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St. Benedict Monastery, Bristow, VA

Sister Cecilia Dwyer during 125th celebration Sister Cecilia Dwyer offers a reflection during 125th celebration Mass

What a grace-filled year it has been thus far!


Our celebrations in honor of our 150th foundation in the Commonwealth of Virginia continued with three final events. In March, forty-six Benedictine and Cistercian friends from twelve communities joined us for a day of camaraderie, keynoted by Sister Ephrem Hollerman of St. Benedict Monastery, St. Joseph MN. Sister Ephrem gifted us with a beautiful and inspiring presentation entitled “And God Saw That It Was Good – In Honor of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia.” A celebratory dinner and social followed; the atmosphere was absolutely electric with joy and pride in our shared Benedictine heritage and thanksgiving for our continued journey.

All Benedictine Celebration: left to right Sister Colleen Quinlivan, Sister Cecilia Dwyer, Sister Ephrem Hollerman, Sister Charlotte Lange All Benedictine Celebration: left to right Sister Colleen Quinlivan, Sister Cecilia Dwyer, Sister Ephrem Hollerman, Sister Charlotte Lange
Sister Lynn Marie helps to set up for the picnic Sister Lynn Marie helps to set up for the picnic

Friday, May 3rd and Saturday, May 4th were dedicated to the closing of our 150th Jubilee Year and the commemoration of our 125 years of establishment in Bristow. On Friday we welcomed former members of our community with a social full of story-telling, remembrances, food and the renewing of friendships. Saturday, May 4th was a beautiful, blue-sky day – a gift from God for the 125th Anniversary Mass and Picnic. Held outdoors on the grassy circle in front of the monastery, over 300 invited guests joined the sisters in thanksgiving for their history and continued presence in Northern Virginia. Bishop Michael Burbidge (Diocese of Arlington, VA) was the celebrant, with music lead by our Linton Hall School Choir and Oblates Debby Fancher and Lisa Fusco. The Knights of Columbus George Brent Council fed the joy-filled and hungry crowd who gathered at tables in our picnic grove after Mass. And everywhere our wonderful Oblates reflected true Benedictine hospitality as they attended to whatever need was at hand. We are, indeed, so very blessed by our God!

(l to r) Sisters Mary Clark, Kathleen Persson, Andrea Westkamp, Joanna Burley, Henry Marie Zimmermann, Lisbeth Cruz (l to r) Sisters Mary Clark, Kathleen Persson, Andrea Westkamp, Joanna Burley, Henry Marie Zimmermann, Lisbeth Cruz

In July, Sister Joanna Burley was installed as the 11th prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia in a public ceremony. Out-going prioress Sister Cecilia Dwyer presided over the monastic rite, with Rev. Raymond Studzinski, OSB, pronouncing the blessing of the Church. An interesting ritual for the Bristow Community is the turning of the ring during the installation. Our prioresses wear the community ring with the “IHS” facing away from the body; all other members have the letters facing towards themselves. During the installation, Sister Cecilia removed Sister Joanna’s ring and replaced it facing outward – a symbol of the commitment of the prioress to others. Sister Cecilia then turned her own ring inwards, a symbolic action of the transfer of leadership. Sister Cecilia (28 years) and Sister Andrea Verchuck (12 years) have served as prioresses of the Bristow community since 1979, so this election is a truly life-changing event for all of us. Joining Sister Joanna is Sister Andrea Westkamp, sub-prioress, and sisters Henry Marie Zimmerman, Lisbeth Cruz, Mary Clark, and Kathleen Persson on the monastic council.

Young volunteers for Ora et Labora program (l to r) Rachel, Madison, and Dabney

This summer, three young ladies from Saint Gertrude High School spent a week with us in our “Ora et Labora” program. Developed by Sister Andrea Westkamp, the week enables high school girls to learn first-hand about Benedictine life in community, prayer, and ministry. In a short time, the sisters and the girls formed bonds of friendship and respect that are already leading to more events!

Rendering of new monastery Rendering of new monastery

Finally, our plans for a new monastery are moving forward! We currently have raised just over 75% of our Capital Campaign goal; the sale of some of our land is nearing finality, banks and contractors have been chosen, and the day of ground-breaking we expect to celebrate early this fall. Please pray for us!

Monasterio Pan de Vida, Torreon, Mexico

This past year has been a busy and blessed time for us at Monasterio Pan de Vida.   After many years without much change on the diocesan level, we are now adapting to a new bishop and a new pastor. That of course has meant greater involvement for us in parish and diocesan activities. 

As a community we have become actively involved in the protection of children, youth and vulnerable adults within the Catholic Church.  This has led us to accompany survivors of sexual molestation at CEDIMSE (St. Scholastica Center for the Development of Women) and develop protocols for their protection in the institutions that we sponsor.  Lizeth has been advising and advocating for the interests of a group of seminarians and ex-seminarians who have been victims of abuse.


This past spring we did some major repair work in the monastery and our formation house as a result of some minor flooding last September.  In spite of the fact that Torreon is a semi-desert, we have a lot of salt-peter in the soil and when we have excessive rain, it flourishes and eats right through the walls!

Sister Mariana baking pecan rolls in Atchison Sister Mariana baking pecan rolls in Atchison

Mariana spent three months with our sisters at Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas and returned home with a knowledge and love our monastic roots and her English language skills much improved.  This past year she has studied Canon Law for Religious online with the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia.  She also participated in a Seminar with more than a hundred other lawyers here in Torreon to study Alternative Solutions for Conflict Resolution.  She has been invited to work part time at the Diocesan Ecclesiastical Tribunal.  She is again coordinating a great group of local young adults who sponsor a summer program for more than 100 children.

Sister Rafaela with three Oblates Sister Rafaela with three Oblates

Lizeth is completing her Masters degree in therapeutic hypnosis and brief strategic therapy. Her expertise is put to good use at our Center.


Maricarmen, besides fulfilling the challenging role of prioress, continues to serve on the Theological Advisory Board to the Presidency of the CLAR (Latin American Confederation of Religious).   Although this brings extra travel and work for her, it is very stimulating and keeps us in touch with the broader Church issues in the Spanish speaking world.  She continues to take time to travel to visit her aging mother in Culiacán, Sinaloa. 


We all take our turn as “porters of the monastery”, but nobody does it as often or as well as Michele who truly embodies the spirit of Chapter 66 of the Rule,  as she  responds “with all gentleness  and provides a prompt answer with the warmth of love” to young and old, poor and rich alike.    She also continues to accompany our oblates in their ongoing formation.


Rafaela has become very active in Sacred Heart parish in downtown Torreon, at the same time that she continues to serve in vocation ministry at the Monastery and spiritual accompaniment at CEDIMSE.

Ruth receives the community's blessing Ruth receives the community's blessing

Patricia keeps busy as sub-prioress and formation director.  She goes to Mexico City at least once a month to lend a hand at the Benedictine schools there.


Mechtild stays healthy and enjoys participating in community prayer, meals and recreation.  She is always a welcoming presence in our community.


On June 16th, the Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity, at second vespers Ruth Quezada began her postulancy.  Ruth, who is from our parish, had been journeying with the community for the past year and a half and has been a catechist at our Center.   


Summertime brings opportunities for initial and ongoing formation and this summer is no exception.   


Ruth and Alejandra will be in Mexico, City, studying Biblical Spirituality at the Pontifical University.


Mariana and Lizeth will be attending a Monastic Formation Workshop in Guatemala organized by ABECCA (The Benedictine-Cistercian Association of the Caribbean and the Andes).  On her return Mariana will join the Mexican Benedictine Cistercian Union for another gathering. 


Patricia and Maricarmen will be attending a Formation Congress in Lima, Peru in August focused on Dreaming and Opening New Pathways for Religious Life. 


We continue to be blessed by many generous oblates and friends who call us to be true monastic women for this time and place and who make it possible for us to do the things we do and reach out to people in many ways.   We gratefully hold them in prayer.   

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