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)