offer in a world that finds it hard to live out this value.’ ”

That mutual love and respect plays out in the hospitality the sisters in the Beech Grove monastery show each other, she says.

“Hospitality to each other comes first, so our hospitality to others is right,” says Sister Jennifer Mechtild. “We [sisters] are all different—we’re not a cookie-cutter community. Hospitality opens our hearts to each other.”

Sister Sheila Marie agrees, noting, “If we can’t be hospitable with ourselves, how can we be hospitable with others?”

That hospitality is then extended to all who visit Our Lady of Grace Monastery and its two corporate ministries: the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center and the St. Paul Hermitage home for the elderly, buildings which form parentheses around the monastery in Beech Grove.

“In today’s world, the call for hospitality is so needed,” says Sister Jennifer Mechtild. “You see the need for that in the way people speak to each other today or in politics. How we speak to each other is very important.

“People say they feel our hospitality when they come [to the monastery] for prayer or a program or to visit. And that hospitality extends outside of the monastery to the places where the sisters work.”

Sister Sheila Marie works at the retreat center, where she says it is “very easy to see hospitality in the sense of how we put people at ease.

“But hospitality plays a role in everything we do,” she adds, including at St. Paul Hermitage in “treating the elderly and meeting their needs at a vulnerable time when they can’t meet their own needs.”

The Rule of St. Benedict states that “all things should be cared for as vessels of the altar,” says Sister Jennifer Mechtild. “Think of how careful you would be with the Eucharist—that is how we should treat all people.”

The same concept applies to all things, she says, including the Earth.

‘Creation is a community we belong to’

“I want to thank you for the special care you show toward the environment and for your efforts to protect the gifts of the earth, so that they can be shared by all.” —Address of Pope Francis at the International Communion of Benedictines

Care for creation is “something close to my heart,” says Sister Sheila Marie. “In The Rule it says to receive all as Christ, and I see it as also receiving all of creation as Christ. … We see creation as a community to which we belong and treat it with the love and respect that we treat all people. It’s about right relationship with each other, with God, with ourselves, with creation.”

Sister Sheila Marie has taken on a special role in caring for creation at the monastery. When the sisters had a recreational facility on the grounds razed several years ago due to its high cost of maintenance, they discerned about what to do with the vacant land.

A landscape architect working on the project said the land would be very poor. It would be difficult for trees to grow on the land, so he suggested the idea of turning the area into prairie land.

“I felt like that would be something we could give back to the community,” says Sister Sheila Marie. “And also it would really be good for our environment and increasing habitat. It could help migrating birds and pollinating plants.”

The Prayer and Nature Garden was created next to the retreat center in 2014 in partnership with the non‑profit Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. As facilities director for the Benedict Inn, Sister Sheila Marie is responsible for overseeing the care of the garden and the handicap-accessible trail winding through it. To increase her knowledge and ability in this task of stewardship she earned certificates as a Master Naturalist, a Tree Specialist and an Aldo Leopold Educator.

“Chapter 31 of The Rule is on the role of the ‘cellarer,’ someone who is to care for the goods of the community, to make sure they have what they need,” she explains. “It’s about right relationship, right attitude and just distribution of goods.

“It’s a beautiful explanation of how we do stewardship in daily life.”

‘All we do hinges on prayer’

“The daily celebration of Holy Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours puts you at the heart of the Church’s life. Every day, your prayer enriches … the ‘breathing’ of the Church.” —Address of Pope Francis at the International Communion of Benedictines

When Sister Jennifer Mechtild reflects on her journey to become a Benedictine sister, she recalls what most attracted her to a life serving Christ in the order.

“What drew me was the life of prayer, and that all we do hinges on that,” she says. “We gather three times a day to pray for the Church and the world. Community and personal prayer are essential.

“From that [prayer] flows our care for the world and for others. You can’t live a life of hospitality without prayer.”

That combination of hospitality and prayer is lived out in the sisters’ open invitation for anyone to join them in the monastery’s chapel for daily Mass and thrice-daily communal praying of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Special public prayer services are also held at different times throughout the year. Some are annual, such as the sisters’ Celebration of Light service in memory of deceased loved ones. Other opportunities for public prayer are offered as needs arise, such as the Taizé service for healing in the Church and for victims of clergy sexual abuse the sisters held in October.

“Prayer really is helping, even if you don’t see it in the moment,” Sister Jennifer Mechtild assures.

And the sisters’ prayers are continual. The prioress gained a unique perspective on that fact while attending the International Communion of Benedictines in Rome.

At one point, she says, “I thought of the sisters at home, and I knew they were praying for me. And with the time difference, I was praying while they were sleeping.

“And that’s when I realized there is never a moment when [Benedictine] sisters aren’t praying the Liturgy of the Hours somewhere in the world.

“So now when I go to sleep I think of all the [Benedictine] communities around the world in different time zones, and it’s like, ‘OK, it’s your turn to pray now.’ ”

(The Sisters of St. Benedict’s Our Lady of Grace Monastery is located at 1402 Southern Ave., in Beech Grove. For more information on the sisters, their Mass and prayer schedule, events or their ministries through the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center and St. Paul Hermitage, go to or call 317-787-3287.)

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