July 14, 2016
The monastic community is mourning the death of Sister Ursula Laurent, who went to God on the morning of July 12, 2016. Sr. Ursula's obituary, which contains funeral plans, can be found here.
Please pray with us for the repose of the soul of Sr. Ursula, and may the angels lead her to paradise.
April 29, 2016
Last weekend, Sisters Tonette Sperando, Lynn Marie McKenzie, Therese Haydel, and Michelle St. Marie traveled to Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, IN, to attend a gathering of Benedictine Sisters from around North America who are age 55 and under. The gathering, held approximately every two years, allows younger Sisters the opportunity to spend time together in shared learning, holy conversation, and getting to know other Sisters who are journeying on this monastic path.
Sister Lynn Marie attended in her role as President of the Federation of St. Scholastica and was one of the speakers for the conference. Sister Tonette was one of three Prioresses among the group. Sister Therese designed the logo for the meeting, having previously created logos for this and other Benedictine conferences. For Sister Michelle, this was her first 55 and Under conference and she enjoyed meeting many new Benedictine friends.
Above from left: Sisters Therese, Tonette, Michelle, and Lynn Marie
April 19, 2016
The springtime days of April have been exquisite in their color and beauty, adding to the joy of Eastertide.
We have posted on the Monastery Moments photo page some pictures from the monastery during Lent, the Triduum, and Eastertide, sharing with you scenes from the simplicty of Lent to the beauty of these joyous days of the Easter season.
March 23, 2016
This past Sunday, the Sisters and assembly gathered on the first floor of Ottilia Hall to celebrate with the Church the sacred liturgy of Palm Sunday. After the blessing of palm branches by Fr. John O'Donnell, O.S.B., principal celebrant for the Eucharistic Liturgy, our procession took us out the front door of Ottilia Hall. Sister Tonette Sperando, Prioress, processing with the Book of the Gospels, led the way along with thurifer Sister Minona Anne D'Souza. The gathered assembly processed along the front drive, through the lower chapel doors, and up the chapel steps. Traditional antiphons and Psalms were chanted along the way up until entrance into the chapel where we picked up the strains of the festive organ in singing "All Glory, Laud, and Honor." In addition to the Eucharistic Celebration, the Sisters celebrated Solemn Lauds and Vespers of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.
Below are a few pictures from the blessing of the palms in Ottilia Hall prior to the procession.
On the day before Palm Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph. Here at the monastery we celebrated not only with solemn liturgies but also with some informality as a group of Sisters gathered to view a film on the Holy Family.
In Birmingham, Sister Minona Anne D'Souza attended a St. Joseph Altar celebration along with some of the parishoners at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church, where she serves as a Pastoral Minister to the Sick and Homebound. Sponsored by the Italian American Heritage Society of Birmingham, the Birmingham event is part of a tradition honoring the memory of the role that prayers to St. Joseph played in alleviating a famine in 15th century Italy. In this photo, Sister Minona Ann, standing alongside Msgr. Paul Rohling, proclaims one of the readings for the Blessing of the St. Joseph Altar.
March 18, 2016
The residents and staff of Benedictine Manor celebrated St. Patrick's Day in high style yesterday with a mid-afternoon High Tea. They invited the Sisters to come celebrate with them, and many made their way over to the Manor to join in the festivities. Sister Veronica Ryan, Director of Benedictine Manor, prepared Irish coffee and tea along with a selection of delicious tea-time fare. A good and festive time was had by all!
Meanwhile back at the monastery, the Sisters enjoyed traditional Irish fare at meal time. A special treat was the Irish soda bread made by Sister Eileen Gallagher and traditional Irish trifle made by Sister Cecilia Mac Dermott, both of whom are of Irish heritage.
Above and below are several pictures from the High Tea.
March 14, 2016
One of the earliest and most vital of monastic traditions is the practice of a Visitation of a monastery by other monastics. The Constitution of the Federation of St. Scholastica, the Federation to which our community belongs, specifies that an Ordinary Canonical Visitation occur in each monastery every six years. The regularly-scheduled Ordinary Canonical Visitation at Sacred Heart Monastery began with Vespers on Thursday evening, March 10, and concluded on Sunday afternoon, March 13. The Visitators were Sister Susan Quaintance, O.S.B., of St. Scholasica Monastery in Chicago and First Councilor of the Federation of St. Scholastica (pictured at right), and Sister Glenna Smith, O.S.B., of St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow, VA, and former President of the Federation of St. Scholastica.
The purpose is to provide a formal and structured process that allows a community to assess the authenticity of their lived expression of the Rule of St. Benedict in the context of the Benedictine tradition. Visitation is rooted in the monastic virtue of listening - the Visitators listening to the community, and the community in turn listening to the observations and insights of the Visitators.
Each Visitation is preceded by a period of self-study in which information and data on various aspects of the community's life is gathered and shared with Visitators. During the Visitation, the Visitators meet with groups of Sisters to learn more about the community's life and practices and hear how the the Sisters express their Benedictine charism in their community life, prayer, and ministry. Individual Sisters also have the opportunity to meet with Visitators. The Visitation concludes with an official report of the Visitators to the community.
In addition to the formal meetings throughout the days of Visitation, the Sisters enjoyed the time to simply be together and enjoy one another's company. Below are several photographs from the weekend.
The Self-Study Committee was comprised of (left to right) Sister Marie Leonard, Sister Priscilla Cohen, Chair, and Sister Therese Haydel. These Sisters led the self-study process and the preparation for the Visitation.
Sister Tonette Sperando, Prioress (at right), with Visitators Sister Susan Quaintance (far left) and Sister Glenna Smith.
Sisters Madeline and Marie enjoy visiting in the Sisters' dining room during the weekend.
Others enjoyed a quiet check of the news before dinner on Sunday.
Sister Tonette thanked the Visitators at the conclusion of their report to the community.
Each was presented with a gift of gratitude.
At the conclusion of the Visitation, with the work of the weekend behind them, the Sisters enjoyed a simple, Sunday-afternoon social in one of the Retreat Center meeting rooms.
March 11, 2016
Only eleven days into March, the Sisters have already branched out into several activities beyond their usual routines of ministry and prayer. They have also been enjoying the milder weather, as shown in this photo of Sister Veronica Ryan and Sister Mary McGehee visiting on the porch of the Retreat Center dining room.
Below are brief descriptions of some of the ways in which Sisters have 'branched out' into these early weeks of springtime.
During the first week in March, Sister Tonette Sperando, Sister Mary McGehee, and Sister Marie Leonard attended a conference at Beeson School of Divinity in Birmingham entitled Black + White in America. Bishop Robert Baker of the Diocese of Birmingham served as Co-Chair of the event, which was described as "reflection/conversation on race relations in the United States among its black and white citizens."
While Sisters Tonette, Mary, and Marie were in attendance, several Sisters back at the monastery tuned into the live-streamed podcast of the event. News coverage of the conference can be found here and here.
Above, Sisters Mary and Marie visit with another conference participant.
This past weekend, Sister Tonette and Sister Michelle St. Marie participated in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity home. Sponsored by several parishes in the Birmingham area, the home is being built in honor of Pope Francis. The two Sisters joined members of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in their efforts on Saturday. At left, Sister Michelle takes a hammer to the task, and below, Sister Tonette works alongside another volunteer.
Earlier this week, Sister Elisabeth Meadows traveled to St. Scholastica Monastery in Ft. Smith, AR, for a two-day meeting of the Leadership Team of the Association of Benedictine Retreat Centers (ABRC). The group gathered in Little Rock to plan the organization's 2017 biennial conference. Sister Elisabeth, who serves as Director of the Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center, was elected to the ABRC Leadership Team during their 2015 conference. At right, Sr. Elisabeth in front of St. Scholastica Monastery, and with the Leadership Team below.
February 27, 2016
Four Benedictine Sisters sought to be Christ's "visible face in the world" today, taking to heart this phrase from Pope Francis as they volunteered for Project Homeless Connect in Birmingham.
Sisters Priscilla Cohen and Madeline Contorno were part of a large contingent from St. Vincent's Health System who volunteered for the day-long event. Both Sisters are on staff at St. Vincent's, Sister Priscilla as a Registered Nurse and Sister Madeline as Director of Mission Integration and Spiritual Care. Joining Sisters Priscilla and Madeline in the day of service were Sisters Michelle St. Marie and Minona Anne D'Souza.
Project Homeless Connect is an annual event in which over 60 agencies, assisted by over 1000 volunteers, collaborate to provide homeless individuals and families a full day of access to a wide range of services under a single roof. Sister Priscilla served as a 'Smiling Client Guide,' helping guests navigate the services that they needed. Sister Michelle spent her day washing the feet of homeless guests, a work of mercy that she specifically requested to do. Sisters Madeline and Minona Anne also worked directly with those seeking assistance.
Here at the monastery today, the Sisters received the gift of mercy from Isabella Wright, a youth from Birmingham who volunteered for a service project at the monastery in preparation for her upcoming Confirmation. Isabella spent much of the day working with Sister Tonette Sperando, Prioress. Together they collected stone from the foundation of an old storage hut that has recently been torn down on monastery property, transferring the stone to another site on our grounds to be eventually used in landscaping around the monastery. The Sisters enjoyed having Isabella and her mother join them for lunch, and are extremely grateful for her hard work, generous spirit, and merciful heart.
February 23, 2016
Earlier this month, Sisters Tonette Sperando and Lynn Marie McKenzie traveled to Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, IN, to attend the annual meeting of the Conference of Benedictine Prioresses (CBP). Sister Tonette attended in her role as Prioress of the Sacred Heart community, while Sister Lynn Marie attended as President of the Federation of Saint Scholastica.
The annual meeting of the CBP allows the Prioresses to discuss common efforts and shared concerns of the monastic communities represented by their Prioresses. This year's meeting also featured talks by Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey and Sister Karen Jospeh of Monastery Immaculate Conception, both of whom spoke on the Paschal Mystery in monastic life.
February 20, 2016
With enthusiasm and joy, Fr. Doug Vu, a priest of the Diocese of Birmingham, has been sharing with retreatants this weekend themes related to the Jubilee Year of Mercy. He has led participants through scriptural sources on mercy as well as some of the writings of Pope Francis related to the Jubilee Year. The group even had the opportunity to travel to and walk through the Holy Door at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, one of the two designated Holy Doors in our diocese.
The monastic community has also been blessed by the presence of Fr. Vu as he is serving as celebrant for the Masses at the monastery on Saturday and Sunday. Additionally, a few of the Sisters have been able to attend some of the excellent retreat conferences.
February 19, 2016
Dear to the heart of Sister Mary Adrian McLean, an accomplished potter, is the work that she does each year for Empty Bowls of Cullman County, an annual fundraiser for our local food bank. The event features a chili dinner dinner served in hand-made bowls crafted by local potters. Sister Mary Adrain is one of several potters that each year contribute bowls to the event. This year's fundraiser, held earlier this week and attended by Sister Mary Adrian and Sister Tonette Sperando, Prioress, featured 1000 bowls thrown by the group of potters. Sister typically spends several months gradually making a supply of unique, hand-thrown bowls to donate to this important local charity event. This year, Sister Mary Adrian contributed over one hundred bowls to the effort. She considers it a labor of love to contribute to the cause of fighting hunger in our county.
Always seeking to grow in her craft, Sister Mary Adrian recently attended the Alabama Clay Conference. This annual event allows Sister Mary Adrian to stay up-to-date on pottery techniques, gather new ideas, and meet fellow potters.
February 15, 2016
The Board of Directors of Hope Horses sponsored a catered luncheon today for the Sisters in order to express their appreciation to the monastic community. Several years ago, when the Sisters learned of Hope's need for appropriate land to house the program, the Sisters offered use of a portion of their property to provide a long-term home for this important outreach to the Cullman community. At their new Convent Road home, a barn has been built, pasture land prepared, volunteers and staff recruited and trained, and the program has been up and running for well over a year now, providing equine therapy to mentally, physically, and emotionally challenged individuals.
Today's luncheon, held in the Retreat Center dining room, featured an informative presentation by Hope's Executive Director, Kelsey Rice. Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper, Board Chairman, also spoke, expressing his gratitude to the Sisters for their on-going support of Hope Horses. He presented to the community a framed photograph of the new barn.
Currently, Sister Therese Haydel serves on Hope's Board of Directors. Past Board members include Sister Lynn McKenzie and Sister Tonette Sperando. The community is extremely gratified that this portion of their property is being used in such a worthy and beneficial manner and is grateful to be able to support the program.
In the photo above, Kelsey Rice and other Hope Horses staff and Board members presented information about the program to the Sisters and answered their many questions. Below, Police Chief and Board Chair Kenny Culpepper presents a photograph of the barn to Sister Tonette, Prioress (below right); Chief Culpepper visits with Board member Sister Therese Haydel (below left); and the Sisters and Hope Horses Board members enjoy a light-hearted moment during the presentation.
February 11, 2016
St. Benedict devotes an entire chapter of his Rule to the observance of Lent, advocating some specific Lenten practices to be followed by monastics. Among them are the practice of receiving a book from the monastic library to be read during Lent, the daily setting aside of extra time for prayer and spiritual reading, and submission to the monastic superior the Lenten discipline one intends to undertake.
These traditions hold strong sway in our community. Each Ash Wednesday, the community gathers in the evening, marked with the ashes received earlier in the day, to receive an exhortation from the Prioress. Each Sister also receives a blessing for the Lenten reading she will be undertaking. This year we will all be reading the same text, assigned to us by our Prioress, Sr. Tonette: the Pope's recent encyclical, Laudato Si'.
In the photos below, Sr. Tonette offers her Ash Wednesday exhortation to the gathered community, and offers a blessing to Sr. Lynn Marie as she presents to her her Lenten reading. You are invited to read the text of Sr. Tonette's exhortation here.
February 6, 2016
The current issue of Benedictine Update can be viewed at this link. Featured stories include a message from our Prioress on page one, stories about four of our mission Sisters on pages four and five, and updates on our sponsored ministries on page three.
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January 31, 2016
The Sisters were blessed by the gift of music from the Sine Nomine Recorder Consort who performed for them this afternoon in Sacred Heart Chapel. The Consort is led by Steve Calvert, former organist at St. Paul's Cathedral in Birminham and friend and former colleague of many of the Benedictine Sisters. Mr. Calvert and his fellow musicians presented an hour-long concert of early music (14th - 17th centuries) for the Sisters. Several monks of St. Bernard Abbey joined the Sisters for the concert.
Above right, Mr. Calvert offers introductory remarks. At the conclusion of the concert, Mr. Calvert spoke at length about the impact of the Benedictine Sisters in the diocese, highlighting the work of several Sisters in areas such as pastoral care and adult catechesis.
At right, the Consort performs.
Below, Sisters and musicians visit after the concert. Some of the instruments used were unique and many Sisters enjoyed viewing them at close range.
January 17, 2016
The community recently had the wonderful opportunity to share dinner with nearly twenty Sisters from the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit. The Sisters represented Guadalupana mission sites in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisana, and California. It was an enriching evening of sharing and hearing about the important work that the Guadalupana Sisters do in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Sister Tonette Sperando, OSB, Prioress, with Sister Frances Aldama, MGSpS, Vicar Provincial of the Missionary Guadalupanas.
January 12, 2016
Sister Margaret Mary Fisher, OSB, died early in the morning on January 8 at the age of 92. Funeral services were held on Monday, January 11, in Sacred Heart Chapel. We will miss our dear Sister Margaret Mary's kind and generous presence among us.
A copy of her obituary can be read here.
December 31, 2015
The community enjoyed a wonderful and meditative Advent season, followed by a joyous Christmas celebration. We share with you here some photographs from our various community gatherings and preparations for the season.
Sister Tonette (right) and Sister Karen Ann decorate the tree in the Community Room on the third floor of Ottilia Hall.
Sister Marian places an ornament on the tree in the Sisters' dining room.
Sister Magdalena plays Christmas carols as Sisters decorate the dining room tree and Sister Mary Adrian (facing camera) arranges a crib set on the piano.
One last ornament is placed on the brightly-lit tree.
The Sisters welcomed many visitors throughout the holiday season. An annual highlight for the monastic community is the visit by the generous parishoners of St. Michael's in St. Florian, AL, and St. Joseph's in Florence, AL. In this photo, Sister Virginia greets a guest from these two parishes.
Sister Karen Ann (left) and Sister Mary Grace (below) enjoy visiting with guests.
Our creative maintainence employees kept the spirit bright outside their shop with a "tree" ornamented with tools of the trade.
A favorite event of the season is the annual holiday luncheon with our employees, during which each employee is recognized for their contributions to our life and ministry.
Christmas baking included Sister Jane's preparation of pecan pies...
...later to be sliced in a busy Christmas Day kitchen by (left to right) Sisters Tonette, Michelle Renee, and Sara Aiden....
...and served by Sister Sara Aiden.
Sister Regina oversaw the kitchen activities for Christmas dinner, which followed our festive Mass of Christmas Day.
Sister Lynn Marie stirred the gravy.
Sister Priscilla prepared a beautiful table.
Sister Mary readied the hors d'ouevres...
...while Sister Bernadette (left) and Sister Mary Adrian lit the candles.
As activities unfolded in the kitchen, the torrential rains of Christmas Day poured outside, flooding numerous area roadways.
Many hands were involved in cleanup, including Sister Elisabeth...
...and Sister Minona Anne.
In the afternoon, having previously drawn names for a very simple gift exchange, the Sisters gathered around the dining room Christmas tree to open gifts.
The photography happened outside of chapel, but inside the chapel is where the main celebrations of Christmas unfolded with the solemn liturgies of the season. With the angels, we rejoice that "the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us."
December 31, 2015
Travels this fall have taken Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie to both Germany and France. In Germany she spent several days at the Abbey of St. Scholastica in Dinklage where she visited with a canon law colleague and the other Sisters of the Dinklage community. She then journeyed on to France for the annual Conference of the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum (CIB) where she represented the U.S. and Canada as a delegate from this region, one of nineteen international regions of the CIB.
The meetings were based at the Abbey of Notre-Dame in Jouarre, but the group also visited eight other monasteries around the country. In November, Sister Lynn Marie spoke at length with one of the Sisters about her travels. She lit up with enthusiasm when asked how meeting Benedictines Sisters from around the world had impacted her own sense of vocation. A transcript of the conversation can be read here.
November 29, 2015
A wonderful and relaxed weekend of giving thanks was capped by a solemn entry into the season of Advent. On Thursday, following a Mass of Thanksgiving, the community enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. A quiet Friday and Saturday found Sisters engaged in a variety of recreation activities around the monastery. On Saturday evening, with 1st Vespers of the 1st Sunday of Advent, we took the simple yet solemn step into Advent, awaiting the coming of our Lord.
Below are several pictures from this special weekend.
The festive weekend began on Wednesday evening with a Vigil and Agape service in the Dining Room.
Sister Tonette Sperando, Prioress, addressed the community during the Vigil. Her remarks can be read by clicking here.
On Thursday, following the Mass of Thanksgiving, the kitchen was bustling with activity under the direction of Sister Kathleen Gallas, who planned the meal and accomplished much of the preparation.
Sister Mary Adrian prepared the butter plates...
...while Sister Benita readied the bevereges...
...and Sister Tonette set out the pies...
...along with Sister Sherrie...
...as Sister Eileen prepared the whipped cream...
...and Oblate William washed the first of many dishes.
The hors d'oeuvres table....
...and bounteous fare...
...and a beautiful table.
Some Sisters enjoyed the Thanksgiving Day Parade on television...
...while others relaxed with the newspaper.
In Birmingham, our mission Sisters gathered at one of the mission houses to share a Thanksgiving meal.
On Friday, another day of rest, recreation, and time together as Sisters, including some kite flying.
Sisters enjoyed some time for hobbies, such as Sister Tonette who is refinishing some of our old library chairs to be used in the infirmary, and Sister Elisabeth who received a lesson on the pottery wheel from from Sister Mary Adrian. Unseen in the picture at left is Sister Mary, who was at the stove in the back corner recycling old candle wax into new candles.
On Saturday, chapel preparations for Advent began as Sisters lingered after Mass to collect last year's misselettes and distribute the new ones. The Advent candles were unwrapped and the wreath was readied.
And now, the season of Advent is here.
August 24, 2015
Among the highlights of the issue:
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