Sisters' Words of Wisdom: Sister Jacqueline Leiter, OSB
Interviewed & Written by Gwen Odney, OblSB
“Weren’t you thinking of Oblate formation this fall?” It was Sister Jacqueline who quietly reminded me in late summer, 2015, that I had mentioned to her my interest in becoming an Oblate. Formation was starting soon, and I welcomed the gentle push. She and I had become collegial friends, both being teachers in St. Paul Schools, when I came for retreats at the Monastery. I often marveled at her dedication to both her career as a teacher as well as to life as a Benedictine Sister.
Sister Jackie’s childhood was lived mostly right here in Maplewood, sharing it with a twin sister, Stacy, and brother, Doug, her mother and father. She remembers being drawn to God at an early age. Although attending a public elementary school, during recess she would go behind a tree on the playground and pray, sing, and make up her own songs. Family camp during those years was very powerful for her. She also fondly remembers attending YMCA camp du Nord in Ely, Minnesota, and participating in activities, especially singing religious music from the camp songbook.
The Bible became an important book for her and her siblings as kids. Their version was more a “graphic novel” comic book version of the Bible in six kid-pleasing volumes which they read voraciously until the pages tattered. That made Bible classes at Hill-Murray School a snap for them! Jacqueline went on to St. Olaf for undergraduate work in Spanish and Hispanic Studies with a double major in Religion. The religious groups, Bible study and Taize prayer on campus enriched her already fertile faith life.
Her first job was as an ESL (English as Second Language) teacher in small Howard Lake/Waverly schools. Her voice softened as she spoke of a Mexican farm worker family with three girls in her ESL class, and how out of place they felt. “I know I made a difference in their lives,” she said, helping them to adjust. The family moved back to Mexico after a year and Jackie moved on to Immaculate Conception School in Columbia Heights. A parent in the school invited Jackie to Oblate Sunday at St. Paul’s Monastery. Jackie, the granddaughter of Oblates, was happy to attend, assuming the parent would be there to greet her. Instead, it was Sister Carol Rennie from the Monastery, and her becoming an Oblate was another step on her way to formation as a Benedictine Sister. “I wanted to seek God with others in Community,” she said, as well as still making a difference for the children she lovingly teaches, currently in a virtual first grade.
Sister Jacqueline became, of course, my Oblate sponsor, and her gift to me at my oblation was a beautiful clay Benedictine cross with a delicately etched tree of many branches. Art is another facet of her life! There was a desire to be an art major at one time, but instead she creates her art for a sense of peace and pleasure. It allows her to be open to what happens with the materials at hand. She had her photography first show in June of 2022 and currently part of a traveling group shows with her photographs of North Shore scenes and rock formations.
Her work at the Monastery is currently as treasurer where she finds great satisfaction in being able “to work with others to use resources for good stewardship.” This follows St. Benedict’s description of a cellerar who needs the heart and ability to help Sisters when they need something. Until curtailed by the pandemic, she also led Taizé prayer each month. Contemplative prayer is second nature to her, and she misses the opportunity to welcome Taizé participants. I must also mention Sister Jacqueline’s love for not only God, her community, and the children she teaches, but also animals. She happily remembers being able to take a duckling home after her fifth-grade class had a science experiment with an incubator, watching eggs hatch. She helped raised the little duckling and then taught “Dino Duckerelli” (named after a then-famous hockey star) how to fly by imitating wing movement. No dogs at home, but she fell in love with my Beagle, Scooter, when dining at our home a few years ago. Scooter came to visit as Sister Jacqueline and I talked this fall, and there was a very happy reunion between the two.
It is easy to see that love has been a part of all of Sister Jacqueline’s life, both in receiving and giving. She will continue to teach, play an important role in the leadership team of the Monastery, and work her wonders of art. And I know she will continue to sit down with me to eat lunch when I’m at the Monastery, even if she has five other things to do! I am thankful to call her my Benedictine mentor and specially to call her friend.