Sisters’ Words of Wisdom: Sister Mary Lou Dummer, OSB

Sisters' Words of Wisdom: Sister Mary Lou Dummer, OSB

Sister Mary Lou smiles for the camera in her veil in 1958.

In the Benedictine contemplative tradition, we are called to learn to balance prayer and work, Ora et Labora, balancing our being and our doing. For those who lean toward “doer”, this balancing act can be a bit of a challenge. This was the case for Sister Mary Lou Dummer, OSB, at least until the Spirit invited her into a space of “being” as a result of the COVID pandemic and its impact on the community of St. Paul’s Monastery. 

The Call to Doing

Like many of the Sisters, Sister Mary Lou has been very active throughout her life, and has served many functions within the monastery and in ministries in the broader community. “There's a lot of Martha in me yet, which I'm glad for because I wouldn't want just to ‘Be’, sitting in a corner forever,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve got to get out there and do [Jesus’] work.  That’s who I am.”

From a variety of roles, including elementary school teacher and principal, parish liturgy, sub-prioress, and Oblate director, Sister Mary Lou has worn many different hats. Her doing started early in life. Growing up on the Dummer farm, she had the opportunity to work the tractor and mow the lawn.  Another early role was learning to be a Christian clown. “I took a class. This was when I was a down in Marshall. Then I brought the clown ministry here. The big thing of being a Christian clown is doing service to elderly, going to nursing homes. I was a hobo, Zorba.”

By contrast, her role as sub-prioress was considerably more demanding. She had responsibility for leadership and governance of the monastic community and serving as ex-officio member of the Leadership Team/Monastic Council/Board of Directors. She supervised the liturgy and dietary departments and served on the Benedictine Center Advisory Committee. As Oblate Director, she is responsible for initial formation and on-going formation of the Oblates.

“As sub-prioress, it was an honor and a privilege to be asked to serve the community and it fit me because my personality was a doer. The role of the sub-prioress is to take care of a lot of details. I served in that role three times with three different prioresses:  Sister Duane, Sister Marie, and Sister Paula. During each of those times, the monastery was going through difficult things, as was the Church and the culture.” 

Pictured here is Sister Mary Lou at the Christian Clown Ministry in 2000. She loved making the children smile!

The most recent stint as sub-prioress was with Sister Paula. “At that time, I was in ministry fulltime at St. Thomas the Apostle parish, serving as a liturgist and music director while at the same time being Oblate Director.” It was during these hectic times she also earned the nickname “Sister Mary Glue” from Father Tim Cloutier. “I just kept right on going. I just hung in there and even though it was difficult. All of a sudden, Father Tim started calling me ‘Sr. Mary Glue’. Then he started telling people: ‘Oh that was Sister Mary Glue, she’s holding this parish together. She's holding the Spirit’.” 

The Call to Being

Pictured here is Sister Mary Lou mowing the lawn at her parent’s farm in 2004.

Ultimately, Sister Mary Lou recognized a desire to rebalance her doing and being. “After trying to do proper ministry in all three serving roles, I decided to resign from St. Thomas and devote my time to the mission of St. Paul's Monastery, where I could help the Oblates to grow to become ready to take over leadership roles to carry on the Benedictine heritage into the 21st century.”

Serving as sub-prioress also brought Sister Mary Lou back to living at the monastery after living across the street with Sister Virginia Matter, when they were experimenting with creating an intentional living community with two laywomen. Sister Mary Lou reflected on the return to monastic living: “Living here, I experienced more of the community challenges and opportunities to be of service to the Sisters all the time, and yet it’s a good time to be still and know that God is really  in charge of  my life. That’s really good.”

Sister Mary Lou worked at the Parish Ministry in 2019.

Like the rest of the monastic community, Sister Mary Lou certainly felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as the monastery was unable to welcome outside guests for a period of 18 months. But she also saw it as an opportunity to become even more balanced with her ‘being.’ “In the midst of isolations, distancing and restrictions, I wanted to focus on pandemic blessings rather than limitations. During this time, I found myself responding again and again to the words of Jesus when he said to his tired apostles, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while’ and I discovered many blessings. What a blessing it is to marvel at sunrises and sunsets, to walk outside around the monastery grounds and appreciate the beauty of nature, the sound of birds and the presence of deer. The past two years have awakened and intensified my appreciation for silence and reflection. It has been a time for me to come away and rest awhile. ‘Be still and know that I am God’ is truly a blessing.”

Sources of Hope

As she reflected on her many former roles and she looks forward to the future of St. Paul’s Monastery, Sister Mary Lou identified sources of hope in her life:

Pictured here is Sister Mary Lou looking very professional inside the Benedictine Riepp Room of St. Paul's Monastery.

Oblates: “As Oblate Director, what gives me hope is working with the Oblates and their creative ideas, their willingness, their faithfulness, and their concern about supporting the mission of St. Paul's Monastery. That's what's going to carry into the next 45 or 50 or 75 years the heritage of what it means to Be Benedictine. I love the term ‘Being Benedictine’. That's what we need to be as Monastics and as Oblates – to always look forward and discern what it means to live the monastic values of what it means to live ‘Being Benedictine’ wherever we are. That’s what gives me hope. There are people out there that want to do that.”

Community: “Being a part of a community like St. Paul's Monastery gives me hope that we can do this – what we've done in the past and the challenges that we have overcome to come to this point. I'm so grateful for the past members, the Sisters in the cemetery. When I go for a walk, I want to say, ‘Thank You’.” 

Family and Friends: “My family gives me hope. My family is so supportive. I have so many friends from the different parishes that I have worked at. I think the disappointment of the pandemic was being unable to be present to one another. Now, Oblates are always present to me because I know I've got someone I can talk to or pray for or that I know are living Benedictine values out there.”

Presence of God: “Another thing that gives me hope is my continued growth in feeling the presence of God every day. One of the pluses of this pandemic is that very thing. It has called me because of my reduced opportunity to be doing, it called me to just Be, in silence and solitude and walking with appreciation of nature. That's God’s work. So, I just had to listen.”