While teaching, Sr. Stefanie keeps a safe distance from Benedictine community
ROCK ISLAND — As a preschool teacher at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy in East Moline, Sister Stefanie MacDonald, OSB, knows that creativity is the name of the game, especially when it comes to remote learning due to the pandemic.
It also comes in handy as she tries to remain connected to her Benedictine community at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island while not being able to live with the community due to the pandemic.
Like many religious communities, St. Mary Monastery is closed to visitors as a way to protect its vulnerable Sisters from COVID-19. In order to teach at Our Lady of Grace, Sister Stefanie moved into Benet House Retreat Center, which is adjacent to the monastery, in August.
“I don’t want to unintentionally bring COVID-19 into the monastery. They’re going to catch it so much easier and there’s the potential of not all of them surviving it because of underlying age and health problems,” Sister Stefanie told The Catholic Post.
“I’m stepping back, but I am doing it in honor and protection of my elders in community, because I’m aware of what an impact this could potentially have,” she said.
Benet House was available because it is closed until at least April of next year. Programming and retreats are currently being offered online.
That made the facility a good way for her to remain close to home while continuing her ministry as a teacher. She also serves as the vocations director for the Benedictine community.
“I’ve taken over one floor of one-half of the retreat center. I’m using one of the conference rooms and the kitchenette,” Sister Stefanie explained. “One of the bedrooms is my bedroom and the other bedroom is my office. Right now that’s the office for both vocations and the school.”
WITH COMMUNITY IN SPIRIT
Being so near and yet so far away presents blessings as well as challenges, according to Sister Stefanie.
If she needs anything, someone will bring it over and leave it at the door, for example.
“I pretty much try to keep our prayer schedule, even over here, by myself. So when the Sisters are in chapel I have a spot set up at the dining room table where I have a candle and my prayer books,” Sister Stefanie said. “I’m sitting down to pray at the same time they’re sitting down to pray.”
Still, she has missed community prayer greatly.
“It’s just not the same when you’re reading everything and there’s no music,” she said. “I love singing and music, so that’s something I will be looking forward to when I get back.”
The phone helps her stay connected to the Sisters and she sees members of the community while walking the grounds. “I maintain social distancing and carry a mask with me at all times, so it goes on.”
Sister Stefanie also serves on various committees at the monastery, as well as the monastic council. Meetings are held via Zoom, so she tries to dial in a few minutes early to catch up with whoever is there.
She added that the Sisters are good about sending cards and notes to her.
Since Our Lady of Grace moved to remote learning in November with all the other Catholic schools of the Diocese of Peoria, Sister Stefanie has not had to go into school.
“I have a teacher who is helping me get packets together and she dropped some stuff off when we initially went remote so that I could stay here and quarantine,” she said. “After 10 days I went to get a COVID test and it was negative. So I will go back into the house from Thanksgiving to Christmas.”
When she returns to Our Lady of Grace after Christmas, she will also return to Benet House.
What lessons has the teacher learned from her experience?
“It reaffirmed that I was meant to be a Benedictine,” Sister Stefanie said. “I was meant to do that community prayer, that community life, rubbing elbows the way we do as a large group.”
She said there’s “a strength and a beauty” in thinking beyond yourself and supporting each other.
Sister Stefanie entered the Benedictine community at St. Mary Monastery in 2007 and professed her first vows in 2010. Her perpetual vows came in 2013.
She is in her 23rd year of teaching.