“I am straining forward with what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14)
The above is quote from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians that Judith Ann liked to say. Her life was one of a pursuit of goals, where nothing was too big or too hard for her to tackle. With her 3 brothers and three sisters, she received the basis of her faith and the importance of prayer in her life from her parents, Steve and Antoinette Heble, as each day they said the Rosary and the Morning Offering. Being a farming family, faith and trust in the Lord was a constant, as they learned the discipline of daily work and a respect for nature and its cycles of life and death.
Judy’s pursuit of learning took her from a one-room elementary school where she graduated at the age of twelve in 1954 and then left to attend and graduate from Sacred Heart Academy here in Lisle. After a year of college classes at St Procopius College, she entered Sacred Heart Monastery and made her Monastic Profession in 1961. She immediately began her 11-year teaching career in elementary Catholic Schools staffed by our Sisters. She loved teaching and she was good at it! She especially liked to teach Grade 6 where she fell in love with the Old Testament. In 1972 she became the Director of Religious Education at St Joan of Arc in Lisle, a position she held for 11 years.
While teaching / working full time, Judy received a BS degree in History from the College of St Francis in Joliet in 1969; a Master’s Degree in School Administration in 1973 from Loyola University in Chicago; and in 1982 a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies with an emphasis on Scripture. This was followed by a semester studying scripture in Israel, an experience that deepened her love of Scripture.
In 1983 she became the Director of Adult Education at St Joan of Arc, a position she held for 11 years, where she ran the RCIA Program, taught Scripture Classes in the parish and at Benedictine University; she also introduced and facilitated the Holy Thursday Seder Meal in the Parish and then in our Community. Life in the parish was more than running programs or teaching; Sister Judith Ann and Sister Carolyn would comment on how they lovingly schooled the Pastor and Associates, who were monks from St Procopius Abbey, on what it means to be pastoral to all the parishioners at St Joan of Arc.
Her leadership qualities were evident from the very beginning of community living. She served many terms on our Monastic Council, during which time she was the Director of On-Going Formation for our Community. She was Sub-Prioress for 4 years. Comments given by community members in 1992 on why the Spirit was calling Sister Judith Ann to be our next Prioress include these words: a visionary; futuristic; good leadership skills; God conscious; scripturally and monastically minded; deep commitment and involvement in monasticism; lived the Benedictine Values; thoroughly dedicated woman; grounded in Scripture. She was elected and on January 3, 1993 and became the seventh Prioress of our Community. Little did she know that she would use all those qualities as she served our community as Prioress for 18 years.
In 1996 Judy’s leadership and planning skills were put in high gear as the Community needed to do future planning for the entire campus. A Task Force was called together by Judy; a consultant was hired to assist this Task Force in determining who could help us do extensive strategic planning. After Benedictine Health System was hired to partner with us, the consultant was told by Judy in so many words, “Thank You….we don’t need you anymore, we can finish this”. And Judy did! Villa St Benedict was built; a Capital Campaign was initiated to help renovate the Monastery and Chapel. This beautiful campus that we see every day was completed by the strong leadership of Judith Ann. And every major decision that had to be made was brought to the Community for approval; she knew it was a Community Project! She wanted all of us to know what was going on and to make the final decisions! A defining characteristic of a true leader.
While all of our own planning was going on, in 1997 Judy was elected the President of the Conference of Benedictine Prioress, an organization of Benedictine Prioress in USA, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Mexico. She held this position for 12 years. This position made her a Delegate to an international conference of Benedictine Women, which later became known as – CIB – Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum; initially a Delegate and then Council member for 8 years, Judy, with her foot in the door, showing her excellent leadership and organizational skills, was elected in 2006 the Moderator for this international organization and held that position for 12 years; with international trips 2-3 times a year to Monasteries throughout the world who hosted the CIB Council, many long-lasting friendships were made. She loved the work, meeting, greeting and growing with Benedictines from all over the world. The CIB sponsors a Symposium in Rome every four years, of which Judy and her Administrative Council hosted them in 2010, 2014, 2018. Jim and Patrice Lia were helpers / guides for the Benedictine Sisters attending the last 2 Symposiums led by Judy and her Council. Patrice commented recently “Watching her lead all the Benedictine Sisters in Rome during the CIB Symposium in 2014 and 2018 was inspiring. She was a force.”
An additional task, while being involved in the organizations just mentioned, Judy became a Trustee at Benedictine University in 1995. She held the position of Chairperson of the Mission Committee and constantly reminded the Board of Mission and Benedictine Values. In his Graduation address on May 14th, President Charlie Gregory stated to the Graduates: “You will have moments when you feel uncertain, afraid, and over your head….in those times you have to recall those who held you up on their shoulders as well as in their prayers…It was a Nun who said, Never worry, we are a community and will hold you in our prayers in your darkest moments…it was a Benedictine Nun who regularly checked on me to offer support, prayers and kind words of encouragement…she taught me how to grow my faith and that faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Judy is that Benedictine Nun. Recently at a ceremony on May 25th the Neff Farmhouse, located by the entrance to Benedictine University, was dedicated; it will now house the “Sr. Judith Ann Heble Center for Benedictine Values”; the first ever such “Center” on any Benedictine College or University Campus in the nation. A great honor for a well-deserved person. Judy, your words of Mission and Benedictine Values were heard and will continue to be heard.
Also, as a Trustee at Benedictine University, Judy arranged for Tuition Scholarships for International Sisters from Africa. When asked if the Benedictine Sisters in Lisle could sponsor one Sister from Africa, Judy said no, we’ll take two! We welcomed the first 2 Sisters from Tanzania in June 2003; since then we have had 2-3 international sisters living with us as they earned undergraduate and master’s degree from Benedictine University. We currently have Hyacintha and Celestine from Namibia and S Alberta from South Africa. They have been and continue to be a blessing to our community. One of the gifts we receive from them is their beautiful, singing voices, helping us with our Morning and Evening Prayers. Judy taught them to be the cantors; now they still do the singing acapella. On March 18th, Hyacintha convinced Judy, while home from the hospital, to practice a chant she would be singing. Yes, as Hyacintha said “you did it”; you did it! This is the last time Judy played the piano.
We as a Community have been gifted with a woman with great vision and futuristic insight. During our planning for the election of a Prioress in 2016, it was Judith Ann who coined the phrase “to Determine our Preferred Future” as our Goal for the next 6 years. She realized way before the rest of us that the Lisle Benedictine Community would be coming to completion in a few years. This became our mantra...to determine our preferred future. She led us through the process of what we needed to do as a Community, what documents needed to be reviewed, what engagements needed to be made, what agreements needed to be signed. Never lacking in Leadership skills, she has brought us to the final moments of bringing us to that preferred future. She wasn’t able to be a part of the transitions but brought us to a point where we could finish.
And now the final chapter of Judy’s earthly life. In early January, Judy said to me “Helen, I’m having a hard time finding my words” and my answer was “yeah me, too!” Little did I know the seriousness of her condition. As she continued to do all her community work, including playing the piano for our prayers, she became less communicative. After Ellen, our retired nurse assessed her situation, she contacted her doctor who told her she needed to go to the Emergency Room to get checked into Hinsdale Hospital. She agreed to go after she would receive a return call from another doctor. When I looked for her a couple hours later, she was sitting in the chair in Chapel, waiting to light the candles for Mass. When I asked if we were going to the Emergency Room she said “I have to do Mass first!” Yes, Community Prayers and Mass was her daily ritual. In the Emergency Room on January 30th she was diagnosed with several brain tumors; thus, began her long run of hospital stays. When told of her diagnosis of Lymphoma in her brain, she said to her oncologist “I just want my brain back!” She tried her hardest by doing everything that was asked of her…heavy chemo drugs and then radiation treatments in Rush Hospital, all keeping her away from her community. In the last 4 and a half months she hardly spent time with the community she loved and work so hard for. She was determined to do whatever was necessary; at one point when the doctor was talking to her about another part of the treatment, she said “if they are going to be argumentative, I want it!” and then she said to me a couple weeks ago “I just want to get rid of this thing!” On one of the last days we spent with her at the re-hab center, Judy said to me “Helen, don’t forget that I want to be on that list” when I asked what list Hyacintha heard her say “the list to heaven.” As Judy wanted her brain back; her God wanted her more! God took her as she was doing Physical Therapy with a couple pulmonary embolisms. This she could not overcome.
We as a Community and the worldwide community of Benedictine Sisters / Nuns have lost a community member, friend, great leader, mentor and visionary. Her family has lost an important person in their lives. She now prays for all of us as we now continue…. our pursuit of that goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
I want to thank Terry and Reggie, Judy’s nieces for walking with me through the last laps of this journey with Judy. I am forever grateful for your support!
Thank you, Judith Ann for your many years of dedicated service to your God and our Community and all Benedictines. Be at peace!
Struggling to find an appropriate opening sentence for this homily, I sought assistance from two of my fellow monks, Br. Guy and Fr. James. Fr. James suggested that I go and read the inscription on Christopher Wren’s tomb at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, and the very church Wren himself designed. There it was in Latin. I had my opening line:
If you seek Sister Judith Ann’s monument, look around you! To begin, I am not a person who believes in coincidences. I believe there are “God Incidences” that take place all around us. What a God Incidence that Sister Judith Ann passed into eternity the week of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. What a God Incidence that God calls her home this very month of June, the same month that Sacred Heart Monastery hands over sponsorship of Villa St. Benedict to Benedictine of Duluth. Sister Judith Ann’s Villa leadership concluded full circle as she passed into the loving arms of her Redeemer.
In the words of Job who knew suffering, “I know that my vindicator lives…I will see [God] myself… [for]…my inmost being is consumed with longing.” Along with Job, Sister Judy possessed a confident faith that God was in charge here, and, so was she! She needed that deep faith bouncing around in a van on the bumpy roads of Africa. Whenever there was a conflict or a problem, do you remember what she would say? “This too shall pass!”
Now, of course, like all of us, Sister Judy was flawed. We all encountered her strong personality. Sometimes, I even got the best of her and she would call me a “brat.” There was a “helping” side to her. If clean up in the sacristy took too long, she asked me to finish cleaning and then added, “I have to run and help Sister Mildred with her lunch.” What we cannot avoid or deny is her great organizational leadership talents recognized worldwide. Sister Judith Ann stood with the best of them: popes and bishops, abbots and abbesses, priests, monks, nuns and sisters, boards and trustees. Even after she stepped down from Benedictine leadership, she organized the sacristy, and the lectors and ministers at Mass.
Sister Judy was that grain of wheat whose roots went deeply into the scriptures she learned, into the Word of God she loved and into the Bible she taught. Always early and attentive at the Eucharist, never did I worry about the Liturgy. In the words of St. Paul, do not be like everyone else….“ our citizenship is in heaven.” She must have known that great phrase from St. Paul because Sister Judy was the “Minister of Mission,” par excellence. From her position as a board member of Benedictine University, Sister held the opinion that mission and Benedictine values must drive the direction of the community. Because of her work, the school renamed the Neff Welcome Center as The Sister Judith Ann Heble, O.S.B. Center for Benedictine Values.
So, look around. Because the grace of God flowed through Sister Judy, we behold divine beauty of the chapel. We bask in the hospitality of “Senior Living in the Benedictine Tradition.” We walk or drive on Villa streets whose names speak volumes about the mission of this sacred place. In the words of Jesus, Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me. May this servant now behold the beatific vision of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace! Amen. May all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
I miss you terribly. Rest in peace, Boss.
Your favorite brat,
Sister Judith Ann Heble was born on May 11, 1942. She grew up on a farm in Atwood, Kansas with three brothers and three sisters. Her parents, Steve and Antoinette, were God-fearing and were diligent to teach their children to pray. They prayed not only for good weather and a good harvest but also prayed the Rosary and Morning Offering daily as a family. They had Sunday Mass in their little country church, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, and observed well their Sunday rest except for their daily farm chores. Religious instruction classes were taught on Saturdays in their church. Since Judy loved to learn, she progressed well in learning her Catholic faith.
In growing up, Judy shared in the daily chores related to cows, pigs, chickens, horses, geese and dogs. Farming was consistent work that taught her to be disciplined, as well as to be one with nature and to be respectful of the cycles of life and death. Together with her brothers and sisters she learned to work but also to play. As neighbors were not close by, the Heble siblings were clever in inventing their own games and enjoyed competing with each other in a variety of activities.
Education for farm children in western Kansas was held in a one-room, public school. However, since the majority of the children in “Bohemian Center”—District 232 were Catholic, the day opened with prayer and the teacher just bowed her head while the students prayed. With only fifteen-twenty students in the room containing grades one-eight, everyone progressed at his/her own speed and Judy was able to graduate elementary school in 1954 at the age of twelve. That same year, Judy left home to attend Sacred Heart Academy in Lisle, Illinois. Two of her sisters had gone to the Academy before her as well. She had an Aunt, Sister Mary Rita Heble in the Benedictine community. In 1958, she graduated from Sacred Heart Academy and resided one more year at the Academy while attending St. Procopius College. She entered Sacred Heart Monastery in 1959.
In 1961, Sister Judith Ann made her First Monastic Profession and immediately began her teaching career in elementary Catholic Schools. She taught in various Catholic Schools staffed by the Sisters for eleven years, namely, Ss. Peter and Paul, Warren, OH, St. Mary of Celle, Berwyn, IL, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Joliet, IL, St. Ambrose, Joliet, IL, and St. Joan of Arc, Lisle, IL. She loved teaching and liked especially to teach Grade Six where she fell in love with the Old Testament. After she received her BS degree in History from the College of St. Francis in Joliet in 1969, she earned her Master’s Degree in School Administration in 1973 from Loyola University in Chicago. In 1972, she became the Director of Religious Education at St. Joan of Arc in Lisle, a position she held for eleven years.
Wanting to pursue the study of the Scriptures, she enrolled at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago when in 1982 she received a Master’s degree in Theological Studies with an emphasis on Scipture. This was followed by a semester spent studying in Israel. In 1983 she became the Director of Adult Education at St. Joan of Arc teaching Scripture and working in the RCIA program for eleven years. During that time she also taught Scripture at Benedictine University for a few semesters.
Being a woman who modeled love for God, for the Benedictine way of life and who had many leadership qualities, Sister Judith Ann served for twelve years (1990-2002) on the Council of the Federation of St. Scholastica and frequently as Delegate to the Federation General Chapters. Within the Lisle community, she served many times as a Monastic Council member, a 4-year term as Sub Prioress and most often as Director of Ongoing Formation in the Community. Sister Judith Ann was elected by the Benedictine Sisters to be their Prioress and in January of 1993 was installed as the seventh Prioress of Sacred Heart Monastery, a position she held for eighteen years. After an intensive strategic planning process, she took charge of building the Villa Center, the Villa Homes, renovating the Benedale Center, Sacred Heart Monastery and the Chapel. This enormous project was completed in 2005.
In 1997, along with being Prioress, she was elected President of the Conference of Benedictine Prioresses for the USA, Canada, Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Mexico. This position, which she held for twelve years, made her a delegate to an international Commission of Nuns and Sisters. In 2006, she was elected to be the Moderator of the CIB- Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum, a position she is still holding through 2018. This position has enlarged her scope of influence due to the inclusion of all the Benedictine Monasteries of women in the world. The purpose of the CIB is to promote mutual support and exchange of ideas among Benedictine women on an international level and promote the development of monasticism for women. This has opened a panoramic view of monastic life for her as she goes on an international trip several times a year with the CIB Delegates who meet in one of the nineteen regions of the world. As Moderator of the CIB, she is also member of the AIM International Board which supports many of the activities of the CIB.
Her international experience has included visits to monasteries in Italy, Kenya, Australia, Poland, the Philippines, Croatia, West Africa, Brazil, Israel, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal, England, France, and most recently to Namibia, South Vietnam, South Korea and the Czech Republic. Every other year the CIB meets in Rome where they either join the Congress of Abbots or hold their own symposium for one hundred Benedictine women from around the world. She has had the privilege of a papal audience with Pope St. John Paul ll, Pope Benedict XVI and recently with Pope Francis. She was also present in Rome for the beatification of Pope John XXIII and Abbot Columba Marmion.
For the past twenty years, Sister Judith Ann has been a Trustee at Benedictine University in Lisle. She currently serves as the Chairperson of the Mission Integration Committee of the Board of Trustees. In addition, Sister Judith is a member of the St. Benedict Education Foundation Board since 2009, a Board that provides assistance to Sant’Anselmo, a Benedictine University in Rome. She currently serves as member of the Villa St. Benedict Board, the retirement home on the campus of Sacred Heart Monastery. In January, 2017, Sister Judith Ann was elected by the community to the Monastic Council and subsequently appointed as Secretary of the community and council by the Prioress.
As Sister Judith Ann’s life moves forward with accomplishment and as she counts her many opportunities and blessings, she likes to say with St. Paul: “I am straining forward with what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Phil, 3:13-14)