A HEART FILLED WITH GRATITUDE!
(Vocation story of Sister Mildred Wannemuehler)
May 23, 2008
At the autumn of my life, having lived 61 years in the monastic community, I gladly share my story. In the third year of my retirement from a full-time parish ministry, I have had time to reflect, remember and rejoice over the past.
Born the third child to German parents in Evansville, Indiana, I had the example of hard-working parents and siblings that eventually totalled five. My oldest sister, Dolores, at the age of five died from the aftermath of measles. I was one and also had the measles but in changing doctors my life was spared. This is a question I’ve often asked, “Why did God take Dolores and not me?” As I look back, I know God had a plan then already. This decision was strengthened 40 years later when my Dad, in his last weeks on this earth, told me that as a young father he prayed that one of his children would give his/her life to God. In sharing that I realized that my vocation was partly due to my father’s prayers.
I attended St. Boniface School in Evansville taught by the Ursuline Sisters from Louisville. They were excellent educators and already in the lower grades I was sure I wanted to be a teacher…and most likely become an Ursuline Sister. However, after the eigthth grade I wanted to join the Ursuline Aspirancy but my mother said I was too young. However, she did consent to my going to the Academy at Ferdinand which was a boarding high school with several of my classmates. Besides getting a good education, by my junior year I felt I had a monastic vocation. I was so inspired by the prayer life and the community emphasis. So with several other classmates I entered the Novitiate in 1947, finishing my senior year in the convent.
In September of 1950 I was assigned to teach 51 seventh graders at Christ the King in Evansville. Thus began 27 years in the classroom. Ten of those years were in Evansville, including four years in Mater Dei High School.
During these years I was also working on a Master’s Degree at Notre Dame University, in Math and Education. In the summer of my Graduation in 1960 God sent another surprise! I was asked to be transferred to the new foundation at Beech Grove, Indiana. So instead of returning to Ferdinand, my vow of stability was transferred to Our Lady of Grace at Beech Grove, Indiana. Thus another new chapter of my religious vocation began.
My assignment was to teach Math in the girls’ Academy --- which I did along with World History, Religion and English for 13 years. In 1964 the Juniorate was opened at the monastery and I was asked to do that along with the teaching. My prioress also asked me to begin a Master’s in Theology at Collegeville, which I began in 1961 and finished in 1966. Life changed again in 1967 when I was asked to go start a new school in Florissant, Missouri. I was there two years and again returned to the monastery and Academy in 1969. At this time I was made Formation Directress for six years.
In St. Benedict’s Rule we are often reminded that obedience is our way to God. My life is a perfect example. In 1975 I again went on mission to teach at Clarksville, Indiana. After less than two years I was elected prioress and came home to lead the community from 1977-1985. Being superior for 100 Sisters would be another whole chapter of my life. In summary, I could say that “God and I worked together very closely.”
Eight years later I asked for a sabbatical and went to Holy Name College in Oakland, California where I earned a Masters in Creation Spirituality. Where was my monastic vocation taking me next? I responded to an advertisement for a Pastoral Associate in a rural, tourist area in Nashville, Indiana. It ws a parish that had a priest only on the weekends. For 12 years I was a Pastoral Associate and then was asked to be a Parish Life Coordinator for 7 more years. When my age reached 75 I decided it was time to retire. So in June, 2005 I came back to the monastery and am enjoying the fullness of our Benedictine life.
Only one word resonates in my heart, “GRATITUDE”. I thank God for my monastic vocation, which can be ANYWHERE doing ANYTHING as long as we first SEEK GOD.