Mary Elizabeth Ilg, Oblate Candidate

Mary Elizabeth Ilg

On October 17, 2019 at Evening Prayer, I became officially enrolled as a candidate in the Oblate Formation program of Saint Paul’s Monastery, along with ten others in my class.  Earlier that afternoon, I was able to reflect and pray for wisdom and guidance as I sat in the monastery courtyard, enjoying the perfect fall day. I stood for a long time looking at the tall bronze sculpture of Saint Benedict, who will now become my spiritual mentor. I stared at his implacable face, his burnished head, gleaming in the sun.  He looks very solid— a saint you can rely on to get you through any situation in life.  I have begun to study The Rule of Benedict, and I already know this to be true.

I sat on a bench, pleasantly rocking, comforted by a cool breeze and the red flare of autumn leaves.  Best of all, the plumes of wheatgrass were moving in the wind, whispering with the blessed presence of the Sisters laid to rest in the cemetery. I love sitting out there in the courtyard; I hope to always return to that bench to find solitude and peace.

St. Benedict Courtyard

Later, at Evening Prayer, after the psalms from Liturgy of the Hours were recited, all eleven of us lined up in the center aisle of the chapel before the altar as our names were called.  We each received our own copy of The Rule of Benedict, together with a certificate signed by the Prioress.  Then we were prayed over by the entire Community.  All of the candidates were noticeably moved by this solemn ritual.  I am sure that as the next seven months unfold— we shall be changed— as the Book of Isaiah famously proclaims.  I am ready for change.  Henri Nouwen used the image of a flying trapeze artist to describe what it is like to trust God completely in your life:  you swing backward and forward through the air, gathering momentum, and then you LET GO.  You just let go.  You trust that your companion on the next trapeze will catch you.  God has carried you safely this far.  He isn’t going to stop now.

I dearly love this chapel, where I have prayed and received the Eucharist many times over the past 2.5 years during my employment here. I have my favorite seat in the second row where I can look up and see the sky through the high windows as I listen to the daily readings at Mass.  This is really what it all comes down to:  finding deep consolation in a sacred place, being nourished by the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, and radically transformed.  We leave behind our old selves-- selfish, grumbling, fearful-- and are changed into something new.  I feel energized and consoled by the Holy Spirit at the Monastery, and as a result desire to serve the Community and God’s people (the fruits of faith are love and service).

St. Paul’s Monastery has a rich 71-year history and the Oblates are proud to serve the Sisters and the wider Community, helping them carry on the tradition of Benedictine values in various ways and bringing these values into their homes, their workplace and the world.

The Sisters have been teaching us about this tradition:   In September, Sister Louise Inhofer taught our Formation class and told us about Mother Benedicta Riepp crossing the Atlantic on a ship from Germany in 1847.  She and her two companion sisters traveled in “steerage” or Third Class.  Sister Benedicta was terribly seasick during the entire Atlantic crossing.  At one point, there was such a violent storm that all of the passengers were instructed to throw their luggage and belongings overboard so the ship would not capsize.

Sister Louise relayed the story of how Mother Benedicta Riepp refused to part with a large statue of the Blessed Virgin they were transporting from Germany to their new monastery in Pennsylvania.  She was persuaded to hang it over the side of the ship on a rope-- instead of tossing it into the sea.  As soon as the statue entered the waves, the storm began to subside.  The sea was calmed.  The ship was able to continue its journey.  Mother Benedicta Riepp made it safely to Pennsylvania to start the Benedictine religious order in the United States.  When Sister Louise told our class this story, the entire room (the Riepp Room) was silent, listening with rapt attention to her every word.  I pictured the beautiful statue of Mary, her blue veil and perfectly serene face, her hands outstretched in prayer-- wrapped up in a thick rope, swirling in the dark ocean.  I thought of the Gospel where Jesus calms the raging storm and reassures his terrified disciples.  It seems that his Blessed Mother possesses the same power.  I look forward to running with inexpressible delight toward the destination of Final Oblation in May, 2020.  Stay tuned!