Community News




March 2015



Equine therapy program hosted on monastery property featured in local newspaper article

March 31, 2015


The enthusiasm of the director of H.O.P.E., a therapeputic horseback riding program that is being housed on a portion of monstery property, overflows in an article published in a local newspaper (link here).   The article profiles the project and their recent move to a section of monastery property located just down Convent Rd. from the main monastery building. The Sisters share the director's enthusiasm and are so blessed to be able to serve as host for this important endeavor which has drawn support from civic and religious groups throughout the Cullman area.


Our own community news story (scroll below to February 24 entry) contains additional photos of the site, the horses, and the new barn.





February 2015


Beautiful snow blankets North Alabama

February 27, 2015


View of snow on Ottilia handicap ramp railing and treesThe entire North Alabama region was blanketed with snow last Wednesday afternoon and evening. Around eight to nine inches of snow fell in the Cullman area, making the monastery grounds look like a winter wonderland. Several of the Sisters ventured out as the snow was coming down while others waited until Thursday morning. Monastery photographers eagerly captured various images of the whitened landscape. A small contingent of Sisters gathered in the backyard to start the building snow figures--a sculpted snow angel and a more traditional snowman, "Fred the Alabama Snowfan." After lunch a third snow figure was added to the scene. For lunch and supper the Sisters enjoyed "snow cream" for dessert--fresh snow flavored with vanilla and sugar. More photos in Monastic Moments.Sister Karen Ann exploring the snow as it continues to fall








East facade of Ottilia Hall

 View from back of Ottilia Hall (above)



    Sister Karen Ann explores the snowscape (right)







East facade of Ottilia Hall (left)







View from Retreat Center Dining Room porch

 Area behind Annunciata Hall and the Guest Houses (below)














West facade of Ottilia Hall









Crepe myrtle at Sunken Garden (above)


                               West facade of Ottilia Hall (right)



Sister Michelle and Fred the Alabama Snow Fan

Sisters Michelle, Karen Ann, Tonette, Marie, and Adrian (below- l to r)

                     Sister Michelle with "Fred the Alabama Snowfan" (right)


H.O.P.E. horses move into their new home

February 24, 2015


The five horses that are part of Cullman's new therapy riding program have moved from their temporary home in the county to their newly completed barn on the property of the Benedictine Sisters at 1301 Convent Rd NE. Staff and volunteers gradually introduced the horses to their new facilities, including the riding ring, grooming area, and stalls.  Once the horses have acclimated to their new environment, the next session will begin.  For more information about HOPE, program participation, and support, visit their website at:

Loula is the first to enter the ring

Loula and Montana arrive for their first visit to the riding ring













Loula (at right) and Montana are the first horses led into the riding ring


Montana sniffs around the equipment






Montana, the newest horse that is still being evaluated, eagerly check out all of the equipment. (left)






Loula checks out her reflection in the glass window





Loula is not so sure about seeing her reflection in the window. (right). Sam is the next to arrive (below), followed by Can Can and WiserSam, Can Can and Wiser arrive at the riding ring.
















Sam (left below) and Can Can (right below) are the first to check out the fresh sand with a playful roll.

Sam rolls in the sand


Can Can rolls in the sand













Sam checks out the new digs

Loula looks through the window
















Sam (above) and Loula (right) check out the inside of the barn.


Other spaces of the new barn include a tack room, an indoor viewing and waiting area, an outdoor viewing area, an office, a grooming area, and several stalls. Outdoor activities are being set up as well.


tack room



indoor viewing and waiting area






Outdoor activities being constructed












Sister Mary Leo Arnold, O.S.B., passes into eternal life

February 6, 2015



The monastic community, along with thousands of former students, mourn the passing of Sister Mary Leo Arnold, O.S.B., who died early in the morning of Thursday, February 5. The Sisters, led by Sr. Janet Marie Flemming, Prioress, gathered at Sr. Mary Leo's bedside to pray for the repose of her soul. 


A gifted and memorable teacher, Sister touched the lives of countless students during her decades in education. A link to her obituary can be found here.  The Mass of Christian Burial will be held in Sacred Heart Monastery Chapel at 3:00 PM on Monday, February 9.  


Many former students have inquired about memorial contributions.  These can be made to the Benedictine Sisters Capital Campaign. A link to a contribution form may be found here












Winter Benedictine Update is published

December 20, 2014


The Winter 2014 issue of Benedictine Update has been published and was placed in the mail yesterday.  If you are among those who receive our various letters and newsletters, you should be receiving your Update soon.   A pdf copy can be viewed online by clicking here or on the cover image at right.


Among the of Sister Cecilia's Jubilee celebration, Sister Lynn Marie's travels as President of the Federation of St. Scholastica, visits from international Sisters, the final months of the Capital Campaign, a construction update, a report on the Oblate weekend, and more...


If you would like to receive our correspondence by mail, please contact us at (256) 615-6071 or development [at] and let us know your name and contact information.  We would love to hear from you! 




Preparing the way...

December 19, 2014


In liturgy, prayer, and spiritual reading, the community is deep into Advent.  And yet preparations for Christmas abound - from decorating the monastery to rehearsing Christmas music to receiving visits from holiday guests.  Here are a few pictures from the monastery this week.








This past Sunday, the Sisters gathered to decorate the Christmas tree in the community dining room in preparation for our Employee Christmas Party on Tuesday and other visitors later in the week.
















Prior to decorating, we enjoyed visiting with one another over a simple Sunday supper of sandwiches and chips.













The Sisters have greatly enjoyed the presence of Sister Juve, a Guadalupana Sister who is staying with us for a while.



















Sister Mary Adrian prepares a crib set in the dining room.  Numerous other crib sets are spread throughout the monastery.





















The community gathers with monastery employees for a festive holiday meal.


















The schola (monastic choir) begins rehearsing for Christmas liturgies.












You are invited to join us for our Christmas liturgies.  The schedule may be found here.






The Community welcomes Sister Minona Anne into the next stage of monastic formation

December 15, 2014


This past Saturday, in a simple ceremony during 1st Vespers of the III Sunday of Advent, Sister Janet Marie Flemming, Prioress, received the Temporary Monastic Profession of Sister Minona Anne D'Souza.  Monks of St. Bernard Abbey, family, and friends joined the community for Vespers and the Profession ceremony as well as dinner in the Retreat Center dining room following Vespers. 


As a Temporary Professed, or Scholastic, Sister Minona Anne will continue to discern her call and continue her Initial Formation into the monastic way of life.  She will be under the guidance and direction of Sister Mary McGehee, Scholastic Director, and will join Sister Sara Aiden Burress and Sister Michelle St. Marie as one of three Sisters currently in the Scholasticate.








Clad in the white cuculla (choir robe) of a novice, Sister Minona Anne reads her Profession document as (left to right) Sisters Mary McGehee, Janet Marie Flemming, and Magdalena Craig listen.














Sister Minona  Anne signs her Profession document on the altar as Sister Janet Marie witnesses.














In a long-standing tradition, the Community greets the newly-professed Sister, now clad in a black cuculla, in the hallway of 2nd Ottilia.












While we were watching...

December 2, 2014


The Sisters have watched with great curiosity as the construction process has unfolded over these past years, but we have been anything but idle bystanders.  While we were watching, not only did our usual ministries, community life, and liturgy continue uninterrupted but we also had a few extra projects of our own going on, both large and small. 


Here’s an insider’s tour of the some of the ‘off the beaten track’ activities that have occurred alongside the

construction. None of these have been part of the official three-phase project, but not wanting to be left out of the action, the Sisters proceeded with their own efforts right alongside the main project.   






When the old cellar was demolished this summer, Kitty B lost her favorite hang-out spot. So Sr. Tonette, with the help of a nephew, built her a new home, complete with front and back doors and a clay Benedictine cross at the apex (handmade by Sr. Mary Adrian). The house was painted to blend with the new construction.

In this photo, Sr. Magdalena (left) and Sr. Tonette welcome Kitty B to her new home.











The renovation project resulted in the relocation of most internal monastery offices.  Thus, there has been much shifting, shuttling, and re-settling of work spaces over the past couple of years. In this photo, Sister Bernadette, Sub-Prioress, sits at her familiar roll-top desk, having settled into her new office in Annunciata Hall.
















Sister Priscilla, Secretary and Monastic Coordinator of the community, works in her new office, also in Annunciata Hall.


















When the former Mary Hall was vacated prior to demolition, Sister Mary packed up her collection of blue glass bottles, her books and pictures, her massage table, and her desk and moved from the 1st floor of Mary Hall to the 2nd floor of Annunciata Hall, just down the hallway from the monastic library. Sr. Mary has arranged a beautiful Spiritual Direction office with the same familiar furnishings that she has had for years. Her massage table is in an adjacent room.









Sister Kathleen has settled into a new Spiritual Direction office in Annunciata Hall where she offers direction to many private retreatants and others. 














Sister Regina has cultivated quite a hobby raising seedlings from the two gingko trees on the monastery front lawn.  Many a retreatant has returned home with a potted gingko to plant in their own yard.  Sister's former "tree nursery" was demolished as part of the renovation project so she has now set up shop in a portion of the old tractor barn.  As a side note, if you are wondering about the IV pole in the background, Sister Regina uses it to hang some of her gardening equipment. In the foreground is an old kitchen cabinet, with the tabletop now a gardening workspace and the built-in flour and sugar bins now holding potting soil.  Both offer examples of how we seek to steward well the goods of the monastery, re-using and re-purposing when something can no longer serve it's original purpose.










Surrounded by new construction, the Sisters realized that the electrical hut, with its fading, peeling, and buckling facade, was a real eyesore, not to mention that the electrical equipment inside needed to be better protected... 







 using left-over lumber and extra slate tiles from the chapel roof, the Sisters arranged for a facelift.  The hut was painted to blend with the new construction, and more importantly, the vital equipment inside is much more secure and protected. 













This summer, after the demolition crews departed in the evening, the Sisters sometimes put themselves to work on the site.  In this photo, several us are collecting Mary Hall and Joseph Hall stones from the perimeter of the demo site. 















One of the more labor intensive projects for the Sisters over the past couple of years was moving and re-shelving the monastic library. In this photo, Sister Mary Ruth, community librarian, puts the finishing touches on the reference collection.  Now well settled into five rooms on the 2nd floor of Annunciata Hall, the library sees much use by Sisters and retreatants alike.











As the official project proceeded, the Sisters proceeded to prepare the 4th floor of Annunciata Hall to house the Novitiate.  Old carpet was stripped, new carpet placed, and fresh paint applied.  It is now a a welcoming home for those entering the community. 
















Sister Magdalena (right), Novice Director, teaches a class to Sister Michelle in the freshly-painted, newly-carpeted Novitiate study room.










Our fantastic and very skilled monastery employees have been absolutely integral to most of the various side projects. Here, Sister Janet Marie and the monastery's Head of Maintenance, Robby, confer about the Stations of the Cross.


The re-routing of Cemetery Road that was part of Phases I and II required the dismantling and re-positioning of several of the Stations.  Once these phases were over, Robby and his crew poured new foundations, re-set the stone bases, and remounted the Stations last Spring.









A stone planter marks the beginning of the re-installed Stations, one of which can be seen in the background.















With the demolition, our maintenance crew lost their workshop and Sister Mary Adrian lost her pottery studio.  The old chicken barn, just to the southeast of the new guest houses, has been re-configured to house a shop area for maintenance, a pottery studio, and an area for other Sisters' craft projects such as candle making (Sister Mary) and furniture refinishing (Sister Tonette). 








The new workshop space is taking shape in the old chicken barn.  Monastery employees have provided nearly all the labor in this transformation using primarily re-purposed materials. The florescent lights were rescued from monastery areas that were slated for demolition.  The ceiling and sloping side walls of the shop and pottery studio were created from the large panels of plywood that formed the Ottilia Hall pedestrian tunnel during Phase I construction.  Air units and other furnishings were also salvaged from demo areas and other areas of the monastery.










Sister Mary Adrian at the sink in her new pottery studio.  The old sink with a new faucet was yet another piece salvaged from our old cellar before it was demolished.

















Some of you may recall that several years ago, well before the renovation project began, we replaced the worn and fraying carpet in our chapel.  At the time, we deliberately chose not to replace the equally-worn carpet outside the chapel, knowing that renovation was in the future and that this passageway might be subjected to considerable construction traffic.


Once Phases I and II were complete and Phase III was well underway, we knew it was time to renew this portion of our home.  It was not part of the renovation project but was badly needed in order to provide a worthy entrance to the chapel.  A local company assisted us in choosing a beautiful hardwood surface that blends well with the restored hardwood floors in Ottilia Hall.














Completed during this past summer, we are thrilled with the results and are so grateful to be able to welcome guests to our chapel in such a beautiful way.










We hope you have enjoyed your insider's tour of some of the side projects undertaken by us as we watched the official project unfold.  Thanks be to God for His many gifts!





Aerial views of the completed construction activities

December 2, 2014


Before and after aerial photos of the monastery buildings demonstrate the awesome changes that have taken place over the last several years.

This photo was taken of the monastery property before any renovation activities took place.  Note the locations of Joseph Hall, Mary Hall, and the Sisters' Dining Room and Kitchen directly behind Ottilia Hall.  The Rock House and the Sisters' parking area are directly behind the chapel. Gusmus Guest House is located just below Mary Susan Hall at the north end of Annunciata Hall.  Other significant changes that take place are to the south entrance of Ottilia Hall, the access road to the back of the monastery, and the natural areas across the road.






















This is the most similar view to the previous photo. You can see the circular drop-off at the south end of Ottilia Hall, the grassy lawn where the three large buildings once stood, the new kitchen and Retreat Center Dining Area and the road/parking area changes made to the north entrance to Mary Susan Hall.






















This east-facing view of the property shows the radical changes that were made to the back yard, allowing better parking for guests, service access to the kitchen, and housing accommodations for guests in the two new guest houses.  This view also demonstrates the amount of green space that has been reclaimed behind Ottilia Hall, allowing a beautiful view of the lake and the daily sunrises from the east windows.






















A third view of the completed construction shows the two new guest houses along with the nearby parking areas. While the work of the construction crews has been completed, the Capital Campaign activities continue to raise the last $1 million to pay for the project. Thank you to all of our friends and benefactors who have made this amazing dream a reality!


November 2014


Giving thanks...

November 29, 2014


The Sisters enjoyed a happy and festive Thanksgiving with an abundant buffet and so many family members and other guests that we dined in the Retreat Center rather than the monastery dining room.  Below are a few pictures from our Thanksgiving celebration. 



At right, an icon of Mother Benedicta Riepp, foundress of Benedictine women's communities in North America, presides over the Thanksgiving centerpiece in the Sisters' dining room.  Behind the icon on the far wall stands a statue of St. Benedict.  We indeed give thanks for our Benedictine heritage!









Sister Janet Marie, Prioress, prepared the gravy for the Thanksgiving meal.

























Sister Mary Adrian (left) and Sister Karen Ann sliced and served the pies and cakes.
















Sister Lynn Marie helped prepare drinks for guests. 






















Sister Kathleen, who oversaw the meal preparation, spent much of the week in the kitchen getting ready for the big day.





















Sister Priscilla Cohen organized dining room preparations.




























Sister Mary, right, welcomed a family who joined us for the holiday meal. 















In all, there were around 75 of us - Sisters, family, and friends - who enjoyed a wonderful time of giving thanks together! 




































Volunteers help get Christmas card mailing ready for the Development Office

November 15, 2014



Faithful volunteers, including Sisters and friends of the community, gathered for a day and a half to assist the Development Office with its annual pre-Thanksgiving mailing.  Each year the Development Office offers to send Christmas cards to loved ones and friends letting them know that a donation has been made to Benedictine Sisters in their honor.  This year's Christmas card is a photo of one of Sister Mary Adrian's handmade clay nativity scenes taken by Sister Michelle Renee.Volunteers seal envelopes for bulk mailing


Refreshments and lunch for the volunteers are provided by the monastery kitchen. Many volunteers also take a break and join the community for daily Mass in the monastery chapel. It is a wonderful demonstration of the spirit of "ora et labora" (pray and work) that is found in Benedictine communities.


The new Retreat Center Dining Area has provides a bright, spacious, and hospitable environment where companionship and support make such a large undertakingan enjoyable experience.




Would you like to read the letter and additional information about the Christmas card? Just click on the letter at left! 


Sister Mary Stella Williams, 1930 - 2014

November 12, 2014


The monastic community lost a beloved member yesterday with the death of Sister Mary Stella Williams, OSB.  She will be remembered as a faith-filled Sister devoted to prayer, a gifted educator, and a vibrant personality who brought joy to many. 


Reception of the Body and Vespers of the Dead will be held at 5:00 PM on Thursday, November 13, in the chapel of Sacred Heart Monastery.  The funeral Mass will be held at 3:00 PM on Friday, November 14, also in the monastery chapel. 


A link to Sister Mary Stella's obituary can be found here.  May she rest in peace.



Renovation activities drawing to a close

November 7, 2014


The light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer by the day as finishing touches are in the works. The following photos provide an update of the renovation activities since August.


Oct 24--The painted brick portions of the chapel are sporting a new coat of paint in keeping with the look of all the new construction; the east entrance of Ottilia has a beautiful new stairway and adjoining wheelchair ramp along the cement porch; a new bronze colored awning is mounted above the east entrance door; cement forms have been poured to complete the cement porch railing where the stairs on the south end were located; the sidewalks have been poured







Oct. 24--The process of forming the new curbs around the back parking and roadways continues




















Oct 25th--Brick masons replace remaining porch brick on the north side of the new stairs to create visual continuity with the rest of the porch features











Oct 28th--Landscape crew covers the topsoil  between Ottilia Hall and Benet with sod











Oct 28--More sidewalks framed and ready for the next load of cement; machinery spreads the remaining base gravel along the road and remaining parking areas; electrical crew sets frames for remaining bases for outdoor lighting fixtures








Oct 30--Benedictine cross is etched into the concrete slab at the east entrance of Ottilia Hall to match the cross etched at the entrance to the new guest houses











Nov 3--Acid wash outlines the crosses etched into the concrete, a garnet color at Ottilia Hall and an amber color at the guest houses



















Nov 3--New handrails on the east side of Ottilia Hall being installed and painted













Nov 3--New outdoor lighting fixtures are a welcome sight and add a touch of class to the new parking areas and roads











Nov 7--New asphalt and striping for kitchen deliveries and employee parking; silt fencing is removed to reveal a picturesque view of the lake from the upper floors of Ottilia Hall










Nov 7--New retreat center parking area is striped as the asphalt crew finishes the road after four long days of work











Nov 7--The placement of handrails along the Ottilia Hall ramp continues











Nov 7-- Soon and very soon...


august 2014


Demolition continues, transfiguring the monastery grounds

August 6, 2014


Today's Feast of the Transfiguration is perhaps a good day on which to post photographs of the recent transfiguration of the monastery grounds due to the demolition of Mary Hall, Joseph Hall, and the former Sisters' kitchen and dining room.


Work began in early July and is nearing completion. Photographs of the early stages of Mary Hall demolition are posted in the July 10 entry below.  Following are photographs from subsequent weeks.






July 16


Mortar turns to dust and bricks tumble as the excavator takes the first "bite" out of Joseph Hall.  In the lower right corner is the open door of the former walk-refrigerator from the Sisters' pantry area, with refrigerator shelves still visible along the wall. 










Continued progress on Joseph Hall.  The white wall on the middle level is the exterior wall of the Rafter Room, the wall that guests passed when making their way from the Rafter Room into Mary Hall.  The old bulletin board is still visible. 


In recent decades the upstairs corner room was a community room for the Sisters who resided on this floor.








Anxiously awaited by the Sisters was the toppling of the towering Joseph Hall chimney (see photo above). It came down in a shattering crash one morning during the closing prayers of Lauds, bringing the Sister leading the prayers to a startled halt.  It was a few stunned moments later before she could resume her prayer.  Silent smiles slowly spread through the chapel as the Sisters realized the probable source of the thundering crash.







July 17-18



The giant machines make their way further through Joseph Hall.  Note the missing chimney.  On the lower of the two depicted levels, toward the right, the dark green strip of wallpaper marks the former Retreat Center meal service and entrance area.
















Down to the final walls.  In center of the photograph, note the line of bricks falling in tandem from the top of the opening created by the excavator.


The post in the lower left corner was the post at the center of the former Large Dining Room.














Viewed from a 3rd floor window in Ottilia Hall, and looking like a scene from a horror film, the excavator grasps the roof of the Joseph Hall stairwell addition. 



















And the walls come tumbling down.



The flat surface at lower left is the roof of the former Retreat Center office, now laden with a pile of remnant bricks from the chimney demolition.















The excavator grasp a set of beams from the roof of the Large Dining Room.  As demolition has proceeded, the workman have carefully sorted materials for recycling.















One evening, a crew of Sisters gathered stones from around the periphery of the site...


































...and unloaded them onto the pile of rocks remaining from the old Rock House.













The Sisters have been avid spectators of the demolition.  There are many great spots from which to view the action, whether a quick passing glance or a more prolonged look.  The infirmary rooms on the east side of Ottilia offer particularly close-up, ground-level views, and the Sisters in these rooms have made some especially acute (and sometimes humorous) observations.








You can find Sisters viewing the demolition from their bedroom...
















...or the dining room...













...or the dish room...
















...or from the edge of the demo site after the workers have gone home.


















Retreatants have their own front row seat at the end of the dining room serving line.  Many a gasp has been heard from guests as they approach the end of the serving line and see this sight for the first time.
















July 22



The monastery back yard is a giant pile of rubble. 



When the Sisters' former dining room and kitchen came down, the original cedar shake roof emerged.  It had been sheltered and hidden for decades underneath a higher, shingled roof. 












July 25


The Song of Songs sculpture (in foreground at bottom left) rests peacefully in front of the remains of the former Retreat Center office. 
















And meanwhile, life goes on as normal within the monastery with tasks as ordinary as changing a light bulb...















or peeling apples...











...and as extraordinary as a 60th Jubilee with renewal of vows.  (See July 28 entry.)























July 29


Clouds of dust on the ground matched clouds in the sky as truck after truck was loaded with rubble.



































July 30


As viewed through a screened window, the excavator reaches for the final corner of the old cellar below the Sisters' former dining room.



In the background lies the pillar that supported the east side of the old Blue Room and divided the carport below.  It took a tremendous effort to slowly break apart this massive post.











With the cellar walls removed, the demo pauses as workmen take measurements. 


Still standing is the walkway from Ottilia to the former dining room.


The basement walls at far left are the walls of the old St. Joseph Room.


Note the heavy layer of dust on the porch railing.














The excavator takes aim at the concrete floor of the old cellar, reaching for dirt long covered with concrete.


















Long-buried earth emerges from beneath Joseph Hall.


The entire area covered by these buildings will become green space.
















August 1


The south porch of Mary Hall is one of the final structural elements still standing.  Note the steel Mary Hall window frame anchored in the rubble.



















A stone angel gazes heavenward as the porch is finally demolished...





















...and the rubble is lifted skyward.
























The corner of Mary Hall's back porch is loosened...



















...and lifted by the powerful jaws of the machine.















Tackling the back wall of the old maintenance shop, a room which once held a boiler so large that it heated several buildings, including Ottilia Hall. 

















The rubble is gently pulled away, leaving the pillars and sidewalk intact to await their turn at the hands of the excavator. 















August 2


The old dining room walkway has now been removed, leaving the stub of an awning and a sudden drop-off from the back porch of Ottilia Hall.  A new awning will be coming as this phase of the project continues. 















A new sidewalk and ramp will lead from the south parking lot to the back door of Ottilia.  The familiar brick posts will remain. 


While tired of the dust, the Sisters are thoroughly enjoying the more open views and look forward to an open back yard and the additional green space. 














Nearly all the above-ground structural debris has been removed.  This week the excavators have been digging deep, reaching for footers and breaking up concrete foundations. At far right (below the machinery) one section of the old retaining wall between Joseph Hall and Mary Hall remains to be crushed and removed. 













As do a few other below ground secrets.

















An entirely new vista takes shape.


Thanks be to God!