Sisters' Words of Wisdom: Sister Louise Inhofer, OSB
Sister Louise Inhofer has served as the Monastic Librarian of St. Paul’s Monastery since 2011. She brings her great love of learning and reading to others in her role as Library Manager, and orders new books each year to maintain a diverse and enriching library collection. She takes pride in arranging an interesting assortment of books based on seasonal liturgical themes for the Sisters and challenging them to read and appreciate new material. The Monastery library is tastefully decorated throughout the year for the holidays: angels and bells at Christmas and stars for the Fourth of July. Currently, the library shelves are adorned with glittery purple butterflies, harbingers of a long-awaited spring.
Sister Louise was born in St. Paul on June 30, right in the middle of the year. As a result, she believes in moderation in most things except Love of God, prayer, life as a Benedictine, and reading. She was the oldest of six children, in a family of four girls and two boys. Louise was the only child of the six whom her Grandmother Mary saw as an infant. She grew up in Minneapolis and lived with her maternal grandfather and four of her mother’s unmarried siblings for a few years. Her mother, Vivian, belonged to St. Anne’s parish in North Minneapolis and worked at a telephone company before she was married. Her father, Henry, was a milkman. “I thank God every day that they belonged to a parish where Benedictine sisters were teaching. That is where I went to school, and they were the first sisters I knew and met and liked. If we hadn’t belonged to that parish, I know I wouldn’t be here.” She credits the Benedictine Sisters who were her first teachers with making such a positive impression on her that she eventually chose to become a vowed Religious sister as well.
Though her family did not have a lot of money, Louise was given many opportunities to take piano lessons beginning in fourth grade all through eighth grade, as well as in college, as well as art classes, singing, ballet, and tap dancing. She attended high school at St. Anthony of Padua, in Northeast Minneapolis where the Sisters of St. Joseph served as teachers. “I liked them well enough, but not enough to join them. And they tried.” Her piano teacher, Sister Leonore Schneider, called her on the night of June 22, 1948 to tell her about a new Monastery that was starting in St. Paul and encouraged her to come and meet the Sisters. She went and soon after that signed the papers and joined at age 18, as if it were “nothing special.” Nine girls joined together at that time. Six from this group became postulants. Louise hoped to be a house-keeper, but spent a year at the DTC, the Diocesan Teachers’ College. She received the habit in June of 1949, then spent a year in the Novitiate. She made her First Profession in 1950 and two months later, she taught second grade at Visitation School in South Minneapolis. The parents of the children praised her skills as a teacher since the kids were reading so well, even though Louise felt she didn’t really know what she was doing. The following year, she was able to live at the Monastery and take some teaching methods courses and received more training in elementary education. She then went to Immaculate Heart in St. Paul, where she taught fifth and sixth grades, and used her gifts and skill as a pianist to occasionally play the organ. During this time, she and her Sister classmates made their Final Vows in 1953. Following this assignment, she went to the Children’s Home, where she was also the organist “on a little pump organ.” She taught sixth grade at Holy Spirit Church with the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Her next role was teaching in Hastings, where she became the church organist, in addition to teaching sixth grade. She tried to organize a small library there, a room full of books, to get the kids to read. She played the organ every day for Mass, and for every wedding and funeral. “It was a lot,” Louise said. Though she had studied piano for eight years, she had not anticipated that God would call her to become a church organist with a heavy schedule. From there, she returned to her home parish of St. Anne’s in north Minneapolis where she taught eighth grade. Her class of students included her own brother and sister. “They had a nice school library there,” Louise recalls. They put on operettas such as Hansel and Gretel, Mississippi Melody and The Little Dutch Girl. Louise organized all of the costumes and dances and taught the class the music. She also created the backdrop and the stage design. Each year, these productions grew more accomplished and professional. “Those were fun times,” Louise recalls. “I really loved eighth grade kids. Because they were still kids.”
Her next assignment was at St. Boniface in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota, where Louise was the Principal, and taught seventh and eighth grades. There, she again put together the library. She then requested permission from Sister Rose Alice Althoff to go away to college to obtain a library degree from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. While she was at the University, she got a job working in the library. She received a Master’s Degree in Librarianship from Western Michigan University in 1970 and later took further summer classes at Mankato State College to qualify as a Media Specialist. While at Western Michigan University, she worked in the library, and became acquainted with the librarian and some of her teachers. She was invited to live in her teachers’ house that spring when they were away on vacation, as Louise needed a place to stay since her dormitory was closed for spring break. These teachers became her good friends, and stayed in touch over the years and visited Louise in Minnesota.
Louise returned home and went back to Hastings to set up their library with a media center. Later, she continued her library work at yet another school, Epiphany in Coon Rapids with Sister Joan Utecht. Sister Joan was teaching and Sister Louise set up the library. This is certainly one of Sister Louise’s special gifts: creating meticulously organized libraries, fueled by her great love of books and mission to share the joy of reading with others. “I loved the little kids when they came to the library for Story Hour. Then, I could send them back to their teachers.”
Then something quite unpredicted happened. “It was between God and me, and for some reason, I left the Community after 32 years.” This was a very painful decision. “During that time, I learned a lot. I was on my own. No money, no house, no nothing.” She appreciated her career opportunities and life events but most of all, she is grateful for the final outcome. She got her first apartment and worked at Munsingwear. This was an eye-opening experience. “You find your own housing, you buy your own clothes, you buy your own food, you cook your own food, take care of your bills.” She saved her money and lived very frugally but one thing she did buy was books! She worked at the University of Minnesota and invested in life insurance with the Degree of Honor, and was eventually honored as Fraternalist of the Year. She was also an active volunteer for Catholic Eldercare and the Salvation Army, an organization for which she has great respect. After she retired, Louise was able to take bus trips, “Mystery Tours” to various destinations in the Midwest and traveled to California to see the Rose Bowl parade one year on New Year’s Day. “I was using my prayer book all along and praying the Liturgy of the Hours daily. All along I was a Benedictine.”
Louise came to the new Monastery building in 2009 to visit her sibling, Sister Mary Claire (who currently resides in the Monastery’s Health Care Center). Louise then decided to become an Oblate and her Oblate class (for the first time) was invited to join the Sisters’ annual retreat. “All along, it was getting closer and closer,” she says. “Sister Karen Joseph, OSB, the retreat director said, ‘I would take you back.’ So I asked Sister Lucia [Schwickerath], who was Prioress at the time. I thought she was going to say no. But she said, ‘I’ll have to see how to go about this,’ and Louise was graciously welcomed back by a loving Prioress. “Then, I knew I was supposed to be here,” she says softly.
Sister Louise, as a lifelong avid reader, has a special project when asked about her current reading. She purchased all seven volumes of the St. John’s Bible during her years away. (She has read the Bible straight through previously, several times.) “My goal before I die is to read all seven volumes of the St. John’s Bible, which isn’t easy, because the print is small and it’s calligraphy.” Right now, she is reading the Book of Deuteronomy. “They are just about ready to enter the Promised Land and are getting all these instructions from God through Moses. I have to laugh because how did they know they were doing what they were supposed to be doing with God? They didn’t have our background and 2000 years of knowing what had happened. They didn’t have much written down either, it was all story-telling.”
Certainly, it is an act of faith, hope, and trust in a merciful God, who is always there for us and always welcomes us home. Sister Louise is a faith-filled and highly valued member of the St. Paul’s Monastery Community. Her carefully arranged Monastic Library is a sanctuary for reading and learning as well as a place of beauty and peace, especially for our Benedictine Center retreat guests.
Her final words of wisdom to share are LISTEN, the first word of the Rule of Benedict and HAPPY, the first word of the Psalms. Thank you, Sister Louise, for the many special gifts and talents you bring to all of us.