Meet Sister Maribeth Wentzlaff
How or why did I choose Sacred Heart Monastery? God chose the Monastery for me, because if it were up to me, I would have been married and had 12 children. Sometimes it’s not about what our desires are in life: it is about where God wants us to be. How did I choose it? I grew up half-Benedictine without really even knowing it because my family had the balance of “ora et labora.” We prayed together and we worked together. We had a big emphasis that everyone needed to pull their own weight, so I grew up having a love of work and prayer.
When I came to Mount Marty College in 1984, I noticed the Sisters incorporated both work and prayer into their life. There was such a true joy that they had, an internal joy I could feel. Because of that, I thought ‘I can do this.’ I believe in this monastic way of life and believe there is a true joy when one is living this life authentically that one can share with others. I entered Sacred Heart Monastery in 1987, with the help (and a little nudging) of S. Martin Mergen, and Vocation Director, S. Rosemarie Maly. I fought entering the monastery for three years because I felt inclined to pursue what I wanted to pursue at that time in my life. But the Sisters saw something else and encouraged me to participate in women’s retreats at the monastery. Before I went on the first retreat, I thought it would be “too real” so I brought 12 friends with me, and my sophomore year I brought 6 friends. Each year I felt it get a little deeper, a little more intense, in where I was being called. For my junior year I went by myself to the retreat. I said, ‘okay God, this is where you are calling,’ me so I joined after my junior year at Mount Marty. I finished my college degree at the monastery.
Another way God was calling me was through the Prayer Partner Program. This started when I was a junior. I was responsible for getting all the student names for the prayer partners, and the vocation director likewise gathered the Sister’s names, and I was paired by happenstance with the vocation director!
My sophomore year, S. Jeanne Weber’s brother, Tony, led a campus ministry imagery prayer experience. He had us imagine ourselves climbing a mountain. I saw myself out in the Black Hills, South Dakota, near Placerville Camp, near Rapid Creek. I was at Inspiration Point. I could not breathe climbing up the hill, and then I imaged Jesus pulling me up the rest of the hill, and I thought ‘ok, this is my time to ask Him what he wants me to do.’ He turned to me as clear as a bell and said ‘I want you to do my work here on earth and follow me’ and like that, He was gone. I knew what that meant. I needed to seriously think about this.
I knew it was the right choice for me because it came down to a physical awareness. All the while that I was fighting making the decision, I had this pit in my stomach, a knot or rock in my stomach for 2 1/2 years. When I finally said ‘ok Lord,’ the pit in my stomach left me. I always tell people who ask, ‘How will I know?,’ I can tell them what it was for me which is an overall sense of peacefulness.
My favorite part of Benedictine life is the concept ‘one plus one equals three.’ When there are at least two, you always come out with something greater than you would have on your own. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When we put our Sisters together, we are way more than what we could accomplish on our own. I think that is so neat because as Sisters we go together, seeking God together.
My favorite part of the Rule, out of many parts, is chapter 4, “The Tools of Good Works.” St. Benedict says that our way of acting should be different than the world’s way of acting. We don’t need to give into commercialism and all the greatest and latest technology out there. Benedictines believe there is room for so much more. If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything. I teach a course called Wisdom of Benedict to the freshmen, and pinpoint ten hallmarks of Benedict’s values, through the book Wisdom Distilled from the Daily by S. Joan Chittister. I approach my classes with a focus on the question, ‘where are we with topic x?’ For example, if we talk about prayer we ask the following: what does prayer mean to you?, how do you pray?, how does this action or behavior mirror for or against how Benedict calls us to pray? It is often a juxtaposed topic to what they are facing in their culture today, and all the topics we cover are amazing—stability, giftedness, community, hospitality, and silence–are all those hallmarks of being Benedictine. Another one of my favorite parts of the Rule is ‘to anticipate another’s needs before others ask us.’
What do I find most challenging? Benedictine balance is a very hard thing for me. As much as I do not want my work and ministry to take over my life, often it does because of the different needs of the college and students and other events. In a busy day, I have to stop and ask, where have I really stopped today and shut down to be able to focus on prayer with God? One way I can focus best is when I can fish. This disconnecting allows me to listen to the cardinals, watch the pheasants fly over the river, and watch the water. I am then mindful and present.
What does living in community do for me? It gives me a reality check that ‘I’m not all that and a bag of chips.’ This can come in many various scenarios thinking that I know the best way to do something. Community has helped me to reach out to others in small ways—even if it is just passing the salt around table in the refectory before they ask for it.
Where am I right now with my vocation? I have lived in community almost 29 years, and I just celebrated my Silver Jubilee last summer. I have been in religious life over half of my life, and when I reflect on all the ways I could have lived— single, married, or in other words, the ways God could have called me—I’m thankful he took me to Sacred Heart Monastery. I love it here! I believe in our community and Avera and Mount Marty College. What keeps me committed to this life? I visualize an image that reminds me of and portrays this life. Every day when we are giving ourselves to other people, we are like a pitcher of water; we constantly pour out our pitcher all the time, and when we do that, we can deplete ourselves. This vocation for me is not depleting my pitcher because we are blessed with ways to refill it: community time together, pinochle together, meals and prayer together. When we are fulfilled in our vocation, then the pitcher will constantly refill itself so we are further able to give more. Vocation is a daily commitment. It is an everyday ‘Yes’ to God. Every day is a new challenge, and we say to God ‘Ok God, let me be your ears and your hands and your arms and feet today to those around us who need us, in whatever way is needed, and to do so joyfully.’
What excites me about the future of religious life? At one point when there were many more sisters in our monastery we were, so to speak, more self-sustaining, but now that there are fewer of us, we have made more connections with other Benedictine Communities in the US and around the world. It is a gift to be able to collaborate and have these relationships with these other communities. I love it; it opens our eyes to opportunities around us. We all have the common bond of seeking God, but it’s getting to know others and seeing that it is bigger. This is truly an amazing life!
Sister Maribeth Wentzlaff
Interested in more Sister Stories? Sister Marita Kolbeck is next.
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