This week, Sister Elaine Fischer, OSB, who is director of maintenance for the Benedictine Sisters of Atchison, takes Leaven readers inside her ministry.
Q. What is your title and where do you minister?
A. I am a member of the Benedictine monastery of Mount St. Scholastica. I am the director of maintenance for our campus and buildings.
Q. How would you describe what you do not as a Sister, but as the maintenance director for the Mount?
A. I direct and oversee the day-to-day operations of our facilities; and oversee and schedule preventative maintenance and as-needed repairs of buildings, grounds and associated systems and equipment. I supervise and work with our maintenance staff and solicit bids and work with various contractors. I work closely with our monastery leadership in future planning of our campus and buildings.
We have done various energy audits to help us determine how to save energy costs, and in the past several years, we have been updating our heating system to high-efficient boilers and changed most of our lighting over to LED. We have also invested in solar panels to provide a small portion of our electricity.
Q. How would you describe how your work to maintain the Sisters’ buildings, plant and campus fit into the larger mission of the Catholic Church?
A. The mission of the Catholic Church is carry out and continue the work of Jesus Christ, share the word of God, help those in need and live as example. So, I try to approach every situation in my work with the “golden rule” and try to treat everyone and everything with dignity and respect.
Q. Is this what you set out to do in life?
Not really, but from an early age, I knew I wanted to help people, to work with my hands and stay connected to the land.
Q. If not, what road led you to this place?
A. Growing up on a farm, working the land and caring for animals with my family. On the farm, we learned to be self-sufficient and used creative problem-solving. I think those gifts and abilities are a part of who I am and when I entered the community, the gifts were recognized and further cultivated.
For example, I was given the opportunity to make the furniture for the bedrooms in Dooley Center (nursing center). We looked at buying various items, but had trouble finding items made of good material and construction. So, over a year, I made a dresser, night stand, vanity and wardrobe for 46 bedrooms.
It was a lot of work, but a real privilege to make those items for our Sisters to use.
Q. Did you collect some skills from other jobs along the way that have proved surprisingly applicable? If so, explain.
A. I worked as a firefighter/EMT in Atchison for seven years. The ability to assess a situation and see what needs to be done quickly was further developed in my work at the fire station. The ability to listen and care for people when life is most challenging was expanded along with the deep sense of the dignity of all people and the stewardship of personal property.
Q. What would the average Catholic be most surprised to learn about your job?
A. People might be surprised about the variety my job entails. I can do something as ordinary as taking out the garbage to working with our honeybees, mopping up a flood to participating in a meeting about corporate compliance for our licensed care facility. Every single day is different.
Q. Who does your ministry primarily serve?
A. The members of my monastic community and our sponsored ministries, such as our spirituality center (Sophia Center).
Q. What do you wish everybody knew about your ministry?
A. It is a tremendous privilege to work with our employees, contractors and my community members and to be a good steward of all the gifts God has blessed our community with.
Q. Why does the world need more of what you’re offering, do you think? Especially right now?
A. I think the world needs to ponder the line from the Rule of St. Benedict on treating all things as vessels of the altar. That statement for me is how I try to approach life. All things — ranging from people, animals, down to basic hand tools you use in the garden — all things have intrinsic value, need to be honored and treated with gentle hands and great respect.
Q. What have you learned about people in this job?
A. Every day, I am deeply impressed by people’s willingness to help each other and their ability to deal with each other’s less polished edges. Some days we are better at this than others, but we continue to try and forgive each other.
Q. What have you learned about yourself?
A. I absolutely love new challenges and finding different ways to deal with the daily issues in the world of maintenance. I enjoy the variety and continue to find myself in awe of God’s creative and transforming presence in my life and my community.
Q. How has it changed the way you view your identity as a Catholic?
A. I don’t think the ministry has so much changed my identity as a Catholic as it has deepened my Catholic faith in the sense of recognizing the inherent dignity of all people and the wonder of the interconnectedness of all creation.