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Sister Kimberly will lead Benedictines through pandemic

Her theme for next 6 years as prioress, ‘trusting grace, will carry the sisters

Published: November 5, 2020   
Courtesy Jennifer Burchett
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor confers the Church's blessing on St. Scholastica Monastery's new prioress, Sister Kimberly Prohaska, OSB, Oct. 30 in Fort Smith.

FORT SMITH — After a nine-month wait, Sister Kimberly Rose Prohaska, OSB, was installed as the 13th prioress of St. Scholastica Monastery Oct. 30.

She was elected to her position Jan. 20, but the installation was delayed twice because of the pandemic.

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor concelebrated the installation Mass with monastery chaplain Father Les Farley. Sister Jeanne Weber, OSB, president of the Federation of St. Gertrude, presided at the private installation ceremony.

Bishop Taylor’s homily related Sister Kimberly’s installation theme, “Trusting Grace,” to power and light and prayed that God would grant her the “light to understand what the Lord is asking of you in every decision you will have to make, and then the power to do it … always with self-sacrificing love.”

A celebration with family and friends was deferred because of the pandemic.

“I chose the theme ‘trusting grace’ as my mantra for the next six years as our community journeys together,” Sister Kimberly said. “The sister spirit is most important to me, making sure they are OK, and that we can love and support one another in these challenging times.”

In the past five years, some of those monastery challenges have included selling their former retreat center to Trinity Junior High School, launching a capital campaign to build a new monastery, moving out of the building that had been their home for 94 years, transferring a number of sisters to Chapel Ridge Nursing Home and dealing with the pandemic.

“The pandemic has prevented us from being able to do the element of hospitality that we’ve been accustomed to,” Sister Kimberly said. “We can’t have guests in our guest house. Sister Judith Maria (Timmerman), our vocation director, can’t invite women to visit, but they are still interested in learning more about us and we are trying to deal with that in creative ways. We have had to restructure our spiritual direction and GEM (Guatemalan ministry) programs and all that takes a lot of time and energy.

“We are operating our gift shop online. We collaborate with the food bank and Antioch but miss the personal contact of giving people emergency food. We are trying to keep our spirits up by taking desert days on our prayer days, having staycations, seeing more movies and taking drives to see fall colors.”

Sister Kimberly’s 30 years at St. Scholastica has taught her about being flexible. When she entered the community as a postulant in 1990, the community had 167 members. Now the community is fewer than 35. Many of the sisters served in missions across the diocese, and she juggled working at St. Mary Church in Helena with finishing her bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry at Dominican University, River Forest, Ill.

“I taught religion in grades 9-12, served as director of youth ministry, learned about Hispanic ministry and did outreach to the poor,” she said. “We got involved with ministry to the federal prison and that was a real education as well. The sisters really provided a great education in monasticism and Benedictine life and how to incorporate the spirituality of our life in action by our missionary work. I was really grateful for those experiences.”

In 2002, she returned to the monastery to be the community’s vocation director. In 2011, she also assumed the role of subprioress.

“Being a vocation director calls you back to your own vocation, to reroute and refocus, and keeps you very humble in the call,” she said.

The sisters recently blessed the old monastery in a “letting-go ceremony.”

“We put together a little slideshow about the way we were. We did a sharing of memories together and went over and blessed the building,” Sister Kimberly said.

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