Sister Maureen Griner: Making music led her to serve the poor

Liturgical master

When she left the novitiate in 1985, the leadership Council told her she could do anything she wanted. “When I left Nebraska, my priest-brother told me I needed to get a degree in liturgy. I already had the experience and hands-on qualifications,” she said. “That’s what led me to Notre Dame.”

She began attending Notre Dame University to pursue a master of arts in liturgical studies. “I thought attending Notre Dame would be a sabbatical. When I got there, I realized I was crazy, it was a lot of work.”

She was impressed by the instructors at Notre Dame. “The major author of the RCIA document, Balthasar Fischer, was one of my teachers,” she said. “I didn’t realize people were that smart.”

In 1986, Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Henderson, Ky., about a half hour from the Mount, offered her a ministry as liturgist/musician. “We had a children’s choir and an adult choir. At the same time, I was on the Diocesan Liturgy Commission, we put together wedding guidelines and oversaw major celebrations,” she said.

Being close to the Mount appealed to Sister Maureen, because in 1987 she became chairwoman of the Chapel Renovation Task Force.

The chapel was built in 1929, and renovated in 1964, but was in need of much more. “We had no place for sisters in wheelchairs, there were steps up to the altar and sanctuary,” Sister Maureen said. “The lighting was terrible, the sound was awful. During a Chapter meeting, someone said to do something about the air conditioning, then the lighting,” she said. “I said, ‘Why don’t we consider a complete liturgical renovation?’ They said, ‘You’re it.’”

The experience was traumatic. “There was so much church renovation going on that was done haphazardly, I’m sure some of our sisters were afraid,” Sister Maureen said. “A conference speaker told us that what looks like anger is really fear. We realized that if you have someone who has been sitting in the same pew for 30 years, and you move her or that pew, she might have a fear that God is not going to show up the next time she is there for prayer.”

Sister Maureen, left, served for six years on the Ursuline leadership Council, with her term ending in July. Here she is gathered with the rest of the Council, from left, Sisters Ann McGrew, Michele Morek, Cheryl Clemons, and Barbara Jean Head.

Sister Maureen credits Sister Mary Matthias Ward, then the major superior, with getting the project completed. “It always had to do with prayer, not looking nicer,” Sister Maureen said.


She left Holy Name in 1991, and spent a year as a music and liturgy consultant in Owensboro before making the move to Memphis. In 2001, her mother died at age 95.

“She taught me to never be afraid of trying something, because she was so afraid,” Sister Maureen said “She was a homemaker. My mother equated work with failure. Having to work hard was not a sign of success.”

Sister Maureen credits Sister Francesca with challenging her to “step up and take responsibility.”

She did that in a new arena in 2004 when she was elected to a six-year term on the community’s leadership Council. Her tenure on the Council will be remembered for the mergers of two communities with Mount Saint Joseph, in Belleville, Ill., and Paola, Kan., but she is also proud of the re-emphasis on core values – prayer, service, empowerment, justice, and contemplative presence, all in the spirit of Saint Angela Merici.

“I think we have yet to see the fruit of the new focus statement, but if we stay true to it, it will bear fruit eventually,” she said. “I believe it came out of the Holy Spirit. To get those core values back out, I think it will pay off down the road.”

Her responsibilities included acting as liason for the Ursuline Associates, overseeing social justice donations, and being facilitator of a quarterly focus group.

“There’s no way people can imagine what being on the Council is like,” she said. “There’s so much day to day stuff to keep the place running. That was the hardest part. I’m a dreamer, I’m always thinking ahead. To be tied down to structures like investments, that was very hard.”

Sister Michele Morek was congregational leader during those six years, and said Sister Maureen played a key role in long-range planning.

“When Sister Maureen was elected to the leadership team, someone sitting at the table behind me said, ‘Good. This leadership team will have a prophet!’ And I agreed with them, but I would add thetitle ‘catalyst,’” Sister Michele said. “In our Council meetings, Maureen had a real knack for helping us get ‘unstuck’ if we got bogged down in a problem or discussion. She would ask a key question, or turn the problem around, and jolt us into a new way of thinking about it.”

Sister Michele knew Sister Maureen was organized and creative before they served together, but she learned more in their six years together. “I learned that she alsois very compassionate, has a keen sense of justice and love for the poor, and that she has a good sense of humor and is not afraid to laugh at herself,” Sister Michele said. “During our six years togetherI felt great personal support from Maureen and will always treasure our experience of working together.”

Sister Maureen said serving as novice director and councilor teaches one how fragile and strong the community is. “You’re privy to the personal lives of the sisters. Fragility needs to be taken seriously,” she said. “You also learn the spiritual strength of people you didn’t know was there. You find out how strong and vulnerable you are. There’s grace in both of those.”

In her free time, Sister Maureen likes to read books on spirituality and spiritual leadership. She works closely with associates in Memphis, and is always on the lookout for more volunteers to help

“The reason I like to have volunteers at the Dorothy Day House is, I don’t want (the families) to think that all these good things are coming from us,” Sister Maureen said. “I want them to know that God is taking care of them.”

By Dan Heckel