A Day In The Life: Sr. Anita Louise Lowe

The Herald | Guided by Grace

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Story by Leann Burke

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan

As Sister Anita Louise Lowe, 54, settles into her new position as the Sisters of St. Benedict’s 14th prioress at Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand — she was installed last month — she’s learned that the only constant in her days are the prayers at 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. The rest of her schedule is different every day, with meetings popping up unexpectedly as she responds to the needs of the roughly 130 women she now leads.

July 31 was no exception.

Her alarm clock sounds at 5:15 a.m., and she allows herself time to fully wake up, filling the first minutes of her morning with a couple of cups of coffee, some personal prayer time and a bit of Facebook to check in on the world.

At 6:55 a.m., the church bells ring, calling the sisters to morning Mass, and by 7 a.m., the petite sister with short black hair is in her pew, ready to start the first of three community prayers that serve as anchor points to her day.

“I get up early, but I like a slow start,” Sr. Anita says.

Sister Anita Louise Lowe sings during evening prayer at Monastery Immaculate Conception on July 31 in Ferdinand. Sr. Anita began her six-year term of office as prioress of the Sisters of St. Benedict with an installation ceremony on Saturday, July 13.

That’s wise, since the rest of her day flies by in a bit of a blur as she speed walks through the monastery from meeting to meeting, racking up 10,000 to 14,000 steps a day. That number is down from the almost 17,000 she used to get as liturgical director, but she’s working to get her steps back up, often taking the longer routes to and from her appointments.

After the morning Mass, most of the sisters head off to breakfast, but not Sr. Anita. Instead, she goes out to the courtyard to check on the gardens. Before becoming prioress, she was one of a group of sisters who cared for the garden, managing the lavender, echinacea, mint and other plants that decorate the courtyard. Now, she says, it’s harder to find time to tend the garden, but she still checks on it every day and pulls weeds every now and then.

“Sometimes I just have to get my hands in the dirt,” she says.

After the courtyard and a short stop back at her apartment, she heads to her office in the community administration area of the monastery, which sits on the main floor down the corridor from the monastery church. She switches on her computer to check emails before most of her fellow sisters have finished breakfast.

This morning, she has two emails in Spanish from sisters at the order’s location in Morropon, Peru. She doesn’t speak Spanish, so she relies on Google translate to help her. If that doesn’t work, she calls on the sisters who run the Latino Outreach and Immigration Services programs for help. This morning, though, Google Translate does the trick.

Next, she checks her calendar for the first time to get an idea of what the day will look like. She’ll still have to check it several more times throughout the day, as her administrative assistant, Ginny Vankirk, often adds appointments. Having someone else manage her schedule has been an adjustment, Sr. Anita says, and she sometimes misses the set schedule she had as liturgical director.

“Things didn’t pop up as much,” she says.

A crucifix hangs on the wall of Sr. Anita’s new office. The crucifix was presented to Sr. Anita at the grave site where her late mother was buried in May 2018. It was the first thing she hung on the walls after moving into her office as prioress.

Sr. Anita has had several roles within the order since she joined in 1987 — she grew up the daughter of the late David and Mildred (Geywitz) Lowe in Louisville — serving most recently as the director of liturgy. She has also been an English and French teacher, assistant director of communications, public relations manager, assistant director of vocations and a director of vocations.

Although she wasn’t looking to become prioress, she says, she did prayerfully decide to be open to the idea should her name come up during the community’s discernment process in May and June.

In a matter of weeks, she went from being open to the idea of being prioress to inhabiting the office.

“The weirdest part,” Sr. Anita says, “was having to set up my new voicemail and say, ‘Sister Anita Louise, prioress.’”

She’s settling into her new role, though, and getting her office in order, although she still has moments of wondering where she put something and hasn’t had time to do much decorating. Still, she did get her cross hung on the wall and a few of her plants moved in to sit by the window. She also has a mini Zen garden her biological sister, Teresa Buehler of Louisville, gave her. The two have been meaning to take a trip to the beach together for a while, and the Zen garden is meant as a substitute until that happens.

She also has two other biological sisters, the late Jane Lowe and the late Jean Lowe.

Sr. Anita spends several minutes signing birthday cards for some of the monastery’s donors before heading across the hall to Subprioress Sister Rose Wildeman’s office for the weekly administration team meeting. Today, the meeting includes Sr. Anita, Sr. Rose and the monastery coordinator, Sister Marilyn Schroering. To begin, Sr. Anita leads the team in prayer, asking God for guidance in their decision-making. Then, the team spends the next hour discussing the needs of the community and how best to respond to them.

Sr. Anita points to her walking stick decorated and signed by the Sisters of St. Benedict community in her office. The walking stick was a symbol created before the prioress was elected to signify that the community of sisters are all walking this journey together. The community first decided what kind of future they wanted, then decided on a prioress that would be best to lead them there.

When that meeting ends, Sr. Anita heads straight upstairs to the liturgical office to help the new liturgical director, Sister Traci Stutz, with an issue she’s having on InDesign as she creates the programs for an upcoming golden jubilee Mass, which will celebrate sisters who have reached the 50th anniversary of their monastic profession.

It’s only 10 a.m., but Sr. Anita has racked up 5,000 steps.

After that, she heads back to her office, stopping in one of the monastery’s sunny corridors along the way to check on another group of her plants. Several sisters like to keep plants, so this corridor is filled with house plants soaking in the morning sun.

Back in her office, Sr. Anita signs more cards and thank-you letters and checks her calendar again. Sure enough, a new meeting has come up in about half an hour. The multitude of meetings and the irregular schedule have made it challenging for Sr. Anita to find time to complete her own work during the day, but she thinks she’s figuring out a system. She has a desk lamp that sits right next to her. If it’s on, she’s in the office and available to meet with people. If it’s off, she’s either out of town or working on other work that needs to be done.

“I’ve figured out that I have to block out space to get my own work done,” she says.

Ginny also worked for the former prioress, Sister Barbara Lynn Schmitz, and said the adjustment period is normal.

“It is a total adjustment for any prioress to be in charge of that many women,” Ginny says. “But [Sr. Anita] is an amazing woman. She definitely is a calm presence, and she’s compassionate.”

Sr. Anita’s next appointment arrives right on time and lasts about an hour, right up until the noon prayer. As soon as the meeting ends, Sr. Anita heads into the church for the 10-minute prayer service that precedes lunch.

Sr. Anita, left, sits next to Sr. Rose Wildeman during lunch.

In the cafeteria, Sr. Anita fills her plate with salad before warming up leftovers from a vegetarian meal earlier in the week. She follows a vegetarian diet.

After lunch, she has another meeting, followed by a break in her day that she uses to practice the harp. She begins by playing one she keeps in her office, then heads upstairs to the choir room to tune the larger one. Later, she’ll teach a harp lesson, so she needs to make sure both harps are on key.

She finishes her music around 3 p.m. and is immediately called on to help figure out why the sisters’ new printer isn’t registering its jobs. Unable to figure it out, the sisters decide to give the printer company a call and, in the meantime, print to their old printer, which is thankfully still hooked up.

Sr. Anita tunes the harp. She has been playing the instrument for more than a decade, and now gives lessons.

Sr. Anita has one more meeting for the day, which starts at 3:30 p.m. and goes until evening prayer at 5 p.m.

Keeping up with her schedule has been a lesson in grace at the office, Sr. Anita says. She asks Ginny to ensure that she has at least 15 minutes between each appointment so she can pray and switch gears.

Before she became prioress, Sr. Anita says, the constant meetings and sporadic schedule would have made her crazy. But now she finds she always has energy and the words to say. That’s a credit to God’s grace.

“It really is the praying beforehand,” she says. “Asking God to help me and trusting that that grace will be there.”

Following the meeting, Sr. Anita and Sr. Rose take a short walk around the sidewalk that encircles the monastery church, pausing for a contemplative moment at the point that overlooks the cemetery where sisters are buried.

“Which of them are we going to pray to [for guidance]?” Sr. Anita asks, only half joking.

“All of them,” Sr. Rose replies.

“That’s what I was thinking,” Sr. Anita said.

As the sisters finish their walk, the church bells ring out loudly above them, calling them inside to the evening prayer. On the way inside, Sr. Anita checks her step counter. It says 9,500, quite a bit shy of her daily goal. But she still has her evening to boost the count.

Though more relaxing than her day, Sr. Anita’s evening is also busy. After prayer is dinner, followed by a harp lesson for Kris Lasher, who works in the monastery’s bakery. Kris has been taking lessons from Sr. Anita for about a year, and says the sister is an incredibly patient teacher.

“She’s delightful,” Lasher says. “I find her very patient, even when she has to remind me of things.”

To end her day, Sr. Anita retires to the sisters’ living space where she relaxes with more personal prayer time before going to bed around 10 or 11 p.m.

The last step in her day is setting her alarm clock for 5:15 a.m. the next morning when she’ll rise again with prayer and prepare to face another day of leading her sisters guided by the grace of God.

Sr. Anita, right, and Sr. Rose take a moment during their evening walk to look out over the cemetery where their late sisters are buried.

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