Benedictine Sisters known for their open-hearted hospitality

By: By Susan Flansburg, Special to The Catholic Post

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth in a series featuring religious communities and other forms of consecrated life around the Diocese of Peoria in honor of the Year of Consecrated Life. Called by Pope Francis, the celebration will run through Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life.

ROCK ISLAND — When Stefanie MacDonald first walked through the doors of St. Mary Monastery eight years ago, she felt her shoulders relax and her stress melt away. The space was quiet, warm and welcoming. It felt like home before she met a single soul.

Benedictine monasteries are known for their warmth and hospitality. From the first community founded by St. Benedict 1,500 years ago until today, one of the foundational values is to greet all as Christ. And that means embracing all of God’s creation with open hearts.

Benedictine monasteries spread across Europe, eventually reaching the shores of the New World. Benedictine communities began to crop up all over the United States, with small groups of Sisters following the settlers from Pennsylvania to Ohio, Indiana, the Dakotas and beyond.

St. Mary Monastery was established in Nauvoo in 1874, when the local priest asked the Sisters to establish a school there for girls. Sister Ottilia Hoeveler made the trip from Chicago by train and steamship with four other Sisters, founding the school that would become St. Mary’s Academy. By the turn of the century, the Sisters of St. Benedict had built a thriving academy for girls. “The nuns are making a thriving city out of a deserted Illinois town,” said the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

St. Mary’s Academy continued to thrive throughout most of the 20th century, providing progressive college preparatory education to young women who went on to open their own businesses, practice law and medicine, create art, and provide service to God’s creation. The Sisters continued to expand their education ministry at the same time, helping open and staff schools throughout Illinois and into Indiana.

MINISTRY FLOWS FROM PRAYER
When the popularity of boarding schools began to decline across the country in the 1990s, the Sisters began to question how they best could continue to serve God and God’s people. After much prayerful discernment, they closed their school and sold everything to provide sufficient funds to build a new monastery. They chose to build atop a hill 100 miles upriver, in Rock Island, where they could preserve acres of woods for wildlife and dig a lake for the environmentally protective practice of geothermal heating and cooling.

The new St. Mary Monastery (pictured above) was built according to the Rule of Benedict, incorporating the values of hospitality, community and good stewardship. It fosters community in its layout, provides ample room for guests and is built to last.

As for Stefanie MacDonald? She became a Benedictine Sister, making her final monastic profession in the summer of 2013.

“I love to talk about my community, which, by the way, is celebrating its 140th anniversary,” said Sister Stefanie, who now serves both as a teacher and as community vocation director. “It provides a balance of solitude, prayer, ministry and fun. Our prayer is central to who we are, and what we do. Our ministry — whether it’s teaching or working in a parish — flows out of our prayer. It helps us greet all as Christ.”

For more information about the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, visit smmsisters.org or contact Sister Stefanie at (309) 283-2200 or smacdonald@smmsisters.org.

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FAST FACTS: SISTERS OF ST. BENEDICT, ROCK ISLAND

FOUNDED: 1874 in Nauvoo
FOUNDER: Mother Ottilia Hoeveler
PRIORESS: Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB
MEMBERS: 40, all serving in the Diocese of Peoria
CHARISM: Listening and responding to God’s call coming to us daily through prayer, community, hospitality and service.
APOSTOLATES: Prayer, spiritual guidance and retreat ministry, social justice outreach, education.

“Hospitality means welcoming every person with an open heart . . . extending to each the love of Christ.”
Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB
Prioress

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COMMUNITIES OF CATHOLIC SISTERS DIFFER IN APPROACH

Monastic Benedictine — In monastic communities, such as Benedictines, the Sisters share prayer and life in common, and serve in various ministries in the local community.

Apostolic — Catholic Sisters who belong to congregations such as the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Sisters of Mercy often live away from the motherhouse in small groups or alone in order to serve in their ministries.

Cloistered — Catholic nuns who live in communities such as the Trappistines (Cistercian) and Carmelites are focused primarily on prayer and are generally cloistered, or restricted to the monastic grounds.

Exceptions apply to nearly every type of community. For example, not all Carmelites are cloistered, and not all Dominicans are apostolic.

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