Sister Helen (Egberta) Buening, OSB
May 23, 1917 - May 15, 2015
Sister Helen (Egberta) Buening, OSB, a Benedictine Sister of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kan., died Friday, May 15, at the age of 97. The vigil service will be Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m. in the monastery chapel, and the Mass of Resurrection will be offered there on Wednesday, May 20, at 10:30 a.m.
Born in Soldier, Kan., Sister Helen graduated from Valley Falls High School and from Mount St. Scholastica College with a BA in history and a minor in art. She taught at Kansas City schools—Guardian Angels, St. Benedict’s, and Lillis High School in Missouri, and at St. Joseph’s in Shawnee, Kan. She continued art study at Kansas City Art Institute and the Chicago Art Institute and received the Master in Fine Arts from Notre Dame University. She taught and chaired the art department at Mount St. Scholastica College and Benedictine College in Atchison. Upon her retirement from the college, she became the weekly “Picture Lady” for Atchison area schools. Sister Helen wrote two art books: God’s Finger in Art and Art Masters Then and Now: Experiences in Art for Ages 5 to 95.
Born to John and Ellen Becker Buening in 1917, Sister Helen had a sister and four brothers. She is preceded in death by her parents and her brothers Lawrence, Paul, and John. She is survived by her brother Gene, her sister Geri Wilson, her sister-in-law Jody Buening, and other family, many friends, and her monastic community. Memorials may be sent to Mount St. Scholastica or made online at the Mount’s web site.
Reflection for the Vigil Service for Sister Helen Buening
May 19, 2015
By Sister Barbara Mayer, OSB
Readings: Isaiah 43:1-4, Revelation 2:17, John 15:1-7
I would like to express my sympathy to Sister Helen’s sister, Geri, her brother, Gene, her sister-in-law, Jody, her nieces and nephews, former students, friends and our monastic community.
Sister Helen has been ready to go to the place Jesus prepared for her for a long time. She waited patiently day after day, rosary always in hand, for God to call her home. She longed for the time when Jesus would come and take her to himself, as he promised in the Gospel we just heard.
With dimmed eyes she saw God’s beauty better than most sighted people. She captured his reflection in many forms of art including silkscreen, clay, and ceramic tiles such as those displayed in Sophia Center. With her observant eye and free-flowing style, she shared her vision with college and high school students as teacher and grade school students as “the picture lady.” A few of her students went on to become well-known artists and several became art teachers. Sister Helen’s artwork has been displayed in Muchnic Gallery in Atchison a number of times.
After she retired, she wanted to acquaint children with the great artists. She brought prints of the masterpieces to grade schools, and after explaining their special technique would have children do their own art pieces. She later assembled a book using her unique lessons called Art Masters Then and Now: Art for Ages 5 to 95.
Sister Helen was widely known for her “clay and fire” retreats where she assisted participants in creating clay figures and connecting the experience with God’s work of creation. She also had retreatants put their thumbprint on a piece of clay as a symbol of the white stone with a new name written on it known only the one who receives it, as mentioned in the second reading from Revelation.
In a talk she once gave on “Centering,” she said, “Centering is a severe and thrilling discipline often acutely unpleasant. In my own efforts, I become weak, discouraged, exhausted, angry, frustrated, unhappy, and confused. But someone within me is resolute, and I try again. Within us lives a merciful being who helps us to our feet however many times we fall.”
In another talk, she said, “You are all artists, every person is a special kind of artist, every activity is a special art. Some of you are artists working with the soil, creating your gardens. Others will create from the harvest of your gardens. . . Some of you experience clay – the potter’s wheel where you are transformed as you form vessels. Others turn wheat into bread. All, yes, all of you are artists working with the best of clay, the living vessel, the person. “
Ever conscious of God’s presence, she often walked as if in contemplation. She certainly heard Isaiah’s words:“You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” Sister Gabrielle Kocour said she had the gift of a mystic, seeing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. Clay especially became a mystical experience for her.
In her later years, Sister Helen frequently went around to sisters’ rooms in Dooley Center to give her blessing. She was thrilled when Abbot Owen and Bishop Charron asked her for her blessing and requested a copy. She frequently called friends and would give them her blessing over the phone. When people visited her she would often say goodbye with the words, “May God widen your circle of love.”
Sister Helen now sees God as he is, no shadows or limitations. We send her off with the words of her special blessing:
May God the Father, who created you,
May God the Son, who redeemed you,
And God the Holy Spirit who sanctified you,
Continue the work of your sanctification,
Until the day the Lord says, “Come Home!
“Come Home, Helen, and share with the saints,
Giving praise to God.” Amen!