Sister Helenette Baltes and Sister Pat Ostrander have been close friends for over 63 years. Several times I have sat with them to witness their beautiful expression of love, searching and writing poetry. Helenette, though unable to write—at almost 104—is full of poetry and surprises that Pat catches as she sits eagerly waiting—though without pressure—for the lines she hears and records about topics chosen by Helenette. Recently, S. Helenette chose to speak about death. It was July 14. She wrote, in part:
We should not worry about death
Our future lives should be beyond this.
By being with, seen and loved by God
we will feel more than in this life!…
Pat, we know what we’ve had
we still will. What God has put together
can never be separated. You will keep feeling
the fullness of God. Tears now, just thinking of separating
but we must go to God to be together in the next life.
Thank you for so tenderly loving me
Thank you for teaching me to pray in the space
between the Son and the Spirit on Rublev’s icon.
What’s this? I’m falling asleep even now.
“At first,” says S. Pat, “she didn’t warm up to my suggestion that, being right-brained, she had poetic wisdom within her. But gradually Helenette liked the experience of the quiet, contemplative discovery of a poem developing within her and she would come to my room to suggest a topic—sometimes humorous like ‘Piggly Wiggly’ or liturgical like ‘Easter or ‘Pentecost’ or topics like ‘Gratitude’ or—as she did on July 14—‘death,’ although she added, ‘but you’ll have to pull it out of me! That’s the way it is with me: God does everything for me. I really don’t need many words. My heart and my breath praise Him. Amen. That’s it!’”
Both Pat and Helenette realize that “a faithful friend is a treasure.” They have known it all their lives, but now it has reached a different level, a different quality, with poetry. Sister Monica Mai, too, has always experienced S. Helenette as a wisdom figure within her life, as far back as their walking to school, day after day—Helenette as a music teacher and Monica as a senior in high school. They walked across the bridge, feeling so comfortable with one another, no need for words! And Sister Marlene Schwinghammer, dean at Saint Scholastica Convent, with tears in her eyes, attests to the supreme value of what she has experienced in S. Pat and S. Helenette’s presence: “I can see that many of our older sisters would profit from this process of culling and recording the poetry and/or the wisdom gained over their 89, 94 or 104 years of abundant life. How can we continue what you have started?”
Renée Domeier, OSB