Sister Cookie: Serving others

February 2010 Posted in People

By Kristine Thomas Sister Immaculata Tuma is famous for coffee cakes.

Sister Immaculata Tuma can say words many other people cannot.

“If I had to do my life all over again, I sure would do everything the same,” Tuma said, “I wouldn’t change a thing. I am glad I made the choices I made.”

Tuma, who is a Benedictine Sister in Mt. Angel, readily confesses her life hasn’t been easy. As a young woman, she contemplated what her decision to enter the convent would mean to her aging parents and older brothers. She considered what it would mean to quit her job at a local bakery and leave her friends.
“I also realized there comes a time you have to do what you’re meant to do regardless of how hard it is,” Tuma said.

Her faith, she said, is what has allowed her to endure the hard times and celebrate the good.

Sitting at a dining room table outside the monastery kitchen in December, Tuma said her twin brother, Jim, died Dec. 20, 2008. “God gives us the grace and help to rise above our sorrow,” she said. “My brother had a joyful funeral. From being a nun I have learned to accept God’s will and He will help us get through what happens.”

Tuma, 78, entered the order of the Benedictine Sisters in 1952. She was 21 years old. At the same time, her twin brother joined the military. “I guess there comes a time when baby birds have to leave the nest,” she said.

She grew up in Lebanon on a farm where she had a “wonderful childhood.” She is the only daughter of Jim and Lillie Tuma. Her brother, Ernie, is 90 years old and lives in Lebanon. Three brothers have died.

“I thought about becoming a nun for three years before I entered the convent,” she said.

“I just felt the Lord calling me. I believe you can fool others but you can’t fool God.”

At the monastery, she is lovingly called “Sister Cookie.” For 35 years, she was responsible for managing the kitchen and preparing meals. Now, she said, she bakes – everything from morning coffee cakes to cookies and cinnamon rolls to cream puffs. She also used to make wedding cakes, using her skills as a professional cake decorator.

Although every day is different, her day always includes prayer and work. “When you are in the convent, you just do whatever needs to be done,” she said. “Between religious life and my responsibilities, I’m busy. My religious life comes first.”

Tuma added that St. Benedict said, “’Work and prayer’ and that we grow closer to God and Christ through work and prayer.”

She enjoys making bread and cookies from scratch. Tuma has been making a buttery coffee cake since the first Mt. Angel Oktoberfest in 1966. She estimates she makes 2,000 coffee cakes a year, many sold at farmers’ markets. Every month 40 go to a hotel in Lincoln City. Tuma also does the canning at the monastery.

Her pastimes include reading, playing cards and board games and watching the Portland Trail Blazers. She enjoys prayer and the happiness she has in being a Benedictine Sister and what she has learned.

Too often people feel despair over the state of their life or the state of the world, she said. What people often don’t understand is when life is hard, that is what makes them who they are, she said.

“Everything is a test,” she said. “God wants to raise us to a higher level. When things are hard, we need to embrace them – not run away from them. God never gives us anything we can’t handle.”

She hopes 2010 is a good year. She knows whatever it brings she’s not alone. “God is always there for us,” she said. “I’ve learned you take what comes your way. You can’t change it.”

Instead, she said, you are thankful for the grace and perseverance God gives you.
“I couldn’t be happier with my life and serving God,” she said.

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