A Passionist Nun – A Cheerful Giver
Earlier this year our Sr. Mary Dolores Hornbeck of the Incarnate Word celebrated her Golden Jubilee of religious profession on February 27th, the feast of our young Passionist Saint, Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin. You may recall the hilarious skit the younger sisters performed when we had our monastic celebration for Sister earlier this year. The following vocation story of Sr. Mary Dolores was featured in our spring newsletter, and I thought I would also share it with you our blog viewers. I hope it is an inspiration to you!
Sister Mary Dolores has brought much love and joy into our community over the years since she entered St. Joseph’s Monastery. In honor of the 50 years of loving service and companionship she has given to Jesus Crucified in contemplative Passionist life, we would like to share our joy and some special highlights from Sister’s journey up to the present day— from the early years before she entered the monastery, to living for 50 years as a beloved bride of Jesus Crucified.
Life at home
Before Sister was known as ‘Mary Dolores’, she was Mary Margaret “Cissy” Hornbeck— the daughter of Joseph William “Joe” and Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Hornbeck, born January 24, 1941. The cross was present early in the life of this family as two of the six children born to Joe and Betty died as infants. The surviving children were Barbara “Barb”, Cissy, Bill and Betsy. The family lived in a home built by her dad on the west side of Owensboro. All four children attended St. Stephen’s Catholic grade school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
When Cissy was in 8th grade, the cross of a deep sorrow struck her family when her mother died suddenly of an aneurysm. In recalling this experience, both Sr. Mary Dolores and her only living sister Betsy Brodnax, gave the same reply: “It was as though the world had come to an end.” But their loving father was determined to keep the family together as they struggled through this sorrowful time.
Soon after this loss, Joe and the children relocated to Louisville. A couple years later in 1957, Barb entered the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, leaving Cissy to be the “woman of the house” and a second mama to Bill and Betsy.
At this point Sr. Mary Dolores already had thoughts about becoming a nun. She said, “When I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, a lot of my classmates also were thinking about it. What drew us was the witness of the Sisters – their love for the children they taught; their goodness and thoughtfulness.” The desire to become a nun never left her. Meanwhile, she wanted to be there for her two younger siblings, Bill and Betsy.
Somewhere within that time frame, Cissy made her first retreat at our original Monastery on Benita Avenue in Owensboro. After that she continued to make retreats with our community any time she could. In order to encourage Cissy in her spiritual life and vocational discernment, the superior at the time, Mother Mary Agnes Roche, C.P. (also the foundress of our monastery) introduced her to Fr. Hubert Bohne CP, a canon lawyer and spiritual director residing at Sacred Heart Passionist Retreat and Seminary on Newburg Road in Louisville.
After graduating in 1959 from Presentation Academy in Louisville, Cissy decided to stay home for a few more years until her brother and sister were able to take care of themselves. She began working as a proof-reader and office assistant for the “Yellow Pages”, otherwise affectionately called “Wolley Segap” (‘yellow pages’ spelled backward) by Cissy and her co-workers. She made many friends there.
Entering the Monastery
In 1962, Bill and Betsy were old enough that Cissy could ‘leave her nets behind’ and follow the ‘Divine Fisher of Men’ into contemplative religious life as a Passionist Nun. Before she left her job at “Wolley Segap”, her friends and co-workers there threw a going-away party and presented her with her very own St. Joseph’s Missal as a parting gift.
A humorous anecdote from her early formation years: For the occasion of her religious profession, Sr. Mary Dolores received a lovely bouquet of flowers from “Wolley Segap.” The novice directress thought this must have been an old boyfriend of Sister and she asked her about it. With a chuckle, Sr. Mary Dolores explained that Wolley Segap was “Yellow Pages” spelled backward, and the gift was from her former co-workers!
When asked why she joined the Passionists instead of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth whom her sister, Barb, had joined several years before, Sister Mary Dolores replied that during one of her retreats at the Passionist monastery, which were always preached by a Passionist Father, she was greatly drawn to devotion to the Passion of Jesus. She was also drawn by the Passionist habit and just the whole atmosphere of the monastery.
Later after she entered the community, she would find herself greatly drawn to the humility of Christ who emptied Himself to become obedient unto death on the cross. The mystery of the Incarnate Word – Jesus in His human nature – truly became a source of prayer and inspiration to her. Thus, at her Vestition (Clothing) in our holy Habit, Sister was given as her devotional title, “of the Incarnate Word.”
Life in Community
Like her father, Sr. Mary Dolores has been a “jack of all trades” throughout her years in our community. She has served as novice directress, as bookkeeper of the monastery, secretary to the superior, cook, and many other services as well. She also served on the monastery council.
When Sister was first assigned as cook in the monastery kitchen, she soon learned that cooking for a community of Nuns was very different than cooking for a small family. During her first days as monastery cook, she gathered a collection of nightmare tales about kitchen disasters which she would recount with much laughter. But soon, Sister emerged as one of the best cooks in the history of our monastery.
She has a reputation for excelling in meat preparation and bread baking. Mother Catherine Marie’s father used to say that when he would come to visit, and Sr. Mary Dolores served him a meal, he didn’t have to eat for a week.
One young sister remembers a time when Sr. Mary Dolores once made up a new kind of breakfast bread. It reminded her of the delicious cherry kolaches her family used to get from a special country bakery. She told sister, “That was so good! I didn’t know you made kolaches!” Sister smiled, shrugged her shoulders and said, “I didn’t either.” So the sister asked her, ‘You mean those weren’t kolaches? If not, what do you call them?” Sister Mary Dolores laughed and replied, “That’s what I call ‘salvation’!” Sister Mary Dolores then went on to explain that the type of sweet bread she had originally planned to make had not come out as planned. Therefore, she decided to put cherries on top and see if that would fix it. Apparently, “Salvation” is what you get when you turn a cooking project gone wrong into a totally new (and delicious) dish!
Sr. Mary Dolores also spent many years showering tender loving care on our sick Sisters, especially on the aged foundresses of our community. With no thought for her own convenience, Sr. Mary Dolores served them both in the monastery infirmary as well as at Carmel Home, encouraging them and making them laugh.
Having a practical, generous and self-giving nature, Sr. Mary Dolores is always among the first to offer help when the work load is particularly heavy. Her generous nature, however, sometimes turned Sister into a “Tom Sawyer” – she would get people enthused about a project, so that they somehow found themselves knowingly or unknowingly volunteering to help, while Sr. Mary Dolores looked on and enjoyed watching everyone else work!
Sr. Mary Dolores is notoriously gifted with a mischievous sense of humor, and inimitable laugh. She has also helped to brighten many a community recreation, or difficult situation.
One community member summed it up this way:
St. Paul tells us, I think in Galatians, that “everyone should see how generous you are. The Lord is near.” To me, this fits Sr. Mary Dolores to a tee. She is one who would give you the coat off her own back, and is always a ready helper. And her sense of humor can’t be beat! I have caught myself saying to myself at times, “I just love that Sister!”
Another of the younger Sisters recounts the following testament to the warm and loving presence that Sr. Mary Dolores has been in our community: The morning after I arrived to enter the monastery, when Sister first saw me wearing the postulant jumper and veil, she gave me a huge smile, grabbed my arm, and said enthusiastically, “Look at you!!!” That little encounter helped the joy of that day prevail over the considerable trauma of the day before (leaving my family, etc.). I’ve been grateful ever since.
There are so many beautiful (and humorous) memories we could recall!
As Sister celebrates the past 50 years of living in the Lord’s house and loving Him and His Church, we wish her a very blessed and joy-filled Golden Jubilee year. We give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for calling her to Passionist life in our community and for the gift of love she has given to Our Lord each and every day for the past 50 years as she continues to say ‘yes’, with such love and generosity, to His will and His loving providence for her life!