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Day in life of Incarnate Word sisters

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Oct. 8, 2010 at 5:08 a.m.
Updated Oct. 9, 2010 at 5:09 a.m.

Sister Adelaide Popp prays the rosary in the convent chapel during evening praise. Sister Popp will celebrate 50 years as a sister with the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in 2011.

Nun vs. Sister"Nun" and "Sister" can be used interchangeably, but differ slightly

Both nuns and sisters are women who have taken vows committing to a spiritual life.

Both nuns and sisters live lives of prayer and contemplation in a monastery or convent.

Nuns are Catholic females who live contemplative cloistered lives, while a Sister lives an active vocation of prayer and service outside the convent, often to the needy, sick, poor and uneducated.

Nuns and sisters are distinguished by the type of vows they take - either solemn vows or simple vows - and the focus of their mission.

The term "nun" is applicable to Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Jains, Buddhists and Taoists.

In the pre-dawn hours of the morning, long before the sun streams across the manicured lawn, the sisters of Incarnate Word Convent in Victoria begin to stir.

About 4:45 a.m., more than 60 sisters, ranging in age from 18 to 95, prepare for a day of service. Even before their daily assignment begins at 8 a.m., much needs to be done, and a tight schedule guides the sisters.

"I'm usually up about that time, so I can spend some quiet time with God before morning Mass," Sister Marietta Hajdik, says.

Prior to morning prayers and Mass, held daily in the on-site chapel at 6 a.m., the sisters spend time in their private bedrooms - complete with a single bed, one small wooden desk, and an easy chair - to get dressed, pray, and generally ready themselves for the day.

Because of Incarnate's less conservative order, the sister's wardrobes consist of what's referred to as an abbreviated habit, or a color and style-approved outfit that adheres to a monastic counter-cultural lifestyle. The sisters fashion modest blouses and skirts, all in some variation of the convent's color palate of crimson, blue, black and white. The majority of the sisters wears a black veil, but a few of the more seasoned sisters elect to leave their hair exposed.

As early as 5:45 a.m., the women gather in the grand chapel attached to the front of the building. Before seating themselves in the two-person wooden pews, the sisters bow slightly and sign the cross against their chest. In silence, the women wait for services to begin.

On this particular morning, Sister Louise Marie Jones rededicates herself to the order, with a vow renewal ceremony. Jones pledges to lead a life of poverty, chastity and obedience for a period of one year.

"Congratulations, Louise," the sisters say, applauding her from the pew and taking her photo.

"I'm so excited, what a great day," Sister Theresa Marie Miller said.

After morning services, the sisters meet in the dining hall for breakfast at 7 a.m.

Standing in front of the long, rectangular wooden tables, they wait for the rest of their family to arrive before blessing the meal.

Their heads bowed, hands folded, the sisters repeat in unison, "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen." After repeating the "Hail Mary" prayer, the women line up to walk through the buffet line. Once seated with their breakfast, they chat cheerfully at the table, again congratulating Jones on her vow renewal and discussing their plans for the day.

As breakfast concludes about 8:30 a.m., the sisters hustle to work in the kitchen, cleaning dishes and pans, and clearing the tables of leftover food.

No one is exempt from chores in the convent, and even the 90-year-old sisters make themselves useful.

"Everybody here that is capable of doing something has something to do," Superior Sister Geraldine Pavlik says. "If you eat, you work."

When dishes are washed, dried, and returned to their place, the sisters scatter to their daily assignments. Throughout the day, the sisters work in many different locations of the convent, and others will be assigned to teach at nearby schools.

Those working on the premises oversee various departments of the grounds, including the gift shop, infirmary, vocations and missions, among others.

Even the ailing sisters, who've suffered strokes and other diseases, pray from their hospital room.

As Superior of the convent, Pavlik tends to the daily needs of dozens of sisters. She also organizes and administers the financial needs of the convent.

"We keep track of everything we spend because it's not our money, it belongs to God and to the community," Pavlik says.

Miller assists with the convent's mission efforts through crafting handmade rosaries.

"I've made about 1,800 rosaries, and they've been sent all over the world," Miller says. "I know they're in Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Africa, China and Afghanistan."

Before Miller's health began to decline several years ago, she worked as a teacher and principal, and formerly served as Incarnate's Superior. Now in her 80s, she's content to make rosaries for the church, hoping they continue to remind people of God's glory.

Sister Gregoria Berger manages the convent's gift shop, overseeing the sale of greeting cards, figurines, rosaries, books, handmade aprons and other informational items that are sold to the community.

"I love what I do here," Berger says. "We get a lot of customers from the community coming in asking questions."

Sister Mildred Truchard manages the convent's vocation department, continually seeking young women who may want to join the Incarnate order. And Sister Alberta Novosad works in the Archives Library, where she currently writes a book about the origins of the Incarnate Convent in Victoria.

At 10 a.m., the sisters meet again in the chapel for mid-morning prayers and worship, followed by lunch in the dining hall at noon.

After lunch, the sisters return to their posts at work, or meet with their small groups until evening rosary prayers and worship begins at 4:40 p.m.

Once evening services have concluded, the sisters return to the dining hall for a final meal at 6 p.m. And when the kitchen is clean and ready for the following day's breakfast meal, the sisters gather in various areas of the convent for an hour of recreation from 7 to 8 p.m.

During recreation time, the sisters participate in card games, board games, movies, swimming and reading.

At the Progressive card game table, several of the sisters compete for high scores and bragging rights.

"This is the only time of the day where we can say, 'No mercy,'" Jones says, laughing.

After 8 p.m., the convent is quiet once more. The sisters return to their rooms for reflection and prayer, and prepare to retire for the night.

"We try to be respectful at night that others need silence," Truchard says.

When the sun sets and the convent is still once more, the sisters sleep.

"I love this life, and have always been thankful I chose it," Berger says. "I wouldn't want to do anything else."

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