Good Zeal

Sister Emilie

Sister Emilie SchmittOn May 24, 2024 the monastic community gathered in the Infirmary for a special Eucharistic celebration in honor of Sister Emilie Schmitt’s 75th anniversary of her monastic profession. Abbot Marcus Voss, OSB from St. Bernard Abbey and cousin to Sister Emilie was the celebrant. As many as possible gathered in Sister Emilie’s room with overflow into the hallway. It was an intimate celebration and one that seemed to embody multiple layers of meaning for everyone. Sister Elisabeth gave a reflection that emphasized Sister Emilie’s fidelity to God, to community, and to those whom she served by the way she zealously attended to every small detail. In matters great and small, Sister Emilie continues to be a living witness to the Benedictine motto: ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus (that in all things God may be glorified).

When I was in initial formation, I got a first-hand experience of that ceaseless fidelity and zeal. Whenever there was “peeling” to be done for the kitchen after breakfast, Sister Emilie was there in her striped apron, sized just right for her, ready to pitch in with prepping the vegetables as required. Neither a potato eye nor a celery string made it past her eagle-eye. Nothing was ever done half-way or in a “good-enough” fashion.

She was equally attentive to detail in her duties in the Benedictine Spirituality and Conference Center. When a weekend group left, she was there to check all the drawers for any items that might have been left behind. Then she checked under the beds—all the beds—in case something may have accidentally gotten there. She chuckles greatly whenever she recalls having found someone’s false teeth under one of the beds. She made sure that every desk in each bedroom had paper, pen and pencils in case someone wanted to write something down while they were a guest. Another one of her faithful activities in the conference center was to wipe the inside of every drawer in every night stand, desk, and dresser in every room with a damp cloth. Not a bit of dust was allowed to take up residence for very long.Sister Emilie ironing church linens

Sister Emilie’s primary job in her retirement years, however, was serving as Sacristan. As a novice and a temporary professed member, I assisted her in the sacristy with all of the various “behind-the-scene” responsibilities involved in preparing for liturgies and cleaning up after them. Altar linens were expertly cleaned, starched, ironed and folded with precision. Every cloth and vestment had its assigned place. Even the polishing cloths under the sink were folded and stacked with care. She showed by example what St. Benedict meant in the Rule when he wrote that all of the goods of the monastery are to be treated as the sacred vessels of the altar (RB 31.10). All actions, no matter how mundane, are to be done with an attitude of reverence, care, love and thoroughness because God is glorified through them.

Sister Emilie’s fidelity to service even extended into her time for leisure and recreation. Often, she was crocheting afghans and baby blankets for use as gifts during her free time. She also collected used Christmas cards for many years and made slippers that she herself had designed. She gave boxes of them to teachers at multiple Catholic schools for their classes with the instruction to put a few pieces of candy in them before giving them to the children. Usually this was for St. Nick’s Day (Dec. 6) but she worked on them throughout the year.

Thank you, Sister Emilie, for your joyful, giving and loving spirit! Congratulations for your many years of dedication and service!

By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB

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