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What’s in a Name?
…For the Benedictine Sisters of Baltimore of Emmanuel Monastery,
there’s tradition, community, ministry, identity and prophecy.
First and foremost though, there is an experience of God who is always with us
and a commitment to help others know of this loving God, Emmanuel!
It seems fitting for Emmanuel Monastery to be writing this article for the December Federation Newsletter. This is the season of Emmanuel, God’s promise to be with us, always. Even though our foundation as a monastery goes back to 1971, this name was not chosen- or had not chosen us- until 1978, when we sought independent membership in the Federation of St. Scholastica. As a group, we had spent many hours, and had a number of discussions attempting to come up with a name that seemed to fit, and we got nowhere. We were “down to the wire.” We needed a name if we were to be an independent monastery. During a break in our discussions one weekend, we were conversing with the parents of one of our sisters who happened to be staying with us at the time. They pointed to the bible in the guest area which just happened to be opened to Isaiah’s prophesy of a child to be born who was to be named Emmanuel! (Isaiah 7:14) This is how we wrote about that “coincidence” years later in a community newsletter from 1990.
Names are significant. They give us identity and help us to know who we are. They also help to identify us to others. Very often, names shape who we become…. As the community regathered to prayerfully reflect on a suitable name for our home and our community, we realized that our beginnings had the markings of an Exodus experience – being called by God to go forth into an unknown promised land. We were a pilgrim people on a journey. It seemed so appropriate that we should identify ourselves by our communal experience of God: Emmanuel, God With Us! In that choice of name, we were telling ourselves and others who God had been for us. Perhaps we were not as aware at the time that God was also telling us who we were to become for others.
As we reflected together on our critical junctures in preparation for the Federation Chapter this past June, we realized even more, that when we as a community faced those critical times in discerning and faithful ways, our God, Emmanuel, was so present to us, constantly shaping us in trust and hope. We actually had “become” Emmanuel, a presence of God always with us! What a humbling and amazing, grace-filled realization!
Each year, on December 23rd as we pray the O Antiphon, “O Emmanuel…” we celebrate our community feast…who we are and who we have become. We gather in the darkened library, before an unlit fire in the fireplace. As we welcome the coming of light in the physical world at the winter solstice, we pray for the Light to come into our hearts and the heart of the community. The kindling for the fire is our individual prayer…slips of paper where we write those things within us that need to be handed over to the Light who is Emmanuel. We bless the fire and process into the chapel carrying that light as we light the Advent Candles and begin our Evening Prayer.
Both our Vision Weaving and our Mission Statement end with the prayer that we might be Emmanuel in our world. That prayer took on “flesh” in a very real way during Christmas week of 2010. We were blessed to experience our own “Christmas Story” (which many of you know) when Sara, a young pregnant woman seeking asylum was in need of housing. She, her son Amin born on January 6, 2011, and now her husband, Mohsin, reunited 3 years ago, and their daughter, Sakina who just turned 2, are a steady part of our lives. AWE (Asylee Women Enterprise) which came from this experience and in collaboration with other communities of women religious, is now an independent outreach helping hundreds of women, children and families as they seek safety for their lives. We have become connected to our Muslim brothers and sisters in this geographic area and have both shared and experienced the gift of hospitality and we continue to collaborate with other communities and outreach opportunities as we welcome the stranger into our midst. It is not unusual to find one of our oblates or sisters tutoring our Afghan friends in the English language and/or preparation for GED exams in our library or dining room on any given morning.
Programs offered at the monastery now include many of our oblates as presenters and co-facilitators. Some programs are co-sponsored with other groups in the Baltimore area. All offer opportunities to explore and experience the gifts of Benedictine Spirituality. Art, music, poetry, the Rule of Benedict and its values are incorporated in all offerings. Our geographic proximity to Washington, DC has led us to offer prayer services here at the monastery when large marches addressing social concerns are being held. This offers those who cannot physically be part of such events, a way to participate, and can draw numbers in excess of 60 people on a Saturday morning. Some of our sisters regularly participate in the Prayer Walks in Baltimore City inaugurated by Bishop Denis Madden. We regularly host a poetry group; various gatherings of ministers, staffs and personnel from surrounding churches and religious communities; offer opportunities for days of prayer and private or directed retreats and, as Benedict quotes in his Rule, “the monastery is never without guests.”
All of the above, and a deepening commitment to social justice and peace are part of our DNA. Hospitality is undoubtedly the gift we share and the gift that has been so nurtured through the blessing our name, Emmanuel.
May the blessing of Emmanuel, our God always with us,
be yours in this Advent/Christmas season, and all your days.
The first Benedictine women in America arrived in the United States in 1852 from Saint Walburg's Convent in Eichstatt, Bavaria and settled in Saint Mary's Pennsylvania. A house was opened in
Newark, NJ, in 1857. Seven years later the Reverend Henry Lemke, Pastor of Saint Michael's Parish in Elizabeth, requested and received sisters of the Newark community to teach the
predominantly German children of Saint Michael's. On September 29, 1864, three Benedictine Sisters, the first sisters of any community to live in the city of Elizabeth, New
Jersey, began classes for 72 children.
In 1868, the Elizabeth sisters became an independent community with Sister Walburga Hock as their first prioress. A year later the new community moved from Saint Michael's parish to a new Saint Walburga Convent built by Father Lemke on Magnolia Avenue. In 1923 the community moved to its present site on North Broad Street and is now known as The Benedictine Sisters of Elizabeth at Saint Walburga Monastery.
To celebrate our 150th anniversary year, we opened on November 19, 2017 with a Mass and special dinner joined by our Benedictine Sisters from Baltimore and Ridgely, MD, Bristow, VA and Erie, PA.
In February Benedictine monks from three NJ houses and other local clergy joined us for Vespers and Dinner. February also provided prayer and a brunch for our employees and a Lenten Reflection by our Archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Tobin. In March we invited our Oblates and Academy Advisory Board for Vespers and dinner and in April we celebrated with our former Sisters.
In May we traveled to New York to celebrate with our two mission houses there. Women religious from other congregations joined us for the Feast of St. Benedict in July and over a hundred visitors came for an Open House in October. A special Remembrance Ceremony was held on the Feast of All Saints for our deceased sisters. As the year concludes on November 19, 2018, family and friends-like-family will join us for our closing Mass and a festive dinner. It has been a full and fruitful year to remember!
The work of the Sisters expanded and changed from its original mission to German immigrants. At various points in our 150 year history the community has had mission houses in New Jersey, New York, Washington, DC, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Ecuador. At present our community ministers within New York and New Jersey.
Benedictine Center for Spirituality
Benedictine Center for Spirituality offers an oasis in the city. It is a place to be apart, to enjoy the peace of a monastic atmosphere and the warmth of Benedictine community at Saint Walburga Monastery. Through the Center we hope to share the spiritual resources of the monastery with those seeking a deeper relationship with God. The Center invites others to join in the listening to God through retreats, spiritual direction, daily Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours with the sisters.
Benedictine Academy, a Catholic college preparatory high school in Elizabeth, New Jersey, founded by the Benedictine Sisters, educates young women to be responsible leaders of the 21st century. Focusing on academic growth and character formation in the Benedictine tradition, the Academy challenges students to become life-long learners who are intellectually curious, rooted in the gospel and committed to justice and integrity.
Combining Catholic values with their belief in the necessity for quality preschool education, the Benedictine Sisters established the Benedictine Preschool in 1996.
Benedictine Preschool promotes, expects and encourages kindness and love, respect, integrity and service to others. It strives to develop well-rounded students by encouraging the cognitive, social, physical and spiritual growth of every child, through a process oriented, developmentally appropriate program. It is a state licensed preschool, awarded 4 stars through the state’s quality rating improvement system, Grow NJ Kids.
At St. Walburga Monastery, Oblates meet once a month. Meetings are open to anyone. Those who make the commitment of Oblation formalize their intention to live the Gospel values found in the Rule, and they share in the spiritual life of the community. Oblates do not live in the monastery or make vows, but are encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and to reflect and pray with Scripture daily. Some Oblates may join the community in praying the Liturgy of the Hours or in working on some particular project. It is especially important for each to discover the application of Benedict’s teaching in his or her own life. The meetings include both conferences and time for discussion so that Oblates may share their experience of applying the Rule to life outside the monastery.
So far this year, the Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center has provided housing, meals and gathering space for the Conference of Benedictine Prioresses (CBP) and the Federation Chapter. In January, the Cullman community welcomed forty Prioresses of Benedictine monasteries from throughout North America. Sr. Tonette Sperando, Prioress and a member of the CBP Coordinating Committee, played a major role in planning the event that took place with a grand Mardi Gras flair.
In June the General Chapter of the Federation of St. Scholastica, which had sixty participants, congregated at the retreat center in Cullman. Sr. Lynn Marie McKenzie, President of
the Federation and member of the Cullman community,
chaired the meeting and was re-elected for another four-year term of service. The week-long gathering concluded with a special banquet featuring Umbrian fare in
honor of the Italian homeland of St. Scholastica. Images of St. Scholastica
greeted participants all along the passageway to the dining room and several statues of Scholastica were prominent features of the dining room décor.
In addition to these two large gatherings, the community hosted the Federation of St. Scholastica Council in April and the Executive Committee of the North American Association of Benedictine Oblate Directors (NAABOD) in May.
Thirty-five years ago, an unexpected ministry came to birth on our monastery grounds Benedictine Manor. At that time, the Sisters had learned of the need in our area for independent living options for seniors and decided to bring such a ministry to life in one of our newly-empty college dorms.
During these years, many changes have taken place in residential options available to seniors. While these shifts are positive, it has meant that fewer people are seeking the independent living option provided by Benedictine Manor, and over the past several years the need for this ministry has decreased substantially. After careful analysis of all available information,thorough exploration of all options,and much prayer and discernment,the Sisters made the difficult decision to close the Manor before the current realities affect the level of service we can provide to our residents. Now, the blessing that has been Benedictine Manor will continue in other ways as the remaining residents take the blessing with them to their new places of residence, and those who have been blessed to serve at the Manor share the fruit of that blessing in new ways.
An interview with Sister Tonette about Benedictine Manor may be found in the latest issue of Benedictine Update. See link below.
The Eucharistic Celebration, during which the Rite of Perpetual Monastic Profession was celebrated, was held at Sacred Heart Monastery Chapel on Saturday, July 7, 2018. Rev. John O'Donnell, O.S.B. presided over the Eucharistic Celebration and offered the homily. Sister Tonette Sperando, O.S.B., Prioress of the monastic community, led the Rite of Perpetual Monastic Profession, received Sister Michelle’s vows, and offered a reflection on this important step in the life of every monastic. Joining the monastic community for the celebration were Sister Michelle Renee’s sisters, Paulette Haynes and Annie Scarborough, along with their families, as well as Oblates and friends.
To read more of this article, click on the link to the Benedictine Update below.
Other articles published in this issue of Benedictine Update include:
25th Jubilee celebration of Sister Kathleen-Christa
Sister Lynn Marie's trip to South Africa
Sister Margaret Mary Liang's work with the community in Colony, AL
Death of Sister Margaret Frederick
Activities of pecan industry volunteers
Federation of St. Scholastica
916 Convent Rd NE,
Cullman, AL 35055
CIB Resources- Bulletins