All in the family: Rhineland family had four children who pursued a religious vocation
RHINELAND — Berta Pilkington still remembers the happy commotion that always surrounded her aunts’ visits to the family farm in Rhineland.
Members of the Order of St. Benedict (the Benedictines), Sister Martha Loran and Sister Andrea Loran were permitted to leave St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas once a year for a two-week vacation. The break from routine was spent at the cotton farm in rural North Texas where their parents, Bertha and Liberatus Loran, raised 11 children.
“It was so much fun,” enthused Pilkington, remembering how her father, along with aunts, uncles, and cousins would gather at her grandparents’ home to greet them. “It was like a big family reunion.”
Dressed in the white coif and black veil of the Benedictines, her aunts would roll up the sleeves of their habit, don an apron, and help can vegetables in the kitchen.
The Lorans were part of the first wave of settlers to establish homesteads in the heavily German-Catholic town of Rhineland located in the rolling plains of North Texas. Founded in 1895 by Father Joseph Reisdorff, a native of the Rhine province of Germany, the township flourished around its hub — St. Joseph Catholic Church. Known as “the cathedral in the cotton field,” the country parish marked its 125th anniversary in 2020.
Part of St. Joseph’s legacy is the wealth of vocations that came from one of the parish’s charter families. Of the Loran’s 11 children, three girls entered the convent (daughter Ruth left after several years) and their youngest son, Vincent, professed vows as a Benedictine monk later in life after marrying and having two children. Given the name Brother Eric by his community, the former air traffic controller became the first monk named prior of Subiaco Abbey in 1991 and served in several other leadership roles before his death in 2016. The Rhineland native once said he was “Benedictine at heart” from childhood having grown up in a parish staffed by Benedictine priests and sisters.
“They were kind, loving, soft-spoken people,” said Mary Denise Groves describing the aunts and uncle who answered the call to religious life. Groves is the last remaining Loran cousin living in Rhineland and the secretary/bookkeeper at St. Joseph Parish. She credits her grandparents’ devout faith for inspiring vocations in their children.
Many of the Loran first cousins found their Benedictine relatives had an effect on their lives beyond religion. Sr. Martha spent most of her ministry caring for the sick in local hospitals.
“Sr. Martha was a nurse and that influenced me to become a registered nurse,” explained Beth Arnold, who is now assistant director of the nursing program at Vernon College and a Eucharistic minister at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Wichita Falls.
Brother Eric also kept in touch with his many nieces and nephews and, as the father of a daughter and son, he returned to Texas often to see them.
“It was an unusual thing for a Brother to have children,” admitted Renee Tielkemeier, explaining how her father retreated to the abbey shortly after her parents’ divorce when he was 35. “He once told me his mother always wanted him to have a religious life, and ‘God gets what God wants.’ It was a great life for him. He loved it.”
Tielkemeier grew up in Grapevine where she still attends Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. As a teenager, her first visit to Subiaco was in 1976 to watch her father profess final vows.
“I fell in love with Subiaco and continue to visit the abbey three or four times a year,” she said. “It’s definitely deepened my faith and appreciation for Catholic traditions.”
Each journey to Arkansas includes a stop to visit her father’s last surviving sibling, Sr. Andrea. After a lifetime of working as a dietician at Catholic hospitals and helping manage the Hesychia House of Prayer operated by her religious community, the 94-year-old sister is retired and lives at a health and rehabilitation facility in Fort Smith, Arkansas. A voracious reader, she is valued by other residents of the home for her easy-going, gentle presence and quiet sense of humor.
“My aunt is so charming and still has a good memory,” Tielkemeier commented. “When we visit, she likes to talk about family history.”
Sr. Andrea shared some of those memories with the North Texas Catholic via email.
The third youngest Loran daughter entered St. Scholastica Monastery in 1946 when she was 18 years old. Her much older sibling, Martha, who joined the order 10 years earlier, died in 1994.
“I just felt the call in my heart. I just knew I wanted to be a Sister,” Sr. Andrea said, explaining why she entered the convent.
A skilled cook, she worked in the monastery kitchen and later at St. Joseph Orphanage in North Little Rock, Arkansas, before taking summer courses offered by the Catholic Hospital Association to become a certified dietician.
“There was a shortage of dieticians in the 1960s,” Sr. Andrea continued. “It was a wonderful program, and I enjoyed the work.
Helping people stay healthy by providing nutritional food was a valuable ministry, but she cites “beautiful prayers” as the most rewarding aspect of her years as a religious sister.
“Prayer has always been important to me,” Sr. Andrea added. “I like to sing the [Divine] Office and the Mass and used to sing Gregorian chant. I just live life and enjoy it.”
Rita Mooney, the Loran family historian and Queen of Peace parishioner, said her religious aunts and uncle had a positive effect on everyone.
“There was a goodness and kindness about them that radiated throughout their brothers and sisters and the rest of the family,” she asserted. “It was always a joy to see and talk with them.”
Today it’s rare to find multiple vocations coming from one family, and the Wichita Falls resident thinks she knows why.
“The Lorans grew up in a different era and in a community that lived the Catholic way of life,” Mooney observed. “Our family had that devotion and religiosity ingrained in them.”