Published: January 2006
Related Topics: People
Do you remember the slogan, "Join the Navy and see the world"? What if it read "Join a religious order and see the world"? For Sister Benedetta CSC, known affectionately as "Ben," "Benny" or "Sister B", it certainly could! Many adventures lead to the celebration this month of the sixtieth anniversary of Sister Benedetta's Life Profession as a member of the Community of the Sisters of the Church (CSC), which has long shared an active role in the life of the Diocese of Niagara, and around the world.
How, and why, does a young woman give up all the worldly attractions of youth to become a nun? Elizabeth Nicklin was the daughter of a committed Anglican family, worshipping at St. Thomas' Church, Toronto, since she was five years old. Sisters of another Anglican order, the Sisters of St. John the Divine (SSJD) taught Sunday school there. Smiling, Sr. Benedetta explains, "It was a fluke, really. When I was about twelve or thirteen, the family drifted over to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, where the Sisters of the Church did Sunday School. When I was about 14, Sr. Dominica prepared me for Confirmation. When one of the clergy at St. Mary's talked about meditation, I asked Sr. Juliana about (it). She said, 'Come to the convent around the corner next Friday, and you'll find out!'" Given three headings from scripture on which to mediate, and invited to meet in two weeks with Sr. Juliana to discuss what she had experienced, young Elizabeth began a pattern that remains a crucial, continuing element of her life.
Mother thought she wouldn't last more than a few day
In 1940, Elizabeth was seventeen, in Grade 13: "The war was on, my older brother, James, was in the Canadian Navy – the whole element of sacrifice was so prevalent." (She also has a younger sister, Joan.) Early in 1941, Elizabeth began investigating what she sensed to be a call to enter the Community. "My parents were not enthusiastic at all, (though) they both said I could. I think my Mother thought I wouldn't last more than a few days, but (she) was wise enough to let me try. (On August 5) I became a postulant, and have been part of CSC ever since."
Given a list of possible names for her religious life, Elizabeth chose "Benedetta" because she was "clothed" with the habit (the nuns' traditional dress) on St. Benedict's Feast Day, July 11. "Benediction" means "blessing," and an older Sister wrote to her on that day, "I hope you receive many blessings, and that you are a blessing."
She spent the next four years training in prayer and understanding of religious life, and "always working too!" She helped in a parish school and nursery, providing child care when fathers had gone to war and mothers needed jobs. Chuckling, she comments, "They were good years. I suppose I was young, beginning to find my vocation in the community."
In 1945, the war over, Sr. Benedetta, sailed from Quebec City to Liverpool, England, with two nuns and another novice. In those days, sisters making their life-long commitment to the Community, called a Life Profession, went to England to celebrate that step in the mother-house of the Community. After spending the night in the Community's Liverpool house, the nuns took the train to London. "There was still the black-out, no labels in the stations, and rationing."
The hospital was bombed
Founded in 1870, in Kilbourn, London, the Community had moved to a big house. Sr. Benedetta made her Life Profession on January 12, 1946, in the Sisters' chapel in the original ballroom. "There were twenty of us in the house, and some of us made Saturday rounds to the greengrocer's to try to get enough potatoes for Sunday dinner, the big meal of the week!" Sr. Benedetta worked with children in London's heavily bombed East End, and visited in a local hospital, "all on foot, carrying a flashlight – there were no lights anywhere! I remember the hospital was bombed at one end; people were in beds with jackets on to keep warm, and big sheets of plastic hanging from the roof, but people were happy!"...
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