5+ minutes with Sister Anita Brenek, C.D.P.
September 4, 2012
HOUSTON — Sister Anita Brenek is a sister of the Congregation of Divine Providence based in San Antonio, Texas. She is the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s new Associate Director in the Office of Vocations. After serving for 12 years as her Congregation’s formation director, she was ready for a change.
Current projects that she is working on, alongside the others on staff in the Office of Vocations, are:
• The “InSight” program for high school girls;
• Follow-up from the “Vengan y Vean” and “Life Awareness” retreats;
• Re-organizing the women’s section of the monthly “Discover” program;
• Meeting and planning with the area vocation directors;
• Getting to know and building relationships with the Serra Clubs and their members, with the priests of the Archdiocese, with parish vocation committees and the seminarians;
• Support for seminarians.
Sister Brenek said she only began thinking of becoming a sister toward the end of her senior year in high school. She is from a family of nine children, growing up on a small family farm outside of Temple, Texas. They belonged to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Cyclone, Texas, and her family later moved to Westphalia, Texas, both near Temple and in the Diocese of Austin.
“I had attended public school all 12 years since we had no Catholic school in the rural area where we lived,” she said. “I had catechism for two hours every Saturday morning during the school year, with the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament who were teaching in Temple and went to Cyclone each Saturday to teach catechism.”
She said the greatest influence on her call to religious life, however, was her family’s faith life.
“We attended catechism and Mass weekly, we prayed at home daily, and my parents lived a good moral life,” she said. “God was an important part of our family life. After high school at the end of the 1960s, when my peers were rebelling and experimenting with new freedoms in life, I wanted to find a way to continue the values and faith life that was so significant for me. Thus, I decided to check out religious life. When I entered, I found out much more about it than I had known from my previously limited exposure to it. ‘And the rest is history,’ as the saying goes.”
Sister Brenek has lived the vowed life for 42 years.
“One of the significant realities of religious life that I did not know before entering was the value of the community life,” she said. “Already the very first evening in the convent, I observed the relationships among the postulants as a reality that was akin to my experience of having grown up in a close-knit family. The other even more significant reality that I truly treasure is the continuous growth in my relationship with God. I quickly and over time learned to relate to God and trust in His providence in ways that my more narrow views and exposure from childhood and family had allowed. What a wealth was unfolding before me and deep within me. Of course, I also later realized my siblings were also growing in their faith and prayer lives, but for me, this was my reality and how it unfolded for me.”
TCH: How would you define ‘vocation’?
Sister Brenek: I sincerely believe all of us have a vocation by nature of our baptism, or more accurately, even by our creation in the image and likeness of God. We are all called to grow more and more into the fullness of God — the call to holiness. Of course, we have different ways of getting there, and that is also vocation. In my congregation’s constitution, we say, “All Christians, by their baptism, are consecrated to God and to the mission of Jesus. The vowed life is our expression of this consecration, characterized by a permanent commitment to live with one another, in a radical way, the gospel counsels of poverty, celibacy, and obedience.” This is how I am striving toward holiness, through my vows with the Congregation of Divine Providence. And I see my siblings and the many people with whom I’ve ministered as striving toward the same goal through their married life and with their families, some through their dedicated single life, all growing in age and wisdom into the fullness of God. All of us, in our own ways, are also called to help others in this journey, and to journey together, not alone. This is vocation — priesthood, consecrated religious life, sacramental marriage, the dedicated single life — focused toward growing in the call to holiness, community, and the mission of Jesus. We are all called.
TCH: What do you do for fun?
Sister Brenek: I like gardening. I like turning the soil over, planting seeds and then waiting to see the first sprouts break through the cracks they create. I like watching for the first bloom and then the first fruit of the vine. I enjoy sharing the harvest with others. I enjoy historical novels, traveling, and just sitting and visiting with my good [congregation] friends. I am closely connected with my family and am rejuvenated by visits with them. I like the Czech polkas and waltzes and the country-western music at my family’s weddings. Life holds many delights.
TCH: What would others find surprising about you?
Sister Brenek: Maybe two things: the size of my family and my Grand Canyon hikes. We now number above 80 at our Brenek Family Christmas, and that’s just my siblings and their descendants. Yes, I do know them all by name and each is precious to me. I lived in Arizona for three years and became enamored [with] the Grand Canyon. Over the years, I have been able to hike into it about eight times, with various sisters, family members, and friends, always captivated by the size and colors, the passage of time and expenditure of energy (to get back to the top!). It was exciting to have a first-timer on each hike and watch them take in the experience.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and look forward to the blessings that will unfold in this phase of my life.