MILWAUKEE — It was a double celebration for the Dix family, as two of the six siblings celebrated 60 years in religious life last year.
They are not twins, but they have lived parallel lives.
Raised in the Milwaukee area in a devout Catholic family, School Sister of Notre Dame Benilda Dix and Br. Richard Dix, a member of the Society of Mary, felt called to religious life while in grammar school.
It was a feeling that never left Sr. Benilda, who also celebrated her 80th birthday last year, as she grew up among priests and sisters at the family’s home parish St. John Kanty, Milwaukee. Even as a young girl, she thought about becoming a nun.
“I think the only time I wasn’t thinking about it was for a short while in my junior year of high school at St. Stanislaus, which later became Notre Dame High School,” she said. “The school was co-ed and for a while I wasn’t sure, but the feeling that God was calling me to this life got stronger during the year.”
After graduation, she entered the convent. She was 17. While she knew that her ultimate calling was to the religious life, her father wasn’t completely convinced of her intentions.
“He thought I was just going to the convent so I could get a college education and become a teacher,” she said. “But that wasn’t it. My strongest desire was to serve God and give my life to him, and teaching came along with that, but it wasn’t the reason I joined.”
At 20, Sr. Benilda professed her final vows, about the same time her younger brother Richard decided to enter the Marian Brothers novitiate.
“While I had to have two years of candidature, the Marian brothers went right into the novitiate in or just after high school,” she said. “So, although he is three years younger than me, our profession dates fell on the same week.”
Last year’s diamond jubilee was the first time in their 60 years of religious life both celebrations fell on the same day, May 2. Faced with the frustration of which celebration to attend, family members opted for a large-scale celebration Aug. 2.
“We had about 90 brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and friends celebrating with us, here where I live, at the motherhouse in Elm Grove,” said Sr. Benilda. “Richard was here for three weeks and we had such a wonderful time visiting with everyone.”
Making his home at the Marianist Residence in San Antonio, Texas, Br. Richard considers it wonderful luck that Don Bosco High School opened just as he was entering high school.
“It gave me the chance to see the Brothers of Mary in action,” he said. “I was impressed by their family spirit, especially their working together in a wonderful, joyful way. They were good teachers.”
During his sophomore year at Don Bosco, Br. Richard decided to finish his high school years at the Maryhurst postulate in St. Louis. Although he taught grade school and high school for many years, and worked as assistant principal and principal, he also served as registrar of St. Mary University in San Antonio.
“In the summer of 1995, I was recycled, that is, I was asked to go back to provincial council work as assistant for temporalities,” he said. “I did that for seven years for the St. Louis Province and then, after the reorganization of the four American provinces, I was in this position for five years in the new Province of the United States.”
After completing his term in St. Louis, Br. Richard semi-retired at the Marianist Residence, and found a new calling in an old love – physical labor.
“I finally have more time for my beloved physical work, which I have enjoyed immensely,” he said. “I used to enjoy doing work around the house on Saturdays, when I could. Now, I have all Saturdays!”
Also semi-retired, Sr. Benilda taught English and journalism for 26 years, including a dozen years teaching high school at Notre Dame High School where she secretly taught her youngest sister, Ann Haderer.
“We kept it a secret and no one knew she was my sister until she was a senior – not even my closest friends,” said Sr. Benilda. “In some ways I was harder on her than the other students because I didn’t want anyone to think I was favoring her. She is a wonderful person and we are very close.”
After her teaching career, Sr. Benilda was elected to the provincial council administration in Mequon for eight years – the same period during which her brother served on his provincial council.
“I stayed on as director of communications and worked at the motherhouse in Mequon, and after 20 more years, I cut down to just working on the newsletter,” she said. “My last five years I have been retired, but I am still in charge of the library; it is quite a job and I seem to be working harder than I did before.”
With a long and productive career behind her, Sr. Benilda has only one regret, that she didn’t make the choice to enter the convent sooner.
“It is never boring, and if you are called to this life by God, and are open to what he wants you to do, it is a very satisfying life,” she said. “Sometimes it isn’t easy, but you get so much out of it, certainly more than you give. You can’t give without getting something back.”
For Br. Richard, the feelings in response to God’s call are similar in his life.
“I am grateful and thank God for the many students who have entered my life in those first 25 years,” he said. “They have been a truly rewarding experience. However, I have also found my work in internal ministry, with the provincial council members and the men of the province, also most rewarding and enjoyable. I have never had an assignment or a community I did not like.”