St. Benedict Monastery, Bristow, VA

St. Mary's Orchestra (circa 1870) St. Mary's Orchestra (circa 1870)

“150 years and Building” is the tagline for our Jubilee Campaign as we prepare to embark on a capital campaign to build a new monastery.  May 1, 2018 will mark the 150th anniversary of our founding.  During the Civil War, Richmond, VA, ‘Capitol of the Confederacy,” was devastated and Catholic Schools were closed.  In 1868 a dedicated parish priest traveled all the way to St. Marys, PA to get Benedictine sisters to reopen his parish school and he would not leave without the promise of three sisters joining him. Thus the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia were founded in the war torn, disease-ridden South.  When they arrived on May 1st, the parish was in the middle of its May Day celebration and all gathered to greet the sisters.  The sisters reopened the parish school and started a “finishing” school, named St. Mary’s, for young women.  The first years were very difficult with cramped conditions, poor food, and rampant tuberculosis.  There are thirty graves in a Richmond cemetery of very young sisters.  Eventually, the “Motherhouse” was moved to Bristow at the invitation of the monks from Belmont, NC who had been given a large land grant there to educate children.  Bristow was primitive farmland in the 1890’s and considered a much healthier environment for the sisters.  Again, three sisters arrived in Bristow on May 1st, 1894.  In an unusual tale between sisters and monks, Belmont Abbey eventually decided to bring their monks home and deeded over their 1700 acres of land to our sisters!  If you have done the math, you will see that we Benedictine Sisters of Virginia have a huge year of celebration ahead!!  May 1st, 2018 (the 150th anniversary of our foundation) to May 1st, 2019 (our 125th anniversary of being at Bristow.)  

Saint Gertrude High School, early 1900’s Saint Gertrude High School, early 1900’s
Inside Peace Silo Inside Peace Silo

In all of these 150 years we have remained the only motherhouse of active sisters in the State of Virginia. Designated as mission territory because of the few numbers of Catholics, there are several orders of sisters working in Virginia who come from other places – mostly “up North”!  In addition to our own two schools, Saint Gertrude High School in Richmond and Linton Hall School in Bristow, we established quite a few parochial schools throughout the Richmond and Arlington Dioceses.  In the 1980’s and 90’s we turned our attention to social needs in our area and began the Benedictine Pastoral Center for spiritual outreach, Benedictine Counseling Services for affordable mental health care, our BEACON adult literacy program which now works with 400 immigrants, and our transitional housing program for homeless moms and their children.  Speaking of anniversaries, this year will be BEACON’s 25th and Transitional Housing BARN’s 20th!   Recently, because of the huge housing boom surrounding us, we declared our grounds a “Place of Peace” and built a labyrinth, turned two old silos into open chapels with a strip of stained glass, made gardens and walkways, placed a series of peace poles in different languages, etc.  All visitors are welcome from sunup to sundown.

Sisters singing in choir during a jubilee celebration Sisters singing in choir during a jubilee celebration

God has been very generous to us in blessing our ministries through our community as we constantly strive to determine the needs of our neighbors and how we might use our resources. The latest turn of events has been the development of a close relationship with the local Muslim community.  We were able to offer them a safe haven in our school gym for their nightly Ramadan prayers and we are supporting them at the county hearings for their proposed building of a mosque on the road behind us – a very tough fight for them.  

Ours has been a 150-year history of responding to the Spirit’s call and direction in the monastic tradition.  Throughout these years, our sisters have dedicated themselves selflessly and we so honor and appreciate those strong women who have gone before us.  As women continue to join our community, we “face forward in hope” to see what is next on our horizon!

 

Stay tuned for notice of the 150th anniversary celebration events!!

Cecilia Dwyer, OSB

Prioress

St. Scholastica Monastery, Boerne, TX

Preserving Our History

Sisters Kathleen Higgins, OSB (seated) and visiting archive consultant, Sister Rebecca Abel, OSB Sisters Kathleen Higgins, OSB (seated) and visiting archive consultant, Sister Rebecca Abel, OSB

The Benedictine Sisters of Boerne moved into their new St. Scholastica Monastery last September.  The Monastery, constructed around the Sisters’ iconic Kronkosy Tower, is a 17,483 square foot complex that includes eco-friendly natural lighting, low-e glass, window shading, chilled water HVAC, and solar panels. 

 

An important part of the transition included moving relics, memorabilia, and documents collected throughout the Benedictine Sisters’ 106-year history.  More than 100 boxes were moved to the Kronkosky Tower which will house the sisters’ archives.

 

Realizing the enormous responsibility that lay ahead, including the tasks of sorting through decades of material to be researched, digitalized, re-catalogued, or discarded, the Sisters reached out to an archive consultant, Sister Rebecca Abel, OSB, from the Benedictine Sisters of Ferdinand, IN.  Sister Rebecca spent 2 weeks at the Monastery offering guidance on how best to tackle the work at hand.  The Sisters are grateful to Sister Rebecca for her time and expertise.  They are making progress in the new archival space to preserve their extensive history for generations to come. 

Advocates for the Immigrant

Interfaith Welcome Coalition members (l-r) Sr. Jo Murray, SHSP,  Sr. Susan Mika, OSB, Ruben Lopez, and Elizabeth Vidales from Catholic Charities Refugee Services Interfaith Welcome Coalition members (l-r) Sr. Jo Murray, SHSP, Sr. Susan Mika, OSB, Ruben Lopez, and Elizabeth Vidales from Catholic Charities Refugee Services

In true Benedictine spirit, the Sisters of Boerne have long been advocates for social justice and corporate responsibility. Issues including human rights, human trafficking, energy and environment, health care and health care reform, U.S./Mexico concerns, predatory lending practices and fair pay concerns have remained priorities, especially for Sister Susan Mika, OSB. 

 

Sister Susan and Ruben Lopez, both with the Benedictine Coalition for Responsible Investment (CRI), faithfully attend monthly Interfaith Welcome Coalition immigration meetings in San Antonio. Through strategies and networking, they focus on the plight of undocumented immigrant women and children in South Texas detainment centers.  The coalition’s member groups provide hands-on support of at-risk immigrant communities, as well as advocacy on legislative agendas.Sr. Susan and Ruben create monthly immigration updates outlining proposed legislation, outcomes of ongoing judicial review at the national and local levels, and article summaries that document what is happening.  Sister Bernadine Reyes, OSB (Prioress) and Sister Frances Briseño, OSB also advocate for immigrant women and children by visiting them at one of the south Texas detainment centers.

 

Caridad de Corazón, (Charity of the Heart)

Sister Ursula Herrera, OSB has been the Director of the Benedictine Sisters’ Caridad de Corazón, ministry since it first began in 2000.  This life-changing program helps thousands of poor and disenfranchised people living on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border near Eagle Pass, Texas.  In collaboration with group and individual volunteers, the Benedictine Sisters provide essential services to men, women, children, families, and orphans.  These services include the distribution of food provisions, household goods, clothing, and medical equipment; educational scholarships that support youth who might otherwise not have the opportunity to continue their education; prison outreach; and home improvement and repairs.

 

The Sisters own a “mission house” that is available to church groups, university students, families, and volunteers from various regions of the United States seeking service work in the area.  Recent activities include (clockwise): Sister Ursula, collaborating with Operation Christian Love, delivering chicken to Alex Villarreal, director of Paz y Amor orphanage in Piedras Negras, Mexico; Sister Ursula with college graduate, Nalleli Sanchez, who was sponsored through the Caridad ministry; and adults and youth volunteer mission groups from Houston with local family.  The adults (from St. John Vianney Parish) mentored the youth (from four different Houston high schools) while working together on the family’s much needed home repairs.

Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, KS

In February, Benedictine College art students, while working on a study of the monastery’s St. Scholastica Chapel, organized a liturgy which brought more than 400 students and faculty to celebrate Sunday Eucharist with the sisters. All are hoping to make this an annual event. In addition to this project, Benedictine College students are often present, including: architecture students who come regularly to study and sketch the many beautiful spaces, Prayer Partners who join the sisters for vespers one evening a week, nursing students doing a rotation in Dooley Center, and numerous groups, sports teams, and individuals who come to give volunteer service.

The sisters at Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas, are getting ready for a once in a lifetime experience. The total solar eclipse on August 21 will occur directly over their city at the ideal time of midday. People from around the world are expected to gather in the area on that day and the sisters will be hosting a watch party for friends and family on the monastery lawn. It will include a talk by theologian and astronomer (fellow of the Vatican observatory) Aileen O’Donoghue, a picnic lunch and a prayer service. Dr. O’Donoghue will be giving a retreat at Sophia Center, the sisters’ spirituality center on the campus, during the preceding weekend, culminating with the eclipse. 

Postulant Jennifer Halling will soon begin her novitiate. On the day she entered community at a short ritual in the dining room, she brought several gifts symbolic of her life. One of them was a lantern because she is the great-great-granddaughter of one of the men who patrolled all night to protect the sisters from threatened violence when they arrived in Atchison in 1863 during the Civil War.

Lots of new Facebook friends have been getting acquainted with the community following the launch of a new ad campaign and vocation microsite: BeANun.org.

The Atchison sisters have a special commitment to care of creation. A new array of solar panels near the garden were recently installed in addition to previous installations on the roofs of buildings. The sisters also support ecology research and projects at Benedictine College and Maur Hill-Mount Academy in honor of Green Belt founder Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and graduate of Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College).

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