ST. JOSEPH, MINN. — This was a fine week for College of Saint Benedict athletics to be largely inactive, since that allowed Sister Lois Wedl to give laser focus to her duties singing second alto in the monastery's choir as it prepared for one of its main events.
That would be an hourlong performance before Christmas Eve Mass in the Sacred Heart Chapel.
"We have been practicing very diligently,'' Sister Lois said. "Sister Janine [Mettling] is in charge of our choir, and she wants this for God's glory."
What are the favored Christmas selections?
"Oh, there's a variety, but people truly look forward to 'Stille Nacht,' " she said. " 'Silent Night' is so beautiful … and when we sing it in German, you can feel the emotion from many of our visitors.''
The Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict have had a monastery here since 1889. The college opened next to it in 1913 with six students.
There are 150-plus sisters at the monastery today, most older and retired. They share duties at the monastery and stay in contact with the students through a program called "Benedictine Friends.''
Sister Lois, now 91, has taken that friendship to the extreme, becoming officially designated as St. Benedict's No. 1 sports fan a few years back.
“The pandemic was tremendously difficult for her, because the restrictions meant she could not even attend home games. She's back now, sitting in the same seat at midcourt, by the railing, and our players love seeing her.”
To maintain that title, she rises daily at 5:30 a.m. and produces a handful of emails to more than 1,000 recipients — the daily "Peanuts'' cartoon ("I love 'Peanuts,' '' she said, giggling), an inspirational message for the day, and then updates on the St. Ben's sports teams.
"The emails are part of my morning prayer, including the stories on our great Bennies,'' she said at midweek. "Our basketball team just won the two games on their trip to Hawaii. I watched both of them online … for $10 apiece.
"They are playing very well. And they get to do some tourist things in Hawaii for a few days, while we're having a snowstorm.''
There were five daughters and then a young brother in the Wedl family in Cold Spring. The two oldest sisters, Janice and Lois, became Benedictine sisters.
Lois went directly into the monastery and graduated from the College of St. Benedict in 1953. She had various teaching duties in Catholic schools in central Minnesota and spent a decade in Puerto Rico, teaching at a monastery school.
She returned in the mid-1970s, worked within the Benedictine order, and then went to Ohio University. She was 55 when receiving a doctoral degree in counselor education.
And now it was 1986, and she came back to St. Benedict as a teacher, and one fall day, Michelle Primus raised her hand in a human development class and said, "Sister, are you coming to our volleyball game tonight?''
Taken by surprise, Sister Lois asked, ''Where is it?'' The answer was Claire Lynch Hall, leading to Wedl's next question: "Where's that?''
Claire Lynch, St. Ben's wonderful little gym, was among many additions since Sister Lois had been on campus as a 1953 graduate.
She got directions, went to the gym just to make young Michelle feel appreciated, watched the Bennies get throttled "but try so hard,'' and has been hooked on her school's athletic teams ever since.
She was a resident hall director for decades. Prior to email, and when the St. Cloud Times still had a sports staff, she would clip and Xerox stories on St. Ben's athletics from the Times, then slide them under the doors of athletes.
The emails were first sent to athletes and interested parties, and are now received daily by Bennies fans far and wide. And she's always in attendance when possible for home athletic events.
Some on the road, too.
Basketball coach Mike Durbin and Sister Lois arrived at St. Benedict the same year.
"She's always welcome on our team bus for road games,'' Durbin said. "The pandemic was tremendously difficult for her, because the restrictions meant she could not even attend home games.
"She's back now, sitting in the same seat at midcourt, by the railing, and our players love seeing her.''
Basketball might be 1A for Sister Lois, but she attends everything — including the magnificent softball/soccer, four-field complex with an adjoining facility opened in 2021 as the Sister Lois Wedl Athletic Center.
St. Benedict held a celebration marking 50 years since Title IX's passage during parents weekend in late October. Wedl gave the welcoming speech to the returning athletes.
"I talked about when I was in high school at St. Boniface in Cold Spring, and as girls we weren't given an opportunity to play any sports,'' she said. "I would go in to see Al Schaefer, the principal and basketball coach, asking for gym time, repeating 'This is not fair,' and he would say, 'It's the way it is.'
"At the celebration, seeing all those Bennies come back, our athletes now great women with great jobs, great families, great memories … I was crying with happiness.''
Laura Wendorff Meyer, the all-time leading Bennies basketball scorer and standout on the 1999 national runners-up, said:
"There's not one word to describe Sister Lois. She's the most wonderful, nurturing, caring, positive person. She was everything you need when you go to college.''
Wendorff Meyer was part of a tale so meaningful to Sister Lois that it was included in all three of our conversations this month.
The team had flown and she had ridden a fan bus the 1,315 miles to Danbury, Conn., for the 1999 Division III Final Four. The Bennies (officially Blazers then) had defeated DePauw in the semis, then lost 74-65 to dynastic Washington University (St. Louis) in the finals.
"It was a hard-fought game,'' Sister Lois said. "Our team and fans were back at the hotel, still in the lobby. Washington's players got off their bus and started walking through the doors.
"There was the team that had played well enough to take what we wanted. There was a moment of silence, and then our players started to applaud. The applause got louder. A salute to the champions.
"It was the greatest display of sportsmanship I've ever seen. I get goosebumps remembering it.''