Fitzgerald: ‘Write with your heart as well as your mind’


(This is dedicated to all of our wonderful teachers in Pinedale and Sublette County, with some words about my all-time favorite.)

Her eyes would always twinkle like stars behind her glasses, illuminated by love and joy and excitement.

Especially when the birds were singing. Or flowers blooming. When her day was filled with God and poetry.

"Write with your heart as well as your mind," Sister Mary Faith Schuster would tell her students with a warm smile. "Rejoice in the world around you."

Rejoice we did after meeting and learning so much from the Benedictine nun, who was slight in physical stature but huge in literary circles around the nation.

Sister Faith, who moved into her heavenly home at the age of 92, taught me how to write and so much more.

We met back in 1973, when I attended Benedictine College out of high school, before heading off to eventually graduate from Southern Illinois University. The former St. Benedict's College is located in a beautiful setting on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River just outside of Atchison, Kansas. Her beloved Mount Saint Scholastica was on the other side of town, also an idyllic location.

I decided to take Sister Faith's English class initially for a wrong reason. She only gave As and Bs for grades, which was hard to pass up at the time with my C average.

Soon I realized that the grades didn't matter. Sister Faith, who taught for more than 50 years around the world, was a rock star in the classroom.

She would suddenly close her book, walk over and open the classroom windows and we would all listen to the wind in the trees. Sometimes we would spill out of the old building and gather at a nearby garden.

“It's OK to walk on the grass,” she would always say. “We get tired of feeling cement under our feet.”

You should never kill a moth, Sister Faith instructed. It might someday be a butterfly.

She said to always carry a pen or pencil. The best writing often began on a napkin or scrap of paper, which always filled her pockets.

Sister Faith was brilliant with words. She celebrated their meaning and influence and as her obituary said “urged her students to capture the fleeting moments of insight or beauty.”

Her writing was published for more than 50 years in national and regional magazines, books and newspapers.

She co-founded the Kansas Poetry Society in 1985 and edited its “Sunflower Petals,” which gave young writers a chance to be published.

My prose on Lake Michigan was printed in it and a framed copy still hangs in my mom's living room. Sister Faith told me that she could hear the waves after reading it. I was so proud.

She believed in miracles, of course, and was part of more than one. She once told me that information for a crucial chapter in her local monastery history book “The Meaning of the Mountain” was missing. Her prayers were answered when she had a dream about that time reference.

The dream later proved to be a perfectly accurate account of what had happened many years earlier.

Sister Faith was an excellent public speaker and a champion of foreign students and minorities. She marched for peace and always had the courage to stand up against injustice.

We became friends for life and I gave her a poster on my final day at Benedictine. It was a scene from Ireland with the classic poem: “May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. The rains fall soft upon your fields. And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

She put it up on the back of her office door and often remarked about it when we wrote to each other over the years.

One time she sent me this advice: “I don't believe anything can harm us as long as we do not give in to sadness, bitterness or weakness. As long as we hold fast to faith and prayer, hard work and grateful love.”

Sister Faith published beautiful prose and poetry (just do an Internet search on her full name) and was friends with many of the nation's most prominent poets, whom she often invited to campus.

I’ll say goodbye today in words, as the tiny frozen snowflakes swirl in the late-day crimson light, framed by shiny white mountain peaks against an endless azure sky. Some of God's best work, to be sure.

Just like Sister Mary Faith Schuster, who forever touched my heart and soul with her wisdom and love and words.

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