Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Meet Our Sisters: Sr. Bernardine Beckman, OSB

(Meet Our Sisters will be a Blog Series to get to know our Sisters from the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Norfolk, NE. Each month we will feature a new Sister and her journey to become a Missionary Benedictine Sister.)

                                            Birth Place: Nebraska, USA
                             First Profession: April 22, 1946
                        Final Profession: December 12, 1950
                         Feast Day: August 20 (St. Bernard)
                   Mission Experience: USA, Rome, Namibia

I come from a large family. I am child number 5 among 12 children, and I entered the convent at Raeville at age 14. After my first profession in 1946, I went to St. Catherine’s School of Nursing in Omaha and became an RN in 1950. My main profession was in nursing though I held other assignments as well.

In March of 1969, I was missioned to the Philippines for 2 years to work at the hospital in Tacloban-Leyte. It was a great experience! From November 1976 to November 1982 I was elected as a General Councilors for our Congregation with residence in Rome. During those years I became a world traveler – to Africa twice, each time for three months in order to visit the four Priories and their Stations. There were also several trips to Germany and even twice returning to Norfolk during that span of 6 years. I even had the joy of being tour guide to some of my family who came for a visit in 1979.

June 23, 1996, Sr. Regina Keiser and I celebrated our 50th Jubilee of profession together with 50 wedding anniversary of my blood sisters Dorothy and Norbert, Rose and Ambrose, Martha and Louie. This occasion also became a farewell for me as I was appointed to go to Namibia in August for three years to help guide 64 indigenous Sisters who had asked to transfer to our international Congregation. During this precious time, I discovered that age doesn’t really make a difference. I did more car driving during those three years than I did all my life. My biggest joy was on August 29, 1999 at the celebration of the integration of the Sisters transferring their Stability to the Congregation of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing. It was a festive day from early morning until evening with singing and dancing. I returned to Norfolk in time to usher in the year 2000.

In 2003, another of my secret wishes came to fulfilment. I was appointed to help at the Mission in Winnebago. The challenge for me was to learn cooking. By the time I left in 2011, I could do without all the cookbooks. I had to think of a time way back in 1946 when I told Sr. Diemud in Raeville that I wanted to be a cook and I didn’t need to go to High School.

In 2011 I returned to Norfolk where I am semi-retired, which means you can have more time for prayer. But as you all know, Sisters do not really retire – we keep on doing what we do because we are working for the Lord. “The pay isn’t much but the retirement plan is out of this world.”
Now I am going on 86, and I would like to tell the world that being given the gift from God to be a Missionary Benedictine Sister is the greatest gift of all. Truly, I can say with the Gospel of St. Mark (Ch. 10: 29-30) that having given my life to Christ, I have received back “a hundred times more in life,” and I look forward “and to eternal life in the ages to come.”

Monday, April 6, 2015

130th Jubilee of the Congregation and the Year of Consecrated Life: Olinda Priory

In 2015, we look back upon 130 years of our history, with more than 1300 women living as Missionary Benedictine Sisters. Over the coming months of the Year of Consecrated Life we will bring to you the histories of our Priories and Sisters across the World.
Our Congregation, having originated in Germany in 1885, did not long delay in arriving in Brazil.  Soon after our establishment in East Africa, we accepted the invitation to found a community in South America.

In December 1902, Mother Birgitta Korff, the Prioress General, received a letter from Abbot Gérard van Caloen OSB of the Olinda Monastery. Originally from Maredsous Monastery in Belgium, he greatly admired the missionary endeavors of Father Andreas Amrhein, our founder.

Abbot Gérard wrote, “It is our intention to dedicate ourselves to the missions among the Indian tribes in Brazil.  We are already preparing our young monks for this missionary task.  Therefore, we also need missionary sisters. To this end, it would be advisable that your congregation establish a community in Brazil, perhaps in one of the cities on the coast.  I can offer you a large house and a beautiful old church in Olinda (originally the first Santa Casa de Misericórdia in Brazil). It is a very old building, with few amenities, but very large and located in healthy surroundings, suitable for several different types of good works. The ocean view is magnificent.”

On June 29, 1903, eight sisters left Saint Ottilien, which, at that time, was the Motherhouse of the Congregation, since it was only transferred to Tutzing in 1904. They arrived at the port of Recife on July 21.

Early on, Brazilian girls expressed the desire to join the Congregation.  Already in 1908, Abbot Gérard suggested that the Congregation establish a novitiate in Olinda in order to prepare Brazilian sisters for future missionary work in his prelacy in Rio Branco, north of the Amazon River.  On August 10, 1909, Mother General Birgitta Korff signed a document authorizing the establishment of a canonical novitiate “in foreign lands,” referring to Olinda. It was in this novitiate, the first of our Congregation outside Germany, that our first Brazilian Benedictine Missionary, Sister Brigida de Oliveira, prepared for her profession.  

Just a few days after the sisters’ arrival in Brazil, already on August 3, 1903, the subprior, Father Wolgang, brought to the new community the first orphan, a very active 7-8 year-old child. With this child, an educational institute for orphans was born that grew into the School Academia Santa Gertrudes in 1912.

After the founding of the first school, the education of children and of adolescents became a priority. In 1920, our sisters accepted an invitation to open a school in Caruaru, Colégio Sagrado Coração. To the present day, our school remains the only school administered by a religious order in that city, and it has always had a large number of students. 

In 1943, right in the middle of World War II, this time in Recife, the Priory assumed another school, Colégio Nossa Senhora do Carmo, having bought it from  Maria do Carmo Lins e Melo, who had founded the Catholic school in 1919. The school served the community for more than 90 years, before closing in 2011. By that time, the surrounding formerly residential neighborhood had been transformed into a commercial, business, hospital, and medical district.  In 1955, the Colégio Imaculado Coração de Maria was founded in a new residential neighborhood of Olinda. Due to steady, incremental growth, today it is the Priory´s largest school.

In 1973 the College Faculdade de Ciências Humanas de Olinda (FACHO) was founded and installed in the same building as the Academia Santa Gertrudes, offering undergraduate degrees in education, psychology, and languages. Presently, it occupies its own buildings, having expanded to include undergraduate degrees in nursing, business administration, and accounting.

Early on, the schools in the Olinda Priory were involved in social work in the poorest neighborhoods and in the slums/ shanty-towns. This work gave rise to Social/Community Centers and Missionary Centers. In the 1970s the social centers, Mizael Montenegro and St. José do Monte, began serving poor communities, with sisters in residence.

In 1968, for the first time, a community of four sisters started working in a parish with no resident parish priest in Porteiras, in the state of Ceará. The intention of the Priory was to form small itinerant communities to work with lay people in needy parishes so as to prepare them for social and pastoral leadership roles in the different sectors of their parish.  In this way, the sisters would then be able to move on to another poor community. To date, in the diocese of Crato, in the state of Ceará, we have done this type of missionary work in four towns: Porteiras, Campos Sales, Lavras and Palestina. In the state of Pernambuco, in the diocese of Pesqueira, the community in Buique is on the forefront of evangelization efforts.

This year, the community in the parish of Malhada de Pedras, in the state of Bahia will be moving on, after having served there for 25 years.  In the last two years, the parish had a semi-resident parish priest who was responsible for two parishes, alternating between them, week by week. In 2015, Malhada de Pedras will have a permanent resident priest. The community of sisters will then move on to another town, Lagoa Real, in the same diocese of Caetité, assuming responsibility for that parish which has no resident priest.

Since the beginning of the Priory, our sisters have cared also for the sick. However, it was only in 1970 that Saint Vicente de Paulo Hospital opened its doors in Barbalha, Ceará, in the diocese of Crato. It has become a large hospital, caring for as many as 1500 patients per day, in its service of an expanding geographical area with few health care workers. As a regional hospital, patients come to it from more than 50 surrounding towns and cities.  It works in tandem with the governmental health care system.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Awake, O Sleeper, and Rise From the Dead

(An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday)

The Lord's Descent Into Hell

"What is happening? 

Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

REPROACHES of THE PASSION Set 6: You opened my side with a lance

O my people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me.

I opened the sea before you; you opened my side with a lance

Let’s consider the symbolism of opening the Red Sea. The people were sandwiched between the pursuing Egyptians and the sea. They had no way out. They needed a miracle to get them out, to deliver them. God provided that by the hand of Moses using the staff. The Lord didn’t have to bring them out of Egypt via that route, but he chose that route. Thus at the Red Sea, God claimed victory and glory over the Egyptians in the sight of the Israelites. He delivered them with a promise “The Egyptians you see before you, you will never see again” (Exodus 14:13). There will be other enemies, but not this group.

Standing beneath the cross of the Crucified Savior, we can’t help but be splashed with the water and the blood flowing from His wounded side. According to tradition, the Roman soldier who thrust that lance in the side of Jesus converted and became a Saint (St. Longinus). That is the power of the water flowing from the fountain of the Savior. Think of the Grace of Baptism, and the fact that through baptism we are born into the death and resurrection ot Christ. Torrents from the opened side of the Savior deliver us from the power of original sin. We still have to fight sins, due to the effects of that original sin, but we have the power to defeat Sin because we have been washed with the Blood and Water flowing from the side of the Savior.

Let us stand with Longinus at the foot of the Cross as we contemplate the One hanging on that Tree. Let us however, not continue to pierce the wounded heart of the Savior. Let us allow the Precious Blood of the Savior to flow over us and cleanse us. We can’t undo the piercing of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The question we can ask ourselves, however, and to which we can respond with love and gratitude is: “What about all His Blood? Will you waste all His Blood?”