Beech Grove, Ind., May 6, 2012 (CNA) - Her strong spirit soared early, sparked by growing up on a farm in southern Indiana and riding a long distance to the nearest Catholic school in a horse-drawn wagon.
At 15, she left home to become a Benedictine sister, certain in her choice even as her father told her, “You’ll be home in two weeks.”
For 50 years, Sister Mary Sylvester Will taught at several schools throughout the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, unwavering in her commitment to share her faith, her knowledge and her love with her students—the names of every one of them lovingly written in her exquisite penmanship in the “little black book” that she still keeps and cherishes more than 30 years after she retired from teaching.
Until her 99th birthday, she volunteered weekly at the St. Vincent de Paul Society food pantry in Indianapolis, even on days when ice, snow and bitter cold temperatures led her fellow sisters to recommend that she stay safely at their home at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Ind.
“She’d give hot chocolate to the people who waited on cold days,” recalls her close friend, Benedictine Sister Bernardine Ludwig. “And we’d give away clothes. Some days, I’d say, ‘It’s too cold or icy for you to go.’ She’d say, ‘Are you going?’ I’d say, ‘Yes,’ and she’d say, ‘Then I’m going, too.’ ”
All those examples of her strong spirit lead another friend, Benedictine Sister Mary Ann Koetter, to smile and affectionately note, “There’s a saying we have here, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s Sister Sylvester.’ ”
Still, everyone who knows Sister Mary Sylvester understands there is one relationship in her life where she has always put her will aside.
“I’ve given myself to God ever since I made my vows,” she says. “My faith is my life.”
Her trust that God has always done—and will always do—what is best for her resonates in her thoughts about her upcoming 100th birthday on May 13.
“I go out to the cemetery and talk to my friends there,” she says. “I tell them, ‘When God’s ready, I’m ready.’ I can’t believe I’m going to be 100 years old.”
She shares those words with an almost child-like smile. For while her life has been marked by a strong spirit, it’s also been touched with immeasurable joy.
‘They are close to my heart’
That joy radiates on her face when she recalls Sister Pauline, her first-grade teacher whose love of God, children and life inspired her to become a religious sister and teacher.
Her joy shines even more when she remembers her own students and talks about how she still prays for them as she holds the small black book filled with their names.
“They are part of me,” she says. “They worked with me, and I worked with them. They are close to my heart.”
Starting in the 1930-31 school year, she taught for 50 years, including assignments at Assumption School in Indianapolis, St. Paul School in Tell City, St. Michael School in Bradford, all now closed, and St. Mary-of-the-Knobs School in Floyd County. Some of her former students remember her as fondly as she remembers them, and sometimes there are unexpected reunions.
“I approached her once at the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry and said, ‘Do you remember me, Sister?’ ” recalls Otto Schwab, now 75. “She said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘Otto.’ She said, ‘Are you Otto Schwab from Assumption?’ Since then, I’ve been at the monastery a couple of times to have lunch with her. She got out the black book, and we reminisced about the people from Assumption. There couldn’t be anyone sweeter. Everyone wanted her as a teacher.”
Her joy also resounds in her laughter, especially on Sunday evenings when she and a few other sisters get together to play a dice game called, “Oh, Shoot!”
She also has her share of memorable laugh-at-herself lines, including, “I don’t make money. I make trouble.”
“She enjoys things so much, and she has such a free laugh,” says Benedictine Sister Mary Carol Messmer.
Sister Mary Sylvester keeps the joy and plays the dice game even though most of her sight has been taken away by macular degeneration. Still, she rolls her walker through the monastery, steering it often in the direction of one of her favorite places—the chapel.
She’s there each morning, praying before the Blessed Sacrament.
She wheels herself to the nearby cemetery every afternoon to talk with her friends who have died and pray for her friends who are still living.
She also continues a 25-year tradition of leading a group of sisters as they pray the rosary for vocations.
“She’s the most prayerful person I know,” says Sister Bernardine.
Living life as a prayer
For nearly 100 years, Sister Mary Sylvester has offered a countless number of prayers of thanks to God. Still, her most enduring legacy is that she has lived her life as a prayer of thanksgiving to God.
The gratitude shows in the way she fondly recalls those horse-drawn wagon trips with her siblings and other children to their Catholic school—her first journey of faith with others.
Her happiness also flows in the memories of her students, and the care she has extended toward people in need—including the way she stuffed 47 pillows last Christmas, hoping to bring a touch of comfort to military veterans at a hospital.
And perhaps most of all, her appreciation for her life has always been reflected in her joy of being part of a religious community dedicated to God. She comes to all the meals, and attends all the events, Masses and celebrations within the community.
One of the community’s next major celebrations will be on May 13—a celebration in honor of her 100th birthday and her 83 years as a religious sister.
Listen to her fellow sisters talk about the birthday party, and it seems the event is as much a celebration for them as it is for her. That’s how much she means to them.
“She’s such a delight,” Sister Mary Ann says. “She knows we’re making a big deal of her birthday. She says, ‘I’ll be happy to go to heaven tomorrow, but you all want to have a party.’ ”
Sister Mary Sylvester laughs, her spirit still strong and bright.
Posted with permission from The Criterion, official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Denver, Colo., May 6, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - On May 12 the Catholic Church honors Saint Epiphanius of Salamis, an early monk, bishop and Church Father known for his extensive learning and defense of Catholic teachings in the fourth century.
During a 2007 visit with the Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, Pope Benedict XVI praised Epiphanius as “a good pastor” who “pointed out to the flock entrusted to him by Christ, the truth in which to believe, the way to take and the pitfalls to avoid.”
“At the beginning of this third millennium,” the Pope reflected during the visit, “the Church finds herself facing challenges and problems not at all unlike those which Bishop Epiphanius had to tackle.”
Epiphanius was born in Palestine around 310 or 315, the son of Greek-speaking Jewish parents. He is said to have been drawn to the Church after seeing a monk give away his clothing to a person in need. Not long after his conversion, he became a monk himself, spending time in the Egyptian deserts.
Around 333 he returned to the Holy Land and built a monastery near his birthplace in Judea. Epiphanius showed great dedication to the rigors of monasticism, which some of his contemporaries considered excessive, although he insisted he was only seeking to work faithfully for God’s kingdom.
The devoted monk was also a man of extraordinary learning, versed in the Hebrew, Egyptian, Syrian, Greek, and Latin languages and literature. For over two decades, until 356, Epiphanius was a disciple and close companion of Saint Hilarion the Great, a monk known for his wisdom and miracles.
The spiritual bond between them remained unbroken after Hilarion left Palestine around 356. Hilarion’s influence within the Church of Salamis, in present-day Cyprus, led to its choice of Epiphanius as bishop in 367.
During his years in Palestine, Epiphanius had frequently offered guidance and help in the Church’s struggle against Arianism, the heresy which denied Jesus’ eternal existence as God. As a bishop, he went on to write several works arguing for orthodox teaching on subjects like the Trinity and the Resurrection.
Determined to protect the Church from error, Epiphanius became involved in various controversies and was known as a strong voice for orthodoxy. In some instances, however, his zeal was misguided or uninformed, as when he inadvertently became involved in a plot against Saint John Chrysostom.
Likewise, some of Epiphanius’ apologetic works are regarded today as inaccurate or flawed on certain points. Nonetheless, he is revered among the early Church Fathers, and his writings – which contain important formulations of orthodox belief – are cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
St. Epiphanius of Salamis died in 403, while returning from Constantinople after distancing himself from the attempt to depose St. John Chrysostom. Sensing the approach of death, he gave his disciples two final pieces of advice: to keep God’s commandments, and guard their thoughts against temptation.
He was buried on May 12, after his ship’s return to Salamis. The Seventh Ecumenical Council, in 787, confirmed his reputation as a Church Father worthy of veneration.
Vatican City, May 6, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop James D. Conley of Denver said the news of rising seminarian numbers across the United States has delighted Pope Benedict XVI.
“He was very happy to receive that information,” Bishop Conley told CNA on May 4 after meeting the Pope at the Vatican.
“He said he had heard that vocations were going up in the United States and he said this is very positive news and, in fact, he had a big smile on his face when he heard the news.”
Bishop Conley was one of ten bishops from Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming who had an audience with Pope Benedict as part of their five-day “ad limina” pilgrimage to Rome which concludes tomorrow.
He explained to the Pope that there is now a year-on-year increase in the numbers of young men opting for the priesthood across many US dioceses.
“I told him that in the Archdiocese of Denver both of our seminaries, St John Vianney Theological Seminary and Redeptoris Mater Neo-catechumenal seminary, are full,” the bishop added.
“In fact we have more applicants than we have space so for the first time in many years we have to create a waiting list which is a good problem to have.”
The most recent statistics show a similar story across the United States. Last year the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University estimated that the 2011 seminary intake was up 4 percent on the previous year and had reached its highest figure in 20 years. Meanwhile, Rome’s North American College is full to its 250 capacity for the first time in decades.
Upon hearing that Bishop Conley was from Denver, Pope Benedict warmly recalled World Youth Day 1993 which was hosted by the Colorado city. At present the Archdiocese of Denver is vacant following the departure of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput to Philadelphia in September 2011.
Bishop Conley said he does not know when a successor will be appointed but he is certain that they will “carry on the great work of Archbishop Chaput in his 14 years and Cardinal Stafford before him,” describing their legacy as “a great flourishing of the faith” where “a lot of new movements, a lot of new evangelization” took place.
He believed that elsewhere could learn from “the Denver experience” as the universal Church approaches the “Year of Faith” later this year.
In particularl, he thought people should take note of Archbishop Chaput’s ability to “teach the truth in all its clarity, even when challenging people against what the trends are in society, but yet doing it with love and compassion.”
This approach, said Bishop Conley, is particularly successful with young people who have a “genuine openness to truth.”
Vatican City, May 6, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims May 6 that their lives will be fruitful and have meaning if they live in union with Jesus Christ.
"Dear friends, every one of us is like a vine, which lives only if it is growing every day in prayer, participation in the sacraments, in charity, in its union with the Lord," said the Pope in his midday Regina Coeli address marking the fifth Sunday of Easter.
"And he who loves Jesus, the true vine, produces fruits of faith for an abundant spiritual harvest."
The Pope spoke to large crowds in an overcast and drizzly St. Peter’s Square, reflecting upon the words of Jesus, as recorded in today’s Gospel of St. John; "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser."
In this passage, the Pope explained to pilgrims, Jesus reveals himself as "the true vine of God, the true life" who "with his sacrifice of love gives us salvation" and "opens the way to be part of this vine."
And just as Christ is in God the Father, so his followers "carefully pruned by the words of the Master, are united in a profound way to him, becoming fruitful branches, which produce an abundant harvest."
The Pope then quoted the 16-17th century Swiss bishop St Frances de Sales who, in his Treatise on the Love of God, observed how in nature "the branches united and joined to the trunk bears fruit not by its own virtue."
Similarly a Christian who is "joined by love to our Redeemer" will produce "good works, taking their value from him, merit life eternal."
Pope Benedict explained that this union occurs in baptism when "the Church grafts us as branches into the paschal mystery of Christ, into his own person."
From there on, he said, "it is essential to remain united to Jesus, to depend upon him" because "without him we can do nothing."
This proposition, however, does not contradict a belief in the freedom of man, said Pope Benedict. He highlighted the 5th century writing of St. John the Prophet from Gaza who told an enquirer that "if a man inclines his heart to the good and asks God’s help, he receives the necessary strength to accomplish his work."
Therefore "the freedom of man and power of God go together" as the good act is "possible because the Lord is good" but "it is fulfilled, thanks to his faithful."
Before going onto pray the Regina Coeli, Pope Benedict concluded his comments by commending those present to Mary, the mother of God.
"Let us beseech the Mother of God that we might remain firmly grafted in Jesus and that all our actions may have their beginning, and their fulfillment, in Him."