The Sisters of St. Benedict

 
Sister Marie

Sister Marie

Sister marie

You may have seen Sister Marie Baker, dressed in overalls, farm boots and work hat, driving the lawn mower at top speed on the grounds of St. Benedict’s Monastery or pulling a wagon laden with pumpkins attached to the golf cart. S. Marie is a farm girl at heart, having been born and raised on a small grain farm south of Regina.

Marie attended teacher’s college in Moose Jaw and went on to teach at Kirby Schools, a one-room country school with seven grades. Early in her teaching career, Marie heard the call to religious life. Because of her association with the sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, she felt that somewhere down the road she might inquire. The voice persisted and Marie responded: “Why me?” After about four years her response changed to “Why not me?” And so she joined the RNDM Sisters and even served as their Provincial Superior.

Yet there was an inner core of her being that had always been attracted to the monastic way of life. Through much prayer and discernment she decided to try out the monastic path at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Winnipeg. And here she is, a most versatile woman, subprioress, spiritual director, gardener and organist. She loves the garden, classical music and being of help anywhere.

Sister Irene

Sister Irene

Sister irene

Following a difficult and dangerous early life in Poland during the war, Sister Irene Burzynski’s family eventually settled in north Winnipeg and Irene became a student at Holy Ghost school where she was taught by the Benedictine sisters, followed by high school at St. Mary’s Academy.

Being a determined and eager young woman of 19 she wanted to contribute something unique to the world. After pondering this desire for two years, she took the Greyhound bus to Arborg, MB to join this group of Benedictine women some of whom had been her teachers at Holy Ghost. She made her religious profession, received her teacher’s certificate and was missioned to teach both in Alberta and Winnipeg. At San Francisco State University she obtained a Masters of Arts degree with an emphasis on the blind and visually impaired. Irene spent many years working successfully with blind students. Irene also served the community as Prioress for eight years.

One of Irene’s greatest joys has been the opportunity to return to her home village of Karaczun, now part of Ukraine after the partition of Poland during WWII. She has a good sense of humour.

Sister Angela

Sister Angela

Sister angela

Sister Angela was born and grew up in the village of Winnipegosis where the Sisters had a hospital. As a teen she began a lifetime of work in health care, first becoming a health care aide and later graduating from St. Boniface School of Nursing as a registered nurse. Most of Angela’s work was in pediatric nursing. She has many delightful and some sad stories to recount of her work with children.

Acquainted with the Sisters from an early age, in her 20’s, she joined the community where her sister - Sister Gabriel - was already a member. Today she may be the voice you hear when you call St. Benedict’s; Angela also trains the young women who are the receptionists you meet or hear when you contact the monastery.

Angela loves nature, delights in the deer that visit us and is especially fond of the sounds of creation and of music.

 
 
Sister Mary

Sister Mary

Sister Mary

Sister Mary Coswin grew up in Winnipeg’s inner city where she attended public schools until grade 8, then became one the first resident students registered at St. Benedict’s Academy in its first year of operation.

Asked what drew her to a religious community, Mary says she was “moved by the beauty of the stained glass windows in the monastery chapel. I especially loved the night prayer when we (the girls) sang and prayed as the setting sun blazed through the gorgeous windows. And it certainly helped to feel, not just loved but liked by the sisters.”

After a few years of teaching Mary was asked to serve in community in various positions, including as Director of St. Benedict’s Retreat and Conference Centre where she has been for a total of 22 years.

Because Mary is drawn by beauty she loves to take photos and make cards, to watch dance and witness growth in people.

Sister Virginia

Sister Virginia

Sister virginia

Having read a newsletter from the Benedictine Sisters concerning their Indian Mission, Virginia felt called and so decided to move from Indianapolis and her large family to Queen of Peace Benedictine Community on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. Her father was a benefactor of St. Ann’s Mission where the Benedictine sisters devoted decades of work to the Ojibwa (Chippawa) aboriginal people.

In 1977, after much prayer and discernment, she came to Winnipeg and then on March 25, 1980, formally transferred to St. Benedict’s Monastery. In 1988 she became a Canadian citizen, retaining her U.S. citizenship as well.

Virginia designed and led four Benedictine 30-day retreats, was involved in hospitality, spiritual direction, directed retreats at St. Benedict’s Retreat and Conference Centre, serving as Director of the Centre.

Sr. Virginia was elected Prioress of St. Benedict’s Monastery in 1996 (1996-2000) and is in her third consecutive term. She continues to facilitate Intensive Journal Workshops, and the Retreat for the Unemployed. “Ginny” loves graphic arts, reading, theatre and enjoys ballet.

She finds monastic life and ministry fulfilling and has always been happy with her life choice and with any of the work she has been called upon to do. She recalls that 50 years ago, when she responded to God’s call, she did so with her whole heart and soul.

Sister Mary-Rose

Sister Mary-Rose

Sister mary-rose

Sister Mary Rose Hammerling was led to become a Benedictine from her early years. Although she attended public school she participated in summer catechism classes taught by the Benedictine sisters. She remembers, “they were young, gracious and very welcoming”.

Among some of the memorable moments in Mary Rose’s early life was receiving a scholarship to attend St. Mary’s Academy. Later blessings included the opportunity first given by Sister Clothilde, Prioress, to receive higher education, especially at the Benedictine Institute for Sacred Theology at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN.

Being elected prioress in 1972 proved a challenge and was a call to assist the community in carrying out the renewal sparked by Vatican II. Mary Rose is grateful for her experiences in leadership in the Federation of St. Gertrude of which she was president for nine years, travelling to Rome, meeting with other Superiors, “doing my part in helping to bring together North American and European Benedictine women”.

In recent years Mary Rose has been spending some time at medical appointments but she also loves to read and enjoys time with friends. Of her ministry now she says, “I feel I am called to find meaning in suffering. I believe in giving myself to God through my community in sickness and health.”

 
 
Sister Terry

Sister Terry

Sister terry

Many may know Sister Terry Kehoe as “Sister Roberta”. Terry was the fifth in a family of ten children. She was born in Tolstoi, Manitoba. Her parents met while having lead roles in an operetta in Tolstoi and married when her mother was 16 and her father 21.

Terry ventured into the challenging world of seeking employment in Winnipeg. Her first job was sewing shirts at Kennedy Shirt Factory. It was while visiting California to promote his business that Mr. Kennedy was asked to make shirts for Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. So, one claim to fame for Terry is that these two crooners have worn shirts made by Terry herself.

Her aunt trained in Paris at a very prestige bridal shop. She eventually came to Winnipeg and set up her own bridal boutique, specializing in wedding gowns and going-away suits for the bride. It was here that Terry worked for a good number of years becoming skilled in this art.

At the time of her retirement, her aunt wanted to give Terry her business. But she was already beginning to sense that God had other plans for her that were to be realized in the not-too-distant future.

She entered, made profession of vows and was called by the vow of obedience to many and varied ministries: teaching at St. Benedict’s Academy, St. Joseph the Worker in Transcona, Assumption School in Oyen AB, Mary Mound School in Winnipeg and Mapleton in Selkirk, MB. She served at St. Benedict’s Retreat and Conference Centre, and in the Monastery library.

Terry loved working with Habitat for Humanity for 12 years. In the summer of 1973 she also taught in Fiji with Project Overseas.

Sister Catherine

Sister Catherine

Sister Catherine

Sister Catherine Labinowich remembers fondly how her social life revolved around the parish, which was a gathering place for youth. After graduation from public school, Catherine worked at a bank for five years. She loved her work but had a great desire to be able to do more for people. So at the age of 21 she decided to consecrate her life to God. Asked who inspired her self-donation Catherine says, “the Benedictine Sisters who ministered in our parish inspired me by their joy and simplicity.”

After teaching elementary grades at St. Benedict’s School, Arborg, and high school sciences at St. Benedict’s Academy, Winnipeg. Catherine served as director of St. Benedict’s “Educational Centre” for seven years, during which time she also offered “Seeking” a program for initiating adults into the Catholic Church or helping them renew their faith. Catherine introduced adult spirituality into the Centre with the Genesis II program. Catherine has given many conference retreats to Benedictines in North America, as well as directed retreats in different places. She served as Prioress in 1988-92.

Centering Prayer captured Catherine’s interest many years ago and at the urging of the Centre’s spirituality team. Catherine began to teach and support Centering Prayer, bringing Fr. Thomas Keating to St.Ben’s twice. She has been called the ‘Grandmother of Centering Prayer’ in Canada.

Known for her gentleness, quiet demeanor and warm smile, Catherine continues to bring that quality to the monastery and its guests.

Sister Dorothy

Sister Dorothy

Sister dorothy

Regarding community life, Sister Dorothy Levandosky maintains, “I think it has been a continuance of ‘family’ in the sense that being a Benedictine is an endeavor to continue to grow in every which way. For me, growing up has meant being faithful to my call, expanding my personal horizons through the joys and challenges of community, viewing each person and event God sends my way as a call to growth, a call to love.”

Sister Dorothy cannot imagine herself not being a teacher. Her 45 years in the classroom have provided her with much variety – junior high and senior high, religious education and counseling. She has just retired from her long and esteemed career in the Calgary Separate School System.

Sister Dorothy will always be a farmer’s daughter at heart; community has been the fertile ground where her love for prayer, solitude and a listening heart has been nourished.

Sister Dorothy loves to provide organ accompaniment for the sisters at the Liturgy of the Hours, to do calligraphy of special documents and to travel.

 
 
Sister Carmelita

Sister Carmelita

Sister carmelita

One of Sister Carmelita (Angela) Martynuik’s first responsibilities in the orphanage, where she spent a few years, was to keep watch that the farm’s turkeys didn’t wander into the chapel. She recalls that once while attending to this task she’d be listening to the Sisters praying and singing in Polish. “It was so beautiful. I didn’t understand a word (it was in Polish), but it was lovely.”

As Sr. Carmelita grew older, she felt more and more drawn to the life of the Sisters. At age 18, after having experienced working away from the orphanage for several years, she entered the Benedictine community.

Soon after making her monastic profession, Sr. Carmelita began her nursing career in Johnson Memorial Hospital in Gimli. She later trained at Misericordia School of Nursing and graduated as a registered nurse in 1955. She served in several of the community’s hospitals and was a great nurse.

Sr. Carmelita looks back on her monastic commitment and nursing years with happiness. She has always been a people’s person, very gentle and caring. She is an avid reader and has a great memory for stories from our history.

Sister Joan

Sister Joan

Sister joan

Sister Joan glows when she explains what music has always meant to her. “Music gives me life, sustains me, is my therapy.”

After entering the Monastery just out of high school, she gradually pursued her interest in music eventually earning masters degrees in both music and liturgy.

At first her path took her into teaching in Alberta and Manitoba; later she was active in liturgical work as both Diocesan Liturgical Director in Calgary and Liturgical and Music Director in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and in parish ministry in Calgary and Selkirk as well as in the Monastery.

Not surprisingly, it was love of music that brought her to the Monastery. At the urging of their parish priest, Joan’s parents sent her to Arborg for Grade XI. She says, “I’d be sitting at the table doing my homework, and I’d hear the Sisters chanting. They did such beautiful chant, and I’d be so drawn to the community. The music, along with their joie de vivre, made me long to join them.”

Sister Marcelline

Sister Marcelline

Sister marcelline

Helen was 17 when she arrived in Arborg as a postulant in 1952. “When I entered, I made three wishes: that I could play the guitar, that I’d go to the missions, that I’d become a nurse.” Although Marcelline didn’t get to any distant missions, she did learn to play guitar and became a nurse, taking her training first in South Dakota as an LPN, then becoming an RN.

She nursed in Gimli, Birtle, and Winnipegosis, and a full 38 years in Russell until she retired. Now she uses a lot of her honed gifts to serve the residents at St. Benedict’s Place where she also engages volunteers to help entertain and keep the seniors active.

“Marci” comes from a large family and has close ties to her nieces and nephews, though she is the only one of her siblings alive now.

She says, “There’s a call to daily conversion in me that I’m always mindful of.”

 
 
Sister Gerarda

Sister Gerarda

Sister gerarda

By the time Sophie (Gerarda) was nearing her 16th birthday, she was being drawn to the Benedictine Community in Arborg. After all, she had been taught by the Benedictine sisters for nine years.

Early in her monastic life Sister Gerarda began teaching. While at St. Benedict’s Academy in 1962, an invitation came from the Federation of St. Gertrude for Benedictine sisters to assist in a new venture to teach in Bogota, Colombia. She eagerly volunteered her services and spent the next two years as a missionary. While there she learned the language, had many interesting experiences and came home with a parrot and a monkey. Pacho, the parrot lived a long life and entertained many but Chico did not adapt well to the climate.

Sister Gerarda’s career has been varied; having earned her doctorate in Education, she became Associate Professor at St. Francis Xavier’s University in Antigonish then later in charge of staff training and adult inmate education at Manitoba Provincial Corrections. She served as Executive Director at St. Joseph’s Residence and when she retired began St. Benedict’s Foundation.

Sister Gerarda continues to be active in various community ministries. However, the ministry that is closest to her heart is that of practicing the corporal works of mercy by visiting the sick, the elderly, and offering support to grieving family members, friends and benefactors. She also remains an avid sports fan. She lives an active life and revels in the ability to do so.

Sister Mele

Sister Mele

sister mele

Since her childhood in Fiji, Mele Rakai wanted to become a sister; she loved the Sisters who taught her. But her life took a different turn . She loved to study and earned a Ph.D in Land Surveying and Land Tenure; Mele became the first female land surveyor in Fiji, a field in which her father also worked . She worked in Fiji and then taught at the University of Calgary .

When she was 50 her uncle and a friend died and she felt the need to act on her long-held desire to be a sister. She felt a deep need for balance in her life, having raised her son, and helping with her large family of origin.. She visited many communities and after three visits to St.Benedict’s asked to join in 2017 even though she doesn’t particularly like the cold!.

Mele loved school and sports, the outdoors and studying scripture. She likes to camp, discuss Catholicism and enjoys seniors, a characteristic of society in her native Fiji.

Sister Filomena

Sister Filomena

Sister Filomena

Sister Filomena Silva joined the monastic community from her birthplace in the Azores via Toronto where she lived for 20 years, working for Doubleday Books and catering meals.

Being from the sea Filomena loves to swim and is also at home in the garden, growing vegetables and tending the flower bed. Since coming to St. Benedict’s 20 years ago, she has also learned to cook and we love her cornbread, Portuguese dinners, even the liver she cooks just right.

After serving at St. Joseph’s Residence, a personal care home, for 15 years, Filomena now enjoys more time to work in Food Service, the garden and the laundry. She has abundant energy and a hearty laugh. She makes friends easily and has befriended many fellow Portuguese through her work and Immaculate Conception Parish.