- Cullman, Alabama

July 25, 2012

Benedictine sisters mark jubilee

Sisters Mary McGehee and Benita Peters are each marking 50 years of monastic profession

Sacred Heart Monastery

CULLMAN — Two Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman will celebrate the Golden Jubilee of their monastic professions July 28. Sisters Mary McGehee and Benita Peters are each marking 50 years of monastic profession. The Jubilee Mass will be celebrated in the monastery chapel with Father John McDonald as principal celebrant and Father Joel Martin as homilist. 

Sister Mary was born in St. Louis, Mo., and was baptized at St. Michael the Archangel Church in St. Louis. At the age of 10, Sister Mary moved with her family to Tuscaloosa where she attended St. John's School and Tuscaloosa High School, eventually transferring to Sacred Heart Academy in Cullman. She entered the monastic community as a postulant in 1960 and made her Perpetual Monastic Profession in 1967. 

After attending Sacred Heart College in Cullman, Sister Mary graduated from St. Louis University with a degree in theology with minors in philosophy and education. She later received a master of arts degree in theology from St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., with additional theological study at the University of Notre Dame.

For seven years, Sister Mary taught in schools within the Diocese of Birmingham, serving as principal at Our Lady of the Shoals in Tuscumbia and St. Francis Xavier in Birmingham. In 1970, she responded to a call to serve as director of Religious Education at Holy Spirit Church in Atlanta. In 1973, she returned to Birmingham where she engaged in numerous ministries over the ensuing years, all rooted in her desire to live fully her monastic charism, and her strong interest in the social justice teaching of the church. 

In the mid-1970s, Sister Mary served the diocese as associate director of Catholic Ministries, and later served for six years as the director of the Diocesan Peace and Justice Office. For decades, she has volunteered with a wide variety of ministries that serve the poor and witness to peace, including the Catholic Committee of the South, Alabama Arise, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and many others. Currently, Sister Mary has an active spiritual direction practice, is a frequent retreat leader and facilitator, and teaches yoga.                                                 

In addition to her external ministries, Sister Mary has had many internal roles within the monastic community. She served as vocation director, taught in the Initial Formation program and served as scholastic director, participated in numerous committees, and represented the community at meetings of the Federation of St. Scholastica General Chapter.  When the monastic community hosted a Vietnamese refugee family in the early 1980s, Sister Mary was assigned primary responsibility for helping the family in their transition to American life.  Always looking toward the future, Sister Mary served on community planning committees in 1980, 2000 and 2010.

Sister Benita was born in Abita Springs, La., where she, along with her twin sister, was baptized at St. Jane de Chantal Church. Educated by the Benedictine Sisters of Covington, La., she entered St. Scholastica Priory in Covington in 1960 and made her Perpetual Monastic Profession in 1967. 

Early in her religious life, Sister Benita studied at Marmion Junior College in Covington. She completed her coursework at Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kan., earning a degree in elementary education with a minor in English. Her education degree prepared her for her 20 years of teaching in elementary schools within the Archdiocese of New Orleans. On most of her assignments she taught religion in several grades and also helped with sacramental preparation of children in Catholic schools and CCD classes. In addition to her teaching duties, Sister Benita served for several years as a part-time librarian and then as a part-time assistant in parish Religious Education programs.  

While teaching, Sister Benita continued her education, receiving Catechist and DRE certification for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, completing some coursework in library science, and enrolling for a time in a clinical pastoral education program. She completed her master’s degree in religious education from Loyola University in 1986. 

In 1988, upon the closing of St. Scholastica Priory, Sister Benita moved to Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman as part of a transfer program for the Benedictine Sisters of Covington.  Along with several of her sisters from Louisiana, she completed the formal transfer of her vows in 1991. 

In her years at Sacred Heart, Sister Benita has engaged in numerous ministries within the monastic community, including food service, care of the sick, community hospitality, and sacristy service. For many years, she has served as a staff member in the monastery infirmary.  She also served for several years as a part-time member of the retreat center staff.

In 1997, Sister Benita was asked by then-current Prioress, Sister Treva Heinberg, to serve on the community’s Peace and Justice Committee. Subsequent prioresses have continued to seek her input on this committee. For many years, she served as treasurer of the committee, ensuring that their budget is allocated in service to the poor and in efforts promoting peace.  She stays abreast of current events, often informing the community of specific prayer needs and concerns from around the globe. Currently, Sister Benita continues to serve in several internal ministries, including the Peace and Justice Committee, food service, and assisting as needed in the infirmary and sacristy. 

Both of these jubilarians have for 50 years joyfully and faithfully lived the Benedictine charism of prayer, community, and ministry, contributing in numerous ways to the life and vitality of the church in the southeast.