by Sister Edith Bogue
It's probably the most common question student interviewers ask. "What do the sisters do?" or "What's a typical day like for a sister?"
The Benedictine motto ora et labora (pray and work) describes our schedule. We no longer have a wake-up bell. Many sisters follow the ancient custom of waking early for uninterrupted private prayer with scripture, called lectio divina. We gather in the Chapel for Morning Prayer at 7AM on weekdays (you are invited to join us - ask any sister to show you how the prayer books work!) or later in our infirmary. After prayer comes breakfast, followed by whatever work a sister has that day.
The bell calls us back to the Chapel for Mass at 11:45AM, followed by lunch and Midday Prayer in at 1PM. Then sisters return to their regular work until evening prayer - traditionally called Vespers - at 5:15PM most days. Then supper. Sisters become a bit like Pavlov's famous dog: we begin to get hungry and stomachs to growl almost as soon as we walk into the Chapel.
Emma recently asked, "But what work do you all do? There are a lot of sisters, but not many at the College."
It takes a LOT of person-power to have a monastery. Several sisters plan those four-times-a-day services, schedule the sisters as leaders, musicians and lectors, prepare for solemnities and feasts, care for the Chapel and dozens more liturgical tasks. Three sisters work with lay people in our business and development offices, keeping track of medical and living expenses, staff wages and all our bills. Another is the Director of Temporalities, responsible for everything that isn't eternal: cars, leaky roofs, furniture, grounds, and sharing the campus with the College and the BHC. Several more communicate with women considering joining our community or mentoring those in midst of becoming sisters. Still others coordinate volunteers, work in our library, with guests, staff the reception desk...and more.
You may not know that, besides this College, our monastery also sponsors the Benedictine Health System (more than 40 long-term care facilities) and the Catholic hospitals in Essentia Health. Several sisters work or serve on boards of other sponsored ministries. We have several spiritual ministries too. Sisters are chaplains, spiritual directors, trainers of spiritual directors, retreat leaders, speakers or leaders for lay people. Others have individual ministries in music, architecture or other professions. None of us are really truly; many continue to sew and knit items for our gift shop, work on our social justice ministries or with local community groups. Every sister prays for particular people and needs.
With that list, it's no surprise that most sisters have more than one job. St Benedict doesn't prescribe "down time" for his monks. He wants us to have a balance of prayer and work -- that's why prayer is scheduled first -- and leisure in the ancient sense of refreshment of body and spirit. That's why you'll often see Sisters attending concerts, plays and lectures, walking in the woods, or quietly reading and praying in the Chapel.
What's a typical day for a sister? One filled with amazing surprises from beginning to end.