A Dominican sister for 72 years, Sister Gabriella Luebbers has lived for the last 33 years at Sacred Heart Convent. Before that she taught—first elementary school and then, in high school—French. For a time, she was principal of Rosary High School in Aurora, Ill.
She says her pre-convent nursing home experience helped her feel comfortable moving back to the motherhouse in 1988 to begin her dedication to “the little things.”
Watch the full video-interview below or keep scrolling to read more about Sister Gabriella's life.
In 1948 Sister Gabriella made her first trips to the Dominican motherhouse, travelling at least twice the 90 miles from her family farm in Carlyle, Ill., to Sacred Heart Convent. Her first trip on January 6 was to witness a profession ceremony. Her second trip in early February marked her entrance into the community. She was just shy of 17.
Sister Gabriella is just one of so many of our sisters who came to religious life at a young age and gave tirelessly of themselves for decades. Your gift to our Christmas appeal supports these generous women with their needs for continued good health. Thank you!
“I didn’t have any high school,” she said. “I got my high school education at SHA [Sacred Heart Academy] after I came. The middle child of 11 born to Herman and Margaret Luebbers didn’t go to high school, nor did her older siblings, because they were farmers. “Where I lived many of the farmers’ children dropped out after eighth grade,” she explained. “No one bothered to check up on it. It was just done that way back in the 1930s and 40s.”
Remembering What Counts
Though she will tell you her memory isn’t what it used to be, Sister Gabriella remembers what counts—all the things she knows by heart: family Christmases around a warm stove and a kitchen table, singing O Holy Night at Christmas Midnight Mass, the way she learned to love and care for our sisters over more than 30 years spent doing “the little things.”
“For a long time, I was on call to accompany sisters to their appointments or to the emergency room or to their surgeries,” she said. She was also omnipresent in the convent’s laundry and sewing rooms where she went about cleaning and mending the sisters’ clothes. In fact, you could find her just about everywhere, tidying sisters’ rooms or caring for their personal needs.
Could, yes, and often, still can. Sister Gabriella is often found at the bedsides of our sisters as they near the end of their lives. She seems to know just what to say and how to comfort them. Your gift to our Christmas appeals helps make that care possible. Thank you!
“I learned a lot about the sisters during those years,” she will tell you, “and I learned to love them.”
The things she did were not little to those they helped, nor are they all in the past.
“We are so blessed here,” she says about the motherhouse. “We have so many advantages especially daily Mass and prayer time, both so important to me. I try to make a holy hour every afternoon and I pray for everyone whose asks for my prayers, for my friends, and family, and benefactors. I don’t’ move nearly as fast as I used to so it takes me a long time to do a few things.”
It may take her longer, but that does not deter her from the doing. Even though officially relieved of her helping duties, now 90, Sister Gabriella is still helpful in every way she can be. She sometimes leads prayer in chapel, is considered one of the most excellent lectors in the community, and continues to look after sisters who are less able than she to get around and care for themselves.
Still Doing “Little Things”
Last summer, just a few months after her 90th birthday, Sister Gabriella was integral to the success of a carefully choreographed move in preparation for the renovation of Regina Coeli, the skilled care facility at Sacred Heart Convent. Some sisters needed to be relocated from their rooms in Rosary Hall to accommodate the temporary presence of sisters from Regina Coeli during the renovation. It was all-hands-on-deck as every able-bodied sister in central Illinois played her part to assure a smooth transition for our very frailest sisters. There was Sister Gabriella, not receiving help, but offering it. She supervised bed-making, organized sisters’ personal belongings in their new rooms, and hitched a ride on the elevator with the maintenance crew, squeezed in among burly men and the hospital beds they were moving.
She is often found these days with her novitiate classmate Sister Angelita, 99. “She was the oldest in our class and I was the youngest,” she explained. “Now we’re the only two left.”
At an age when she could be forgiven a waning of the Christmas spirit, Sister Gabriella is as enthusiastic as ever about celebrating the Incarnation.
“I love the Christmas season because of some special memories from my childhood. Christmas morning our gifts were never wrapped but we each had a special place in the kitchen and everybody’s gifts were in that place. I remember the joy and excitement of the younger kids who still believed in Santa Claus,” she recalled.
Her memory is not as precise as it once was, but at Christmas she liked to recall this quote, a paraphrase from the Book of Wisdom: In the midst of the night the mighty Word came down from his throne.
“God sent us his special gift: himself, his love,” she explained. “Christmas is a time of love a time when we can share our love with those with whom we live, with our family. I love Christmas because it’s a time to love” she says, with sincerity and joy.
Among her favorite Christmas carols are Silent Night, which she remembers her father singing to her in German; O Holy Night, which she sang for years at the community Midnight Mass; and Love Came Down at Christmas, with lyrics by the British Victorian-era poet Christina Rosetti. The poet’s final stanza is a fitting tribute to the one who has a heart for remembering the little way of love:
Love shall be our token/Love be yours and love be mine;/ Love to God and all men,/Love for plea, and gift, and sign.
A message to our donors from Sister Gabriella. “I am very grateful to our partners in mission for all of the help they give us, for the sacrifices they probably have to make sometime, for their concern for us, and especially their concern for our sisters in retirement. Just tell them how much we all appreciate them. I would like to say thank you in the name of all the sisters who live here.”