Mother Mary Paula Hannah, O.Cist., first American prioress of the Valley of Our Lady Monastery died Friday, Feb. 19, 2016.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at Valley of Our Lady Monastery.
Mother Paula was born Genevieve Mildred Hannah to Rose (Hetzel) and Maurice Hannah in Belle Fourche, S.D., on July 24, 1935. The sixth of nine children, Mother Paula was blessed with keen intelligence and a quick wit.
At the age of nineteen, she entered Sacred Heart Monastery, a Benedictine community in Yankton, S.D.; but before professing final vows, she discerned a call to the newly founded Valley of Our Lady Monastery (then known as St. Ida’s convent). Living with the six Swiss foundresses, Mother Paula learned the Cistercian monastic way of life and helped the small community transition from a Swiss-based to an American-based culture. She was elected in 1978 as the first American prioress of the monastery, a role she would fill until 2005.
As the foundresses returned one by one to Switzerland, Mother Paula continued to form the new community in faith and religious obedience, guiding it skillfully through the turbulent years that followed Vatican Council II. In the early 2000’s, Mother Paula began noticeably to decline from Alzheimer’s disease, a condition she learned to accept with grace and good humor.
After resigning from the office of prioress, she continued to teach classes based on St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae; she never tired of reminding her students that “All that really matters is that we get to heaven.” And to the end, she persevered in teaching all her Sisters how to abandon oneself completely to God.