“FEAR NOT, FOR I AM WITH YOU…I HAVE CALLED YOU BY NAME AND YOU ARE MINE” ISAIAH 43:1
Sister Mary John Thomas often speaks of the gratitude in her heart whenever she describes her Benet Hill community, the elderly she has ministered to or the children she taught many years ago. Mary John was born Dolores Thomas in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1932 and is still going strong at eighty-two. Her parents, John and Elizabeth, influenced her greatly as living examples of dedication to faith, family and hard work. Her family lived with her Grandmother Helen in the early years until her parents could afford a home. She describes Helen as a woman of “even keel, prayer, compassion and peace—a rock.” Mary John and her three younger siblings attended St. Anthony’s Catholic School—staffed by the Benedictine Sisters of Atchison, Kansas. Her call to become a sister began forming early as the sisters taught her to clean the sanctuary where her love for the Blessed Sacrament began.
The Benedictine’s model of caring concern for all the students they taught appealed to Mary John who speaks fondly of Sister Leann Cogan, a sister at Benet Hill. Sister Leann taught Mary John in seventh grade at St. Anthony’s School. It is with deep respect and wonder that she speaks of this journey from student to sister. The special bond that she shares with Sister Leann from then to now is carried in a place of honor in her heart. After high school Mary John worked for one year as a secretary and joined Mount Saint Scholastica Convent, Atchison, Kansas, in 1951.
Sister Mary John made her first profession December 22, 1952. She has ministered as a teacher at Sacred Heart Cathedral School in Pueblo, Colorado, St. Joseph School in Monte Vista, Colorado, St. Pius X in Mission, Kansas, St. Cajetan School in Denver, Colorado, Holy Trinity School in Colorado Springs. Her service also included pastoral ministry at St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Denver and Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Lakewood, Colorado.
Three major milestones mark Sister Mary John’s journey as Benedictine. First, she was called by the Benet Hill community to serve as Prioress from 1975 to 1983. As an introvert, she was encouraged by other sisters to face the challenge of being “pulled out” and recognize her unique gifts that were of great value to the community. She says, “The Lord is walking with us and providing strength and grace to get through.” Sister Mary John is forever grateful for her growth during this time as a monastic woman. Second, her Golden Jubilee in 2002 filled her with joy as her mother and sisters celebrated with her such a rich journey covering fifty years of faith and cherished relationships. Third, Sister Mary John felt privileged to have been a part of so many lives—lives with stories filled with joy, grief, pain, healing, suffering, and blessing. These living “reflections of God,” were examples of fidelity to church through volunteering, fidelity to marriage through loving relationships, and fidelity to God through an unending desire to grow in faith.
A few months prior to her retirement in 2009, Sister Mary John was asked to head the monastery team to plan the move to the new monastery in Black Forest. She undertook that enormous task with grace, humility, and a healthy sense of humor. She laughs when she speaks about organizing the move to Benet Pines with all its joys and challenges.
Sister Mary John would like others to know how grateful she is for her life and the Benet Hill community of sisters she journeys with. After the move, Sister Mary John headed the growing retreat ministry and supervised the dining services at the monastery. Sister Mary John continues to serve the community and guests with gracious hospitality and volunteering with food service, receptionist and retreat ministry.