Carmel In The News
Sr. Lynne Elwinger, O.C.D.
Sister Lynne Therese Elwinger is the new prioress for the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Eldridge. She is pictured with Bishop Martin Amos.
BY BARB ARLAND-FYE
ELDRIDGE — Sister Lynne Therese Elwinger smiles when she says God's sneaky ways brought her to the Carmelite Monastery where she serves as the newly elected prioress of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns.
Bishop Martin Amos confirmed her election April 24 during Mass at the monastery; it's the top leadership position in her community, and one she couldn't have imagined in her former, secular life.
Raised a Methodist in small town Pennsylvania , she became an Episcopalian as an adult and later converted to Catholicism. Sensing a need for a retreat, she scanned a listing in the National Catholic Reporter and found an advertisement for one at the Carmelite Monastery. The ad, however, was intended for women who might be interested in a vocation to the religious life. It had been inadvertently listed with retreats, Sr. Elwinger recalls.
She took three weeks off from her post as a nurse working on a Hopi reservation in Arizona to go on "retreat" in Iowa .
It was not her intention to join a religious community, but that's what "sneaky God" had in mind, she observes. "I felt called to come here, I felt called to give it a try."
Looking back, she sees God had been dropping subtle hints all along.
A few months before participating in the retreat, she had gone shopping with a friend to Albuquerque, N.M. While in a Catholic bookstore there, she picked up a copy of a book on Teresa of Avila, who founded the Discalced Carmelite Nuns. At the time, "I don't know why that book attracted me," Sr. Elwinger says.
After returning from retreat, obstacles that seemed to stand in the way of her being able to return to the Carmelite Monastery were overcome through the grace of God. She needed a credit card for transportation expenses, but previously hadn't been able to obtain one because she didn't purchase items on credit. Suddenly she received two offers for credit cards from a nurse’s organization and her insurance company. Other small graces occurred that helped her to see it was all in God's hands.
She entered the Carmelite community in 1990 and six years later professed her final vows.
"She has many leadership qualities," observes Sister Mary Jo Loebig, OCD, who preceded Sr. Elwinger as prioress. "She's a people person ... she's very insightful, she has a different way of seeing things."
While Sr. Elwinger occasionally misses her nursing career, she keeps her license active and has had the opportunity to practice her skills in her religious community, she says.
Her whole life had been spent in ministry-oriented work — serving as a U.S. Navy nurse, working in public health in Washington, D.C., volunteering with the Peace Corps in Chile, and working as a nurse on Indian reservations.
But she came to a point where she felt as if she were plugging one hole in the dike while other holes flooded around her.
"It seemed the only way to address the ongoing issues was through prayer," she reflects.
"I think that's what attracted me to this lifestyle," she says of the Carmelite's apostolate, which focuses on prayer.
The Sisters participate in daily Mass and pray in community and privately. They distribute altar bread to parishes in and outside the Davenport Diocese for income, and also do the household chores and gardening at the monastery, maintain a Web site and produce a quarterly journal titled "Journey and the Joy!" A neighbor grows hay on two acres of the Sisters' 10-acre property and they receive help with mowing the lawn.
Theirs is a small community — eight professed Sisters and one novice; they welcome others to consider joining them. "That whole aspect for most communities is a little challenging," she says.
But rather than thinking it is solely up to the religious community to bring in more vocations, "we actually need to rely on God. We need to let God make it happen."
Society is so oriented to the work people do, she notes. But the real work "is growing our spirits and being in service to one another."
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