Sunday, July 19, 2009

Jubilarians 2009

(click on photo for a larger view)

I have stuck very close to my professional ethics when writing about the monastery. One of the rules I made for myself was not to use photographs that I have access to because of my job. But for this photo, taken with my own camera, I'm going to make an exception. I don't think any of the jubilarians will mind, and really, it felt like a personal photo when I took it. These 16 women celebrated 50 years of vowed religious life at the monastery today-- all weekend, really. All year, if you count the numerous private celebrations, hometown Masses, and other parties. They even had a gathering of all the living members of their class of 1959, including several who left the monastery to get married in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s after the Second Vatican Council. One in their number, a Chinese Sister, is a permanent member of the Taiwan mission, now an independent priory, and so was not here.

So think about a 50th wedding celebration, if you've attended or experienced one. In this German Catholic area, the 50th wedding anniversary is usually marked by a Mass, a giant party with all the relatives, and an article in the newspaper.

We do the same thing at the monastery, in this case times 16. Months ago we wrote up profiles for each of the Sisters and they all went in our magazine. This weekend's celebration began on Friday with a party just within the community. The Sisters were making flower arrangements for days. And Sister Geraldine, in the center top row just behind the prioress (who is in the blue suit and not a jubilarian), who has wonderful memories of cooking at Red Lake Mission and has spent the past 20 years working in the copy shop for the College of Saint Benedict, said she was happily "baking and baking and baking" bread and pies for the weekend's celebrations. When I left work on Friday, there was a row of 16 bottles of red wine (Riunite and Sutter Home!!!) with single roses in vases and cards by each one, prepared for the night's festivities.

Sunday, though, is the big day. The Sisters can invite family to a luncheon after the Mass, and I heard one Sister say the dining room "was approaching unsafe." It was packed with extra tables and chairs, and volunteers were putting on the cloths and silverware. Each Sister had made elaborate, individual placecards. Calligraphy, quilling, and even tatting were on display on the cards. I was there to oversee the professional photograph, and the photographer was having so much time he threw in an extra half hour of candid shots. He said to me, "This is like a wedding." I said, "Yes, times 16." There was the wonderful "surprise" guests, S. Christine's niece from Arkansas who flew in for the occasion, and the two of them embraced and cried, so happy to see each other. I think a lot of people must be the nieces and nephews of nuns. I've learned of several who surprised me since taking this job. Everyone loves their aunts who are nuns.

In addition to the Mass and the luncheon, they can invite as many people as they want to an afternoon reception. These receptions occupy every available space, and the grounds were covered with signs directing folks to "Sister Marlene's party, this way" and "Parking for Sister Geraldine this way." Sister Geraldine, who has 78 nieces and nephews and extensive connections at the college, was expecting 200 guests at her party. She needed her own parking lot.

I wasn't there for the afternoon celebrations, just the preparations. But Steve and I were biking past the Monastery in downtown St. Joseph on our way home from a long bike ride and I heard one woman on the street talking to two others: "I'm just coming from Sister Georganne's reception, are you going over to Sister Mary's?" What a lovely thing, 16 grand parties, and an 80-degree sunny day on which to walk around the monastery and visit with these wonderful Sisters and all their families and friends.

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