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Alma Bratrsovs, OSB

Reflection by Sister Mary Bratrsovsky, OSB
Wake Service June 3, 2013

A reading from St. Pual's second letter to the Corinthians (9:6-15)

"Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."

The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God, for the administration of this public service is not only supplying the needs of the holy ones but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God. Through the evidence of this service, you are glorifying God for your obedient confession of the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your contribution to them and to all others, while in prayer on your behalf they long for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Sister Mary Alma!

Rewind to 1954, Sister Alma’s parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and for the first time in their history Sister Immaculate, Annunciata and Alma were able to come to Colorado for a visit. What do I most remember about this experience? Sister Immaculate was a principal of Sacred Heart Academy for girls, she was tall, serious and for me intimidating. Sister Alma – where was her smile? Sister Annunciata – a gentle smile, simple, conversant with a limp as a result of polio. They were most proud of my Mom and Dad and all of us, promised us their continued prayers and said they would pray that some of us would find our way into religious life. Later, in vocation literature we found a warm smile on Sister Alma’s countenance. Wow- Alma can smile. My older sister of two years and I had thought about religious life but were quite clear that the personality of our Dominican aunt who came to visit almost yearly, played basketball with us and had a “fun’ personality would be our choice if religious life were in our future.

Fast forward to 1960, my married aunt and sister of the three sisters in Lisle wanted to gift my older sister a graduation from high school present – come to Lisle with them to help “babysit their 5 children and see Lisle. Impressed with the religious life and the Benedictine spirit of her aunts my sister asked my dad if she could return in the fall to enter religious life. My Dad was could see a plot in the graduation present as more than a gift or a baby-sitting job, and suggested that she wait a year, visit other communities and remember why she had early on divested herself of her interest in Lisle. Needless to say a year later she did enter here and I followed.

I tell this story because being a member of Sacred heart Monastery and coming to know my aunts very well has turned my first impressions and hesitations into deep appreciation both for the gift of Benedictine life and admiration for my aunts as models of Benedictine life and I now convincingly say “Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift called Sister Alma and my Benedictine way of life.”

Sister Alma, baptized Zita Bratrsovsky was born in Brainard, Nebraska, on December 10, 1917. Her first two years of high school were spent at the rural school in Touhy, Nebraska; Inspired by her sister Antoinette, a graduate of 1929, Zita decided to attend Sacred Heart Academy in her junior and senior years. Here she was loved by the Sisters as well as by the students. Quoted in the newspaper Echo, “Never in a hurry, but always thoughtful, prudent, and sensible, Zita proved to her fellow students the worth of the saying, “Slow but sure.”

Sister Alma, in telling her own story, wrote “I came to Sacred Heart Academy as a junior, and knowing that everyone would have wanted me to enter, made me very adamant and I did not want to do so. About a month before my graduation from high school, I started to think very seriously about my future. I realized that my obstinate nature obstructed my vision and stood in the way of my decision. I knew religious life was meant for me. We were poor, and did not have the money to go home and then come back, so I decided to enter on graduation day. I had won a scholarship to Mt. St. Scholastica in Atchison, but gave that up in favor of a religious vocation here at Sacred Heart.

My brother, Cyril, who knew that I had been determined not to enter, felt that there might be some coercion on the part of the sisters, so he sent my mother to my graduation to find out what it was all about.

Of course, my mother would not try to dissuade me. We had a nice visit and she returned to Nebraska without me, fully satisfied that it was my decision to enter. I entered, as planned, on June 9, 1935, and am forever grateful to Sister Coletta, my aunt, and my mother for my vocation. In her senior year Zita was vice president of her class, managing editor of the Echo, president of the Chemistry club, secretary of the Jaeger Debate club, and assistant librarian.

Sister Alma graduated from Sacred Heart Academy in 1935 and subsequently received a degree in Mathematics from DePaul University. She has served her community in many ways during her life at Sacred Heart. She was a teacher of Commercial Arts at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Chicago, math at Sacred Heart Academy and Benet Academy, and various grades in Joliet, Haugen, Wisconsin, Warren, Ohio and Fort Worth, Texas. At Illinois Benedictine College (now Benedictine University) she served 10 years as Financial Aid Director. Not quite ready for full retirement, Sister went on to work as a typist at Waste Management in Oakbrook for three more years.

Here, at home in the monastery, Sister was Sub-Prioress, Secretary, Treasurer and Community Archivist.

After a very full working life, Sister Alma enjoyed her retirement at the monastery. She stayed busy with a variety of tasks and had developed her already significant typing skills into very helpful computer skills. She helped with large mailings during the year. Sister Alma especially loved to stay in touch with relatives, friends and former students via email. Sister Alma loved to tat, an increasingly rare handwork art form, and made lovely doilies and handkerchief edgings. Her beautiful crocheted baby blankets and outfits have been treasured gifts.

Before we moved into the now Sacred Heart Monastery, Sister Alma wrote, “When, God willing, I will live to see my community in its new monastery, I will help create community within its new surroundings and I will continue to pray for those who have ministries outside the monastery. I will pray that the members of our community will, by their example, spread peace and harmony to our surrounding community and attract new members to our community.”

I did not know much about what was going on at Sacred Heart during my growing up years but I hear tell that while advisor of some of the classes at SHA some girls got away with murder and Alma was known to join in. At Alumnae gatherings she continued to be their favorite. She was always present at alumnae gatherings up to her 93rd birthday, I have heard stories that as study hall moderator she tatted as she sternly paced the floor – had a pretty good memory as one girl was known to have asked to use the bathroom two evenings in a row and was told no the second night because she had gone the night before.

While not in community, when Mother Amelia was prioress, I hear tell that Sister Alma, as sub-prioress, pretty much ran the show as Mother Amelia was often ill. They were best of friends.

Why do I say “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Sister Mary Alma!”

Well for one she is my aunt, she prayed me into this community which I love and for which I am grateful.

She has been a model to me and to our community of a generous and cheerful giver. She was very good at everything she did both at Sacred Heart Academy and in religious life. Until age 94 she remained an excellent typist. She would type anything for me, or for others, that was asked of her, she could skillfully email to me or to others what she typed, she assisted Sister Helen in the business office using excel with exactness. She liked being asked and loved doing for others. She never wasted time. At the switchboard she could be seen crocheting or tatting. Each of her family members owns a tatted rosary and many other tatted items. Late into the night she would pray the rosary with a tape or CD player while she tatted. She loved to watch football and tape the games for Sister Helen – again while she tatted. She wanted to be helpful and often asked how she could be. I called Archbishop Daniel Kucera a few days ago to apprise him of Alma’s declining health. He was most complimentary of her ten years of service to now Benedictine University as Financial Aid Director which leads me and all of us to say Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Sister Mary Alma!

She was most attentive to presence at Mass and Divine Office. Whether in the basket on her power scooter or on her walker she always had the worship aid The Word of God Among us.

Her family was most present to us. We have seen her brothers and sisters and their families often at jubilees. Now her Sister Jeanne and family is all that is left on earth. They have been most faithful to keeping in touch with telephone calls to Sister Alma, letters from her niece Mary Kaye and multiple trips to Lisle from her nieces and nephews.

Alma loved her desserts especially chocolate and ice cream. The first item on her tray for meals was always the dessert. Before Sister Afra, who was very thoughtful about seeing to Alma’s ice cream needs, went back to Africa she charged me with giving Alma ice cream at bedtime. An easy task because she was always grateful. Of course I enjoyed ice cream as well.

Alma was a late person for going to bed. Lately, I peeked in on her. One night – late- she was out of her room and I found her walking with her walker in the corridor in our St. Walburga Care Center. I said, Alma what are you still doing up? Her reply-Just what you are doing – walking the corridor – no, I am raiding the cookie jar.

Alma was good to us. She knew when to quit – be it teaching, driving, giving up jobs she loved, giving up her power scooter, her tatting and with less ease her bedroom.

So Sister Alma, we say goodbye to your earthly presence among us. You have modeled for us one who sowed and reaped bountifully. You have done it, without sadness or compulsion, for you knew that God loves a cheerful giver.

Now you are being enriched in every way for all your generosity, through the evidence of your service, you have glorified God, and we now ask you to intercede to God for our needs and we give thanks to God for you, his indescribable gift!