Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB, reflects on her eight years as Benedictine prioress
ROCK ISLAND — As Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB, looks back on her eight years as prioress of the Benedictine community at St. Mary Monastery, she finds joy in what the Sisters have accomplished together and is excited for what is to come.
The Sisters of St. Benedict have started a discernment process that will lead to the election of a new prioress the weekend after Easter. That person will be installed at a celebration in June.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity for the community to have new leadership, new ideas,” Sister Sandra said. “I think an election brings a freshness that will be welcome for everyone.”
In the meantime, there is no such thing as a “lame duck” session for leaders in religious life.
“That has not come to my mind,” she said with a laugh, noting that her calendar isn’t slowing down at all.
Little wonder, given what the Benedictines at the Rock Island monastery have been up to for the last eight years.
SHARING CORE VALUES
Shortly after succeeding Sister Phyllis McMurray, OSB, as prioress in June 2012, Sister Sandra said the Sisters of St. Benedict embarked on a planning process to look very intentionally at their strengths and challenges and where they wanted to go.
“My satisfaction comes both in the directions we set for ourselves and also in the work we’ve done to help that all come to fruition,” she told The Catholic Post.
One of the things they identified as a priority was to make St. Mary Monastery a center of peace and “spiritual energy,” Sister Sandra said.
“We’ve worked intentionally to integrate our ministry here at the monastery with each other, with our ministry at Benet House (Retreat Center), and the outreach we do in the whole Quad Cities area,” she explained. That means sharing their core values of prayer, community, care for peace and justice, care for creation, and hospitality in a variety of ways.
For example, the Sisters of St. Benedict are involved in the local food pantry and help one night each month with the St. Joseph Evening Meal. Sister Stefanie MacDonald, OSB, sits on the board of Special Persons Encounter Christ, and Sister Mary Schmidt, OSB, is on the board of directors of Quad Cities Interfaith.
Another goal is deepening the relationship with their Oblates or affiliates of the community, and sharing the Benedictines’ vision and values, Sister Sandra said, commending Sister Ruth Ksycki, OSB, for her leadership there.
She also praised Sister Sheila McGrath, OSB, the subprioress during her two four-year terms; Sister Susan Hutchens, OSB, treasurer; Sister Marlene Miller, OSB, house coordinator; Sister Marilyn Roman, OSB, house procurator and community secretary who also oversees the archives; and Sister Bobbi Bussan, OSB, director of Benet House.
“They have been superb. Very dedicated, reliable, generous,” Sister Sandra said. “They’ve been a wonderful support.”
Another part of the planning process was to look at the internal life of the Benedictine community and consider the changes and shifts that will be needed as it becomes smaller so it will remain “vibrant and vital.”
The discernment process for the next leader of the community affirmed what has been taking place, she told The Post, adding that the direction for the future “is very much in harmony with what we have been doing. So a continuation, deepening, expanding.”
As for her next step, Sister Sandra said she will continue the tradition of taking a sabbatical when her term ends.
“That will be an opportunity to step aside and do some praying and reflecting and renewing and being,” she said. “And to do that away from here, so the new prioress and the community have an opportunity to be with each other.”
As for her next step, Sister Sandra said she will continue the tradition of taking a sabbatical when her term ends. “That will be an opportunity to step aside and do some praying and reflecting and renewing and being,” she said. “And to do that away from here, so the new prioress and the community have an opportunity to be with each other.”
What she will do after that will reveal itself in prayer and conversation with the new prioress, she said.
Sister Sandra entered the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery after she graduated from high school and professed her first vows at St. Mary Priory, then in Nauvoo, on July 11, 1962. She would go on to teach at Holy Family in Peoria, St. Anthony in Atkinson, St. Mary’s Academy in Nauvoo, and Alleman High School in Rock Island.
When her Benedictine community needed someone to serve as a campus minister at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois, Sister Sandra’s ministry evolved. After five years there, she served in religious education and was pastoral associate at Sacred Heart in Moline, and Sts. Peter and Paul in Nauvoo, also working in initial formation for the Sisters of St. Benedict and giving retreats.
Sister Sandra was the pastoral associate at St. Maria Goretti in Coal Valley when she was elected prioress of St. Mary Monastery in 2012. She was re-elected in 2016.
“One educational experience led to another, a deepening and a broadening,” she said. “For me, too, it’s just keeping growing in this whole mystery of seeking God, which is at the heart of Benedictinism. It never stops.”