The Call of Community

Ever since her early days at Celestine Elementary School, while loving to learn from some teachers that were excellent role models for her, Sister Jill Reuber wanted to be a teacher, too.

She never wavered from that goal through her Dubois Middle School, Northeast Dubois High School, and college years. Along the way, she felt the call to become a religious sister, too, entering the community of the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand in 2003.

Sister Jill is now in her 12th year of teaching, currently at Sacred Heart Model School in Louisville, Kentucky. Ironically, she has now become the role model. Dr. Michael Bratcher, principal of Sacred Heart, says, “Parents of our students love that Sister Jill is a member of a religious community, and that she is a role model and example for their children.”

When growing up in Celestine, her family went to mass together every Sunday and prayed together before meals. “That was as religious as it got,” says Sister Jill.

But then, she attended a Teens Encounter Christ retreat in high school, where she met Sister Teresa Gunter, a Ferdinand Benedictine. She began visiting Sister Teresa at the Ferdinand monastery as a high school senior and a college freshman, yet wasn’t thinking about becoming a sister.

As a sophomore at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute, she went on a mission trip to the Appalachian Mountains during spring break. “We prayed together, we worked together, we had community,” says Sister Jill. “That’s where I found that I wanted that in my everyday life. I started visiting the Ferdinand monastery more as a person discerning religious life. I really fell in love with seeing that the sisters really loved each other, and that the prayer they prayed was beautiful, and they prayed it together. They had fun together, cared for each other, and knew each other. That’s what really drew me to the Ferdinand Benedictines.”

Among the most enjoyable times for her as a sister is when the entire Benedictine community is at home in Ferdinand, such as at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or community meetings. “That’s when those of us in our 30s can enjoy being with those in their 80s and 90s, listening to their stories, and the whole camaraderie. It’s a beautiful thing.” Also helping her to grow personally is living with four other sisters at a house in Louisville, with ages ranging from 20s to the 70s. In the true Benedictine way, they listen to each other, help each other, and love one another. That support also helps Sister Jill in her teaching ministry.

As a teacher, she points to the advantage of having all those fellow sisters who were, or currently are, teachers. So if she’s having troubles, she has a ready resource of suggestions.

But the top way she’s benefitted by being a sister? “It’s helped me form a better relationship with Jesus. My prayer life has really grown since I’ve become a sister. I’ve grown also as a person. The community picks me up when I fall, and then pushes me to achieve higher than I would have had I not been in community.”

Sister Jill’s desire to continuously improve spills into her teaching career as well, a trait that is clearly evident when she talks about her school principal, Dr. Bratcher. “I like Dr. Bratcher’s leadership style. He has very high expectations of a teacher. I learned when I first started working for him that he pushes teachers to those high expectations. I felt I needed someone who still continued to push me, and to go to professional development.”

Dr. Bratcher has seen the growth in her. “Sister Jill is a fantastic teacher,” he says. “Her care and concern for each student is remarkable. She is organized, creative, and very spiritual. I think the world of Sister Jill. As I observe her in the classroom, I continue to be amazed at how she relates to the students, and moves them to the next level.”

Part of her secret is she knows how to keep the children engaged with the lesson. When her 4th grade students were asked what they liked about Sister Jill, the answers flew out quickly.

“I really do not like math, but she makes it fun.”

“She puts stuff into fun games. She makes little rhymes so we can remember what to do.”

“She teaches us cool ways to memorize things.”

“She makes everything fun.”

“She’s very funny. She’s nice.”

“She has a good attitude.”

“She helps us when we’re not understanding something.”

One nice touch for Sister Jill is that her 4th graders routinely thank her every day for what she’s done as they leave the classroom. She also relishes the times that students notice her outside of school and are so excited to see her that they run up and give her a hug. It’s apparent she’s making a difference in their lives.

“What’s most enjoyable as a teacher is working with a student who doesn’t understand a concept, and then they have the Aha! moment and finally get it,” she says. “You’re so thankful and they’re so thankful. That’s most enjoyable.”

Besides teaching 4th grade math, language arts, and literature, Sister Jill is a learning support coordinator, working with kindergarten through 2ndgrade students who are high achieving or have learning difficulties. As the only religious sister at the school, she’s valuable in other areas, too. She’s taught and led the whole student body in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. She leads small groups in Eucharistic Adoration and helps teachers devise Holy Thursday activities. She’s also gone into other teachers’ classrooms to explain religious life to students.

She has a B.S. degree in elementary education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, and a master’s in education from the University of Southern Indiana.

Sister Jill’s love of working with youth extends to her volunteering to run Camp Marian, an event for girls who have just completed 5th through 8thgrades that is hosted by the Sisters of St. Benedict every summer on the grounds of Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand. Sister Jill has helped with the camp since 2003, and has been camp director the past several years.

About 50 girls, and 15 counselors, attend the camp every summer. It’s a three-day outing, Monday through Wednesday. The girls participate in games, crafts, swimming, archery, sleep in tents, go boating, sing songs, have campfires, and pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

“The camp is to help young ladies see who we are as religious sisters,” says Sister Jill. “I love sharing our Benedictine charism with the campers and counselors. One of the benefits of Camp Marian is that it allows young girls that may not have any connections with religious to meet us and get to know some of us.”

They might even discover a role model or two.

This article was written by Greg Eckerle and was published in Boomer Magazine as “The importance of Community: Sister Jill Reuber finds home and family in the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand.”  The story is reprinted with the permission of Boomer Magazine.