Community News




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 Jospeh 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 graps 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 lightbulb...















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 Jospeh 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!



July 2014


A festive jubilee for Sister Mary Ruth

July 28, 2014


This past Saturday, the community celebrated with great festivity the 60th anniversary of Sister Mary Ruth Coffman's monastic profession.  The highlight of the day was the Jubilee Mass, presided over by Bishop David Foley, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Birmingham, with Rev. Marcus Voss. O.S.B. as principle celebrant and Rev. Joel Martin, O.S.B. as homilist.  At the conclusion of Mass, Sr. Veronica Ryan, O.S.B. offered a reflection. 


A festive meal in the Retreat Center dining room followed the Eucharistic celebration.  Below are some photographs from the day.  A link to the Jubilee press release can be found here








With Jubilee Candle lit, Sr. Mary Ruth awaits the opening procession.











The presence of Bishop Foley was a most welcome gift.


























Sister Janet Marie, Prioress, addresses Sister Mary Ruth during the renewal of vows.

















Sister Mary Ruth sings the Sucipe:



Recieve me O Lord as you have promised that I may live,

disappoint me not in my hope.


Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning, so now and ever shall be,

world without end.  Amen.


















Sister Mary Ruth signs her vow renewal on the open Book of the Gospels.


















The closing hymn.















The Sisters are all smiles as Sr. Mary Ruth enters the 2nd Ottila hallway for our traditional post-Jubilee Mass greeting.


















A smiling Sr. Mary Ruth greets the community.

















And more smiles as the gathered community celebrates with Sister.


















Sr. Mary Ruth shares a moment with (l to r) Fr. Joel, Bishop Foley, and Fr. Marcus in the Retreat Center dining room.
















A festive buffet spread awaited guests following Mass.





























The Kitchen staff and Retreat Center staff outdid themselves preparing a beautiful luncheon buffet...












...that was enjoyed by the many guests who gathered to celebrate this special day.




Demolition begins...

July 10, 2014

Demolition of Mary Hall began in earnest today as a large excavator took aim at walls that have been standing strong, sturdy, and true since 1947.  The heavy equipment arrived late yesterday and the workmen were able to take a couple of preliminary swipes at the building to test its mettle.  One workman described Mary Hall as a "tough building...well built."  

The Sisters would agree.  Sr. Imelda McAninch functioned as both architect and general contractor for Mary Hall when it was constructed.  It indeed is a strong, sturdy building that has served well.  However it is not able to be adapted to meet current accessibility and other life safety codes.  With construction of the new Guest Houses now complete, it is time for Mary Hall and Joseph Hall to come down.  Once demolition of Mary Hall is complete, the workers will turn the excavator toward Joseph.



The workmen took an initial stab at the building late yesterday afternoon after the arrival of the excavator.  Shown here is room 310, from an entirely new perspective.








A few Sisters took in the damage during their after-dinner stroll.  In the background you can see that the exterior walkway connecting Joseph Hall to the Blue Room was also removed as was the old incinerator chimney.






The crew resumed work this morning on the north end of Mary Hall.







The jaws of the excavator stayed active all day.









Many of the irises and other plants, including the mature crepe myrtle at the rear of Mary Hall, were transplanted elsewhere on the monastery grounds in advance of the demolition. (see story from June 17)







The view from the south, with the north half of the building gone.










The small covered hallway that connected Joseph Hall to Mary Hall was among the first elements of the building to go. The open doorway depicted in the middle of Joseph Hall was the former entrance into this hall (next to where the soda machines were formerly located).








Even in the midst of all the rubble, workmen still took care to keep the site tidy.








While the demolition certainly took top billing as a sight to see, life at the monastery continued on, as did other work on Phase III of our renovation/construction project. Trenches were dug today and pipes laid for a waterline connecting Benet Hall and the old chicken barn (which has now been reconfigured into a maintenance area and pottery studio) to the new water lines that were installed for the new guest houses. Interiorly, work continued on placing new hardword flooring outside the monastic chapel. In addition to all this, two tours of the new buildings were given, three private retreatants found quiet nooks amidst the activity, and the Sisters continued on with their lives of prayer and ministry - with frequent curious peeks toward the demolition site.







By mid-afernoon, this was all that remained standing of the top two floors of Mary Hall...










...until it, too, came down in a cloud of dust. 









Mary Hall, now down to the basement level and the lamp posts that marked the way to the porch, is the smallest of the buildings scheduled to be demolished.  As the process continues, the Sisters will be experiencing at least a couple of weeks of significant dust, noise, and disruption. Please pray with us and for us that this difficult and at times delicate task may proceed safely for the workers, the Sisters, and our guests.. 


June 2014


Sister Lynn Marie elected to lead international Benedictine organization

June 27, 2014

The Benedictine Sisters of Cullman joyfully announce that Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie has been elected to serve as President of the Federation of Saint Scholastica. The election, held on June 24, followed a process of prayerful discernment by delegates from the Benedictine communities that comprise the Federation, who met in Chapter this past week at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, KS.

Representing Sacred Heart Monastery at the Chapter meeting were Sister Janet Marie Flemming, Prioress, and Chapter Delegates Sister Priscilla Cohen and Sister Karen Ann Lortscher.

The Federation of Saint Scholastica, founded in 1922, is an organization of 20 Benedictine women's communities of which Sacred Heart Monastery is a founding member. The Federation exists to help its member monasteries preserve and express their spiritual heritage and the Benedictine charism. The Federation has a Constitution which, together with the Rule of St. Benedict and each community's own norms, govern the Benedictine Sisters' way of life. The Federation of St. Scholastica is one of three Federations and one Congregation of Benedictine women in North America.

As President of the Federation, Sister Lynn Marie will serve as the Federation’s official liaison with the Vatican. A particularly important aspect of her role will be to facilitate and moderate Canonical Visitations and Prioress elections held within member monasteries. In addition to guiding the Federation of St. Scholastica, Sr. Lynn will be working closely with the Presidents of other North American Benedictine Federations as well as leaders from within the international Benedictine community and leaders of other Religious Orders.


A quiet retreat, and an eventful two weeks

June 17, 2014

The first two weeks of June at the monastery were marked both by the quiet atmosphere of the Sisters' annual week-long retreat and by much construction-related activity. The Sisters' retreat began on Sunday evening, June 8, and concluded the following Friday when the Sisters renewed their vows during Mass. Sr. Melannie Svoboda, SND, led the monastic community during their week of retreat.

At the Sisters' request, most construction activity was on hold during retreat week, but before and after a considerable amount of work unfolded. Paving was completed and stripes painted on the initial section of the new Retreat Center parking lot. But much of the activity was related to preparing Mary Hall, Joseph Hall, and the former community dining room for demolition. The preparatory activities are now complete and the demolition process began yesterday.

The Sisters dedicated one evening of their retreat to a simple ritual of remembrance prior to the beginning of demolition. After conclusion of the program, the Sisters took one final tour through the buildings that have meant so much to the life of our community, and to the lives of countless others who have passed through the doors of Mary Hall and Joseph Hall.

The two images above and at right represent well the juxtaposition of new and old, of welcome and farewell, that the Sisters have lived with during the two and a half years and three phases of our renovation and construction project. The newly-striped parking lot with Mary Guest House in the background represents some of the new, while the first slide that was shown as part of the program of remembrance suggests the significant 'letting go' that the Sisters have had to do even as they have welcomed the new.

Below are additional images from the past two weeks.




Prior to beginning the monastic community's retreat, Sr. Melannie Svoboda, SND, gave a day-long program in the Retreat Center. It was very well attended, as attested by the full parking lot above (and with many more cars parked elsewhere).







Quiet prevailed during the week of retreat.







Sister Janet Marie, Prioress, addresses the community during the Service of Remembrance.








A brief history of each building that has been or is being taken down was presented.  Here, Sister Mary Vincent shares the history of Joseph Hall.










Everyone had an opportunity to share some of their memories of these buildings. In this photo, Sister Mary Adrian relates an anecdote.






There were many light-hearted moments as evidenced by the smile on Sister Lynn Marie's face.









Following the service, the Sisters made one last trip through the buildings that will be demolished.







The mood was reverent and reflective.




















Most of the beautiful wooden doors, door casings, and much of the wood trim in Mary Hall were removed for salvage over the past two weeks. The stone will also be salvaged. The Sisters and staff have previously transplanted many of flowers and shrubs that surround Mary Hall and Joseph Hall. This past weekend, Sisters Tonette, Mary Adrian, Regina, Kathleen, and Michelle Renee made one final push to remove plants before the buildings are cordoned off.






Oblate William lent a helping hand. Sister Michelle is all smiles despite the hard work.








Sister Tonette works with cuttings and roots from our "heritage rose" - a rose bush that has grown near the corner of the Sisters' former dining room for as long as any Sister can remember. The Sisters spent significant time trying to harvest this rose bush for transplantation.








Sister Elisabeth pauses in her struggle with the remaining roots of the heritage rose.









Sister Regina had to find a new home for the gingko seedlings which she so carefully tends. In this photo she arranges the young trees in their new home.








Despite the many changes, the most important things have not changed. Each day when morning dawns, when evening falls, and when the sun is high in the noonday sky, the Sisters make their way to the chapel to pray.










We would like to introduce you...

 Mary Guest House


St. Joseph Guest House






June 4, 2015

This past weekend, just days after receiving the Certificate of Occupancy, we welcomed the first guests to our newly constructed retreat group accommodations. Giving the buildings their test run were 27 retreatants who gave the new buildings a big "thumbs up."

The previous two weeks had been filled with activity as the Sisters and staff readied for the move after Mary Hall's final weekend of service on May 16-18.  Within this two week span, Retreat Center furnishings from Mary Hall were packed, the final touches were put on the new buildings, post-construction cleaning was completed, professional movers arrived for the furniture move, and the new buildings were readied for guests. 

The Sisters chose to name the two new buildings Mary Guest House and St. Joseph Guest House.  These names provide a connection with their predecessors, but more importantly they call to mind the Holy Family - the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and in this retreat setting, Christ, who is present in the guest. 

Following are some photographs from the past two weeks.




The calm before, during, and after the storm.  The new Guest Houses are situated in a peaceful, lovely setting.  Even in the midst of all the activity of the move, an air of tranquility prevailed.








After the final guests departed Mary Hall, the Sisters immediately began packing for the move.  Nearly every Sister at the monastery worked on the move doing everything from taking apart bed frames to cleaning and freshening the crucifixes that were removed from the walls.






A crew of Sisters spent two evenings going room by room taking apart bed frames and headboards to prepare them for the movers. 









Sisters Treva and Jane prepared framed pictures for the move. 








A crew of three Sisters washed, folded, and packed 48 bedspreads while another crew handled the mattress covers and pillow covers. In this photo, Sister Regina takes her turn with the bedspreads.









Even the Mary Hall wastebaskets received a good scrubbing from Sister Mary Adrian before heading to the new buildings. 









Moving day!











Forty-eight mattresses, boxsprings, frames, and headboards...










...and twenty-four desks and desk chairs.









New rooms began to take shape as the various furnishings arrived.









Frames and headboards were reassembled by most of the same Sisters who took them apart.  Here Sister Tonette sorts the nuts and bolts. 








Even as the move proceeded, life kept going in the monastery and Retreat Center. These construction workers were oblivious to the nearby moving activities as they framed steps leading from the new parking lot to an adjoining sidewalk. At top, a retreatant can be seen heading toward her meeting room.  Our retreat ministry has not ceased at any point due to construction or moving.  Ministry even continued during this move with a small group in Benet Hall as Mary Hall was being emptied.






The final result...warm, inviting rooms ready to receive guests. 








A comfortable chair in which to relax, pray, read, or nap.










Each bedroom has a private bath. 







The sliding doors in the kitchen cover storm refuge rooms that can be utilized in times of severe weather.








The Sisters selected and purchased living room furniture with an eye toward comfort, durability, and adaptability.  We anticipate that some smaller groups will wish to use the living rooms as their primary meeting space.

Although the Sisters made this purchase of upholstered furniture, benefactors have been stepping forward to help furnish other needs. Living room carpet, bedside tables and lamps, and other items have been generously donated.  More is still needed and we will soon be posting our "wish list" of items that will help make this a wonderful retreat space for many different types of groups.




Wireless access is available for guests.











An image of Our Lady graces the hallway in Mary Guest House.








Each kitchenette is equipped with a sink, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, and toaster.








A telephone in the kitchenette offers intercom access to the Retreat Center office as well as the ability to make local calls.









Fire alarm pulls and fire extinguishers are located throughout the buildings.  A sprinkler system also provides fire safety.








The Retreat Center staff has worked hard helping prepare the buildings for guests, including stocking of the various housekeeping closets. 











With most of the move complete, the Sisters arrived to view the furnished houses, led by Sister Janet Marie, at left.







Sister Mary Ruth smiles her approval.









Sister Tonette gives Sister Emilie a hand as she inspects the grounds.





The long-awaited arrival of the paving crew was a cause for joy! The paving effort  has been hampered by wet weather.









The road and sidewalks take shape, linking the Guest Houses with the meeting and dining areas.







And what's next?   Demolition of Mary Hall, Joseph Hall, and the Sisters' former dining room and kitchen will begin within a few short weeks. In the meantime, we will continue to settle into Mary Guest House and St. Joseph Guest House.  Please check back on this page in the coming days as we post our "wish list" of items that will help improve the welcome we are able to offer our guests.  And please keep us in your prayers as we and our guests continue to settle in. 



May 2014


Construction pace shifts as final touches are applied

May 12, 2014

The construction pace has noticeably shifted as the final touches are applied to the new Retreat Center overnight group accommodations.  The hard hats have disappeared and in their stead construction workers are donning cloth shoe covers to protect the newly installed carpets and floors.  Sod is being laid, curbs installed, and the sounds of heavy equipment are slowly but surely subsiding.  Soon, though, the heavy machinery will crank back up as demolition of Mary Hall and Joseph Hall get underway.

Below are a few pictures of the new buildings.  We can't wait to welcome guests to these beautiful new accommodations!



Building B soaks up the afternoon sun.









It is hard to see in this photograph, but a large Benedictine cross has been etched in the sidewalk between the two buildings.










Building A has a beautiful view across the lawn toward the monastic cemetery.










The view from the Retreat Center dining room porch.  The parking area, part of which is visible at the center of the photograph, will provide convenient access not only to the new buildings but also to the dining room and meeting areas.

The newly-planted roses along the fence are being faithfully watered by our Sisters in Initial Formation. Present to the left of the image, although outside the frame of this photo, are Sr. Kathleen's irises and other blooming plants.







The Sisters are pleased with how the stain on the front door turned out. Note the dense foliage reflected in the windows.  Both buildings are situated in beautiful settings. 












A simple etched pattern in the tinted concrete lends character to the front porches, as does the stone, quarried from a nearby source.









Each bedroom has a private bath.





















The kitchenette is nearly ready for the coffee cups and snacks of the first retreat guests.









Hidden behind the sliding doors on the left are storm refuge rooms, designed to provide a safe haven for guests in times of turbulent weather.









Even as the construction pace slows, the Sisters' pace is in high gear preparing bedroom furnishings for the move from Mary Hall.  Tape measures, furniture inventories, location charts, and work assignment lists are all part of readying for the transition. 








How you can help...

Did you notice the empty kitchenette counters? We are in need of multiple items to help turn these beautiful new buildings into spaces that are not only welcoming, but functional for guests.  While the bedrooms will mostly be furnished from existing Mary Hall supplies, we have identified numerous additional items that are needed in specific dimensions, capacities, colors, etc. We will soon be posting information about how you can help turn these empty buildings into a lovely, inviting home-away-from-home for our retreat guests. 



March 2014


New Retreat Center housing construction proceeding well

March 3, 2014

The construction pace on the new Retreat Center housing has been as brisk as the winter temperatures.  On Building A, siding installation is nearly complete, sheetrock had been hung, interior painting has begun, and the first bathroom tiles have been placed.  Progress on Building B follows just a few short weeks behind  Building A.  Below are some recent pictures from the work site.



Siding installation on Building A nears completion.











Installation of site utilities proceeds apace with the rest of construction.






The ample size of the living room / gathering space makes it an ideal work area for other construction activities.







A bedroom in Building A.  The opening leads toward private bath. 







The view of building B from the living room of Building A.






While much progress has been made with interior work, rainy weather has left much of the surrounding site a muddy mess, delaying some of the exterior activities.




January 2014

Phase III proceeds in the frigid temperatures

January 18, 2014

The nippy temperatures have not been able to stop the construction progress.  The new retreat center housing is looking great.  Advances on House A include installation of electrical, sprinkler, HVAC and gas systems.  House B has exterior walls closed up, windows installed and and a roof. The remaining manholes have been placed in the ground ahead of parking lot and road work.  See below for progress photos.

Manholes and drainage pipes going into the ground


Jan 8--Drainage system installation outside of House A (left)

Jan 14--House B has windows installed; trusses are raised to their proper positions (below)

The first truss being raised into position for House B's roof








House B with trusses in place



Jan 15--Pasture view of the construction area shows the trusses in place on House B





Gathering Room of House A



 Jan 17-- Gathering space in House A





Bedroom and bathroom progress in House A



Jan 17--House A bedroom and bathroom progress





A view of House B from a window in House A show the covered porch design



Jan 17-- A view from a window in House A show the remaining roof decking being applied to House B; the front entry porch that will be on both buildings can be seen clearly

Winter issue of Benedictine Update is published

January 17, 2014

The latest issue of Benedictine Update was mailed this week to our family and friends.  You can link to a pdf version here (note: it is a large file and a slow download).  Be sure and check out the interview with Sr. Treva Heinberg on page 3 and the News Briefs on pages 3 and 6.

Would you like to be among those who receive our various communications via U.S. Mail?  If so, just send a note to the Development Office at 916 Convent Rd. Cullman, AL, 35055 or development (at) shmon (dot) org and let us know your contact information.  You can also sign up for our occasional e-news mailings by clicking on the "Stay connected" box above. 


Phase III progress continues into the new year with added gusto

January 7, 2014

Even in the most frigid temperatures the state of Alabama has seen in decade Phase III construction activities push forward. House A has walls, a roof and windows and is abuzz with plumbers and electricians on a daily basis. Bedroom door frames and shower units are in the process of being set in place.  House B has come a long way since the slab was finally poured a few day before Christmas.  Wall frames are nearing completion and soon will be followed by trusses and exterior plywood.  The pictures below show the rapid progress.

House A bedroom framing



Dec. 26--House A bedroom with private bathroom wall framing





House A Kitchenette wall framing with electrical conduits



Dec. 31--House A kitchenette wall framing with electrical conduits






Dec. 31--A view of House A from the northeast corner of the slab for House B; plumbing and chalk marks for walls are visible in the foreground




House A door frame installation

House A bathroom plumbing



Jan. 2--Door frame and plumbing installation in House A





Jan. 6--House B wall framing progress



House B wall framing progress