Lisle's Benedictine sisters serve community

Posted12/4/2015 11:29 AM

Founded in 1895, the Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart has a long tradition of serving its local community through education and nursing, as well as working in parishes, helping the homeless and caring for seniors.

The sisters have been in Lisle since 1912, now housed in the Sacred Heart Monastery that's part of the core of the Villa St. Benedict retirement community at Maple and Yackley avenues.


"Transformation has been important throughout our lives as we try to be useful to the church and to the people of God," Sister Mary Bratrsovsky said.

For women interested in learning more about the consecrated life as a religious sister, the sisters hold "Come and See Weekend" opportunities. Dates and further information are at It is the way Sister Mary herself came to be a religious sister after completing high school in Colorado in 1962.

Although Sister Mary had relatives who were members of religious orders, it was when one of her 15 siblings attended a "Come and See" visit at the Lisle motherhouse that convinced her older sister, and eventually Sister Mary, that each wanted to be a Benedictine Sister.

Within a religious community, the vocation director helps someone go through the formal steps of becoming a sister. The normal part of discerning takes roughly eight years to explore and experience that particular religious community and to discern God's call in your life. Each religious community will have its own process and missions.

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Sister Mary took her religious vows and earned both her bachelor and master degrees, and then taught religion at Benet Academy for 37 years.

In 2005, as Villa St. Benedict took form, Sister Mary was asked by her prioress to become the Mission Integration person for the facility. She served in that capacity until being appointed to her current position as Prioress of her Community in 2011.

For men and women, married or single, who wish to enhance their prayer life, the Benedictine sisters in Lisle also offer the Oblates of St. Benedict group. The program is a way to volunteer and put into practice Benedictine values with extra prayer. It is another way to make religious life viable and strengthen a person's spiritual journey.

The group of roughly 25 current members meets once a month at the monastery to incorporate Benedictine values into their lives. Oblates also volunteer in many of the monastery ministries. Sister Karen Nykiel is the Oblate Director at Sacred Heart Monastery.

"St. Benedict is quite clear in our mission, 'Do the ministry of the church, whatever that is,'" Sister Mary said.

Today, religious sisters must apply and meet all qualifications to earn a job along with anyone else applying for the position, whether it is at a school, within a hospital or in a position at Villa St. Benedict.


For the past 16 years, the Benedictine sisters ages 65 and older have volunteered to participate in an ongoing long-range clinical and pathologic cohort study of Alzheimer's disease. It looks to pinpoint differences between groups that develop Alzheimer's and those who do not, as well as both protective and risk factors.

More than 30 different religious orders, including men and women, from across the country have participated in the study since the 1990s. The subjects are an ideal choice because they have common lifestyles and environments.

"They are making a big contribution," said Traci Nowakowski, research study supervisor at Rush Alzheimer's disease Center.

Each year, participating religious sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery submit to extensive memory, clinical and health tests. Eventually, autopsies and the yearly testing will bring about new understanding that can benefit mankind.

"In general, our research that has generated hundreds of publications has shown us that a healthy diet, regular physical activity, regular cognitive activity such as learning a new skill, etc., frequent social activity, and having a sense of purpose in life all act as protective factors against AD," Nowakowski said.

"The basic overview is that lack of a healthy diet, inactivity and neuroticism, or a general negative outlook, are risk factors."

The Alzheimer's study has uncovered some serious findings to benefit all mankind thanks to the dedicated Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. Her column appears monthly in Neighbor.

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