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On July 1, 2021, the Benedictine Sisters of Emmanuel Monastery will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of their foundation. Coming from Elizabeth NJ, following the influence and energy of Vatican Council II, twenty-three courageous, faith filled women ventured forth to begin a fresh vision of monastic life in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Fifty years is a long time. Having lived through it however, the time seems to have gone so quickly. In these 50 years, so much has happened in us, to us and for us. We are aptly named Emmanuel, for God has truly been with us! We hope that we might be able to share some of this graced journey throughout the year with you, even if somewhat hampered by the pandemic that has come to rule our lives. In this article, we just want to share some of the hi-lights of the journey as it began…. perhaps to whet your appetite for more!
DID YOU KNOW….
…that there was no single founder of our community. Rather it was the courage of 23 women of faith, in response to Vatican II, who took the risk to do something new!
…that we had no place to live when coming to Maryland. The Sisters of Notre Dame da Namur who lived at Martin Spalding High School Convent moved out to make room for us. Sr. Rosalie Murphy, their Provincial and Msgr. (later Bishop) Bill Newman were instrumental in getting a roof over our heads.
…that Msgr. Newman asked the schools where we would be teaching to give us our stipends at the beginning of the month instead of the end of the month so we would have enough income for rent and food.
…that because we were no longer wearing habits, and had limited wardrobes, we shared clothes from our “common closet.” That took real coordinating and sharing! Good thing we were all mostly the same size then. (Not the story today!)
…that we ranged in age from 22-60 with the heaviest concentration in the 20’s and 30’s.
…that while we all knew one another in name, many of us did not really know one another, since the community in Elizabeth had ranged in size from 250 at one time, down to about 150 when we left. Before we could become a “community” we had to get to know one another!
…that Jacinta, along with 2 other sisters remained in Elizabeth, NJ…to continue an outreach to the poor.
Jacinta stayed for another 46 years! Her work there eventually turned into what is today St. Joseph Social Service Center and has served thousands of people over the years. Visit the Center at www.sjeliz.org. Jacinta moved to Emmanuel in March of 2018
…that we initiated inter-community teaching and an open placement policy in the Catholic Schools in the Baltimore Archdiocese due to filling in where a religious presence was needed in the city and the county schools.
…that in 1972 when the parish schools in the Archdiocese first began to cluster together, we served on the founding committees and faculties as well as in the business office.
…that we hosted a “Trim the Tree” Christmas party for the first several years, asking people to make ornaments for the tree. Since we had no ornaments in the beginning, this guaranteed trimmings, each with a good story behind it. Some still adorn our present-day Christmas tree!
…that we became members of the Federation of St. Scholastica in 1978.
…that there was a large tract of farmland behind the house at Martin Spalding. During our first summers there we grew a variety of vegetables. One summer we had literally hundreds of pounds of tomatoes and hundreds of pounds of eggplant! We stocked the freezers with eggplant parmesan for the winter months and fed lots of people in the city with fresh veggies that summer!
…that we lived for 10 years at Spalding Convent in Severn, MD and another 10 years in Brooklyn, MD at St. Rose of Lima Convent before finding a place to establish a permanent monastery in 1986 in Lutherville, MD. It was 1991 before we were altogether again. We had a lot of work to do on the 140-year-old building we purchased to bring it up to code, plus we had to purchase another house down the drive to accommodate extra bedroom space that was needed.
Benet Hill Monastery, took some time to reflect on the grief so many expereinced this past year. Here are some of their reflections.
It's all about movement. Grief is buried in our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our souls. There are many skills that can help us grieve, but there is one essential skill for the process of healing and that is MOVEMENT! We all have experienced both loss and trauma in our lives, especially this year. We are all in grief whether we want to admit it or not. We all deal with grief in our own way or it deals with us. One sure and guarenteed way to move from loss through grief and bereavement into healing is through movement: move your eyes by reading, move your hands by writing, drawing , coloring or keeping a journal... not on the computer, but in your own handwriting. Pick up your phone and call or write a note to someone and connect today.
A very wise woman once said to me, "Your hand will draw or write what the mouth can't speak." I always share this with persons who are grieving and it's amazing how this practice opens their hearts, their souls, and their spirits. Move your feet by walking, practicing yoga, dancing, or any rhythmic movement either indoors or outside in nature. Move your lips by speaking to someone or by singing. And if you play an instrument, use it to make music for yourself or others. Yes, we were created to move, to get the juices flowing through our body systems and thus to balance those sysytems and bring us back into harmony with ourselves. Is there pain involved? of course. Yet, it is only by embracing our pain, our sorrow, our sadness, our anger, our loneliness, our grief and bringing it out into movement that we will reach new levels of healing, hope and understanding. I wish you happy movement today and every day, just one step at a time, one note at a time and one phone call at a time.
Sr. Marilyn Carpenter
The global pandemic has created a new reality for us marked with grief and loss. As a religious sister, I constantly remind and discipline myself to embrace compassion for self and others in this grief struggle. Worship services, concerts, meetings, workshops, retreats, travel plans, funerals, visiting the sick and dying, have been canceled or gone virtual in the wake of the pandemic. It has forced us to process both individual and collective grief in the face of an uncertain future which we are powerless to control. Grief is a normal response to loss, but the Covid-19 pandemic has upended many aspects of the normal grieving process. Even if you have not yet experienced a direct loss, do not assume that you are not experiencing grief. In grief, we can feel shock, anxiety, sadness, powerlessness, anger, or helplessness. What we remember is that all these feelings are normal. We have no clear pathway to feeling grounded again because of the uncertain nature of the pandemic's timetable. In the absence of normal human contact, our grief takes longer to integrate into our lives and the losses lie heavy on our hearts. We have learned to value again, the importance of simple things (Stories, laughter, hugs, meals) and how important they are. Much of our grieving includes a change in lifestyle, loss of attachments, loss of identity, loss of job, loss of relationships and loss of group gatherings, which creates doubt and struggle.
Today I am struggling with my own suffering and I see written in my opening sentence that I believe in self-compassion. Aligning my beliefs with my day-to-day reality is a challenge and an effort. I find it hard to live with my anger and grief. How am I compassionate with myself when my feelings are so strong? And yet, when I can face myself, I melt into a deep invitation of loving tenderness. This tenderness is a catalyst encouraging me to love others in their suffering. This tenderness overwhelms me and I feel powerless; the only way I can be in this space is to hand over my ever-wanting control to God.
This is my pathway of being transformed so I can be with others in their suffering. This seems the only way. By learning how to be with myself, I contemplate being with others. Self-compassion seems such a struggle for me at times. Life is always awakening to accept that God breaks into my heart and soul through the cracks and is teaching me about self-compassion.
I believe we can begin to see ourselves and all of life differently. Struggle reshapes us to love ourselves, allowing God to be God, letting go of control, and accepting all the faith and goodness of God that lives in and amidst our lives. If I commit to becoming who I am to be, I undergo a metamorphosis of my soul that empowers me to become fully human. If we all endure and stay in the struggle, we can emerged transformed.
Sr. Mary Colleen Schwarz
The Benedictine sisters in Atchison have, like everyone else, experienced disruptions to their normal way of life. We had to forego our normal fundraising auction and dinner, but our virtual auction and prize raffle were a success. In addition to not having the opportunity to enjoy a banquet with supporters, the past year has meant we were not able to engage in many social activities for which the community had budgeted, such as family visits, education and enrichment, vacations and recreation. Knowing that these sacrifices were minimal when compared with the sacrifices of many of our neighbors, we had our own fundraising dinner within the monastery where the sisters could donate the money they would have spent on themselves to provide assistance to several local charities.
Sisters donated such personal services as special meals, sewing, cleaning, driving or baked goods that the other sisters could bid on in both a silent and oral auction. The money that was raised was donated to the local Catholic Charities, utility relief and other programs that would benefit the people of Atchison.
Sister Irene Nowell will be the honoree at this year’s “Abbot’s Table,” the benefit dinner for the monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. She will receive their Lumen Vitae Medal, an award given each year to “recognize those who have followed Christ in service to his people and the church.” The monks have chosen her to honor her outstanding scholarship in biblical studies, including her numerous books, work on the St. John’s Bible and role in establishing the Give Us This Day worship aid, in addition to her local contributions in many years of teaching and administration at Benedictine College and as a novitiate instructor for monks and sisters. The event will be a hybrid so, although the sisters cannot attend in person, they will gather as a community for a meal provided by the monks and the virtual presentation of the award.
Sister Judith Sutera’s new book(s) debut from Liturgical Press in April. St. Benedict’s Rule: An Inclusive Translation and Commentary introduces a literal but gender-neutral version of the Rule of St. Benedict that is being hailed by some early reviewers as a new standard for contemporary readers. It will be accompanied by a day-by-day commentary that combines explanation of Benedict’s context with remarks on relevance in today’s world. A second book has only the translation without the commentary for ease of reading just the Rule.
When last we shared our story, we were within 75% of our new monastery Capital Campaign goal. Last summer, we met and exceeded that goal and have begun construction. How exciting to have a front row seat to watch the progress of our soon-to-be new home! If we can get the cooperation of our snow loving sisters to pray for temperate weather, we will remain on track for a move-in date during January, 2022. In preparation for that, Sister Joanna Burley, our Prioress, launched the “Tidy Town” initiative so we can begin sorting through our personal and community items and organize/downsize for our move. Recently, we named our two residential wings (Scholastica and Benedicta), and sisters were able to choose their rooms, sparking animated conversations among new neighbors and “wing-mates.” We could not have done this without so much support from our Northern Virginia and Richmond area friends. We echo Sister Joanna: “In the vision of the new monastery, I see faces and names of so many people who believe in us and who are God’s gift to us.” We are grateful and joyful indeed!
We have laughed, cried and celebrated special days and events with our sisters in 2020. After not losing anyone for four years, Sisters Mary Leo Wirt (4/9), Romayne Schaut (6/8), and Henry Marie Zimmermann (10/24) claimed their eternal glory. Sister Charlotte Lange was able to celebrate her 60th Jubilee right before the pandemic hit. Sister Cecilia Dwyer, whose outgoing Prioress sabbatical was delayed a year so she could be our Saint Gertrude High School’s Head of School, finally got to spend three months away at Springbank Retreat Center in Kingston, SC. There, she was immersed in learning about eco-spirituality and tapped into her artistic side. We enjoyed her art exhibit when she returned.
In January, 2020 our all-girls Saint Gertrude High School joined our brother school, Benedictine College Prep, to form the Benedictine Schools of Richmond (BSoR). Both secondary schools remain single-gender, but they are united on BCP’s campus in Goochland, co-located with Mary, Mother of the Church Abbey. Despite Covid, the schools were able to open this past fall and are finding their slogan, “Stronger Together,” to be true. BSoR has launched a Capital Campaign to build SGHS a new school building overlooking the James River.
Finally, a few words about that 2020 elephant in the room: Covid-19. Thus far, our monastery has been blessed to be virus-free, but like many of you, our daily monastery hospitality has been curtailed, and public liturgies and activities cancelled. Our two schools, SGHS and Linton Hall School on our campus, have safely held in-student classes, while our adult literacy ministry, BEACON, has gone to all distance learning. Two of our Oblate deaneries were able to resume in-person (and socially distanced) meetings, as Zoom continues to host our larger Bristow deanery. Our Benedictine Pastoral Center’s activities have been impacted the most, although their spiritual directors have found creative ways to meet with their directees. Our Place of Peace Columbarium is busy with interments, while our monastery grounds have become the local neighborhood park. Sister Kathleen Persson, our Vocations Director, has launched a YouTube channel as outreach to women in discernment. Our Rosary group will continue their Covid rosary until this pandemic is over. May 2021 eventually find us all healthy and back to our pre-virus routines!
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to be silent and a time to speak". Eccleciastes 3:1-2,4,7
This reading, like so many others, has permeated our experience in 2020. We continue to transition into the New Year, bringing with us new ways of living and adaptations we learned from the past year. The pandemic has taught us that by accepting and incorporating a few changes we can continue to: live with purpose in community and grow spiritually despite being in isolation; safely reopen ministries with restrictions, connect with our Oblates, benefactors, family and friends virtually, through print and social media, phone calls, and drive thru celebrations; attend conferences and network thanks to Zoom; pray more fiercely for peace, justice and healing; and find value in social distancing and wearing face masks.
These times have challenged us in many ways, but never broke our spirits. Like many, we had to close our St. Scholastica Monastery and cancel major events. We also closed our Boerne ministries last March, including Omega Retreat Center, Health and Wholeness Center, and Sisters' Attic Thrift Store. The thrift store reopened in July and the Health and Wellness Center's pool reopened in late September. We have had to limit occupancy at both ministries in accordance with safety guidelines. Unfortunately, the Retreat Center remains closed and we have no way of knowing when it can be safely reopened.
In addition to these closures, our four-year old Monastery air conditioner broke down in March and we endured the inconvenience until mid-May when the Texas heat and humidity put our Sisters at risk for heat related illnesses. We were forced to move to a residential space on our grounds at our Omega Retreat Center. We stayed there until late fall when the weather cooled down and the A/C repairs were nearing completion. Living in our original Monastery allowed us to take time to share memories, to laugh about “the good old days”, and to truly appreciate the gifts that God has given us through the years.
Jungian analyst and storyteller, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, writes:
“Stories set the inner life into motion, and this is particularly important where the inner is frightened, wedged, or cornered. Story greases the hoist and pulleys, it causes adrenaline to surge, shows us the way out, down, or up, and for our trouble, cuts for us fine wide doors in previously blank walls, openings that lead to the dreamland, that lead to love and learning, that lead us back to our own real lives…”
Our Sisters serving in our Corporate Responsibility Ministry in San Antonio and our Caridad de Corazón Ministry in Eagle Pass continued to work tirelessly in 2020 to bring immigration updates to constituents and the public as well as serve the needs of immigrants and those less fortunate on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border.
When our founding Sisters arrived in Texas in 1919, they taught at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Las Gallinas. The school was closed not long after, and St. Joseph's Catholic Church was destroyed by fire in 1983. However, the community never forgot the importance and impact of the school and the church. A historical marker was placed on the site where the school and church once stood by the Atascosa County Historical Commission on October 17, 2020. Our Sisters were invited to take part in the event and several attended. Sr. Frances Briseno, Prioress, said the opening prayer.
We closed out the year, with just the community, with a beautiful Christmas Eve Mass and meal followed by the exchange of gifts and a game of Bunco.
We quietly welcomed the New Year and expressed our hopes as we begin again, in 2021, to share our Benedictine values with those we serve.
On January 16, Sister Chon Nguyen, OSB made her First Profession. She is such a blessing to our community! January also brought a light dusting of snow to the Monastery, and we were so grateful to get our first of two COVID-19 Vaccines!
We welcome February …. a time to celebrate St. Scholastica’s Feast Day, St. Valentine’s Day, and Mardi Gras before Ash Wednesday when we begin the Lenten Season. May 2021 hold many blessings for all.
Our mission is to seek God in community and to respond in ministry through sharing our spirituality and addressing the needs of the people we serve, especially the poor.
To learn more about the Benedictine Sisters of Boerne, please visit our website: www.boernebenedictines.org and Like and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
Federation of St. Scholastica
916 Convent Rd NE,
Cullman, AL 35055