Last night over a simple Labor Day supper, four of us got into a vigorous discussion about a perennial topic among Southerners: genealogy, or as we sometimes simply put it here in the south, our kinfolk. Most Southerners can describe their family tree better than they can describe the magnolia that branches just east of their porch swing. Sometimes they can even explain their friends’ and neighbors’ genealogy as well as their own. For instance, our conversation focused on the family of just one of the four of us, but the other three could probably have patched the story together since we each knew elements of it – all except for grandma and grandpa, that is. We hadn’t heard their story before. But now we know about the trip from Germany to Pennsylvania to Alabama. And then after that story, Sr. Magdalena asked, “But what about your great-grandparents…” And so it went.
During the conversation, Sisters Mary Grace and Regina patiently parsed for me the distinction between 2nd cousins and once- and twice-removed cousins, a distinction I can never remember despite my grandmother’s endless explanations. As we talked – four Benedictines hailing from Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi – I thought about the monks of old: St. Anthony, St. Meinrad, St. Gertrude, St. Mechtilde, and on and on. I do not feel once-removed from them, but rather feel connected as a sister. I have heard their stories and have told them. I know that I share in the same Benedictine charism and belong to the same Benedictine family.
Each monastery carefully preserves a formal listing of their deceased members. Most communities, probably all, remember their deceased on the anniversary of their deaths. Additionally, both informally and formally, we keep telling our monastic stories – both the stories of our own community and stories of the monks of old. We know our Benedictine heritage. We know from whence we came. We know that we are not “once-removed” from those who preceded us in this life. We are the sisters of those whose names we read aloud on the anniversary of their death, and the sisters of those who will someday stand in the chapel and read our names, and the sisters of the monks of old.
But our spiritual family goes beyond our monastic community and our Benedictine family. We are sons and daughters of God Most High, or as St. Paul puts it, “co-heirs with Christ.” We are not once-removed from each other, but are brothers and sisters in the household of God, called to care for all whom God has created as His own, each of them our kinfolk, each created, like us, in the image and likeness of God. May we not remove ourselves from the call to care for all God’s children.
Postscript: One of the wonderful aspects of monastic life is that we get to know one another’s families, often quite well. As Sr. Janet Marie told my family on the day of my monastic profession, “You aren’t losing a daughter and sister, you are gaining 40-something daughters and sisters.” Our families visit us here at the monastery, staying in guest lodging. And each of us makes periodic home visits to stay in touch with our loved ones – or as we sometimes simply put it here in the South, our kinfolk.
The image at top is one of the structures that was on our property when it was purchased in 1902. It housed several Sisters during the construction of the building we now call Ottilia Hall. The second image is from our Book of the Dead. In addition to remembering each Sister on the anniversary of her death, we display this book in the chapel throughout the month of November.