Benedictine Sisters at St. Paul’s Monastery celebrate 70 years

| June 28, 2018 | 0 Comments

Archbishop Bernard Hebda talks with Sisters Andriette, second from left, Rosella and Andrine Schommer, all of whom are biological sisters, at St. Paul’s Monastery in Maplewood during a reception there June 22 following Mass at Hill-Murray School. Sisters Andriette and Andrine are twins. Archbishop Hebda celebrated the Mass to mark the community’s 70th anniversary of its founding. Dave Hrbacek/ The Catholic Spirit

In 1958, a decade after her community had set down roots in St. Paul, Benedictine Sister Mary Lou Dummer walked down the aisle in her wedding dress along with 11 other women at their priory, then on Summit Avenue.

Those 12 “brides” made their first vows that day as they took Jesus as their bridegroom. “It was just a very exciting day,” recalled Sister Dummer,  subprioress of St. Paul’s Monastery in Maplewood.

Those sisters trade their white dresses for black Benedictine habits that day, but Sister Dummer’s dress, a gift from her sister-in-law, and an old Benedictine habit were on display June 22 during the 70th anniversary celebration for the Benedictine community at St. Paul’s Monastery in Maplewood.

From left, Benedictine Sister Monica Raway and her niece, Sharon Illa, of St. Joseph in Miesville talk with other Benedictine sisters and guests at a reception at St. Paul’s Monastery in Maplewood June 22 celebrating the 70th anniversary of the community in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

More than 130 people came for the anniversary Mass at Hill-Murray School in Maplewood, which the sisters once staffed, and its following reception at their adjacent monastery.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda celebrated the Mass, which brought together sisters, lay Benedictine oblates and friends to mark the occasion. He said the Benedictine sisters give a “vivid witness of what it means to rely completely on God as they embrace that life of poverty, chastity and obedience in this situation of permanence and commitment that they have to their own monastery.”

In 1948, St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph sent 178 sisters to establish a separate community in St. Paul. The sisters started St. Paul’s Monastery, first known as St. Paul’s Priory, in a house on Summit Avenue that is now home to the Germanic-American Institute.

Not all sisters lived at the monastery; some, like Sister Marie Rademacher, lived near the schools at which they taught. Sister Rademacher, 93, served as a teacher at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Montgomery and other Catholic schools throughout her career. She is one of three living sisters who, at the invitation of Archbishop John Murray, helped to establish the St. Paul community in 1948.

Also among those three are Sister Duane Moes, 97, who taught at St. Bernard’s Catholic School and then-Maternity of Mary Catholic School in St. Paul, and Sister Rosella Schommer, 91, who served in Montana as well as in Bogota, Colombia.

Now living at the sisters’ monastery in Maplewood, Sister Schommer enjoys retirement with the community and her younger biological sisters, also Benedictines: twins Sisters Andriette Schommer and Andrine Schommer.

The older retired sisters experienced the sisters’ transition in 1965 from their St. Paul priory and three other houses on Summit Avenue to a purpose-built monastery, designed by Minnesota architect Val Michelson, on a 79-acre property they bought in Maplewood. That change in location coincided with the final year of the Second Vatican Council, which also prompted other changes in their community and religious life.

Bavarian roots

The Benedictines in St. Paul trace their history to three Benedictine sisters who left their abbey in Eichstatt, Bavaria, in 1852 to establish America’s first Benedictine women’s community in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania, and teach the children of German immigrants. Eleven years later, sisters from that convent established the Convent of St. Benedict in the similarly German-settled town of St. Joseph, Minnesota, which grew to become, at one point, the largest Benedictine women’s convent in the world. The Convent of St. Benedict is the mother community of ten other communities, including the one in Maplewood. Like Benedictine sisters elsewhere, the sisters in St. Paul have focused on education, health care and care for the elderly.

The St. Paul sisters’ move to Maplewood put them next to what was then Archbishop Murray Memorial High School, which they opened in 1958. In 1971, the all-girls high school merged with Hill High School, an all-boys Catholic school, due to shrinking enrollment and the decline in number of Christian Brothers, the religious order that ran it.

Like many religious communities, the sisters’ numbers also dwindled in the post-Vatican II years, and after several decades, it became apparent that their monastery was too big for their community’s needs. The sisters also didn’t like the masculine form of the building, said Sister Paula Hagen, the community’s prioress.

In 2006, the sisters sold their monastery building to Tubman, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that shelters women and children fleeing domestic violence, as well as sex trafficking victims. The sisters also welcomed CommonBond Communities to their land in the 2000s to establish low-income and senior housing, and the sisters’ renovated laundry building is home to Maple Tree Child Care Center.

With much of the sisters’ campus being used by organizations that affirmed their social justice mission, they moved into a new, smaller monastery on their property in 2009. It houses the 33 sisters, including those who require medical care.

The new monastery was designed in a more feminine form than the sisters’ previous home. The oval-shaped chapel has a wood wave-like ceiling installation that symbolizes the journey from the Baptismal font to the altar. The sculpture flows down to the floor behind the altar, and its cross-shaped opening that aligns with a cross in the cemetery outside, where the community’s deceased sisters are buried.

With their average age at 83, the sisters have scaled back their Catholic education efforts to focus on other ministries. While they no longer operate Hill-Murray, they continue a relationship with the school. Sister Linda Soler serves in its campus ministry.

When Sister Soler joined the community 26 years ago, her first vows didn’t include a wedding dress, and she’s never worn a Benedictine habit; the Benedictine sisters began wearing modern clothes in 1965 in response to the Vatican II council’s request for religious orders to go back to their roots. Sister Dummer said that St. Benedict, who founded the Benedictines in the sixth century, actually had his communities wear the laity’s clothes of the day, and the style of the sisters’ old habits came from the Middle Ages.

As they mark their 70th year in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Sister Dummer and fellow sisters are looking to their future with their strategic plan launched in 2017. They hope that their monastic heritage and spirituality will continue in their lay Benedictine Associates, oblates and their Benedictine Center.

Oblates participate in prayer and liturgy with the sisters in addition to living by the rule of St. Benedict. The Benedictine Center, founded in 1983, provides opportunities for spiritual direction, formation and retreats throughout the year.

“This plan and implementation will allow the Spirit of St. Benedict to continue for the next 70 years, God willing,” Sister Hagen said.

The sisters are actively involved in the Leadership of Catholic Women Religious organization, an association of leaders of U.S. women’s religious congregations. The Benedictine’s leadership team attend the LCWR’s fall and spring meetings, and its workshops on serving the needs in the contemporary Church and society.  They are also active in the Federation of St. Benedict, and three sisters plan to attend the five-day chapter meeting in July in Bismarck, North Dakota. Its theme is “Walking into the future Tending the Benedictine Charism.”

“The Benedictines have a long history of being guided by the Holy Spirit to make the changes that are needed in order to serve the needs of the people of God,“ Sister Hagen said, adding that that gives her great hope and trust for her community’s future.

Tags: , ,

Category: Local News