Dominican Sister of Peace Philomena (Irene Marie) Hrencher (95) died at the Great Bend Motherhouse in Great Bend, KS, on Friday, September 14.
Sr. Philomena was born in 1923 in Sharon, KS, to Josephine Eck and Joseph Hrencher. She spent most of her 77 years of religious life in the Sunflower State, serving God’s people in education and medical ministries.
Sister entered the Congregation in 1937, and worked as a teacher in a number of Kansas cities. She taught on a provisional certificate, attending summer classes every year until she was able to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from St. Mary College in Xavier, KS, in 1964.
Sr. Philomena enjoyed her 12 years in the classroom, but she found her ministry in health care even more rewarding. She began this ministry in 1964, working as the Office Manager and Chief Accountant (and playing the organ) at St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City, KS. She loved the work so much that she returned to school at St. Louis University to earn her Master’s Degree in Hospital Administration.
She went on to serve as the Coordinator of four of the Congregation’s founded hospitals, and was later named President and CEO of the Central Kansas Medical Center. She also served the Congregation as a member of the Executive Council from 1967-1969 and 1974-1978.
In her later years, Sister Philomena served her Congregation as the Assistant Treasurer at St. Rose. She also served as a sacristan, and ministered in other forms of community service.
In her homily at Sister’s funeral service, Sister Renee Dreiling shared many fond memories of Sr. Philomena – from her peaceful, prayerful manner, to her kindness to the Sisters in the Infirmary and their families, to her great love of the baseball and her Kansas City Royals – and of her love for her siblings and her family.
Sister Philomena Hrencher was preceded in death by her parents and several of her siblings. She is survived by her Dominican Sisters of Peace religious community and one sister, Claudine Meng, Severy, KS.
A Vigil of Remembrance Service was held at the Dominican Chapel of the Plains in Great Bend, KS, on September 16, 2018. A wake was held on Tuesday, September 18, 2018, followed by the Liturgy of Christian Burial, presided over by Father Robert Schremmer. Sister Philomena is interred in the Sisters’ Resurrection Cemetery in Great Bend, KS.
Gifts in Sr. Philomena’s memory may be sent to:
Dominican Sisters of Peace
Office of Mission Advancement
2320 Airport Dr. Columbus, OH 43219
Today’s gospel on this Thursday in the 24th week of Ordinary time is one of my favorite stories. Allow me to set the scene. The story in Luke’s gospel 7:36-50 recalls the story of a “sinful” woman who arrives uninvited to a dinner where Jesus is the guest of honor. This uninvited and unwanted woman comes in and goes straight to Jesus, where she proceeds to kneel and to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and to use her own hair to dry them. She washes and kisses his feet and anoints his feet with costly oil. I love this story not only because it is a beautiful display of love for Jesus, but also because of the message of transforming love that is part of “the back story” to this moving scene.
The back story to this scene, I believe, is that Jesus has surely encountered this unnamed woman in Luke’s gospel before this unannounced meeting. She perhaps has heard him preaching, or has been witness to his healings. But she has most surely had her own personal encounter with Jesus, where his unconditional love has touched and healed the core of her being. She is transformed. Her story of encounter with Jesus—is my story. Her story of encountering Jesus and transformation—is our story. Her story has a message for each of us.
One message for me that comes through loudly in this story is that encountering God has the power to transform us in ways we can hardly imagine. Encountering the Divine enhances our ability to love. Perhaps a question that this gospel begs us to ask ourselves is “How do I express my gratitude and praise to the One who loves me unconditionally and forgives my transgressions for the asking? Some years ago, I felt called to discern religious life out of a deep love for God and a desire to serve God by serving the people of God. Even as I discerned, in the back of my mind, I sometimes would say in prayer, surely you are not calling me to religious life, after all, don’t you know my life story? Well, it turns out that the last time I used that line in prayer to God, immediately and quite unexpectedly, a woman I did not know shared her journey into religious life. Her story was exactly like mine and she was preparing to take her first vows. That meeting was not a coincidence. It was an encounter with the Sacred.
There is a song that I am always reminded of when I hear this gospel story about the woman washing Jesus’ feet. The song is called “Alabaster Box,” by CeCe Winans and it really brings this scripture to life. I invite you to enjoy a YouTube of the song later. However, I want to share here the lyrics of the last verse of the song:
I can’t forget the way life used to be
I was a prisoner to the sin that had me bound
And I spent my days
Poured my life without measure
Into a little treasure box
I’d thought I’d found
Until the day when Jesus came to me
And healed my soul
With the wonder of His touch
So now I’m giving back to Him
All the praise He’s worthy of
I’ve been forgiven
And that’s why
I love Him so much.
The lyrics of the song say it well—encountering Jesus and being open to transformation is life-changing.
Perhaps being a Sister is how you feel called to express your gratitude for God’s unconditional love?
People have asked me: what is our position on the horrendous news we’ve been hearing about the cover-up of US bishops in the sexual abuse scandal, particularly after the Attorney General‘s report in Pennsylvania? Keep in mind that the Leadership Team of the Dominican Sisters of Peace are members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. That means we stand with the LCWR statement completely, because we are members — it speaks for us. I invite you to read our very comprehensive and fearless statement below.
For me, however, there is so much more that needs to be done. I’ve been pondering what I’d like to see happen and am very aware of our Dominican charism to speak the truth – so a few thoughts:
In spite of the good work of most priests and the integrity of many bishops, the hierarchy as a whole has lost moral credibility. This is the most damaging aspect to me. How can the bishops make public statements about immigration, family values, or any other issue when their own house is corrupt? Can they correct themselves and restore the confidence of Catholics — let alone the general public? I do not think so – not by themselves anyway. Before bishops can speak of healing for victims, they need to address the root causes of this very public sin. Otherwise, the wrong people are putting a bandage on a cancer.
The 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People did not stop Rev. Kevin Lonergan, a 30-year-old priest from Pottsville, PA, who was charged with indecent assault and corruption of minors after being accused of inappropriately touching a 17-year-old girl and sending nude images of himself to her. He was ordained just 4 years ago. Where is the oversight even now?
Some have called for women to serve in positions of oversight. This is half true to me. I suggest that the USCCB recognize that independent and objective oversight, by both professional lay men and women, who are qualified to serve, is absolutely necessary. It would take enormous courage and humility to submit to such an investigation. But who would appoint and to whom would they report? This question lies at the feet of Pope Francis and I hope he can demonstrate the kind of fearless resolve that we need for the People of God at this time. We need no less than a Reformation of the priesthood. That is just a beginning.
So I look to Pope Francis who certainly as the power to call for a deep cleansing and reform of the priesthood. Vatican bureaucracy has successfully derailed his efforts so far. What will he do now?
Next time, I’d like to share a few more thoughts, but for now, here is the LCWR statement:
LCWR Statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy
August 23, 2018
[Silver Spring, MD]The recent news detailing the extensive and sometimes brutal sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests in the United States has left us at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious sickened and ashamed of the church we love, trusted, and have committed our lives to serve. We weep and grieve with all who over the decades have been victimized by sexual predators within the faith community and feel their pain as our own. We recognize that the damage done to many is irreparable.
Sexual abuse is a horrific crime, and the horror is so much worse when committed by persons in whom society has placed its trust and confidence. Equally difficult to comprehend is the culture within the church hierarchy that tolerated the abuse, left children and vulnerable adults subject to further abuse, and created practices that covered up the crimes and protected the abusers.
We call upon the church leadership to implement plans immediately to support more fully the healing of all victims of clergy abuse, hold abusers accountable, and work to uncover and address the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis. We believe that the work to implement the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its subsequent revisions has been an important and effective step in addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. We have watched the Conference of Major Superiors of Men diligently work to assure the protection and safety of children and youth and applaud its efforts. However, it is clear that more serious action needs to be taken to assure that the culture of secrecy and cover-up ends.
We also call upon church leaders to attend to the severe erosion of the church’s moral standing in the world. Its members are angry, confused, and struggling to find ways to make sense of the church’s failings. The church leadership needs to speak with honesty and humility about how this intolerable culture developed and how that culture will now be deconstructed, and to create places where church members can express our anger and heartbreak. We call on the leaders to include competent members of the laity more fully in the work to eradicate abuse and change the culture, policies, and practices. We are committed to collaborate in the essential work of healing and transformation that our church so desperately needs.
Finally, we recognize that the vast majority of priests have not committed abuse and are suffering greatly because of the actions of some of their brothers. We offer them our prayer and support as they continue their ministries in these very challenging times and as they too struggle to understand the complexity of factors that led to this deplorable situation.
Almost everyone is familiar with the quote from Luke 12:48 “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required.” The United States has been blessed with freedom and riches. These blessings demand that we care for our brothers and sisters fleeing violence and famine and welcome them to our country.
Our Congregation has been blessed with the opportunity to share our resources with a family that escaped the violence and poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A young mother and her two sons are living with our Sisters at the St. Catharine Motherhouse in Kentucky.
Christ calls us to a benevolent, generous view. Sadly, our administration has taken a scarcity view in its latest decision to limit refugees to only 30,000 in the coming year. Sadder still is the reality that this year, when there is a tremendous need for refuge for those fleeing violence and famine, fewer than half of the number of refugees allowed have been resettled in the US. Our country is diminished by the lack of those new citizens who would have brought their talents to join with our own.
Let us pray for an administration with such a narrow vision that cannot see the value and benefit of protecting those in need, and for leadership that heeds the call of Christ.
In this information age we are constantly reminded about wars in the Middle East, Africa and other places. We live in a time of what seems like endless war. But there is hope. Deaths from war related violence are decreasing. From 100,000 a year in the 90’s to 55,000 a year since the turn of the century. 180,000 people died every year from war related violence from 1950 to 1989. Of course, even one death is too many and we mourn for those people and their families. As we approach the 34th International Day of Peace, we should be encouraged that some progress has been made to bring about world peace.
At 12:00pm in every time zone this Friday, September 21, we can join millions of others by spending 10 minutes praying for peace. Praying for peace should be followed by working for peace. Part of my prayer will be to ask God to give me the strength and the courage to actively practice nonviolence in my daily life. I find inspiration from Thomas Merton who said we must never lose hope that someday our world will be a peaceful world. He called it the “work of hope”.
“The work of hope requires resisting our own violence and practicing nonviolence as best we can, then communicating to others the many nonviolent alternatives available.” (John Dear Thomas Merton Peacemaker)
As sisters and associates for Peace, let us commit to discovering and sharing new and effective nonviolence alternatives and commit each day to “Be Peace.”