On Saturday, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into Heaven, we celebrated the jubilees of six Sisters. In the morning, Father Seamus Walsh celebrated Eucharist, where Sister Grace Marie Braun, Sister Donna Schroeder, and Sister Pauline Micke renewed their vows and sang, once more, the Suscipe, the declaration of complete confidence and trust in the Lord: “Receive me, O Lord, according to your word and I will live, and do not fail me in my hope.”
In the afternoon, Sister Melanie Gagne, Sister Gloria Ess, and Sister Josine Krausnick renewed their vows on Benet Hall in the presence of the other residents. Because of the public health crisis, we were not able to celebrate together, nor were our family members and friends able to join us. We look forward to the day when we can come together and share our lives once more.
Sister Melanie Gagne, 75 Years, July 11, 1945
by Sister Therese Carson, OSB
“Seek and you will find; knock and the door will open” (Matthew 7:7).
For 75 years, Sister Melanie Gagne has been faithful to her promises made to God and Community on July 11, 1945. Growing up in Proctor, in a family that prayed the rosary together, she attended elementary school at St. Rose and learned good prayer habits. While attending the public high school, she often would begin the day with Mass before classes. She is grateful to her teachers at St. Rose for encouraging her to consider a vocation as a Benedictine.
After high school, she worked the night shift in the train yards during World War II, operating the turntable and cleaning and fueling engines, and then entered St. Scholastica Monastery and attended The College of St. Scholastica to become a teacher. For 44 years she taught elementary and junior high on mission, often as a teaching principal, and became part of the local parish, sang in the choir and worked in parish liturgy. On retiring, she became a clinical pastoral chaplain, and worked at the Benedictine Health Center, bringing solace, healing, and joy to the residents.
Now she lives on Benet Hall, where daily Eucharist continues to bring her closer to God, along with prayer and community life with the Sisters there. Because of the pandemic, the Benet Hall residents are not able to come down for Mass, but Sister Melanie keeps in contact with Christ through prayer, lectio divina, and reception of the sacraments. “Aging is a blossoming time,” she said in 2015 on her 90th birthday, “with time to spend in prayer, reading, and learning new things.” Though it can be difficult to know how to follow the Rule of St. Benedict in daily life, she says it helps to have a good friend in whom to confide, who gives her wholesome advice and encouragement.
Sister Melanie possesses a gentle spirit and wit and a radiant smile, but she is also an aggressive card player, something else that was suspended during the pandemic. She misses her games and looks forward to picking them up when restrictions are lifted.
For those who are seeking their vocation, Sister Melanie says, “Keep in touch with Christ and hang in there. It’s worth it!”
Sister Grace Marie Braun, 70 Years, July 11, 1950
by Sister Judine Mayerle, OSB
Sister Grace Marie smiles when reflecting on her 70 years as a Benedictine. Her parents, Anton and Emma Gehl Braun, were most supportive of anything she wished to do as she grew up in the quiet village of Kohler, Wisconsin, with her siblings Bob, Joan, Carol, and Mary, and a close network of relatives and friends. Although her two older sisters became members of St. Scholastica Monastery, she deliberately chose a different path and went to the Dominican Sisters’ Rosary College in River Forest, Illinois, to become a dietitian. However, at the end of her freshman year, when she and her family made one of their many trips to visit her sisters in Duluth, she was persuaded to transfer to The College of St. Scholastica. That changed the course of her life, she says, and after graduation in 1948 with a dual degree in dietetics and home economics, she entered the Duluth Benedictines.
After making her Final Monastic Profession in 1953, Sister Grace Marie went to St. Louis University for the requisite internship for a Registered Dietitian and returned several years later for her MA degree. She taught at the College and then for seven years was Director of Food Service for the entire campus. She was elected to serve as Prioress of St. Scholastica Monastery for 12 years, was Vice-President of the Federation of St. Benedict, served on Boards of the Community’s ministries, and founded and worked in the Monastery’s Development Office until God called her to what she considers her most extraordinary ministry with Project Rachel at the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing in Milwaukee. She then served as Director of Human Resources for the Monastery Sisters and lay employees, was Director of the Residential Volunteer Benedictine Associate Program, and a member of the Vocation Ministry Team and the Space Study Group.
Her life wasn’t all work, however, because she enjoyed vacations with family and friends, had opportunities for foreign travel, and still cheers for the Green Bay Packers (“Once a Packer, always a Packer,” she says with a smile). And whether it was playing tennis with competitive verve, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, enjoying a picnic on the North Shore of Lake Superior, catching a walleye on Big Sand Lake, reading or listening to music, Sister Grace Marie has always enjoyed the gift of the present.
It has been a wonderful life, she says, because it was God’s plan, not hers. Sister Grace Marie is a deeply spiritual woman, a blessing to all who know her. She is Proverbs’ “valiant woman” who has lived her promise made 70 years ago ~ “Here I am, Lord, I come to do Thy will!”
Sister Gloria Ess, 60 Years, July 11, 1960
by Theresa Butler
Sister Gloria gives thanks for her 60 years as a Benedictine Sister. She was introduced to the Duluth Benedictines when she was taught by some of the Sisters at St. Bridget’s Elementary School in Minneapolis. After she felt called to religious life it was natural that one of the communities that she visited would be St. Scholastica Monastery, where she later entered as a postulant in 1958.
One of her earliest ministries as a Sister was as housekeeper and cook at the Monastery, in Ely and Cloquet, and lastly at St. Mary’s Convent in Duluth. She shares that one of her favorite times in ministry was at St. Mary’s when she and Sister Edward were cooks. In 1969 she returned to St. Scholastica Monastery where she served first in the College Instructional Materials Center and, until recently, in the Monastery’s Transportation and Maintenance Office.
Sister Gloria finds God in everything. One of the gifts of religious life has been being able to help others. One of the ways that she has done this is through knitting and crocheting. Over the years she has had many crocheting and knitting projects that have included making mittens, caps, large afghans, baby afghans, and slippers, which she donates to the annual Monastery Christmas Bazaar.
Sister Gloria’s hope for her Community’s future is to keep on going and receiving Sisters to serve in religious life. We are blessed by Sister Gloria’s generous heart and strong witness.
Sister Donna Schroeder, 60 Years, July 11, 1960
by Sister Donna Schroeder, OSB
As she completes sixty years, Sister Donna considers her religious life through the lens of history.
I became a Benedictine shortly before the profound changes of the Second Vatican Council. In College I studied Scripture, Liturgy, and Western Culture, including the history of the Benedictine order, and felt deeply connected to our early roots. When I entered, Matins and Mass were both sung in Latin, though we soon switched to English. Then Vatican II called for religious orders to study and return to the charism of their founders, and we began to consider Benedict’s directive to seek God together as a way to serve the Church.
Benedictine communities in the United States had been founded to serve the influx of German immigrants in the mid-19th century. We came as ‘laborers for the harvest’ and founded schools to help immigrants maintain their Catholic faith. But with all this work the Divine Office had suffered: the hours had been moved to more convenient times and even run together to make more time for work. Chanting of the Psalms had become a rapid-fire antiphonal exchange with no time to consider the meaning of what was being said, and our spiritual life suffered. Even before Vatican II, the fuller Office had been reclaimed and the Hours returned to their proper times; it was then rewritten, with fewer Psalms but intoned or recited slowly and thoughtfully. Sisters studied at St. John’s University and other universities for theology and professional development to rediscover the deeper spirituality behind Benedictine life. We were learning to reclaim our monasticism: to be as well as to do.
I appreciate the structured Benedictine day, the cycle of prayer, work, and socializing. I rise before five every morning to read Scripture and various spiritual works. Right now, I am reading the works of John Haught, a theologian with a scientific background who continues the tradition of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. During the day I teach Formation classes, take roles in liturgy, roll silverware in napkins for the dining room, and when time permits build doll houses and furniture. Most evenings I play Scrabble with another Sister. I look forward each day to praying Compline in my room, the night prayer of the Church that marks the end of the day’s work and the start of a time of quiet and contemplation, a breathing space before the night’s rest. I drift off to sleep imagining myself as a twig floating on the ocean of God’s mercy.
Sr. Pauline Micke, 60 years, July 11, 1960
by Theresa Butler
For 60 years, Sister Pauline Micke has been “listening with the ear of her heart” as a Duluth Benedictine Sister and continues to inspire others to do the same. Her parents were her greatest influences in entering religious life. They were Benedictine oblates and truly lived the gospel through helping people in need. Hearing her parents pray the Office and her family praying the rosary daily ingrained the Benedictine value of prayer in her at a young age.
Although she originally imagined herself as a social worker and opening a facility for teens in need, her plans changed after she visited St. Scholastica Monastery in eighth grade with a fellow classmate. Before she knew it, she was an aspirant attending Stanbrook Hall High School for four years before becoming a postulant and joining the Community. She says with joy, “God is a God of surprises.”
Sister Pauline did live out her dream of serving those in need when she worked for nine years as a counselor at Lake Superior Family Services in Duluth. She has found joy by working with people who are trying to find meaning and purpose in an addicted lifestyle. Today she continues helping by listening to people’s Fifth Steps and serving as a Spiritual Director. Her Scriptural guides are the Gospel of John, letters of the Apostle Paul, the prophets Joel and Jeremiah, and Psalm 27 “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” She also is devoted to the mystic St. Gertrude.
Other hats that Sister Pauline has worn include teacher for junior and senior high and college students, Parish Director of Faith Formation, Mission Integration Director for the Benedictine Health System, and Outreach Director for the Center for Spirituality and Enrichment. Currently she is the Director of the Oblates of her Community and loves it! Her passion for proclaiming the Gospel helps her lead and inspire laypeople who seek to love God and follow the Rule of St. Benedict.
She hopes that her Community will continue to deepen a way of life visibly marked by community-mindedness. Thank you, Sister Pauline, for your 60 years of witness to the Gospel.
Sister Josine Krausnick, 60 years, July 11, 1960
by Sister Josine Krausnick, OSB
From her room on Benet Hall, our assisted living center, Sister Josine reflects on how living as a Benedictine formed her.
It began with the Rule of St. Benedict. As novices we studied the Rule and memorized long passages. At Evening Prayer we listen to a passage from it, so that over a year we hear it in its entirety three times. Each time it sinks in deeper. In the Rule, Benedict breaks open the Scriptures and shows us how to live them in the small details of daily life, slowly transforming us into servants of God.
Every day the Rule reminds me that I came to become a servant of God and do the will of the One who called me. True happiness, I have discovered, comes from letting go of my own desires and embracing God’s. At my Monastic profession I promised obedience – to God and to my prioress, and the mutual obedience between Sisters. God desires my happiness, especially when times are difficult. God is smarter than I am and knows how to bring deep peace that persists even in sorrow.
This is especially true now, when the pandemic has forced us to give up for a while things we enjoy. I began this past Lent with a resolution to complain less and be more cheerful about obeying; God took me at my word and sent challenges. I was asked to remain on Benet Hall, possibly permanently, and God called me into obedience. I become impatient with having to eat meals in my room and to avoid socializing in groups, and God calls me into obedience. I see COVID-19 as an opportunity to grow closer to God. Every day we pray, “Thy will be done” – not “my will”. Obedience is why I came, why I stay, and what I have become: an obedient servant of God.