Community News



APRIL 2015




Community elects new Prioress

April 25, 2015


The Benedictine Sisters of Cullman, Alabama joyfully announce the election of Sister Tonette Sperando, O.S.B. as their new Prioress.  Her six-year term of office will begin on Saturday, June 6, 2015. 


Sister Tonette was elected following a period of discernment by the monastic community during which they sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to whom God was calling to lead the community at this particular time.  The discernment process was facilitated by Sister Mary Catherine Wenstrup, O.S.B., Prioress of St. Walburg Monastery in Covington, KY.  Presiding over the election was Sister Susan Quaintence, O.S.B., First Councilor of the Federation of St. Scholastica, the Federation of Benedictine Sisters to which the Sacred Heart community belongs.

Please rejoice with us over the election of Sister Tonette as our new Prioress!









After the election...


From left to right: Sister Mary Catherine Wenstrup, O.S.B., Election Facilitator; Sister Susan Quaintance, O.S.B., Election Presider; Sister Tonette Sperando, O.S.B., Prioress-Elect; and Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie, O.S.B., President of the Federation of St. Scholastica.












Sister Tonette with current Prioress Sister Janet Marie Flemming, O.S.B., whose term of office will come to a close on June 6, 2015.















The Election Committee coordinated the details of preparation for the discernment and election.


(left to right): Sister Priscilla Cohen, O.S.B.; Sister Bernadette Sachs, O.S.B. (Chair); and Sister Karen Ann Lortscher, O.S.B.











Posing with Susan Quaintance, O.S.B., the Election Presider, are Sister Priscilla Cohen, O.S.B., Secretary of the Election (second from right), and the Election Tellers, Sister Sherrie Brainard, O.S.B. (left), and Sister Therese Haydel, O.S.B. (right).





Phase III Blessing and Open House deemed a success

April 19, 2015


On Saturday, April 18, 2015, the monastic community gathered with Bishop Robert Baker, bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham, family, friends, Oblates, employees, and benefactors to bless the buildings and areas that were completed during Phase III of the renovation. These areas included: "Subiaco," the private retreatant area that had not been included in the previous blessing at the end of Phases I and II; Mary and St. Joseph Guest Houses; and the Arts and Crafts Studio located in the back section of the old chicken barn.  The blessing ceremony was followed by an Open House for the public and refreshments in the Retreat Center Dining Room.

Sisters Elisabeth and Michelle welcome fellow religous to the blessing ceremony



Sister Sara Aiden, Julia Heard, and Sister Minona Anne (l to r)










Sisters welcome other religious of the diocese, Oblates, friends, and family to the blessing ceremony, which took place in the Retreat Center Dining Area.


Guests arriving for the blessing ceremony

Sisters and guests gather in Retreat Center Dining Room













Bishop Baker greets assembled guests


Sister Tonette happily greets guests











Bishop Baker addresses the assembly



Sister Janet Marie begins the blessing ceremony with a welcome














Above: Bishop Baker addresses the assembly

At right: Sister Janet Marie, Prioress, welcomes guests to the celebration

Below: Sister Madeline reads text from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians


Sister Madeline reads Scripture text


Sisters and guests gathered together















Bishop Baker blesses private retreatant bedroom with holy water

Bishop Baker heads to Mary Guest House for sprinkling of holy water in each room















At left: Bishop Baker blesses private retreatant bedroom

Above: Bishop baker and guests proceed to Mary Guest House with holy water to bless all guest areas

Below: Interior of Mary Guest House





More photos of the blessing and Open House may be seen on the Monastic Moments webpage.

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.