Sister Mary Frances Kluss
Being a Benedictine sister, Sister Mary Frances Kluss finds abundant inspiration in the life of St. Benedict. She also finds particular inspiration in his death. As the story goes, St. Benedict had two of his fellow monks hold him up, arms raised to heaven, so that he could die with his whole self expressing prayer and praise to God.
As an LPN who has worked with the sick and dying, the metaphor of helping to bring another toward God at the moment of death has particular resonance. “I was able to visit Monte Cassino (one of the monasteries founded by St. Benedict) and there is a statue in the courtyard of the monks holding St. Benedict up. In my work, I sometimes think of those two monks.”
For twenty years, Sister Mary Frances served the Holy Names Sisters of Spokane as an LPN in their infirmary. Although she originally obtained a degree in elementary education and taught for five years, she felt urged toward another direction. “I really felt God calling me to something different,” she says. “As soon as I entered nurse’s training, I had a deep experience of rightness.”
It wasn’t the first time she had felt the desires of her heart shift directions. “When I was a kid I loved babies. I was the oldest of five and helped out a lot with my siblings. I wanted to be a farmer’s wife and have lots and lots of kids. But when I was 14 I had a calling to be a sister but kept it under my hat. My mom would later tell me that my grandma had already thought I would be a sister someday.” Her parents were her biggest spiritual influence. Her father had an appliance store in Lewiston and family life involved Catholic devotions and an emphasis on work.
She graduated from high school in Lewiston and entered college. “By the age of 21, I was beginning to see God wanted me to be more committed. I had a job that entailed 12 hour shifts at a place for processing peas. Before work I would sit in church and ask, ‘God what do you want from me? Which order should I join?’ One day, when I was playing badminton with my family, I suddenly had a sense to go to St. Gertrude’s. I knew it was not a head thing, but a heart thing.” She entered St. Gertrude’s later that summer.
When she took the time to figure out what made “head” sense about St. Gertrude’s she realized it was the emphasis on prayer. Being raised in Lewiston, she had encountered the St. Gertrude’s sisters in prayer, in her education and also in her play. “I remember at school that they had played with us. They also seemed to do all kinds of work such as teaching and nursing. And they held that ordinary work was holy in God’s sight. I like that.” She also encountered music through the Benedictines, including Sister Angela Uhlorn, Sister Benita Hassler, and Sister Margaret Dorothy (Mary Celine) Moriarty. Now Sister Mary Frances plays the organ and piano.
Ultimately she felt that her vocation at the center involved prayer. She knew she would work in service but that her work would be illuminated by contemplation of God. Before entering St. Gertrude’s, she became involved in reading scripture more consistently and was encouraged to learn about other faith traditions. “I found that I got much more out of scripture when I read it slowly. I would take a page a day and could spend a whole hour with it. At St. Gertrude’s I learned that I’d been doing something called Lectio Divina.”
Sister Mary Frances was professed on August 12, 1974. She continues to express her spirituality in a variety of ways. She plays the organ and piano for liturgies and is a member of the Monastery musical group, the Von Gertrude Ensemble.
She has often served in taking Communion to the homebound. “I LOVE the Eucharist; Jesus is at the heart of it. The Eucharist is also very much a prayer of gratitude. It’s so important to develop a sense of gratitude for all of life and the gifts that we have been given.”
The influence of St. Benedict and his devotion to scripture continues to inspire her work in health care. “I love Ezekiel 36:26: ‘I will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ That verse is about compassion and having a heart of flesh is what it means for me to work with the sick.”
Sister Mary Frances was asked about her personal experience with prayer and how it shapes her life. Here’s what she had to say:
Is prayer important for you? for the monastic community?
I believe that prayer is vital. Without prayer we wouldn’t be a monastic community. Prayer is part of the essence of our call by God. It is part and parcel of the fabric of our lives. We wouldn’t be a Benedictine community if we didn’t pray together.
Prayer is vital for me in my work as well. Prayer gives me a sense of peace and joy, compassion, and a focus that allows me to be present to the person I’m caring for. Through prayer the healing presence of God can be experienced as each person has need.
Have your prayers made a difference in the lives of those you minister to?
Oh, yes! Recently a convalescing woman told me that she had a deep, comforting sense of our prayers and concern for her. Her first biopsy had shown melanoma. After a subsequent surgery, no other cancer cells were found. I never know how many people may be praying for the same person. I am often told, in one way or another, that my prayers are appreciated; that a sense of healing and peace has happened in connection with my presence and prayers. I feel very humble then, knowing that it is because of God that anything good can happen through me.
Besides praying individually, we sometimes pray as a group at work. Not only does prayer help in physical, spiritual, and emotional healing, it also helps us to connect in deeper, more peaceful and fulfilling relationships.
How do you pray?
I like to offer up my whole day to God. If I know of someone in special need, I may offer up my day especially for her or him. Prayer for me includes Divine Office, said with other Sisters or by myself, and centering prayer. I also like to memorize scripture, hymns, and prayers that have special meaning for me. I pray spontaneously by myself and with others, including patients and staff. Daily Eucharist is very important to me, and simply praying “Jesus” at any time is a wonderful prayer and help.
Prayer helps me to experience God’s presence during the day. Simply turning my attention to God has great effect.
How can our readers better incorporate prayer into their lives?
First of all, bring your awareness of our loving, true, faithful, merciful and powerful God to your mind and heart. Often a scripture passage or written prayer may be especially helpful. Find a word, such as “Jesus,” “Spirit,” or “Love,” that is meaningful and assists you to quickly tune into God. The word can be good for any time of the day and can help you to be a prayerful presence.
Eucharist and other types of communal prayer are not always possible, but they are a great help. Praying at different times of the day as it fits into your own schedule is also a wonderful way to meet with God.
God is available at any time. God loves us and is happy to help us in any way that is valuable to us – through books, a priest, minister or a spiritual director.
How has prayer, especially with the monastic community, changed you?
Community prayer helps me, profoundly, to be about more than just me. It creates a much more meaningful and enriching life for me. Prayer assists me in making good choices, such as how to use my talents, resources and gifts so that I can be more in tune with God and of better service.
Prayer has changed me, slowly over time, to be more aware of God, of others, of my own person and my call from God. It makes me aware of creation and the deeper connections among all of us in the universe.