Happenings

Funeral Reflection for Sister Miriam Schmitt

Funeral Reflection for Sister Miriam Schmitt

Funeral Reflection for Sister Miriam Schmitt
Sister Nicole Kunze, Prioress
May 16, 2017

I thank all of you for being here today to celebrate the life of Sister Miriam. Our monastic community certainly extends our sympathy to Sister Miriam’s family who traveled many miles to be with us today.

As Benedictines, we use the Rule of Saint Benedict as a guide for our life together. Chapter Four is entitled “The Tools for Good Works”. In this chapter, Benedict educates his monastics in basic gospel living, providing verses regarding to one’s duties to neighbors and to self. I’ve chosen some verses from Chapter Four and will use them to highlight different aspects of Sister Miriam’s life.

Listen readily to holy reading and devote yourself often to prayer.

This verse may be the most fitting description of Sister Miriam. She was a reader. During various times in her life, her bedroom and office contained books from floor to ceiling. In reviewing her newsletters to the community during her time as prioress, I found that almost every one contained excerpts from a book or journal article, attesting to how much she read. Reading was one skill that didn’t leave Sister Miriam until very recently. A book in her hands seemed to calm her when she was anxious. We realized she probably wasn’t understanding everything she was reading, but that certainly didn’t stop her from reading, usually aloud.

Much of Sister Miriam’s reading would have informed her research and writings on medieval women monastics and mystics, such as St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. Gertrud the Great. The following is a quote from an article Miriam wrote on Hildegard in 1986:

“Hildegard’s spirituality must have been shaped through continuously being nourished and formed by the biblical Word of God, being plunged into Christ’s mystery experienced in the Eucharistic liturgy and the Work of God, and influenced by pondering on the early patristic and monastic writings.” (Sisters Today, October 1986, p. 71 - 78)

I believe I could change “Hildegard” to Miriam and the statement would still be true. In 2008, in anticipation of her 60th anniversary of monastic profession, Sister Miriam wrote a reflection on what she valued most about being a Benedictine Sister. She wrote, “Especially meaningful to me is the community’s commitment throughout its history of an enriching celebration of liturgy. I treasure the beauty, elegance and prayerful celebration of our community’s liturgical practices with its focus on the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours.” Sister Miriam was a faithful member of the community worship committee during the time they created the books we have used for morning and evening prayers now for over fifteen years.

Sister Miriam served as prioress for four years in the 1980s. In reviewing her writings and visiting with some sisters, I found that early on in her term, she called the community to live eucharistically. She asked us to see community meals as an extension of the Eucharist. Eating together is one of our guiding principles and it may have taken root within us then, thanks to Miriam.

Place your hope in God alone

At times, I believe her hope in God, particularly during the early days of Mary College, was all Sister Miriam had to go on. Being a responsible financial officer, she had to make sure there was money to cover the expenses. I have heard the stories about the struggles to make payroll but I’ve never heard a story that she was unable to make payroll. In 68 years as a Benedictine, Sister Miriam experienced her share of ups and downs, but I believe her hope in God never wavered.

Love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength

Her love of the Lord was a treasure she shared with the many women and men she encountered during her presentations to various groups: graduate students at St. John’s University, The United Methodist Spiritual Formation Academy, the International Congress on Medieval Studies, and monastic communities, oblate groups, and retreatants throughout the United States and Canada.

One of the gifts Sister Miriam shared with us was her smile and her laugh. When she found something to be funny, I will always remember her deep sounding belly laugh. In both her smile and her laugh, she shared her whole-hearted love for life.

In one of Sister Miriam’s commissioning reflections to the community while she was prioress, she wrote of how the love of God has leavening, transformative power and that love alone is the leavening agent. She asked the sisters to see Christ in each other and love one another within the challenges, disappointments, and problems that arise in community. Like Sister Miriam, may we be the leaven that can transform our world now and in the future.

On behalf of the monastic community, I want to say a special thank you to Sister Claire for her faithfulness to Sister Miriam during the past several years, particularly as Miriam’s dementia progressed. We would not have been able to keep Miriam here at the monastery for as long as we did without your assistance.

The last verse of the Prologue in the Rule of St. Benedict summarizes how Sister Miriam lived her life as a Benedictine Sister: Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.

Well done, good and faithful servant, Miriam. We are grateful for the gift you have been to us. May you now share in the glory of God with the saints in heaven.

 

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