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Funeral Reflection for Sister Michael Kaliher
Reflection on Sister Michael Kaliher
Sister Nancy Miller, Prioress
November 18, 2013
On behalf of the Sisters of Annunciation Monastery and Sister Michael’s family, I again want to thank you for being here today. It is comforting and meaningful to us to have you share in this celebration and remembrance of Sister Michael’s life. She was a special gift to all of us and we will certainly miss her presence among us.
This past Thursday afternoon I was involved in a meeting with some others in my office. As usual during meetings I close the door to my office so we could better focus on the topic at hand. Soon enough there was a knock at the door. I knew it had to be important – seldom do I have my door closed and even less seldom there comes a knock on the door. What came with the knock was the message that Sister Michael was on her way to St. Alexius, was unresponsive and that Sister Donna was with her. Several minutes later we received the word that Sister Michael had entered into eternal rest; that her journey here on earth was complete. In faith we believe that she is enjoying the fullness of God’s love.
For me and for others it was so unexpected even though we knew Sister Michael’s health was tenuous at best. Her passing came to be just as the doctors told us. It would be sudden – yet, as always, only God would know when.
Sister Michael lived a good life. Among other things, she was an artist, a poet, a teacher, and a deeply spiritual woman. It was amazing how even as a young girl she experienced God’s presence in her life. Of this she wrote, “I was quite young when I first realized God’s presence in my life. One Sunday while walking to church alone, I suddenly became aware of the beautiful spring morning – the cool, gentle breeze that was so refreshing. I was very happy to see the sunlight filter through the leaves, and I thanked God for this wonderful moment of being aware of him and of nature, his creation. From that moment on, I gradually developed a longing to give my life to God somehow, some way. It was then that I became interested in women religious.”
Born in Michigan but raised in California, Sister Michael encountered Benedictines on a trip through Minnesota. She caught the Benedictine spirit of hospitality and kindness and from then on knew what she wanted to become. She heard of Annunciation Priory from a relative and entered the monastery in Bismarck in 1950.
Sister Michael served 28 years as a teacher and artist in elementary schools including St. Joseph’s in Mandan and Cathedral in Bismarck. She also taught art at St. Mary’s High School, Priory High and at Mary College. Sister Michael often spoke of an opportunity she had in spending time in India to teach poor women how to create pottery on the wheel, a task traditionally done only by men. It was a wonderful and enriching experience for her. Upon her return, however, she found it difficult to transition back to community life and decided to leave community. She returned to California to teach, but nine years later she heard God’s call to reenter the community of Annunciation Monastery. Here she lived out a deeply spiritual and meaningful life. She lived as a Benedictine sister for over 50 years.
Sister Michael experienced God and she had the gift of being able to describe that experience through her artwork and poetry. For years to come we will walk the halls of this monastery and remember Sister Michael as we encounter the many pieces of artwork that are displayed on the walls and in display cases. We have also created our community Christmas card with Sister Michael’s artwork on the cover for the past several years. We are doing it again this year.
Sister Michael’s parents set the foundation of her value system as she grew up. She often told of stories in her younger years including the stories of sickness and isolation when she and her parents contracted tuberculosis. What a journey that was! She was especially close to her sister, Margaret, her brother-in-law Dick and their wonderful children. She loved them so much. After Margaret’s death she stayed in close contact with Dick and the kids. They would travel back and forth to see each other. The last visit was about a year and a half ago – not only did they have a good time – the entire community enjoyed the visit and the gift of a community steak dinner that had seemed to become a tradition with those visits.
During the last several years, Sister Michael’s health wasn’t so good and her eye sight began to diminish. This limited and then eventually prohibited her from being able to continue the art she so loved. She was not bitter about this. She missed it of course but she had a remarkable memory and still paid close attention to detail.
Sister Michael had a deep spiritual life that shaped her and all that she did. She came in touch with contemplation and was very attuned to the spirit within and in all of creation. Her deepest prayer was to just close her eyes and be in God’s presence. To experience the fruits of this deep spiritual life all one had to do was to sit down and visit with her – she paid attention to you as if you were the only person in the world. She truly received and reverenced the Christ in each person. She saw the best in people and always had a word of encouragement and support. To me she often said – why do you worry? God is in our midst. All you have to do is trust God and the rest will come.
Now Sister Michael had a very playful spirit. She enjoyed a good laugh and could take teasing and dished out a fair amount of teasing herself. It would delight us all as she told stories, recited poetry and at times would break into an Irish accent for added emphasis.
Because of our faith we truly believe that Sister Michael is now seeing God face to face. This gentle woman is glowing in the warm embrace of God. The reading from Job reinforces this belief when he says, "I know that my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust; Whom I myself shall see: my own eyes, not another’s shall behold him, and from my flesh I shall see God.” How powerful these words must have been for Sister Michael who experienced difficulty in seeing.
And so we pray for Sister Michael and we also ask God to help us to be ready to meet Jesus when he comes for us. Like Sister Michael may all of us know and trust in God’s love and care of us.