Sister Mary Faith Schuster, O.S.B.

July 10, 1914 – May 23, 2007

Sister Mary Faith Schuster, O.S.B., 92, died Wednesday, May 23, 2007, at Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kans. The vigil service will be Friday, May 25, at 7 pm in the monastery chapel. The Mass of Resurrection will be there Saturday, May 26, 10:30am. followed by burial in the community cemetery.

Sister Mary Faith Schuster%2C OSBBorn July 10, 1914, Sister Mary Faith (Gertrude) was one of twelve children of Fred and Jennie Brummel Schuster of Pilot Grove, Mo. She entered the Atchison Benedictines in 1934 and made monastic profession in 1936. A graduate of Mount St. Scholastica College, she earned the doctorate in English at St. Louis University, St. Louis, Mo., in 1953. For more than 50 years she taught in the high schools and colleges staffed by her community. After 14 years in high schools, including the former Lillis High School, Kansas City, Mo., she taught at Donnelly College, Kansas City, Kans.; Marillac College, Normandy, Mo; and Mount St. Scholastica College and Benedictine College, Atchison. Sister Mary Faith was also dean at Donnelly College 1963-67. She gave particular attention to international students, assisting their transition to second language use and to at-homeness in another culture.

Sister Mary Faith traveled to New England and California on grants from the Kansas City Regional Council for Higher Education, and to Thailand, India, and Europe. She was a past member of the Modern Language Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the American Benedictine Academy. She received first place award for biography in 1950 from the Catholic Press Association. Benedictine College recognized her in 1977 with the Offeramus medal, an award given annually to an outstanding alumna, and in 1980 with the Teacher of the Year Award.

A teacher of remarkable intensity and influence, Sister Mary Faith urged her students to write, to capture with words the fleeting moments of insight or beauty, and convinced them that it was possible for them to do so. A writer herself, she published for more than fifty years in national and regional magazines and newspapers. For her community's centennial in 1963, she wrote its history, The Meaning of the Mountain. She co-founded the Kansas Poetry Society in 1985 to give a publishing outlet for young writers, and for some years edited its publication, Sunflower Petals. A regular columnist for The Leaven, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, she also taught creative writing classes at the Atchison Shepherd's Center. Of her own work she said, "Writing is too serious to me for it to be called a hobby. In many ways it is almost a necessity.” 

She was predeceased by her parents, by her brothers Arthur, Fred, and the Rev. Daniel Schuster, O.S.B. (Leo), of Conception Abbey, Conception, Mo.; by her sisters, Sister Scholastica (Imelda) Schuster, O.S.B., of the Atchison community; Sisters Teresa (Benedicta) and Xavier (Winifred) Schuster of Yankton, S.D.; and by her sisters Adela (Mrs. William Schollmeyer), Elinor (Mrs. William James O’Shea), and Mildred. She is survived by her sister Rosemary (Mrs. Bud McKiernan), Marceline, Mo; and her brother Dr. Joseph Schuster, Grand Junction, Colo; by nieces and nephews, and by her monastic family. Memorials may be sent to Mount St. Scholastica. 

Let us remember her gratefully in our prayers. 

S. Mary Faith's memorial card

“The sky tells the glory of God,
tells the genius of God's work." 
Ps. 19:1

On May 23, 2007, our beloved Sister Mary Faith Schuster entered eternal life. She was born to Fred and Jennie Brummel Schuster in Pilot Grove, Mo. (a place her sisters came to realize was Faith's bit of heaven on earth). She spent her life sharing her love of God, beauty and joy, welcoming to her English classes native-born students and those new to this country. She tried to make her students feel capable and loved. The lens through which she viewed the world had facets of belief, humor, whimsical realism, and the romantic -- her own blend of the Christian vision. Rarely without pen and paper, she wrote to communicate that vision: The Meaning of the Mountain, a history of the first century of her religious community; letters, articles, and poetry -- a poem a day for years. In high school classes in Kansas and Missouri; at Mount St. Scholastica College, Donnelly College, Benedictine College, and Marillac College she encouraged others to write, and their work appeared in professional journals, in Sunflower Petals, and in her classes at Atchison's Shepherd's Center. She became more and more focused on life to come, and her yearning for God is now satisfied. Let us remember her gratefully in our prayer.

Reflection given at the Vigil Service

by Thomasita Homan, OSB

Readings: Song of Songs 2:8-13; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9, 11; Matthew 25: 1-13

“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bound-ing over the hills….” (SOS 2:8). Imagine Sister Mary Faith leaning into the promise of eternity waiting and waiting these last months. Then imagine her again early Wednesday morning, as Love leaps toward her and draws her into eternity. “…the time of singing has come” (SOS 2: 12). And the one “who has prepared her for this very thing is God” (2 Cor 5:5).

How did God prepare Sister Mary Faith? And how did she respond?Were she here to tell us herself, she would probably shuffle through her pockets for pens and small pieces of papers filled with quotes, then begin with words from one of her poems, perhaps this one:

Song of the Soul
It’s something to have carried the soul around,
Or whatever bodies do with souls;
Something to have furnished ways to catch
Something to have given hands to scrub, to touch
the essences of marble and of wood,
Or feet to tell the soul what brown earth is.
My own hands too I love, that have worn earth
And all the mystery that came with birth.

I believe Sister Mary Faith wrote her way through mystery to eternity. She wrote in early morning and late at night. She collected stacks and stacks of her own words and those of her students, colleagues, and other poets. Words helped her “walk in possibility” (Emily Dickinson), confident and hope-filled. She walked through nature as if it were a prayer. She stood with mountains of words in her hands and heart… and found God. She taught…and found God. She prayed the psalms in community…and found God. And all of this happened because God first found her.

Words led her and others to the Word itself. Tim Hickey, a Benedictine College graduate and former student of Sister Mary Faith, wrote that on hearing of her death, he was drawn to Gerard Manley Hopkins' words:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings

These very words many of her well-beloved students and many of us, like Tim, have heard Sister Mary Faith energetically proclaim: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God…” and on hearing her, we’ve known the radical immediacy of God’s presence. But like Hopkins and Mary Faith, we’ve not forgotten the “ bent world” and our need to focus our energies right here, right now.

So we, too, in this Easter Season, reflect on promise and Pentecost and try to pay attention to what we need to do with our words and our lives. Sister Mary Faith spoke strongly on occasion. When she saw an injustice or when she believed the community or the college should consider or reconsider some action, she was not a stranger to the microphone.

Doug McKenzie, former chair of the Theatre Department at Benedictine College, writes that Sister Mary Faith, chair of the English Department, “put together one of the most phenomenal annual reports” he had seen: “…Faith wrote a singular description of each teacher on the staff in the style of an appropriate literary giant. Writers like Whitman, Dickinson, Shakespeare, and Euripides wrote again through her hand—amazingly in their own styles, but seemingly without effort.”

Sister Mary Faith was a well-respected speaker and published scholar. Her presentations on Dante and O’Connor and her own poetry brought standing ovations from listeners. She invited prominent poets to campus, poets who became life-long friends. She started Sunflower Petals, a small magazine of poems by ordinary people who do ordinary things in ordinary and memorable ways. And she taught, and taught. Her delight was teaching literature and writing which she did for generations of students.

She traveled to meetings and to see her family. She traveled by car, by bus, and by foot. Layers of her footprints extend “As far as the east is from the west” (Ps 103) here in Atchison. Speaking of traveling, I remarked to someone that I was surprised Sister Mary Faith was the third of our three deaths this week, instead of the first, since she had been failing for some time. The response: But don’t you think Mary Faith would say, “You two just run ahead. Tell them I’ll be there later.”

These last few months were different. Mary Faith’s days were quieter. Rick Coronado wrote: “It hurt to see her without her words in the last months of her life.” Jen McClaflin, a student who often read to Sister Mary Faith says she came to know not just Mary Faith, but faith itself. She began “to see the strength and goodness of the silence of a God who lets us say so much… without a single word."

But in that last morning of her life, the words of Wordsworth came to my mind:

I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

Perhaps Sister Mary Faith was recalling her own poem:

Caedmon Revisited

Now ought we to praise
the heavenly keeper.
The power of our God
and His moodthought.

First He made the heavens
as a roof
for the home of His children.
Then he made earth
as a path for the feet of his people.

Then He made duty
and the song of the birds
in the morning.

Then He made resurrection.

“…everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!…All this is from God” (2 Cor 5:17-18).