Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Finally Understanding What The Benedictine Sisters Were Saying


Way back in the fall of 1964, I was a scrawny, scared 13-year-old who was dropped off by my parents at Our Lady of Grace Academy to begin my high school years there. The academy was open to day students and to boarders. I was a boarder.

The academy was run by the formidable Sister Irmingard Fritz, and as boarders we began our days when the Benedictine Sisters did. Early morning Mass in the monastery chapel. Breakfast in the academy cafeteria. Downstairs for classes. Back upstairs after school to take off the navy blue jumpers and white blouses, and change into regular clothing. NO slacks. Studying. Dinner. Time for recreation which usually meant friendly games of euchre. More studying. Compline in the monastery chapel. Showers and bedtime.

I lived there for four years, and each year I came to love the academy even more. Sweet and gentle Sister Harriet Woehler would knock on our doors each night, and bless us with holy water before we went to sleep.

I still remember the smells wafting down from the Sisters' kitchen on the days when they baked bread. When we were lucky, they would roll a cart down our way, and we would savor each delicious bite of bread.

The friendships were deep among the boarders because we were together 24/7, building bonds with one another instead of with our families sometimes.

My English teacher, Miss Catherine Pangallo, held such high standards in her classroom that I had the courage to declare myself an English major in college.

This summer when my new boss, Message editor Tim Lilley, suggested that I write a Message column now and then, I started thinking about names. The phrase "Grace Notes" came to mind. I wondered if a title could somehow thank the Benedictine Sisters up in Beech Grove for all they had done for me during those formative years.

I didn't really understand the phrase, so I looked it up. Wikipedia explains that grace notes occur as notes of short duration before the sounding of the relatively longer-lasting notes that immediately follow them.

Kind of like comparing the high school years with the years that followed, I guess. After I graduated from the academy in 1968, I earned my bachelor's degree, got married, bought a house, had a daughter, had a son, started working at the Message, became Grandma Mamie . . .

During my years as an academy girl, the Sisters were constantly admonishing us to become "Ladies of Grace." I guess that sounds antiquated these days, but their words have stayed with me.

Who is Our Lady of Grace? We first hear that reference in the Gospel of Luke when the Angel Gabriel says, "Hail Mary, full of grace."

Then in 1830, Mary appeared to Catherine Labouré in France. Bright rays flowed from her fingers, and she told the young woman that the rays symbolized graces that flow from her to anyone on earth who asks for them.

A special medal, with this image pressed on it, was created and named the Miraculous Medal. Mary promised graces to those who prayed the rosary, attended Mass and went to confession.

As an academy girl, I felt the Sisters were advising us to change, to almost will ourselves to become more like the Blessed Mother -- in order to become Ladies of Grace. Clearly impossible, I always thought.

The notes the Sisters were singing -- the grace notes -- kind of got shouted over during the years as my life grew busier, but they've stayed with me, and they are getting louder. And now, with the wisdom of a sixty-something, I realize the Sisters wanted us to turn to Mary, and ask her to disperse her special graces on us, and to let those graces change us.

And then, we could become Ladies of Grace.