Sister Benita Biever was certainly the star of her own birthday party – not only because it was her milestone 100th, but she also kept the crowd entertained by playing the harmonica, reciting poems, singing, and responding with quick quips to questions lobbed her way.
Her likeability even spurred a group of eight high school sophomore girls from her hometown of Tell City, Indiana, to travel to Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand to help her celebrate her big day.
Sister Mary Emma Jochum, director of religious education at St. Paul’s Parish in Tell City, annually takes the girls from her Confirmation class on a visit to the monastery. This year’s retreat, in early March, included mass, lunch with the Sisters of St. Benedict, a spiritual lesson, a tour, and a meeting with Sister Benita.
“Sister Benita absolutely entertained the girls with her poems and recitations of other sayings,” said Sister Mary Emma. “She asked them how many people were in their families, then said she was going to be 100 years old on April 10. Then she’d recite a poem again. The girls were so impressed with her, and moved by how entertaining she was. They really liked her. Afterwards, one of the girls asked me if they could come back and celebrate Sister Benita’s birthday with her. They wanted to enjoy being with her again.”
The Tell City group brought a cake and some helium balloons to Sister Benita’s party. Before the girls served the cake to Sister Benita’s family members and fellow sisters in attendance, Sister Mary Emma asked her several questions. The opening one was, “How old are you, 16 years old?” Sister Benita deftly replied, “Plus,” to applause and laughter. Sister Benita later recited a poem, sang a song, and played a harmonica. After the crowd sang Happy Birthday to her, Sister Benita sang in response, “I thank you, I do, I thank you, I do, I thank you, dear people, I thank you, I do.”
One of the Tell City girls, Grace Kreilein, said, “When we visited Sister Benita before, we just loved her so much, we thought it would be a good idea to come back and wish her a happy 100th. It’s amazing how much she remembers from her past. We’ve heard about all her brothers and sisters. And all the songs – it’s crazy how she can still play the harmonica.”
Elizabeth Kehl, also of the Tell City group, said, “Sister Mary Emma is very proud to be from the monastery. She really wanted to share her home with us, and visit Sister Benita. Sister Benita just talked non-stop about her 100th birthday, so we figured we had to make another trip to come see her.” The Tell City girls added the visit to their list of Confirmation service projects.
Sister Benita was an elementary school teacher for 36 years at various Indiana schools in Washington, Columbus, Evansville, St. Anthony, Fulda, Rockport, and Jasper. She was also a religious education teacher at St. Meinrad Parish and worked in administration and supportive services at the monastery.