Jennifer Halling receives a blessing from Sister Anne Shepard

Journey brings new postulant home to Atchison

Jennifer Halling was a student at Benedictine College when she first considered a call to monastic life.

“I felt drawn to prayer and to the vitality of the sisters and their commitment to social justice,” she said. “But at that time, it (monastic life) felt too confining. I needed to have other experiences.”

More than 30 years later, after stops in Kansas City, Baltimore, St. Louis, Easton, Kan., and Leavenworth, the call to religious life came again, and this time she said “yes.”

“I’m fond of the quotation, ‘God writes straight with crooked lines,’” Jennifer said. “My life has taken a lot of turns that led me back here.”

Jennifer grew up in Leavenworth and graduated from Benedictine College in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in English and minors in secondary education and psychology.

After graduation, she worked in marketing for the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, then went to Loyola College in Baltimore for a master’s degree in pastoral counseling.

Her next stop was St. Louis, where she was a house parent at Boys Hope, now Boys Hope Girls Hope St. Louis. She also worked as a manuscript editor for Mosby, a medical publishing company in St. Louis.

Jennifer moved to Easton, Kan., in 2002, where she was on the staff of Shantivanam House of Prayer. Seven years later, she moved to Leavenworth and worked as a freelance copy editor. Her stay in eastern Kansas allowed her to care for her aging parents until their deaths.

It also gave her time to expand beyond technical writing and editing into poetry. In 2016, she self-published a book of poetry titled “Still Life: Contemplative Poems.”

Meanwhile, Jennifer satisfied a nudge toward the Benedictine life by becoming an oblate of Mount St. Scholastica in 2013.

“Then one day, the thought just popped into my head, ‘You should consider joining the Benedictines,’” she said. 

Jennifer contacted Sister Barbara Smith, the Mount’s vocation director, in May 2015 to begin the conversation about becoming a Benedictine sister. The community welcomed her as a postulant on Aug. 5.

Among the gifts that Jennifer presented to the community during the welcoming liturgy were a prayer shawl from friends at St. Cronan Church in St. Louis, where Jennifer had been a member and where, she said, she “learned a lot about community.”

Another gift was a lantern, representing a family tie to the Atchison Benedictines that extends back generations. Jennifer’s great-great-grandfather, Lambert Halling, was one of the men who greeted the first Benedictine sisters when they arrived by boat in 1863. Halling then stood guard with a lantern in front of the newly built convent, providing protection.

Postulancy is a time of transition from lay life into monastic life, giving both the postulant and the community time to get acquainted with each other. It lasts nine to 12 months. During this time, the postulant balances education and service, serving the community in a variety of ways while learning about monastic life. Jennifer is taking three classes this fall: Psalms, with Sr. Mary Irene Nowell; Liturgy, with Sr. Mary Collins; and the History of Mount St. Scholastica, with Sr. Judith Sutera.

Just two weeks into her postulancy, Jennifer said that her biggest adjustment is living in community after the solitude and independence that comes with living alone. She also misses the two cats she left behind.

That’s more than balanced, she says, by the warm welcome and support she has received from the sisters and the rich prayer life of the community. Jennifer noted, “When they asked what I am seeking, I told the Sisters that I want to know and serve God through prayer, work, and play, and I’m grateful to be able to do that in companionship with the community of Mount St. Scholastica.”