133 Years and counting
In Sunday’s 2nd reading St. Paul exhorts us: “Therefore, my beloved, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” What an appropriate and uplifting message to us (the Benedictine Sisters of FL) as we approach the celebration of the 133rd anniversary of the day the Benedictine Sisters first set foot in Pasco County Florida on February 28, 1889. The “Founding Five” Sisters from Pennsylvania asked the same question as the man in the Gospel: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Let me explain what prompts me to share what will follow – something I know you’ve already heard. Pope Francis, in 2018, when pitching his idea for a book to Loyola Press, reminded the editors that elders have been “entrusted with the task of transmitting our history” to the next generation. His book: Sharing the Wisdom of Time soon became a documentary series available on NETFLIX. Indulge me now as I share the “Cliff Notes” version of our history; the beginnings of our community here is central Florida.
We can trace our lineage in U.S. history to Mother Benedicta Riepp and her companions who arrived in Latrobe, PA in 1852 from Eichstätt, Bavaria. Now, leap frog over almost forty (40) years to 1889. From central Florida, the voice of God spoke in the guise of Fr. Gerard Pilz to his Benedictine sister-friend Dolorosa Scanlan: “Please” he pleaded, “come and educate these children.” The superior and bishop in PA blessed the five respondents, “Go in peace!”
On departure day, there was a 6’ snowfall as the train left Allegheny County, PA. Three days later it was a toasty 80 degrees when they arrived in Pasco County, San Antonio, FL. These Sisters had been divinely commissioned to “spread the Good news everywhere.” They began the very day after their arrival, founding Holy Name Academy, assuming administration of Saint Anthony Parish School, and shortly thereafter the school 3 miles away in St. Joseph, FL. From 1929 to 1959, the community also operated St. Benedict Prep and from 1970-2002 Holy Name Montessori early education center. They fed the hungry, looked after the sick and buried the dead.
In the long view of history, this growing band of visionaries who just could not say NO, were involved at all levels of education: early childhood to college level, adult education and tutoring programs. They were administrators and teachers, drama and music directors, school bus drivers, coaches for debate and sports teams. They established a litany list of schools in Florida, Texas and Louisiana and conducted weekend and summer catechetical programs at Good Counsel Camp and parishes with no Catholic school throughout central FL. In 1902, the FL community was instrumental in the founding of the motherhouse in Cullman, AL. In 1911, their 3-story wood-frame home was suspended on logs and pulled by oxen for the move from San Antonio town plaza to the shores of Lake Jovita in St. Leo.
The story is relatively routine for the intervening years until 1959 when the Sisters’ home and girls’ academy was declared unfit living space by the fire department. The townspeople responded to their dilemma, opening their homes and hearts to the Sisters and academy students during the construction phase for a new convent. That building still stands having been renovated and renamed Benedictine Hall on Saint Leo University campus. In 2014, the Sisters moved across the road to the new Holy Name Monastery.
And, the “rest of the story”??? Here we are 133 years since those 5 adventurous souls responded to the voice of God. We continue to strive to live the words of Scripture, voiced by St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians [Sunday 2nd reading]: “Be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord.” We live assured, that every worthy venture we consider, is blessed by the promise of God. We’ve lived that fulfillment, as St. Paul says, “knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain.”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB
Please join us in prayer on Monday as we celebrate our 133rd anniversary of the day Benedictine Sisters from PA arrived in San Antonio (Pasco County) FL … now located in St. Leo, FL – Florida’s first incorporated township.
Thank YOU for being in our “Fan Club”
First Reading: Sirach 27:4-7 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:54-58
Gospel: Luke 6:39-45