November 3, 2023

2023 Vocations Awareness Supplement

Vow of stability helps Benedictine sisters be rooted in prayer and mutual support

Benedictine Sister Susan Nicole Reuber, left, Benedictine Sister Heather Jean Foltz and Benedictine Sister Rocio Moreno pray Evening Prayer on Oct. 16 in the chapel of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Benedictine Sister Susan Nicole Reuber, left, Benedictine Sister Heather Jean Foltz and Benedictine Sister Rocio Moreno pray Evening Prayer on Oct. 16 in the chapel of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

BEECH GROVE—What vows do religious in the Catholic Church profess? Poverty, chastity and obedience? That might be the most common answer.

But it wouldn’t be entirely accurate.

For some 1,500 years, Benedictine men and women have professed vows of obedience, stability and conversion to the monastic way of life. The last vow includes poverty and chastity but encompasses more aspects of life than just them.

But what about stability? What is it? In that vow, Benedictines promise to be tied to their particular monastic community for the rest of their lives.

That’s what links the 45 members of Our Lady of Grace Monastery to their monastic community in Beech Grove, which was founded in 1955 by Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese, and became an independent community in 1961.

Three members of Our Lady of Grace recently spoke with The Criterion about what the vow of stability means to them.

Benedictine Sister Nicolette Etienne, who teaches middle school religion at nearby Holy Name of Jesus School, sees stability as “a solid, rooted tree.”

“To be really rooted and secure allows me to live all the other vows,” Sister Nicolette said. “When you’re really secure, confident and sturdy, the winds can blow, but you’re safe, because you’re secure.

“Everything else flows from my feeling strong, safe, secure and rooted in my love for Christ and my Benedictine sisters. That makes me strong to be able to go out and build God’s kingdom.”

Benedictine Sister Sheila Marie Fitzpatrick, a member of the archdiocesan Creation Care Commission, understandably views stability as the rich soil Jesus spoke of in the parable of the sower that yields 100 fold (Mt13:1–23; Mk 4:1–20; Lk 8:4–15).

“Rich soil doesn’t happen overnight,” Sister Sheila Marie said. “When you think of how nutrients are put in soil, it takes season after season, year after year in the cycles of life. Vegetation dies. It creates new compost and builds layer after layer after layer.

“When we make our monastic vows, we make them for life. So, we keep renewing them in ourselves every day. It’s our sense of stability that allows us to do that.”

Benedictine Sister Susan Nicole Reuber, her community’s director of development, offers a relational image of the vow of stability: “staying at the table.”

“Even when things are tough and hard, stability asks us to stay in the conversation,” Sister Susan Nicole said. “Even if [other people] have an opinion different from mine, I stay in the conversation.

“It’s that ‘I’ becoming ‘we.’ That’s very important in community life. … If I stay at the table and listen to the rest of the sisters, then maybe I can have a conversion and understand more why we’re not choosing my particular opinion.”

The vow of stability for Benedictines grew out of St. Benedict’s experience of the great instability of society in late fifth-century Italy when the western part of the Roman Empire was collapsing.

Sister Sheila Marie thinks many people in society today, perhaps especially young adults, similarly seek a stability amid the often-roiling changes in contemporary culture.

“Our culture in the United States is one that thrives on change,” she said. “Our advertisements focus on what is newer and better. To move from job to job now is seen as moving up. You don’t stay in one place.

“[But] that doesn’t get to the deep longing for belonging. It doesn’t allow people to truly belong. I think there’s a real longing for that.”

Sister Susan Nicole, who was a young adult teacher at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis before joining Our Lady of Grace in 2012, has firsthand experience of this.

“I was doing lots of things at Roncalli and at St. Jude [Parish],” she said. “But there was still something missing. It was a tie to something bigger, to a community, to be with other women who believed in the same things that I believed in, being part of a group that saw gifts in me that I didn’t see in myself.

“I think that’s what young adults long for. They want to be known and to belong.”

The Benedictine sisters of Our Lady of Grace don’t just belong to their monastic community. They also value the connection they have with the city of Beech Grove in which they’re located.

Its history is largely rooted in the early 20th-century development of the town as a railroad center. The days of the Beech Grove community finding its lifeblood in the large rail yard along Emerson Avenue, though, have long since passed.

“Beech Grove has survived the changes that have happened in its history,” said Sister Sheila Marie. “And it’s still able to maintain a small-town sense. It’s a tight-knit community. It’s a real blessing to have that. We hope that we’re holding down our part of it on the north side [of Beech Grove].”

Sister Susan Nicole recently spoke with Beech Grove leaders about the place of Our Lady of Grace in the wider community.

“All of them said that, even if a Beech Grove community member isn’t Catholic and doesn’t know about the sisters, they still know that 1402 Southern Avenue is a special holy place,” said Sister Susan Nicole, referencing the monastery’s street address. “People know who the sisters are and the stability that we’ve brought to the community.”

One aspect of the life of the Benedictine sisters at 1402 Southern Avenue in Beech Grove that Sister Nicolette, Sister Sheila Marie and Sister Susan Nicole emphasized as the prime expression of their stability is their daily life of prayer.

St. Benedict in his Rule for Monasteries said that “nothing is to be preferred to the work of God,” which, for him, meant monastic communities gathering several times a day to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

“Our monastic life is centered around common prayer and community life,” Sister Nicolette said. “That’s what gives us the strength to go out to build the kingdom of God.”

Sister Susan Nicole sees the vow of stability beautifully illustrated in the fidelity of Benedictine Sister Mary Carol Messmer, 100, and a founding member of Our Lady of Grace, to the community’s life of prayer.

“She still is at prayer every single morning, noon and evening,” Sister Susan Nicole said. “She may be in a wheelchair or behind a walker, but she’s there.”

Sister Susan Nicole said that, while stability drew her to Our Lady of Grace, it was prayer in the midst of stability that has kept her there.

“When I do occasionally have a time where I can’t be at Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer, my day feels off,” she said. “It just feels like something is missing, a great big piece of my life.

“Some mornings, I wish I could just sleep until 10 and not have an alarm clock. But then I need to be there with my sisters. I need to be praying for them. They’re praying for me, even if I don’t feel like being there.”

For Sister Nicolette, being part of a community of women religious gathering faithfully for prayer every day is at the heart of who she is before God.

“Life isn’t always easy,” she said. “We’re a group of women who are all different and have different idiosyncrasies. But our common goal is seeking God. It’s why I’m here. To be able to seek God with another person is easier to do than doing it by yourself.”

(For more information about Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, visit

Read more stories from our 2023 Vocations Awareness Supplement

Local site Links: