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Sister Mary Arnold Benedetto, OP, Celebrates 100th Birthday

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.

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Avatar  Mary Jo WrightCostello 2 years agoReply

Sister Arnold, dear friend and Southern Adrian Dominican Sister! I smile every time I think of you
And am so Happy to wish you A VERY HAPPY100th
Birthday yes indeed , the South Shall Rise Again‼️
You have been a blessing to many including me , your great sense of humor and spirit of Joy influenced me
During my Barry Days ( I still have the BIG PICTURE OF ME ON MY BARRY application that we laughed about
And you returned it to me many years later!) your Adrian Dominican Spirit and Southern Charm are God’s gift to all who know and love you‼️❤️🙏🥳🎉
CARPE DIEM, y’all, loving kindness always,
Mary Jo Wright Costello, also known as, Sister Maria
Veritas of Our Lady of Divine Knowledge‼️WOW

Avatar  Joanne Ling 2 years agoReply

Happy Birthday Sister Arnold. I have fond and happy memories of you at Barry College 1951 -1956. Former Joanne Rerucha and after that Sister Marise . God bless you.

Avatar  S. Kathleen Voss 2 years agoReply

Oh how I admire this beautiful "Southern Bell", lady to the enth. S. Arnold has always inspired me. Whenever in her presence her smile warms your heart and her humor lifts one's spirit.
Happy Birthday dear Sister. So glad I share the same congregation as yourself.
Love and Hugs,
Kathleen Voss, OP



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