Pope Francis proclaimed a Year of Consecrated Life that began the first Sunday in Advent and will conclude Feb. 2, 2016. The Catholic Messenger asked members of religious communities in the Davenport Diocese to reflect on their ministry in religious life.
Sister Mary Rehmann, CHM
What year did you enter the CHM community?
I entered the CHM community in September 1955 after one year at Marycrest College in Davenport. I had been educated by the BVMs in both grade school (Sacred Heart in Davenport) and high school (Immaculate Conception Academy in Davenport). I knew the Humilities because I had two cousins who were reared at St. Vincent’s and their grandmother from Fort Madison stayed with us when she came to visit them. They were both close to my age. Also all three of my siblings attended St. Vincent Laboratory School.
What inspired you to join the community?
Sister Ritamary Bradley taught my honors English class at Marycrest. She recognized that a short story I wrote was autobiographical; it was about a young woman who thought she had a religious vocation but didn’t want to become a nun. She gave me Mother Magdalen’s address in Ottumwa. I knew I had the qualifications, from our Baltimore Catechism, for a religious vocation but I wanted to get married and have eight children.
What ministries were/are you engaged in?
I taught middle and high school grades, and in the biology department at Marycrest College. I have always been a teacher. I did administrative work for two years in Chicago, and then went to law school at the College of DePaul. I was an attorney at the Illinois EPA for almost eight years. After a one-year sabbatical in Boston, I worked as a Legal Aid attorney in West Virginia for about seven years. I then opened my own office in Morgantown and represented mostly low-income clients in disability cases for 12 years.
I worked for the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee of the West Virginia legislature during the 1995 session. The committee chair had a reputation for being a “woman-chaser.” It was a joke that it was he who got “the nun” for his committee attorney. I also argued one case before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond but was not successful. I served one term as president of the congregation from 2008-12. After a transition break, I serve as an assistant archivist for the congregation. I chaired the CHM 150th Anniversary Committee that planned the celebration in 2014 of our 150 years in the United States.
What is your favorite form of prayer?
I can’t say I have a “favorite form” of prayer. I find “spontaneous prayers of gratitude” — at a beautiful scene in nature, inspiring music, memorable movies, a kindness shown to me, ballet — very meaningful. As a person who likes control, I am distressed that my prayer life is so unstructured.
I like the season of Advent and have a favorite article by Father Henri Nouwen about “waiting.” In fact, I just found it in a folder with articles and other “fodder” for giving me a spiritual boost. I discovered this favorite passage: “…God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear.” I heard Nouwen talk in Cambridge when he spoke deeply about what he was learning about control as an assistant to profoundly disabled “Adam” while living in a L’Arche house in Canada.
What is your favorite Scripture?
The story about Jesus serving breakfast to the apostles after the resurrection is a favorite of mine. It is in Chapter 21 of John’s Gospel. Growing up we went fishing with my Dad. A favorite place was at Lock 14 on the Mississippi River where I caught my first fish. This story was the Gospel reading on a Sunday in February 1989 when all four of us, with my mother, gathered in Dad’s hospital room as he had recently been diagnosed with liver cancer. We had brought the Eucharist from the center and shared it with him.
The line that has been meaningful for me is, “Try the other side.” It prompts me to be more open when considering possibilities for any kind of decision. Paired with this quote is “There are alternatives,” a consistent New Year’s resolution of mine.
Who [was] your spiritual mentor?
Along with Sr. Bradley, Sister Bernadine Pieper continues to be a mentor. Both have inspired me intellectually and spiritually.