Sister Paula Howard

Sister Paula Howard, OSB, 98, a Benedictine sister of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kansas, died Sunday, October 24, 2021, at the monastery. The Mass of Resurrection was held on November 17, in St. Scholastica Chapel at the monastery.

Sister Paula Howard was a woman with many gifts. She was a teacher, administrator, writer, poet, musician, and iconographer.  Born to Maria and John Howard in Petrolia, Kansas, on October 30, 1922, she attended Great Bend High School in Great Bend. She entered the Benedictine community in Atchison in 1941, and made her monastic profession in 1943. She taught at elementary, secondary and college levels and served as principal of the Mount Academy from 1965-76. Sister Paula earned her M.A. in speech and drama from the Catholic University of America and M.S. in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame. A high point of her education career was her nine years as English instructor and then registrar at Bethlehem University in the West Bank. She also served as academic dean and assistant to the president at Donnelly College. In addition to various roles on monastery committees, she also served on the board of directors of Benedictine College and the editorial board of Mount publications Benedictines and Threshold. After retiring in 1999, she became an iconographer and wrote more than 250 icons of saints. Her history of the past half-century of the Atchison Benedictines, Monastic Springs, was published in 2013.

Sister Paula was preceded in death by her parents, her sister Mary Ruth Ann Jump, and brother John Howard. She is survived by nieces, nephews and her monastic family. Arensberg Pruett Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Memorials may be sent to Mount St. Scholastica or made online at the Mount’s website.

Watch the vigil, held November 14, 2021.

Watch the Mass of Resurrection, held November 17, 2021.

Reflection at the Vigil for Sister Paula Howard

Sister Mary Agnes Patterson, OSB | November 14, 2021

About a week before she died, Sister Paula told me she would begin her 100th year in a few days and she could not believe she had lived that long. After having her among us for so long, it is hard to say good bye.  We know we will all miss her.  So I offer my prayers and sympathy to Sister Paula’s nieces and nephews, her friends, and to all her sisters in our community.

I am wondering how I can speak of Sister Paula, her 99 years of life, and her faithfulness to her monastic profession and to her ministries. She was blessed with so many gifts and talents from God that she shared generously in our community and in her service to the broader world and Church. 

The scripture readings this evening are very fitting for Sister Paula.  The Book of Wisdom speaks of praying for understanding and wisdom and living in friendship with God. This reminds me of what Sister Paula said in an interview in The Leaven about icons. In Bethlehem where she worked at the university, she came to appreciate icons from the people in Palestine. At first she said she did not connect favorably with them; but after attending workshops and coming to deeper understanding of their meaning and message, she learned to pray with them.  When she began writing icons, she would fast and meditate on the scripture before each icon. In her words, she found this process to be very peaceful.  Maybe through her work with icons, Sister Paula was able to obtain the deep friendship with God that is mentioned in the Book of Wisdom.

We heard in Philippians… “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Sister Paula was blessed by God with so many talents and gifts. She developed and shared all of them in her many years as a teacher, administrator, a writer, poet, musician and iconographer.  She generously moved from one ministry and stage of life to another. Maybe Sister Paula’s deep faith gave her the confidence to say yes and try new and different ministries, even to travel to the Middle East to teach English to the Arab students in Palestine. When she returned home from Bethlehem University and was asked to go to Donnelly College as Academic Dean, she found it to be a new challenge.

In the Gospel, Jesus promises us that “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” I think the Holy Spirit was very present in Sister Paula’s life, and her reliance on the Spirit helped her to take on the writing of Monastic Springs, the history of the last 50 years of our community. I know that was a very difficult task, but she worked at it with dedication and saw it to completion. I remember asking her to write prayers for our reclaiming the campus after Benedictine College moved to the north campus, and her prayers brought a degree of healing to us. Her moving into writing icons was another venture into the unknown and must have called on a great trust in the Holy Spirit.

On the back of the worship aid for tonight is a poem written by Sister Paula.  It is her reflection on one of our windows in this chapel and on the line from the Rule of St. Benedict: “Let them prefer nothing at all to Christ.” It gives us a glimpse into the heart of Sister Paula and her faithful life as a Benedictine and follower of Christ. Let us now listen to it together as Sister Thomasita reads it. Thank you for a life well lived, Sister Paula.