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January 25, 2022, Adrian, Michigan – “Shine on, Sister – as you have been shining since the day you were born.”

That was the message that Sister Mary Arnold Benedetto, OP, received from Sister Judith Friedel, OP, Holy Rosary Mission Chapter Prioress, as Sister Arnold and about 30 other Adrian Dominican Sisters gathered to celebrate Sister Arnold’s 100th birthday on January 19, 2022. 

The celebration itself was low-key – a special Mass with her chosen readings and hymns, followed later that afternoon with a party for the Sisters in her local community in the Dominican Life Center and special guests – Sisters she had sponsored when they entered the Congregation. 

Sister Arnold also received a papal blessing from Pope Francis, a proclamation from Angela Sword Heath, Mayor of Adrian; about 100 cards – including one from Bishop Earl Boyea of the Diocese of Lansing; and a Kindle from her nieces and nephews. 

The event was a celebration of a long life, well-lived. “I had a wonderful life,” Sister Arnold said in an interview before her birthday, adding that she is especially grateful for her family, her vocation to religious life, and the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “The older I get, the more I appreciate the Congregation,” she said.

Sister Arnold’s Blessed Life

Sister Arnold Benedetto, OP, admires a bouquet sent for her 100th birthday.

From the very beginning, Sister Mary Arnold had a very full life. Baptized Gertrude, she was the sixth of the seven children – three boys and four girls – born to Aristide Benedetto and Gertrude (Kennington) Benedetto. 

Sister Arnold said her father came alone to the United States from his native country, Italy, and, even without a high school education, worked his way up from office boy to president of a laundry business in Macon, Georgia. Sister Arnold said her mother came from a family that had deep roots in Georgia – after receiving a land grant in South Carolina from King George II.

“My parents had a very happy marriage” and were devout Catholics, Sister Arnold said. Among her favorite early memories were her family trips to Louisiana during Christmas week to visit her brothers Frank and Arnold at the Jesuit novitiate. The travel would take two nights and two days, she added.

Sister Arnold graduated in 1937 from Mount De Sales Academy in Macon, where she was educated by the Sisters of Mercy. She learned about Siena Heights College (now University) in Adrian from her cousins, who had met Mother Gerald Barry, Mother General of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, during a trip through Georgia on her way to Florida. The cousins entered the Congregation and were known as Sisters Rita Marie Callaghan, OP, and Martin Marie Callaghan, OP. Sister Arnold earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a lifetime teaching certificate in Michigan from Siena Heights.

Sister Arnold’s only experience of teaching at the elementary school level came during her first year, shortly after she entered the Congregation, when she was sent to teach in Bad Axe, Michigan, to replace a Sister who became sick. After that, she taught at the high school and college levels: at Dominican High School in Detroit for eight years and at Barry College (now University) in Miami Shores, Florida, for most of the rest of her years of formal ministry. Both are sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

“I loved both Dominican High and Barry,” Sister Arnold said. “My life in mission and in community was very happy. I liked institutional living.” In both places, she said, she had strict Superiors, but good Congregation women who made sure they were prepared for their teaching assignments. Other Sisters teaching at Dominican High School taught her how to prepare lesson plans.

Sister Arnold said her challenges included history courses that she taught at Barry. “Constitutional History was difficult, but I learned a lot,” she said. She was also asked to create a course on Southern History, which she came to enjoy.

Her one regret, Sister Arnold said, was that she left the classroom too soon. In 1962, after only two years of teaching at Barry, she was named Academic Dean, a position she held until 1970, when she was named Director of Studies for the Adrian Dominican Congregation. She worked with young Sisters, guiding them through the process of getting their degrees. “About 10 or 15 of them went to Barry,” she said. “I interviewed several of them and asked if they’d like to go to Miami … Some really jumped at the chance.”

She was elected Co-Provincial of St. Rose of Lima Province in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1973 and in 1979 returned to Barry, serving as clerical assistant, registrar assistant, technical assistant, and volunteer assistant archivist. She has lived in the Dominican Life Center in Adrian since 2011, where she has been active in the lives of the other Sisters who reside there. 

“I never thought I’d live this long,” Sister Arnold said, which she attributed to leading a “regular life – good eating habits and good physical condition most of the time, just being sensible and taking care of yourself.”

Sister Arnold’s Blessing to Others

Sister Rosemary Asaro, OP, Holy Rosary Mission Chapter Assistant, presents a basket of birthday cards to Sister Arnold Benedetto, OP, as Sister Sharon Spanbauer, OP, Mission Prioress, looks on.

Her long life has been a blessing to many, including Sisters Angela Susalla, OP, and Myra Jackson, OP. 

Sister Myra Jackson, OP, said she has known Sister Arnold for many years. “She was the first Adrian Dominican Sister I met because I attended non-Catholic schools,” she said.

Sister Myra served for three years as a school aide when Sister Arnold was Academic Dean of Barry College. After those three years, Sister Myra entered the Congregation. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here,” Sister Myra said. We had good times together and she was a great influence in my spiritual life and in every other way.” 

Sister Angela said she has known Sister Arnold for 70 years. That’s when, at the recommendation of a priest who had given a mission talk on vocations, Sister Angela first met Sister Arnold at Dominican High School. 

“When I first met her, she treated me so kindly,” Sister Angela recalled. “I thought if all the [Adrian Dominican] Sisters were like her, this is where I belong.” She said Sister Arnold took the time to talk to her about religious life.  “She was sweet, kind, thoughtful, and as gracious as she could be,” Sister Angela said. “We sat and talked for quite a while.” Sister Arnold also helped to prepare her to enter the Adrian Dominican Congregation.

The two have kept in touch for years and got to spend more time together once Sister Angela moved to Adrian. “She was always gentle, lovely, and gracious.” But Sister Angela said she is most moved by Sister Arnold’s deep spirituality. “She’s the most spiritual person I know. I feel blessed to have known her all these years.”

Feature photo (top): Sister Arnold Benedetto, OP, left, admires her birthday cake with, from left, Sisters Angela Susalla, OP, Virginia King, OP, and Myra Jackson, OP.


September 8, 2021, New Orleans, Louisiana – While many Americans watched the furor and aftermath of Hurricane Ida from their television sets or computers, Sister Judith Zynda, OP, experienced it firsthand – from the home in New Orleans that she shares with Dominican Sister of Peace Jeanne Moore, OP. But Sisters Judy and Jeanne experienced not only the fury of Ida but the care and concern of neighbors and the people they encountered in the aftermath. 

Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans and areas of Louisiana on August 29, 2021, and went on to wreak havoc on the Northwestern part of the United States. Sister Judy shared her experience in an email to Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates and during a September 3, 2021, telephone interview.

Sister Judith Zynda, OP

Sisters Judy and Jeanne decided to ride out the storm after hearing earlier predictions that Ida would be relatively mild. At the last minute, however, forecasts changed: Ida was predicted as a Category 4 hurricane, edging on a Category 5. In the end, Sister Judy said, Ida was probably a Category 3 edging 4.

“The winds started about 8 Sunday morning, and the worst was overnight [into Monday],” Sister Judy recalled. “I woke up at 4 in the morning and what woke me up was the silence. [Ida] was moving so slowly that it had a lot of chance to do a lot of damage because it sat on us.” She said the winds were high, but their house was sturdy and on high ground, only sustaining damage to the roof, a leak through one of the ceiling receptacles in the kitchen, and several downed branches. Areas to the west of New Orleans suffered worse damage, she added.

Although they lost power – and it isn’t expected to be restored for two to three weeks – Sisters Judy and Jeanne at first did fairly well at home. With their gas stove and water heater, they were able to cook and take hot showers. They worked for two days, clearing the yard and emptying the refrigerator and the freezer. 

In the end, however, the heat became too much. “If the temperature had been 20 degrees lower, it would have been okay,” Sister Judy said. But the heat index reached 108. “People can get by, but they have to be able to take the heat.”

At the invitation of a friend, Sisters Judy and Jeanne left their home to stay at Sacred Heart Monastery, the home of the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman, Alabama. They share one of the monastery’s three guest houses – an 11-bedroom house normally used by retreatants – with three other Dominican Sisters of Peace. Four Sisters of Notre Dame share a second guest house. She said they will stay there as long as they need to – at least until their power is restored. “Once they tell us it’s safe to go home, we’ll go home,” she said. 

Although she feels she is still in some form of shock from the experience of the hurricane, Sister Judy is inspired by the care and concern shown by the Benedictine Sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery. “We could not have asked for a better place to come,” she said. “The Sisters seem to know that we kind of need to be left alone to process things,” but they also invited their guests to Mass and opened their laundry to them. “It’s total hospitality.” 

Sister Judy also feels that hospitality and kindness from the people in the surrounding community – from the people she encountered when she was running some errands in town. One woman at the pharmacy told her that they took in 1,200 people from New Orleans at the time of Katrina. “All you have to say is you’re from New Orleans and they can’t do enough for you,” Sister Judy said.

That same sense of concern and care for people in need was evident during their drive to Cullman, Sister Judy said. “The parade of linemen coming down I-59 was so moving,” she recalled. “We saw trucks with generators and trucks with telephone poles; 25,000 electrical workers are on their way to New Orleans.” Each time they passed a truck with electrical workers, she said a prayer for them. “I think God wants us to know that community and watching out for one another is really important,” she said. “God took care of us.”

Asked what people could do to help and support those affected by Hurricane Ida, Sister Judy said, “First of all, pray for everybody.” She also suggested donating to organizations that offer relief efforts for those affected by the hurricane:

  • Catholic Charities USA, headed by Adrian Dominican Sister Donna Markham, OP, is the official domestic relief agency of the U.S. Catholic Church.

  • The Hurricane Ida Relief Recovery Fund, was established by the Archdiocese of New Orleans to aid in the area’s recovery.

  • The Saint Bernard Project offers relief services and community resiliency training in communities throughout the nation and beyond. Originally established in New Orleans six months after Hurricane Katrina, the organization started a response fund for those affected by Hurricane Ida.

A native of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, Sister Judy first ministered in New Orleans in 2011 as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Saint Bernard Project and was moved by the experience of the people trying to rebuild their homes and their lives. She currently ministers on the pastoral team for Christopher Homes, a senior housing ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. After her personal experience of Hurricane Ida, Sister Judy said she feels a kinship with the people who suffered from Hurricane Katrina.  

Feature photo: Hurricane Ida is pictured as a category 2 storm from the International Space Station as it orbited 263 miles above the Gulf of Mexico. (NASA JohnsonCC BY-NC-NC 2.0)


 

 

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