Serving Our World
While education has been a primary ministry for our community since its beginning, our Sisters’ minister in diverse ways including teaching; serving in parishes; offering retreats; providing health care; counseling individuals; working with immigrant populations; and helping the homeless, poor, and those recovering from addictions.
As we work with the people whom we encounter in our ministries and on a daily basis, we keep in mind our mission statement: “We, the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand, Indiana, are monastic women seeking God through the Benedictine tradition of community life, prayer, hospitality, and service to others. By our life and work, we commit ourselves to be a presence of peace as we join our sisters and brothers in the common search for God.” Everything that we do focuses on being a presence of peace in a world that is wounded by violence, intolerance, and injustice.
Immigrants are the lifeblood of our country. With the exception of Native Americans, all of us are descended from immigrants. So ensuring that those who come to America legally in pursuit of that same dream we all followed have a way forward is something we’re passionate about.
The Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand were originally established to help immigrants. Four Sisters were brought here from Covington, Kentucky, specifically to help German immigrants in the Ferdinand area learn English and assimilate.
Today, the Sisters of St. Benedict are approved by the U.S. State Department to assist immigrants as they pursue a path to citizenship. We have two Sisters who are Certified by the federal government to assist in the immigration process. Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of people through the process to become proud and productive citizens of the United States.
“It is bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity, who leave their homelands and come to a new country to start their lives over. They believe in the American dream. And over and over, they make it come true for themselves, for their children, and for others.
They give more than they receive. They labor and succeed. And often they are entrepreneurs. But their greatest contribution is more than economic, because they understand in a special way how glorious it is to be an American. They renew our pride and gratitude in the United States of America, the greatest, freest nation in the world — the last, best hope of man on Earth.”
Ronald Reagan, from his final speech as U.S. President
And there’s more. Several of our Sisters regularly travel to Eagle Pass, Texas, on the Mexican border, where they meet families living on the streets, waiting for a chance to apply for asylum, displaced from their Central American countries by drug traffickers.
They interact with babies and children at orphanages, bringing them diapers, formula, food, blankets, and toys. They work alongside Sister Ursula, cooking, cleaning, and visiting the migrants who are fortunate to have a bed for a few nights. And they shop for special items that are needed, especially more water. Thanks to those who have generously supported this outreach, we’re able to make the trip with a van overflowing with donated items.
The duty of the government, according to the Catholic Catechism, is “to welcome the foreigner and to enforce the security of our borders for the common good.” The bishops believe that “by increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus on those who threaten public safety.” This is our focus. As Benedictines, we strive to heed the counsel of the Rule to “welcome all guests as Christ.”
The Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand began in 1867 by teaching. Four Sisters traveled from Covington, Kentucky to Ferdinand — no small journey back then — to teach English to the area’s German immigrants.
From those beginnings, hundreds of our Sisters have gone on to teach tens of thousands of children. Sister Mary George Kissel, who taught for 70 years, recalls having 55 children in a class when she began.
While most of those students were in the Ferdinand area, from Evansville to Louisville and points in between, our Sisters have also taught outside the U.S., in countries including Guatemala, Colombia and Peru, where they founded a school decades ago that still serves students today.
For many years, the Sisters also operated schools at the monastery, including Academy Immaculate Conception, St. Benedict’s College and Marian Heights Academy. In addition, we founded two of the first schools in the Midwest specifically for special education students: Marian Day School in Evansville, Indiana, and Madonna Day School in Memphis, Tennessee.
We still have teachers in the classroom today. And one other longstanding tradition remains alive and well: children still come to the monastery for music lessons from the Sisters.
The Sisters of St. Benedict have long been involved in helping those in need of housing. Today, you’ll still find us involved in this important work throughout the region.
Sister Mary Frances Schafer has been on staff at the Louisville Coalition for the Homeless since July 2006. Until 2021, she served as Director of Community Coordination. Today, she works on special projects to help with Louisville’s Continuum of Care. The Louisville Coalition for the Homeless has a mission to prevent and end homelessness in Louisville, working with over 30 shelters, agencies, and advocacy groups in the Louisville area. Before coming to the Coalition, Sister Mary Frances served twelve years as Program Manager for a transitional housing facility serving homeless single parent families.
Sister Jane Michele McClure has been the Major Gifts Officer for Habitat for Humanity of Evansville for many years. Habitat for Humanity of Evansville builds houses in partnership with people in need, then sells the houses to homeowner partners. Homeowners are selected based on their need for housing, ability to repay a zero-percent APR mortgage, and willingness to partner with Habitat. The homes are built on volunteer labor, and mortgage payments are affordable for low-income partners.
Jesus directed us to feed the hungry, and gave us a clear example when he fed the five thousand — and the Apostles — with loaves and fishes. So the Sisters of St. Benedict follow his example.
Our own Blessing Cabinet at the monastery offers our employees a way to obtain food for themselves, their families or neighbors who may be in need. We also support local organizations like Bread of Life and TTR Haven Over the Hilltop.
Sister Donna Marie Herr manages the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry in Evansville, helping to reduce food insecurity and provide food for those who need it in that community.
Through our Humanitarian Fund, we are often able to provide food and other essentials for those in need. In recent months, we’ve provided food for families who lost their belongings in a fire, for single parents escaping from abusive situations or struggling to make it on their own, and more, often in partnership with organizations who are meeting other needs of these same individuals.
The Sisters have been active in the healthcare community for decades, and many hold nursing degrees. We have served in many capacities, from patient care to administration and teaching. We also care for our own Sisters in facilities at the monastery. Hildegard Health Center allows our senior Sisters who may have health issues or need assistance with activities of daily life to receive the care they need here in our community among familiar faces. We also provide Community Health Services to meet the routine daily health-related needs of all our Sisters.
Many of our Sisters have worked or continue to work in parishes across the region, especially in the area of Pastoral Care. This is a natural outgrowth of their Benedictine spirit of service and the directive to “welcome each person as Christ.”
Especially because of our years spent serving in countries like Guatemala, Colombia and Peru, we have quite a few Spanish-speaking Sisters at the monastery. For years, we have provided translation services for courts in the region when needed.
In 1965, Pope John XXIII asked religious communities in the U.S. to send 10% of their members to Central and South America within the next decade. Four years later, the Sisters of St. Benedict sent several members of their community to Morropón, a city of about 10,000 in northern Peru.
The friars of the Midwest Augustinian Province had established a mission in the diocese of Chulucanas in 1963. Father Edward Chapman, one of the first missionaries to Peru from the Chicago Province, saw a need to help the young women of Morropón and the outlying areas, who had no opportunity for schooling beyond grammar school. With the support of Bishop McNabb, he oversaw the construction of St. Rita High School as a high school for girls from poor families in the parish.
The Sisters of St. Benedict arrived from Ferdinand to teach at and run St. Rita High School. Because there were so many young women who lived in the more remote outlying areas around Morropón, St. Rita soon became a “pensionado” or boarding school that could accommodate fifty girls. One of the school’s very first principals was the late Sister Mary Baehl.
By the 1980s, the Sisters of St. Benedict had begun accepting vocations from Peruvian sisters and established a dependent monastery in Morropón, one of six they founded in the western hemisphere. Their work continues today in both Morropón and Santo Domingo. Our Sisters regularly spend time with the Sisters in Peru.
“It’s a great blessing to have the presence of the Sisters,” said retired Bishop Turley, “a prayerful presence. They carried the charism of St.. Benedict, St. Scholastica and St. Gertrude, that tremendous love for the church, the liturgy and prayer. Their spirit has been a gift to Peru.”
St. Rita also became known for its women athletes, who excelled in volleyball, soccer and basketball. Today, more than fifty years after it was established, the school is co-ed and serves elementary and high school students.
The Benedictine monastery founded by the Ferdinand Sisters has also continued to flourish and attract young women to religious life. “Some communities came and went,” recalls Bishop Turley, “but the Benedictines brought a sense of permanence — that they were there to stay, to be with the people of God and walk with them.”
The Sisters continued to be a pastoral presence for good, evangelizing throughout northern Peru
That extended into other areas, including care for the sick. Sister Romaine Kuntz worked to open a dispensary in Santo Domingo, an area where healthcare resources are scarce. Observed Bishop Turley, “The people had such great confidence and trust in the Sisters, in meeting both spiritual and corporeal needs.”
Listening with the ear of our heart, as monastic women, the Sisters of St. Benedict have committed to join the worldwide Catholic community in responding to Pope Francis’ appeal to participate in a seven-year journey toward sustainability and integral ecology by developing a Laudato Si’ Action Platform.
This commitment marks our willingness to engage the Laudato Si’ Goals:
- To care for our common home
- To respond to the cry of the poor
- To engage in ecological economics
- To practice ecological spirituality
- To participate in ecological education
- To adopt more sustainable lifestyles and
- To support community resilience and participatory action
This commitment is made in faith, hope, and love, knowing that we are participating in God’s work of transformation, “for we know that things can change” (LS 13).
Sister Jean Marie Ballard has already begun the work of establishing Laudato Si’ Circles, small community groups that gather regularly to deepen their relationship with God as Creator and with all members of creation. Together, they pray with and for creation, reflect on their ongoing ecological conversion and take action.
The Sisters continue to look for ways to be as “green” as possible, from recycling rain water and raising a portion of our food in both our traditional garden and our hydroponic garden to continually evaluating ways to operate in a more energy-efficient manner that can reduce our carbon footprint.