Celebrating 125 Years of Lisle Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery
Day 243: October 1, 2020
Education and the Benedictine Sisters
The Benedictine Sisters are monastic which means their focus is to live in community, pray together in community, and work for a common purpose which is “That in all things God may be glorified.” St. Benedict’s Rule states that his followers are to “pray and work.” Now what kind of work would that look like for the Sisters in Lisle 125 years ago? Well, pastors were scrambling to build parish schools and were pleading for Sisters to teach in order to uphold the Catholic faith of the children, most of whose parents were immigrants. This meant that some of the Sisters would have to leave the full monastic lifestyle in Lisle to staff parochial schools not only in Chicago or Lisle, but also in various other places. To teach however, meant the young Sisters would need more education to impart the essential knowledge to meet standard requirements. This inspired the Sisters to keep one eye on teaching in the classroom and the other eye on studying college courses either after school hours, Saturdays, and during the summer months as well. With trust in God’s help, while working together and using moments of humor to soften the struggles, the effort proved to be worth it. How proud the Sisters were of the students who were known to be eager to learn! The parents were grateful, and the Sisters too were appreciative of the unity of everyone working together. After all, the Sisters not only taught elementary school children the basic subjects, but they were also privileged to teach them about the beauty of the Catholic faith and God’s bounteous love for everyone.
Day 244: October 2, 2020
Jandura, Sister Mary Irmengarde b. 7/20/1913 d. 10/2/1984
Sister Mary Irmengarde had a long and fruitful ministry of 52 years. Her last mission was at St. Joan of Arc in Lisle where she was especially revered. Sister Carolyn, the principal, recalled that she was generous with her time, kept educationally abreast, and with her quiet, confident manner, helped her students achieve their fullest potential. The parents of her students loved her and showered her with flowers and messages of gratitude on the last days of her life. It was noteworthy that she died on the Feast of the Guardian Angels, a Godly acknowledgement for her angelic innocent life of love.
Day 245: October 3, 2020
Kerka, Sister Mary Bernadette b. 11/11/1900 d. 10/3/1986
Sister Mary Bernadette is remembered for her Czech accent and a seeming grumpy disposition. But in getting to know her, she had a heart of gold. If you were sick, you went to her for sound medical assistance since she was the infirmarian, both for the Sisters and the Academy girls. If you had visitors you would tell her as well, as she was the guest mistress. Her down-to-earth hospitality made her genuine and lovable. She was always devoted to young people, and in her golden years she delighted in Benet Academy’s “Adopt a Sister” project during which she enjoyed visiting with new high school friends.
Day 246: October 4, 2020
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School 1449 South Keeler Avenue Chicago, Illinois 60623
Our Lady of Lourdes history all began as industrial plants offered jobs and railroad transportation was available. Many Czechs were attracted to settle in this Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. They of course wanted their own parish church where the Czech language would be spoken. English was introduced as the spoken language in 1937. The Benedictine Sisters from Lisle were invited to staff the school from 1907 continuing until 1993, resulting in an eighty-six year history of teaching there. From 1920 to 1947, the Sisters also ran a two year commercial high school program there.
This picture of Our Lady of Lourdes Church was built in 1929, replacing the small earlier church. Father Mergl, the pastor, wanted it to be a replica of his home church in Bohemia, a lovely Romanesque-style edifice. The school was built about the same time, though make-shift classrooms were put together before that. The enrollment of the school grew rapidly through the years which included kindergarten to grade 8, and every grade was taught by a Benedictine Sister. The parish and school flourished.
Day 247: October 5, 2020
Our Lady of Lourdes-Catholic School 1950+
Fast-forward to 1950 when the census showed that 87% of the Lawndale neighborhood was settled by white people. Then in the summer of 1956, this area went through a sudden racial change. Unscrupulous real estate dealers profited in buying the homes of white people for low prices, and then they turned around to sell them to African Americans at inflated prices.
By the grace of God with the influx of an African American settlement around Our Lady of Lourdes, the pastors and the Benedictine Sisters were wise and willing to adjust to the changes that needed to be made, having been educated in social justice practices of the Catholic Church. They encouraged African Americans to become a part of the parish, and they welcomed their children to attend Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.
Day 248: October 6, 2020
Our Lady of Lourdes-National Recognition
As early as 1965 to 1967, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish gained national recognition due to the programs initiated in helping African Americans. Father Michael R. Dempsey was the pastor at that time, who soon would become a Bishop. He had a tremendous impact on the parish as well as the neighborhood. He started “Lawndale for Better Jobs” in the basement of the school in 1965. This soon became the Tri-Faith Employment Agency. Despite his nationwide work to begin the Campaign for Human Development, he dearly loved the school children and would spend time in counseling those who needed special guidance. Additionally, he wanted to do everything in his power to have the school meet educational national standards for the African American students.
Sister DePaul Stava, OSB, was a faithful assistant in helping both Bishop Dempsey and Sister Joanne Williams in their many outreach projects. She first taught in the school for several years, and then continued to minister at Our Lady of Lourdes by helping in the fund-raising projects. She served there for twenty-three years.
Day 249: October 7, 2020
Our Lady of Lourdes-National Acclaim
This picture at Our Lady of Lourdes School was taken on January 20, 1969. With national acclaim for inner-city work, Bishop Dempsey was honored by Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who came to see these multifaceted programs in action. In the picture, we see Vice President Humphrey on the left, then Mayor R. Daley, the priest assistant to Cardinal Cody, Cardinal Cody, and Sister Innocencia, OSB, who was the principal, as well as the school children in their classroom. The parish was most grateful to Bishop Dempsey for the outstanding work that he managed to do for his parishioners and the school children. They saw him as their advocate and personal friend. Bishop Dempsey died of a heart attack on January 8, 1974, at the age of 55.
Day 250: October 8, 2020
Bratrsovsky, Sister Mary Immaculate b. 4/3/1907 d. 10/11/1997 (Sister of Sisters Annunciata and Alma)
Whenever Sister Mary Immaculate’s name is mentioned, it is usually associated with her 15-year role as the principal of Sacred Heart Academy. Her manner was stately and her speech and grammar impeccable which put the students in awe of her. She taught English literature and loved teaching poetry. At the table while eating, she taught the Academy girls etiquette and also the habit to chew their food 32 times. In her later years, she joined the staff at Benet Academy and spent most of her time in interviewing the seniors as a counselor. As a result, the seniors were admitted into the colleges to which they applied. Most of all, she had a fervent devotion to Mary Immaculate, her patron saint and intercessor.
Day 251: October 9, 2020
Kucirek, Sister Mary Alphonsa b. 10/28/1892 d. 10/12/1968
Sister Mary Alphonsa was a loving charitable woman who was able to do most anything. As a result, she was sent to wherever help was needed. She was a teacher in our parochial schools, an accountant at St. Joseph’s Orphanage, and last of all, she was sent to St. Benedict’s Home for the Aged where she became a friend and helper to those elderly folks. There was nothing more consoling to them than to see a Sister who loved life and who was in her golden years just like they were, who really understood what they needed. She loved to pray with them, join them in a game of cards at recreation, and to listen to their worries. How greatly they loved her presence with them, and she loved them dearly as well.
Day 252: October 10, 2020
Svec, Sister Barbara Ann b. 10/2/1938 d. 10/10/2018 (Sister of Sister Agnes Ann)
Sister Barbara Ann was no stranger to hardships and suffering. Even before the age of two, she already had surgeries due to a rare blood disease called hemangioma. At age 26, she had a right leg amputation above the knee. However with determination, she learned to drive with her left leg as she was a “tough cookie”. At Benet Academy before the full use of technology, she was the curriculum coordinator. At the Monastery she gathered information for the archives and had hobbies like scrapbooking, postcard collecting, and crocheting. At prayer she served as cantor for Vespers or Mass. She had a special devotion to her guardian angel who she called on especially whenever she traveled; something she looked forward to even when she no longer could drive.
Day 253: October 11, 2020
Form, Sister Jo Anne b. 10/11
Sister Jo Anne is our creative art genius. The computer is now her instrument in developing beautiful cards, images to fit special occasions, and any personal projects the Sisters need to be embellished with art. In the past she used her apt fingers to do calligraphy, macramé, and quilling techniques before the computer was available. Her bulletin board displays for special occasions are a marvel, symbolizing in art form the life of a Sister being celebrated or other significant occasions. The Sisters appreciate her seemingly overwhelming project to print out daily leaflets for our Divine Office that cover the whole Liturgical Year cycle.
Day 254: October 12, 2020
Tuma, Sister Mary Gilbert b. 3/1/1923 d. 11/12/2014
Sister Mary Gilbert was a motherless child as her mother died four hours after her birth. As a result, her father had to place her into an orphan home. As a teenager he brought her to St. Joseph’s Orphanage where she was able to attend high school at Sacred Heart Academy, but she found it hard to fit in. Sister Mary Borgia became aware of her musical talent and encouraged her to study violin and piano. Sister Mary Borgia developed into a mother figure for her, someone for whom she had always craved. After her high school studies, she joined the Benedictine Sisters and served our community for over 70 years. She was a kindergarten teacher, gave private music lessons, baked altar breads, prepared them for shipment to parishes, and was in charge of the monastic dining room. She was a responsible and very successful addition to our community.
Day 255: October 13, 2020
Spinler, Sister Mary Milburg b. 3/12/1906 d. 10/13/1983 (Sister to Sisters Bertha, Wendeline, Rose Alice and Adella)
Sister Mary Milburg was animated with zeal for God and for working in community. Ever aware of our Benedictine motto, “Ora et Labora”, she spent most of her years giving of herself wholeheartedly in taking care of chickens, ducks, and turkeys on our Benedictine farm, having a keen insight of the different behaviors of each poultry group. She was also gifted in creating arts and crafts items, and with her green thumb she grew indoor and outdoor plants and flowers. Like her four Sisters in religious life, her life was genuine and unassuming. Being raised on a well-ordered, family farm in Minnesota where all the children participated in barn or outdoor chores, she knew what it meant to be responsible and cooperative with everyone around her.
Day 256: October 14, 2020
Dobos, Sister Marion b. 10/14
Sister Marion is on a faith journey among the growing population of the Byzantine, Eastern Rite Catholic Church. Though she belongs to the Benedictine Community in Warren, Ohio, she is missioned in Pittsburg as the Director of Pastoral Formation at SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary in the Archdiocesan Eparchy of the Byzantine Church in America. In addition, she is the Archdiocesan Director of Religious Education for all levels. Having a background in education and administration as well as pastoral ministry, she oversees the performance of the seminarians at the parish level. She also gives conferences for women to keep them abreast of Vatican II teachings, and she conducts the Pre-Cana program for those preparing for marriage. In her calm, efficient, organized and pleasant ways, she celebrates what God is doing in her hope-filled life, confident that God is multiplying her efforts a hundred fold every day.
Day 257: October 15, 2020
Jan, Sister Mary Scholastica b. 4/26/1891 d. 10/16/1981
Sister Mary Scholastica was a highly motivated religious woman with teaching and administrative abilities. Through her years, she taught high school and college, was supervisor of our parish schools, principal of Sacred Heart Academy, and Community secretary as well as treasurer. The more recent Academy students knew her as a science teacher with advanced knowledge of physiology, able to teach the nurses in the Aurora hospitals. She treasured her Benedictine way of life and was always ready to use her wide range of knowledge for the good of every member of our community.
Day 258: October 16, 2020
Our Lady of Lourdes-Joanne Williams
Sister Joanne Williams, OSB, taught mostly 8th grade for twelve years at Our Lady of Lourdes and then was principal for seven years until the school closed in 1993. (The school closing was due to parish restructuring by the Archdiocese.) Since finances were low in the school, she made an agreement with Carson Pirie Scott to collect excess clothing and household items. She then was able to sell these items to the parishioners at a reduced price to cover the tuition payment for the school children who were not able to pay. Having a master’s degree in design education, she created an after school art program called “Young Rembrandts” to keep young people off the streets. She sang and played the guitar in the parish choir and was committed to all the needs of the parish with Bishop Dempsey and Father Fitzgerald, Bishop Dempsey’s successor. She was responsible in helping to organize the Westside Catholic Cluster of parishes. Due to her outstanding work in this project, she was awarded the Humanitarian Award by the Chicago Archdiocese.
Day 259: October 17, 2020
Hurcik, Sister Margaret Mary b. 3/16/1881 d. 10/18/1973
Sister Margaret Mary was born in Moravia, Czechoslovakia. When her family came to the U.S., they settled in St. Vitus Parish where she came in contact with the Benedictine Sisters. She was a jovial and patient teacher for 32 years, but due to her gradual loss of eyesight and other disabilities, she was brought back to the monastery. She helped where she could, but mostly helped by praying the rosary for requested intentions. Her love for music and her ability to play the piano filled her days as she took to the piano with great pleasure, entertaining not only herself, but also anyone else who heard her playing.
Day 260: October 18, 2020
Ruda, Sister Mary Clarissa b. 10/20/1905 d. 10/18/2004
Sister Mary Clarissa was a healthy “Rock of Ages” all her life whose hope was to live to be 100, and she almost made it. While growing up on the family Kansas farm, she was a precocious child ready to take over jobs. She gratefully told how she raised her younger brother from babyhood, as well as helped with farm chores. In the Monastery while being a full-time teacher, she was also the organist, playing for all the Masses, novenas, weddings, and funerals plus giving music lessons. Being proud of her Czech heritage and her ability to speak Czech, she often said that she knew her Czech as well as her English. At the robust age of 97, we remember how she would scout the campus picking up pop cans and coins, able to send the money it brought her to a priest missionary who was her former student. Representing the community at the groundbreaking ceremony for our Villa St. Benedict (age 97) with vigor, she spiked the shovel into the ground with the zest of a winning athlete. She died at age 99 still “feeling fine”.
Day 261: October 19, 2020
Stava, Sister Mary DePaul b. 10/19
Whenever anyone thinks of Sister DePaul, they most likely think of her jokes and marvel at her ability to have memorized them. To a new group of people she will readily tell the story of “Rindercella” (the letters are concocted from the story of Cinderella) or the medical version of “Bones” as she does a comedian’s act. She is known as our secret Santa, not only at Christmas time but also whenever anyone needs cheering up for a birthday occasion. However, she is most gratefully appreciated for her ability to read at Mass and Divine Office, because her enunciation and clear voice make hearing no effort for those listening.
Day 262: October 20, 2020
Bohounek, Sister Elizabeth b. 5/16/1877 d. 10/20/1949
Sister Elizabeth, born in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, joined the pioneer Benedictine Sisters in 1900 during the early days of their formation in Lisle. The Sisters were needed both at St. Joseph’s Orphanage where she served for some time, and then at St. Procopius College kitchen where she became the superior of the Sisters with whom she worked. She was well known there as being an exemplary follower of St. Benedict’s Rule and an edification to all the monks and students. In her retirement at the Monastery, she was very happy to help in the sewing room as well as to lead a monastic life of prayer with the Benedictine Community, achieving a close relationship with her loving Savior.
Day 263: October 21, 2020
Polak, Sister Christina b. 7/27/1885 d. 10/21/1918 (Sister of Sister Barbara)
Sister Christina was welcomed with open arms by Sister Barbara, her blood sister, when she decided to join the Benedictine Community. Having already had work experience, Sister Christina did not need much training, being well suited for important tasks. Thus, she was assigned to St. Joseph’s Orphanage where the Orphans needed much attention. During those difficult times of World War I, influenza began to rage in the Chicago area as well as in the whole world. Sister put her whole heart and soul into caring for the children until all the sick children recovered. Then, feeling very exhausted, she too was diagnosed with the disease. With a fervent desire to remain faithful to God, she had the privilege of pronouncing her perpetual vows before she died at age 33.
Day 264: October 22, 2020
Our Lady of Lourdes School-First Communion May 17, 1992
Mrs. Sadie Johnson was one of the first lay teachers added to the school staff, having the distinction of being a part of the faculty for twenty-one years. She usually taught second grade and joyfully prepared the second grade classes for their First Holy Communion.
The picture on the right shows some of the members of the school board: Wilbert Thomas, Norris Washington, Betty Keller, and Sheree Tolivar. Other members were Pearl Herring, Patricia Henderson, Daisy Sanders, John Lee, Edna Johnson, Donna Willis, and Diane Sawyer. The school board’s goals were to work with the pastor and principal in planning the budget and to help with fund-raising activities. Their insight was valuable.
Day 265: October 23, 2020
St. Vitus Catholic School 18th Place and Paulina St. Chicago, Illinois
This picture shows the new St. Vitus Church, dedicated in 1897 to serve the Czech Catholics in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. In 1895, the Metropolitan Elevated Railroad announced plans to erect “L” tracks for the Douglas Park “L” line at the rear of the first St. Vitus Church, built in 1888. With lengthy negotiations, the company offered to pay $25,000 to St. Vitus. This amount covered the cost of the new church, a grateful financial blessing. In the picture, you can see a building on the left side of the church. This was the original motherhouse of the Benedictine Sisters, who were founded in 1895 under the leadership of Mother Mary Nepomucene Jaeger, OSB. The Sisters took charge of the parish school which is seen at the right. The rectory is visible between the church and school.
Day 266: October 24, 2020
St. Vitus School-Students
By 1900, 438 children were enrolled in the school. This 1949 picture shows a typical self-contained classroom taught by a Benedictine Sister for a full school day. Books and blackboards were learning tools, and a pencil or an ink pen was used to write on lined paper by the students. There were no computers or other modern technological devices. However, learning took place and Christian principles were instilled for life in the students’ formation.
Day 267: October 25, 2020
St. Vitus School-Sisters
St. Vitus was the location of our Benedictine original foundation and our first school mission. From 1895 to 1912, the teaching Sisters lived with the other Sisters at the motherhouse, located just around the corner of St. Vitus Church. In 1912, the Sisters moved to Lisle. The motherhouse then became St. Benedict’s Home for the Aged. Once the Sisters were in Lisle, those who were assigned to teach at St. Vitus needed to have a place to live at St. Vitus for the school year. It was decided they would live on the fourth floor of the rectory building. However, since there was no direct entrance to that space on the upper floor, a staircase first had to be built from the church choir loft to the top floor for the Sisters’ occupancy. Through the years, many different Sisters, who came from Lisle, taught at St. Vitus School. The monastic custom was for the Prioress to assign or reassign a Sister’s place of teaching every year. Here we see a few Sisters in traditional habits of the earlier days who taught at St. Vitus. They were (from front left) Sisters Ferdinand, Meinarda, Richardis, Theodora, (top row) Sisters Bernice (Rosalie), Patricia, and Carlene.
Day 268: October 26, 2020
St. Vitus Becomes a New Generation of Immigrants
The enrollment at St. Vitus School decreased rapidly in the 1960’s, and the school was to close soon. A new culture was being welcomed, namely a Hispanic community of Mexican and Puerto Rican origin. In 1969, the Benedictine Sisters left after a seventy-four year history of service there with much gratitude from the parish. However, St. Vitus Parish would continue its immigrant status which started with the Czechs and now Hispanics, who were grateful to the Czechs for leaving them their church. At its 75th Anniversary celebration, the children’s choir sang the Mass in four languages (Latin, Czech, English, and Spanish), paying tribute to the dignity of the traditions of these cultures. The Hispanics too had a strong commitment to the Catholic faith, inspired to work for community building based on justice, peace, and love. They brought with them their intimate devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose motherly glance reminded them of her special care for them as they adjusted to a new and different environment.
Day 269: October 27, 2020
St. Mary of Celle Parish 1428 Wesley Avenue Berwyn, IL 60402
St. Mary of Celle Parish was named after an ancient shrine of Our Lady of Mariazell (literally “house of Mary”), situated in the beautiful mountain country fifty miles southwest of Vienna, Austria. It is the most visited Marian shrine in central Europe, close to the homeland of the Czechs. The Benedictine Sisters from Lisle were invited to teach at St. Mary of Celle in Berwyn in 1910, after Father Procopius Neuzil, OSB, (who later became the Abbot of St. Procopius Abbey), became the first pastor in 1909. Father Neuzil organized 150 Bohemian families and 20 other English-speaking families to be church, but they had no church building.
Day 270: October 28, 2020
St. Mary of Celle-Buildings
This two story building, pictured on the left, was built by the Benedictine monks from Lisle with the help of some parishioners to serve as a church and school. The church was on the second floor and four classrooms were on the first floor. One of the classrooms served as a parish hall. Another small section became the living space for the three Sisters who were teaching there. Eighty-six pupils were enrolled the first year. In 1926, a convent was built for the Sisters, and in 1957 the convent was remodeled and enlarged to be a suitable and a lovely place for the Sisters.
The parish grew rapidly, and by 1924 a new school was under construction to meet the needs of a fast growing parish. The school was “U” shaped, and space was left for a permanent church to be built later. In 1931, a church of Spanish Romanesque style was built to sit within the U-shaped school. In this picture you can see a part of the school on the right.
Day 271: October 29, 2020
St. Mary of Celle-Father Robert Mastny, OSB
In 1942 after several other Benedictine priests were pastors through the years, Father Robert Mastny, OSB, became the pastor. He held this position for thirty-seven years. In the back row to the left of an unknown priest, Father Robert is pictured here with a group of First Communicants. Sister Gonzaga is on the left side with Sister Hildegarde on the right side of the communicants. The two Sisters prepared the children for this First Holy Communion event.
By 1950, a new building for additional classrooms and a social center including a gymnasium was built. The population of Berwyn increased rapidly, and the number of school children reached a peak enrollment of 900 students throughout the 1950’s and ‘60’s. There were sixteen teaching Sisters to cover the double grades.
Day 272: October 30, 2020
Spinler, Sister Mary Bertha b. 1/27/1895 d. 10/30/1962 (Sister of Sisters Adella, Rose Alice, Milburg and Wendeline)
Sister Mary Bertha, of the five Spinler Sisters from Minnesota, was the first to request to enter religious life. At age 11, she was entrusted to teach her younger brothers and sisters their prayers. She also was an avid reader of the Czech children’s monthly magazine (Pritel Ditek) sent with the Czech Catholic newspaper (Katolik) published by the Benedictine Fathers at St. Procopius Parish in Chicago. The author of the children’s paper was Abbot Procopius Neuzil, and little Frances (Sister Mary Bertha) wrote to him asking if there was a convent in Chicago. He immediately wrote to Mother Nepomucene to correspond with Frances, so she did. However, the parents of Frances held her back, not letting her enter the convent until she was 18. On entering, she was soon followed by her four other Sisters. Remaining conscientious throughout her years, always kind and prayerful, it was said that Sister Mary Bertha shined like a precious jewel in our Community and that glow was contagious.
Day 273: October 31, 2020
Mary of Celle-Sisters
By 1979, the parish was losing the original members as they were moving westward. Incoming families were not registering for the school and enrollment decreased. Additionally, the Benedictine Sisters were growing older and were no longer able to staff the school. The decision was made to leave the parish. The Sisters had been there for sixty-nine years. Of course, this was a sad decision for the parishioners, for they felt they owed the Sisters so much, and the loss would be great. However, new life was on the way, and the St. Mary of Celle School continued to be open until 2005.
We will continue writing about schools after Feb 2.
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