“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be …”

Each summer, Precious Blood Sisters gather at Salem Heights in Dayton for Spirit Days, a busy week of business meetings, presentations, fellowship and celebration. This year’s presenter was Sister Ann Billard, OLM, Ph.D., a certified grief recovery specialist with graduate degrees in pastoral counseling. She travels extensively to women religious communities, providing spiritual direction, lectures, workshops and retreats on grief recovery and the spirituality of aging.

“God has a purpose for us, and that purpose does not cease when we are no longer part of active ministry.

There is still meaning and purpose in this contemplative part of life,” Sister Ann has said. “We are called to share in the mission of Christ by baptism, so we never really retire from that. When we retire from active ministry, we still say yes to our call every day.”

We asked some of our Precious Blood Sisters to reflect on Sister Ann’s presentation and share their perspectives on how their own experience of spirituality has grown and changed over time.

6-photos_cover-story-_1From left, Sisters Eleanor McNally, Adeline Mertz (photo by Pat Morrison), Pat Dieringer, Laura Will, Rose Margaret Broerman and Joan DeChristopher.

Sister Eleanor (M. Thomas) McNally
Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be….” Hold it right there, Mr. Robert Browning, poet laureate of Great Britain! Best is yet to be? I’m pushing 100 and I am challenging that. Here I am struggling with loss of hearing, becoming rather forgetful, developing aches and pains, grieving over lost family and friends, and probably in the end losing my independence. That’s no fun, Mr. Browning. Aging takes a lot of faith!

Speaking of faith, it used to be so easy. As a child, I accepted without question whatever the catechism or Mom and Pop said to me. But then the years rolled by. I traveled through a lot of ups and downs; I grew through education and experience; many a time I stumbled and then got up. In it all, FAITH finally became what it really is: “Belief, Trust without certainty.” That’s tough!

And then you tell me, Mr. Poet: “The last of life, for which the first was made.” I think I’m getting it. The beauty of nature and a friend’s face, my eyes can still behold. I think my mind hasn’t departed me altogether. Each new day becomes a reward. So many good things that I enjoyed in my youthful years have now become a more meaningful and deeper reality. The goodness of my Lord truly laces my years of aging. And when my days are done, death becomes my gateway to Heaven.

Meanwhile, Robert Browning continues, “Our times are in His hand.” And then, with God’s grace, my final act of faith: “My God, I wish them there.”

(Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra” and W.F. Lloyd, “My Times Are in Thy Hand”)

Sister Adeline Mertz
I entered the Sisters of the Precious Blood when I was in my 20s. I found my faith being deepened through the hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. This has continued to deepen my faith throughout my entire religious life.

When I was in my 30s, I went through a very difficult time. I could not understand what God was asking of me at the time, but I have always believed that anything that happens in my life is God’s will, and happens for a reason. I have learned to surrender myself to the will of God, knowing that God will provide me with the grace(s) I need to accept whatever comes my way.

Over the years, my prayer life has deepened, and this has been instrumental in deepening my faith. Listening to the homilies at liturgy and other spiritual talks on the TV have also been a source of inspiration for me today. As I see how God is working in and through other people, I am called to look at the ways God is working in my own life at this time.

The Eucharist is VERY important to me, and has enabled me to change my outlook on life. Those things that may seem very difficult are manageable because I see God’s hand at work, both in me and through me. Even though I am 94 years old, and my days of active ministry are over, God continues to work in me and through me. I will strive to be that life-giving presence to all those who are a part of my life each day — caregivers, other residents and visitors — until the day the Lord calls me home to the banquet feast of heaven.

Sister Pat (M. Agnes Claire) Dieringer
Just a week after high school graduation I entered the “work world.” After several years of work, help of a spiritual director, much prayer and attending daily Mass, I felt a call to enter religious life.

I was all of 30 — in those days considered “an older vocation”! After professing my vows, I began years of ministry, all of which enabled me to use my business and accounting background in various places.

Although I’m formally retired, my plate is as full as ever. I’m actively involved in Precious Blood Parish in Dayton where I serve as Eucharistic minister and treasurer for the parish parishioners who need financial help. Helping to serve the poor of our area through the parish’s St. Vincent DePaul Society is one of my favorite activities. I also help our retired Sisters when needed. Believe it or not I am also an avid sports fan and would love to see my Cincinnati Reds win another World Series.

My first and foremost priority of ministry is daily Eucharist, striving to deepen my prayer life, reading and meditating on the Scripture. This is what energizes me and supports all my activities. It makes every day a new challenge.

I’m happy that God allowed me to dedicate myself to Him and His church through the Sisters of the Precious Blood. Our Precious Blood charism and the inspiration of Mother Maria Anna Brunner, our foundress, urges me to be a reconciling presence: to give hope to the hopeless through the acceptance of everyone, of every race, culture, creed and nationality.

I’ve been blessed to be a Sister of the Precious Blood. And I’m immensely grateful.

Sister Laura (M. Clarus) Will
As I recall events of my life, I realize this spiritual journey began with baptism, followed by the guidance of a loving mother and father, a man of great faith. The Morning Offering which I pray each morning now is the same as we prayed at our family breakfast table many years ago.

As a young Sister teaching young children, spiritual reading, religious education, theology classes and participating in annual retreats helped to deepen my faith. Music, hymns and playing the organ also gave me a sense of God’s presence in my daily life. Special saints were called upon in times of need. St. Joseph’s protection was needed, especially during my travels. The power of the Holy Spirit was important in helping me through difficult times. Being born on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, devotion to Mary has always been part of my daily prayer.

Accompanying others on their journey of aging — giving time and presence, listening to life stories, and hearing of their deepest spiritual values, has helped me as I now experience similar needs.

Changing from “doing” to more of just “being” is increasing awareness of my own aging personality in relation to Jesus. With Him, it is easier to speak from my heart than from the head and know that He understands. While using Scripture now, I feel being a part of the scene that “comes alive.”

As I enjoy this time of grace, I am grateful for all who have gone before me, living Precious Blood Spirituality; that is, applying the merits of the Precious Blood in all we say, pray and do. With God’s grace, I will continue to live the Paschal Mystery, using more of the potential God has implanted in my spiritual DNA.

Sister Rose Margaret Broerman
What a flood of memories this task evoked — Ministries. Personalities. Locations. Experiences!

Through these more than 65 years in religious life, I have witnessed many changes in all aspects of life — community, church, society, lifestyles, values, etc. Each change required that I process its impact and assess how it promoted or discouraged growth in my understanding of what was happening around me.

Education, study, presentations on spiritual and other appropriate subjects broadened my faith and prayer life. Rote and devotional prayers lessened as I found greater riches in Scripture and spiritual books. Precious Blood Spirituality, prayer, Eucharist and liturgy, while always mainstays, gained greater importance as years passed. New insights into these areas aided transitioning from intellectual to experiential knowledge.

From early days to present times, within the CPPS community and outside, I benefited from individuals who served as mentors, shared wisdom and modeled how I wanted to age. Keeping an open mind, a positive attitude and a sense of humor proved helpful in negotiating the “ups and downs” of a rapidly changing world. Prayer coupled with Precious Blood Spirituality and lots of PATIENCE kept me moving forward to embrace the changes.

At Spirit Days the presenter, Sister Ann Billard, OLM, offered some new insights and confirmed others acquired through the years. I especially appreciated the list of qualities of the “Transcendent Elder” — one who has said “yes” to the call of aging by living in the promise of the resurrection while surrendering to the losses of aging.

See the blessings in each new day and know the peace, joy and richness they add to your life.

Sister Joan (M. Christine) DeChristopher
How has my spirituality grown through life?

The faith life of the Italian Catholic family impacted me from my earliest childhood. It was through this influence that I developed loving relationships and bondedness to family and community. I carry these same attributes to my religious Congregation and ministries. Nurturing relationships and friendships has continued throughout my adult life. Being aware of another’s needs and feelings has been an especially strong motivator for me.

My introduction to the Sisters of the Precious Blood came with my attendance at Regina High School. It was through the Sisters in the music department that I entertained the idea of a vocation. The Sisters were caring and inviting; I wanted to share in their life. During the novitiate I was under Sister Claire Trimbach’s tutelage. She and I shared an appreciation of the fine art of music. She offered an introduction to classical music that complemented my mother’s singing and my dad’s violin playing. This relationship continued to nurture me.

My faith life was strengthened during my formation through the quiet time of night hour adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. It was here that the purpose of being a religious woman was fostered. It was here that I understood that Jesus died for all, that He redeemed all creation through the shedding of His Blood. During this time I was deeply impressed with the works of Caryll Houselander. Her books were instrumental in helping me see God’s image in all peoples. This insight of inclusiveness inspired all my ministries.

My ministry in education, kindergarten through sixth grade, offered another expression of nurturing and caring for the children. I was aware that I was companioning them in their own life development. My purpose was always greater and beyond the immediate lessons I taught.

As I changed ministries to pastoral care I had the opportunity to discover that spiritual growth and self-growth were complementary. Again, in being sensitive to the feelings — fears and sorrows, shame and guilt — of the other, I trusted my God to guide my words and actions. These people were seeking God’s love, forgiveness and mercy. I had the awesome task of offering comfort and reassurance. I was privileged to accompany them in their journey.

When I left formal ministry, I struggled to find my niche. Gradually it became the “neighborhood.” I fostered relationships among the residents of the little village, attending funerals and welcoming new families. I participated in the efforts to make the village safe and became friends with the police and government officials. It was a heartwarming experience — the people knew us as “the nuns.”

And so now, in my elder years, I find myself at Salem Heights. Institutional living remains challenging. Living with 40 other women takes its own skill set. I feel invited to nurture the relationships of a lifetime, to share my assistance and gifts with those who can use the help, to be a listening ear, to share life. I desire to be open to the graces others have to offer me. I know my Redeemer lives in and through me and with those with whom I live.

6-photos_cover-story-_2From left, Sisters Rosemary Goubeaux, Alice Schoettelkotte, Della Mae Meyer, Pat Gist, Nancy Raley and LaKesha Church (photo by Mary Lou Schmersal).

Sister Rosemary (M. Jean Therese) Goubeaux
I can’t refer to my growth in spirituality without crediting my Mother and Dad, who laid the foundation for me. Both my parents modeled for me what it means to live each day with faith and trust in God. No matter how busy we were with the farm chores, Mother and Dad always found time to lead us in prayer to thank God for the gifts of the day. We knew it would be the rosary, and my Mother added prayers from her heart for special blessings and intentions. This attitude helped me to feel that God was always close by and was watching over us.

When I entered the convent, I was comfortable with the Hours of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, since most of our prayers were vocal. However, when it came to meditation, I felt lost and often fell asleep during that early morning hour. As a Congregation, we began Precious Blood discussions using Scripture. I was eager to learn more and often took summer classes or workshops on Scripture and theology. I was gradually experiencing a new approach to prayer. This led to a directed retreat, which during this silent, graced-time with God proved to be a life-changing event. It was here that I realized that God is present in every facet of my life and I developed a personal and deeper relationship with God.

The Eucharist has always been an integral part of my life. And since Vatican Council II, we have focused not so much on reparation, atonement and sin, but on the Life-giving aspects of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hence the Redeeming Love of Jesus is my inspiration which is rooted in Eucharistic prayer. I share that Love by being a life-giving, reconciling and healing presence. One of the ways I witness to the preciousness of all life is by participating in the homicide prayer vigils held throughout the city of Dayton.

Death is our greatest Gift” is the theme that really resonates with me. The call of aging is the call to completion. It is a series of surrendering to our limitations each day until our final “letting go” in death. Having served as a chaplain at a hospital for years, I had the privilege of being at the bedside of many persons who drew their last breath. What a gift this has been for me! While many tears were shed, there was often a deep interior peace as a patient surrendered her or his life into the arms of a Loving God. I pray I can live these final years of my life with deep faith and a loving trust in our Merciful Savior, surrendering all that I am, so My Death will be my Greatest Gift.

Sister Alice (Rose Miriam) Schoettelkotte
Aging is a very gradual process. Little by little my body fails to respond as it once did. Eyesight and hearing are diminished. Limbs are less agile and less responsive to accomplish manual tasks. The body generally slows down.

For many of us, the mind also slows down, becomes more forgetful. The mind says, “I’m not the person I once was.” Instead of putting forth energy to minister to those in need, I find much of my time taken up with doctors’ appointments and follow-ups.

But as the body and mind slow down, what is happening spiritually? I find that prayer is much simpler than it used to be. Prayer becomes not words, but presence before God, a presence of deep thanksgiving, a presence of listening for God’s word, God’s direction, a presence of being loved unconditionally and loving in return, a presence in which God reveals the divine self as one who loves and sustains every person while respecting the right of each person to make decisions, to choose.

I have come to believe that we are not meant to be separated by race, nationality, ethnic background or beliefs. When Jesus prayed at the Last Supper “that all may be one” (John 17:21), he meant just that. Precious Blood Spirituality certainly calls me to that oneness as well as to the total gift of self, down to the last drop of blood (Mother Brunner).

Age has also brought greater wisdom. It’s OK to wait on God. It’s OK when nothing seems to be happening. It’s OK simply to respond to whatever life presents. It’s no longer my agenda that matters; it’s God’s.

Sister Della (Miriam Cecile) Meyer
My spirituality started in a family environment of faith where Mass and the rosary were very important. It continued and was enriched by having Sisters of the Precious Blood teach me in grade school. There again the Mass, rosary and many devotions were very important. The Sisters shared their love of God with us in so many ways. I was very fortunate to have some saintly Sisters as part of my early formation.

I went to Fatima Hall, our community high school, and continued my formation with daily Mass, rosary and an introduction to the Hours of Adoration. In those days perpetual adoration was our rich tradition. I entered our community in 1954, and what had begun in my youth continued with an addition of religious instructions, spiritual reading, Precious Blood devotions plus the experience of making retreats.

By 1960, I was a very busy teacher trying to be prepared for classes while also trying to keep up with all my prayers and devotions. It was at that time our community decided that we were apostolic rather than a monastic community. The change put the emphasis on being in the world but not of it. Community life on the missions began to change and we engaged with the laity by sharing our faith and working in ministries together.

The Second Vatican Council brought a big change to our church and to our community life and prayer. I am happy I am old enough to have lived the old style and young enough to enjoy all the changes. The big change in community life was sharing our faith with each other. We started with Gospel discussions every week. It is at that time that I can say the Gospels entered my life in a big way. The Gospels were a big part of my spiritual life. New translations of the Bible finally gave us a better understanding of the Word of God always revealing a new face of God’s love and plans … always moving and never static.

Getting a master’s degree in religious education from Marywood College was a great gift because I had the time to study, pray and be stretched. In the 1980s and ’90s, my ministry was giving to others what I received.

By 2001, I had to start letting go of what gave me meaning. A kidney transplant consumed my attention and reshaped my prayer life; my attitude of planning got down to living one day at a time and knowing that life could end very fast. Coping with losing friends who have died, letting go of the need to feel important and finding out how grateful I am for this precious gift of time is my spirituality of aging. Eucharist and my relationship with God and others is my strength.

Sister Pat Gist
I have to admit that growing in my faith during my early 20s was not a top priority. I was in college and more interested in having a date for the weekend and getting my grade-point average up. My image of church at that time was “pray, pay and obey” and stay out of trouble. However, I took seriously going to Mass every Sunday. The Akron Dominican Sisters did a great job of impressing that in my conscience.

After college I took a position as a first grade teacher in a Catholic school with the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. That is when I “woke up” to the faith that had been part of my life from preschool through 12th grade. Not only the Sisters but the lay teachers had a profound influence on my decision to enter religious life. I also realized that in order to teach religion I had to live my faith every day. The principal asked, “Pat, have you ever considered religious life?” I answered “NO!” She said, “Well, you ought to.” I took her seriously and entered in 1963.

I only became familiar with CPPS when I began the religious studies program at the University of Detroit. By then I was teaching high school and in charge of the religion program. I became friends with some of the Sisters and that led to coming to the Diocese of Toledo. I began to experience community life in a broader perspective. The CPPS community in the Toledo area was welcoming and inclusive. In 1986 I began the process of transferring to the Sisters of the Precious Blood.

My sense of spirituality grew to understand that yes, the blood that Jesus shed and shares with us in every Eucharist gives life, and the challenge is, how can I — and do I — share that life with others?

During Spirit Days this year, the presentation on “the spirituality of aging” resonated with me in terms of the transition — the letting go of what was and embracing what can be. This to me is an everyday challenge — not just personally but also in community life. The question is not just “What do I (we) need to let go of but what can I (we) do in the present (the future)?” Life is not static.

Through my parish ministry I have encountered and ministered to the elderly in their homes, nursing homes and hospitals. The majority of the time, I have found an acceptance — “I am at peace with where I am now. I rely on the grace and strength of God to be with me every day.”

Sister Nancy (M. Alan) Raley
Spirituality comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning “breath” of life, and has been described as our vital core which gives meaning to life. I believe that everyone has a spirit, whether life-giving or destructive. For me, spirituality involves a relationship to God under the symbol of the Precious Blood.

The related concept of transformation is often seen as the key to becoming an emotionally content older adult. It means to evolve to a desired way of being — a person who accepts life as it has been lived and chooses to live fully in the present. Transformation can be seen in the Paschal Mystery represented by Christ dying on the cross and rising from the dead on Easter. In a sense, when we are transformed we undergo some kind of symbolic death and are reborn to new life.

As I reflect on my unique experiences and relationships, sometimes I have flashes of insight and moments of healing. I grieve what has been lost and find myself embracing a new reality. I try to be open to the fullness of this experience and the wisdom that comes.

As an older adult, I find I am redefining what gives me meaning and satisfaction. My body experiences physical decline which requires frequent adaptation. Yet I still desire to be self-sufficient. I still want to be of service to others. Becoming dependent is one of the challenges of getting older and frailer.

I believe that the process of aging is designed to bring me into the realm of the Spirit. God is with me in my journey of letting go of independence, health and dreams. I am moving from the ministry of “doing” to that of “being.”

Sister LaKesha Church
As a teenager, I was a very active participant in the Baptist church. I was a member of the youth choir, usher board, hospitality, VBS and Sunday school, and I sang solos for meditation period. My participation in these ministries helped me to form communal relationships but always helped me to grow closer to God. The more I sang about God, talked about God, worshiped God and served God’s people, the more I wanted to grow and be nurtured in God’s word and his unconditional love.

As a young adult, I moved from home to attend college. I didn’t know anyone who went to church and I did not know about any of the churches in the area or where they were until much later. It was a very unusual time for me. I was looking for God in a place that I had yet to realize that I needed to find him there (and “there” meaning the Catholic Church). So even though I couldn’t find God in a church, I found him in my car because it was where I was all the time. So in my car I would listen to worship services or gospel music and my car would then become my oratory. There I would pray, worship, sing and talk to God. There was never a long enough trip.

In my now years, my spirituality has become one of meditative reflection. A slower journey of that transcendence toward God so I don’t reach God before I’ve had time to get my act together!

– Stories compiled by Mary Knapke; photos by Michelle Bodine unless otherwise indicated

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