Sister Mildred Slabenak was born in Cicero, Illinois on January 16, 1920. She was the sixth of seven children born to Frances and Frank Slabenak. Her Mother was praying for a daughter as she already had three sons and only two daughters so when her baby was a girl she knew God heard her prayer. Now, what would they name her? Being good Catholic parents, immigrants from Moravia in Czechoslovakia, they decided to baptize her Ludmilla after the holy, grandmother of good King Wenceslaus of Bohemia. However, when she started school at Our Lady of the Mount, Ludmilla sounded too “Czesky” so her name was translated to Lillian.
Lillian attended Our Lady of the Mount School in Cicero her entire grammar school years graduating in 1934. The Benedictine Sisters from Lisle staffed the school and she was very fond and impressed by the Sisters. She often spoke about the kindness and patience of Sister Adalbert, her 7th grade teacher and Sister Mary Bernard, the choir directress, who made her responsible for putting away the music sheets and keeping the cupboards in order. Sister Albina gave her instructions on how to clean the sacristy and asked her to help arrange the bouquets of flowers for the altars. This was indeed a privilege for Lillian and she loved working with the Sisters. Helping Sister Albina around the Altar gave her many opportunities to get away from doing tasks at home. When her Mother had work planned for her at home she would say in Czech: “Sorry Mom, I promised to help Sister in Church.” Lillian knew her Mother would never compete with the needs of the Sisters, as Mrs. Slabenak had the greatest respect for the Sisters and would always give them top priority. However, on the part of Lillian, her action could have been called: benign parental manipulation.
When Lillian graduated eighth grade, she found herself really lucky to be going to Sacred Heart Academy in Lisle. During her time in the Academy, she became an Aspirant meaning that she was actively thinking about becoming a Sister. She liked what she saw as the Sisters prayed, observed silence and seemed joyful in their composure. At this young age she began her serious discernment about religious life and she credited her pious Mother’s prayers for her religious vocation.
Soon after graduating from the Academy Lillian entered the Formation period and as a Novice received her religious name: Sister Mildred. Her consecrated life became real when she pronounced her Benedictine vows in 1941.
Sister earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Education from DePaul University in Chicago and through the years was sent to various Parochial Schools staffed by the Lisle Benedictine Sisters, namely: St. Michael’s in Chicago, St. Mary of Celle in Berwyn, SS Cyril & Methodius and St. Mary’s Assumption in Joliet, St. Thomas and St. Peter’s in Fort Worth, TX, and Holy Child in Prague, OK. Her final mission was her home parish, Our Lady of the Mount in Cicero, where she spent forty-two years. She first came there as a teacher, later became a principal staying in education there for twenty-three years. Then, as lay people took over the school, she stayed for nineteen more years in parish ministry. Her stability in the parish along with her personal witness brought about a peaceful approach to changes required especially to open the doors to a Hispanic presence and including these new arrivals into the parish community. This was a transition from a predominately Czech Parish. However, Sister continued to serve mostly the settled old- timers of the Parish as was her role.
Her Parish ministry blossomed and included bringing Communion to the sick in their homes, hospitals and nursing homes, driving those who had no way to get to their doctors’ appointments, maintaining the sanctuary and altar linens, beautifully decorating the altar ambiance with fresh flowers for Sundays and feast days, grocery shopping and cooking for the Fathers at the rectory (we heard she knew her spices and was a Gourmet cook) and wrote impressive reflections about those who died, congratulatory thoughts for anniversaries and thank you letters to those who were of service or gave donations. Because she knew the people she served so well, the flare in her writings was personal, heartfelt and included her clever words of humor.
Some of us who never lived on a mission with Sister Mildred, didn’t know her very well until she came home to the Monastery. However, one of the Sisters who lived with Sister Mildred told us she was a wonderful person to live with. One example of how she would liven up daily living was an incident during an approaching snow storm. The Superior told the two of them to get up at 4:00 a.m. to shovel the snow which was about to barricade the parish convent entrance. Sister Mildred and the other Sister saw it as a physically, strenuous job that would break into a good night’s rest. However, with Sister Mildred making wise cracks in the snow, the heavy job was made a memorable delight.
For her closing years here at the Monastery Sister Mildred was well known for her quick wit and for her eagerness to tell the fantasies of her dreams which she would recount in detail most of which had unfinished endings. She loved music and played Mexican music for herself in the evenings. She liked to sing and harmonize but found it impossible as she grew older. She was very fond of Fannie May Chocolates and her bedtime routine was to have two pieces of chocolate before she thanked God for her good life here every night.
Her final hours came gradually as her body weakened and her voice was almost mute. She enjoyed receiving visits from her dear, Sister Angie who preceded her in death about a year or two ago and the visits continued with her two nieces Marilyn and Donna and their husbands, Jack and Perry. She always looked forward to be with them. They renewed their loving relationship with her and were experts in cheering her on in her last uncertain years.
It was Saturday evening, April 28th, 2018 as the Sisters were singing God’s praises at Vespers, the vigil office of Sunday the 5th week of Easter that Sister Mildred saw the light of God’s glory. As her Benedictine Community learned of her final breaths they surrounded her with united hearts and petitioned God to receive her with a joyous welcome to the new life promised to faithful servants.
As Benedictine Sisters may we never forget our link with the communion of saints, and trust, that now with full voice Sister Mildred too, is singing the Benedictine psalmody of the Divine Office as she harmonizes with the Angels and Saints in the beauty of choral acclaim of our merciful Savior.
The sisters knew her as Millie. Others knew her as Lillian. And still others knew her as Sister Mildred. I knew her as “friend.” If there was ever a friend who was an example of the consecrated life, that friend would be Sister Mildred.
What does a real consecrated life look like today?
First, there is a sense of humor. Able to translate the mundane and the monotonous into a joyful event, Sister Mildred teaches us about holy love. In the words of St. Paul, we may sigh deeply about our condition in the flesh, but the Spirit always leads us to selflessness that can transform the world around us.
Second, there is always a vision of life. Able to speak and sing about God, Sister Mildred teaches us about how to be a child of God. In the words of St. Paul, we may sigh deeply about our condition in the flesh, but the Spirit always leads us to long suffering and forgiveness that can transform the world around us.
Third, there is always a confidence that God is in charge even when we are not sure where we are going. Only able to whisper in the last few months of her life, Sister Mildred teaches us to look forward to heaven.Jesus says, “Do not be agitated or unsettled. You already believe in God, so trust me when I tell you that I go ahead of you to get your dwelling place ready.” This was something that Sister Mildred taught us- that there is always someone else and somewhere else. That someone else is God, in God’s holy heaven, that begins now in our faith communities.
Yes, we lost a dear sister, a dear aunt and a dear friend. But the Communion of Saints has gained another “character.” In the words of Sister Christine, “Her consecrated life became real when she took her Benedictine vows in 1941.” I would add, “Her saintly life became real when she passed into eternity in 2018.” May she rest in peace as she joins her six siblings, especially her beloved sister, Angie.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. May all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in pace. Amen.
In retirement for twelve years, I feel that some amount of activity is beneficial for body and soul. As I engage in several ministries at the Monastery, I find peace and joy in prayer, work and relaxation. Because God is the center of my life, I wake each morning praising and thanking Him for another day. In Chapel I pray for the needs of the church, the world, relatives and friends. The Divine Office, which is the prayer of the church, is sung, chanted or recited three times a day.
The ministry of a sacristan is not foreign to me. I continue to enjoy it as I assist in various ways. Each Tuesday the iron and I have a date. The linens receive a clean, fresh, smooth look. Sundays and feast days require decorations for the altars. I’m honored to make floral arrangements for the various occasions. It is a challenge to be creative.
Another pleasure I find is assisting the Treasurer. Filing or shredding old bills, papers, letters and the like fills the recycling bin in no time.
Relaxation finds its way toward the end of the day. Reading, doing puzzles, listening to music or keeping up correspondence, by phone or letter writing, with relatives and friends make the day complete.
I find fulfillment in helping wherever it is needed. I am surrounded by my Sister companions, who are caring and supportive. I’m contented and filled with love and peace. I know my work blesses them and gives honor to God.