May 17, 2019

Soon-to-be 100, Sister Eugenia celebrates a life in which ‘God is my true love’

Benedictine Sister Eugenia Reibel, right, will turn 100 on May 24. Here, she shares a smile with Benedictine Sister Mary Luke Jones inside the chapel of the St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Benedictine Sister Eugenia Reibel, right, will turn 100 on May 24. Here, she shares a smile with Benedictine Sister Mary Luke Jones inside the chapel of the St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

BEECH GROVE—Her eyes twinkle as she recalls the exact moment when she knew what she wanted to do with her life—a revelation that came while she was dancing at her junior-senior high school prom.

“There I was on the dance floor, in the middle of a dance with my date and then, all of a sudden, like a bolt of lightning, I knew I had to enter the convent.”

More than 80 years have passed since that moment, but Benedictine Sister Eugenia Reibel still smiles and laughs like a teenager when she shares that story. After all, that lightning-quick decision has led to the best relationship in the life of the soon-to-be 100-year-old sister.

“God is my true love,” she said. “I don’t think you would live this life for all these years if he wasn’t my sweetheart. I just thank him.”

Her friends and fellow Benedictine sisters will thank and celebrate her with a special birthday party at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove when she turns 100 on May 24.

Benedictine Sister Mary Luke Jones has admired Sister Eugenia ever since she was a student at St. Ambrose School in Seymour and Sister Eugenia was the principal there.

“As I grew up and entered the Benedictine community myself, I’ve considered her as the perfect example of a Benedictine woman—always faithful to prayer, always concerned about others, and absolutely committed to maintaining relationships with former students, co-workers and family. And always, always cheerful,” says Sister Mary Luke.

“She also has a picture of every student she taught.”

Soon after she entered the convent in 1936, Sister Eugenia began a long career as an educator which included these schools in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis: St. Ambrose in Seymour, St. Mary-of-the-Knobs in Floyd County, St. Barnabas in Indianapolis and the former Our Lady of Grace Academy in Beech Grove.

“Teaching was and always will be my first love,” Sister Eugenia said. “I still receive letters from former students—and invitations to family celebrations. It is a great feeling to have touched the lives of so many, and they remain so loyal. I take my former students to prayer each day, and I ask the Lord to bless them, both living and deceased.”

Paula Nightingale first met Sister Eugenia when Nightingale was a substitute teacher at St. Barnabas School in the early 1970s.

“She was my godsend,” Nightingale recalled with a laugh. “I was 22, and I was overwhelmed, especially with the older kids. She looked at them and said, ‘You will be nice, and you will be polite to her.’ She was always a kind, soft‑spoken person, but the kids knew she meant business. She’s been a dear friend ever since.”

Their friendship deepened when Nightingale struggled through a time when she wanted to become a mother and suffered several miscarriages. When a doctor recommended adoption, Nightingale turned to Sister Eugenia to help with the process and the application.

“Sister was a big part of making that happen,” she said. “She was a big advocate when we adopted our son. Joe is the best blessing of my life. I got ahold of that child and said, ‘This is wonderful.’ ”

Peggy Greene is another friend who gets emotional when she talks about the impact that Sister Eugenia has on people’s lives.

“She just has a smile and a way that makes you feel special,” said Greene, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. “You feel if she’s praying for you, you have a direct line to God.”

A short Benedictine biography of Sister Eugenia describes her life in this way: “She has lived a life of prayer, of service and, as she gleefully told us, ‘a life of obedience.’ ”

It’s a life that was marked by heartbreak in her childhood when her mother died of complications following childbirth when Eugenia was five. Still, she has fond memories of her mom baking bread and her mom’s patience in teaching her children their prayers.

She also has fond memories of her father who raised his eight children after his wife died.

“My dad said it was the happiest day of his life when I became a novice because it was on his birthday—June 14, 1937.”

Her closeness to her family has continued through her life. Once again this year, her extended family will hold its annual reunion to mark her birthday. As many as 100 relatives have attended.

“I just love every one of them,” she said. “They come with their little ones. Last year, there was a great-great niece born on my birthday. She’s the sweetest thing.”

She smiles again, the reflection of the life she has lived—a life she views as filled with blessings.

“To me, you have to try to be happy wherever you are. I’ve tried to do that. And live my vows. It’s just been beautiful, beautiful.”

(The birthday celebration for Sister Eugenia will be from 2-4 p.m. on May 24 at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove.)

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