Practicing God’s Presence: A Contemplative Retreat
The Benedictine Sisters of Florida are beyond grateful to announce our plans for reopening Holy Name Monastery. It has been over a year since we were forced to close our doors due to a pandemic that no one could have imagined would last so long. This difficult decision was made for the safety of those who come to us in need and in prayer, as well as for our Sisters. For all of us our sphere of life based on connection and community has been greatly diminished during this time. Hopefully, our outreach, sharing, and communications by phone, zoom and social media have filled some of the void.
After months of sheltering in place and vaccinations made available, we feel that the process of welcoming guests back to our home – Holy Name Monastery – can begin. Beginning July 6th we will slowly and cautiously do so. The plan follows and for everyone’s health and safety, we implore you to be vaccinated before visiting.
As we monitor what the CDC says about the Delta variant, large group retreats can hopefully take place beginning in early fall.
To schedule overnight stays and retreats, contact Sister Mary Clare at: (352) 588-8320 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
God’s blessings to all as we move forward to more normalcy in our lives,
Benedictine Sisters of FloridaContinue Reading
The Benedictine Sisters of Florida have re-elected Sister Roberta Bailey, O.S.B. to lead the community as prioress for the next six years. The election of prioress is really a discernment in prayer, listening for the voice of God regarding who should lead the community into the future. The Sisters of Holy Name Monastery came together for three days co-facilitated by Sisters from other Benedictine monasteries: Sister Kathy McNany (Baltimore) and Sister Marcia Ziska (Atchison). The president of the Federation of Saint Scholastica, Sister Lynn McKenzie, was there as well to help focus the group on what Saint Benedict instructs: Listen with the ear of your heart.
Sister Roberta has served as prioress since 2010, leading the efforts of the Benedictine Sisters at Holy Name Monastery in St. Leo in their ministries of services “to feed the hungers of the people of God.” The community was founded 132 years ago by five Sisters from Pittsburgh, PA. The Benedictine Sisters of Florida live a life of commitment to be-come a sign of God’s presence in the world. In “Non-Covid” times the Sisters welcome guests to their liturgical services and host guests for retreats or “time away,” self-directed groups, monthly concerts and a variety of other small-group activities.
Sister Roberta’s career began in 1959 as a classroom teacher for infants through college aged students and has been in educational leadership since 1970. Sister previously served as principal of St. Anthony School (San Antonio) and Pope John Paul Catholic School (Lecanto, FL). She founded the Montessori schools in St. Leo, FL and at Blessed Trinity in Ocala, FL. She has served as a member of the advisory council for the Office of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, a board member (and on the Quality Committee) for the Pasco-Hernando Early Learning Coalition and was a governor appointee on the Florida’s Universal Pre-K commission. Sister is the past editor of the ECA of FL journal Children Our Concern, a former member of the Tampa Oratorio Society and Saint Leo Chorus. Currently Sister serves as a trustee of Saint Leo University, board member of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, Sunrise Family Abuse Shelter, Premier Community Health Care and the diocesan Commission for Religious.
In accepting the Community’s election, Sister Roberta drew the Sisters’ attention to the reflection she had offered the previous weekend: “Do Whatever He Tells You.” That was Mary’s directive to the wine servers at the Wedding Feast at Cana. In today’s Gospel, May 4th, Jesus reassures us He will not leave us alone on our life’s journey in seeking His will. He promises: “My peace I give you, my peace I leave with you.”
Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. … from a shining cloud a voice is heard … and Abraham answered “Here I am!” And, Peter said: Lord, it is good for us to be here – let us build a tent. In the words of Paul, I ask you: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
This weekend we celebrate our 132nd founding “birthday.” As we recall the beginnings of our community here in central Florida, those snippets I read from this weekend’s Scriptural readings – arranged to suit this writer – sketch out the story of our founding Sisters quite nicely. My challenge is to be true to the history of 132 years without diminishing its impact as I condense it to a few printed pages. So, I’m giving you the “Reader’s Digest” or “Cliff Notes” version of the story I know.
The year was 1889. From central Florida, the voice of God spoke in the guise of Father Gerard Pilz: “Please come and educate these children.” A Sister-friend said: yes – let me see who will join me. In a document dated February 15, 1889, Bishop Phelan of Pittsburgh and Bishop Moore of Florida and Mother Adelgunda agreed and said to the Sisters: “Know that you give up all claims on the Pittsburgh community – Go in peace.” That was on February 15th. By the evening of February 24th, Dolorosa gathered Boniface, Josephine and Agatha for a transfer of vows ritual that Agnes witnessed. Later, she said “Wait for me, I’m coming, too.”
On February 25, 1889 there was a 6’ snowfall when the troop boarded the train as it left Alleghany County, PA. They arrived travel-worn, feeling bouts of fear, excitement and hesitation, in San Antonio, Florida three days later on February 28, 1889, where it was a toasty 80 degrees. The townsfolk hadn’t quite finished the renovations on their future home so the Sisters stayed a stone’s throw away in the Dallas House just outside the town square.
Now you’ll recall that Peter, James and John went UP a mountain with Jesus. These ladies traveled, DOWN…down south and south some more to almost the tip of the south-eastern-most state in the union. DOWN below the southern tip of an area commonly referred to as the “Bible belt.”
Jesus told his disciple, “Tell the vision to no one.” These Sisters were informally commissioned to “spread the news everywhere.” Beginning the day after their arrival, they founded Holy Name Academy, their first school in their home and assumed administration of Saint Anthony Parish School, March 1, 1889 and shortly thereafter the school three miles away in St. Joseph. From 1929 to 1959, the community also operated St. Benedict Prep School for boys too young to attend the nearby Abbey school. These ladies in strange long black dresses, riding on a donkey, were known to pay “pop in” visits on farmers and ranchers, absent school children and Sunday Mass absentees. 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 in all levels of education: early ed to college, adult education and tutoring programs. They were teachers, drama directors, musicians, school bus drivers, coaches for debate and sports teams. They established a litany of schools as well as weekend and summer catechetical programs in: Quincy, Ocala, Inverness, Floral City, Leesburg, Dade City, Brooksville, DeLand; Deer Lake Camp, Good Counsel Camp, Camp Lake Jovita. There were schools in honor of a roll call of saints: Holy Family, St. Anthony and St. Paul, Santa Fe, St. Lawrence and St. Martha. St. Boniface in Olfen, TX, St. Teresa in New Orleans, St. Margaret Mary and Our Lady of Lourdes in Slidell, LA and Annunciation in Bogalusa, MS. In 1902 three of the Florida foundresses (and two others, one a postulant, later a prioress, Mother Annunciata) again said yes to a voice calling them into service. Along with Benedictine women from Covington, KY they answered the plea of the Bishop of Birmingham, AL to make a new foundation that today thrives in Cullman, AL.
In 1911, the three-story – once-hotel, now Holy Name Convent – was suspended on logs and pulled by oxen for the move from San Antonio plaza, a ½ mile up an incline to the shores of Lake Jovita. The story is relatively routine for the intervening years until 1930 when there was an infusion of eight young, energetic postulants. Several more candidates entered after WWII and the community grew to 65 members by the late 1950s. By then, certification was required of all teachers in any educational setting: public or faith-based. Our Sisters took weekend and night classes (no on-line, virtual classes in those days!). They crammed as many courses as possible into what we’d laughingly call “summer vacation” time. Some were released to “go away” for a semester or a year or so to further their education.
Then, began a new flurry of activity. In 1959, the place the Sisters called home and housed the girls’ boarding school, was declared by code unfit for occupancy. Result – Sisters and the girls were temporarily housed at St. Anthony School and with some families in town. The “old building” was demolished and a new Holy Name Priory was erected just across the original driveway. In a short span of time, the Benedictine Sisters began collaboration with the monks of Saint Leo Abbey to extend the abbey prep school program to junior college level and later the four-year college – before long, a university. We built new facilities to house college women and provide meals for coed students. Right around this time, the Sisters joined the Congregation of St. Scholastica. This was all new, and with our house so geographically distant from other Benedictine communities – well, we tootled along as usual, making decisions as we were accustomed to – the council said, so Mother said and things happened. Thus it was that one day, Sister Carmen was on the phone with Mother Mary Frances (congregation president). She could hear the sound of construction in the background and asked what was going on. When Sister Carmen replied, “That’s the new dorm going up.” “Oh, my dear, now that you are in the congregation, our council is supposed to review your plans so we know you won’t go into debt.” (Sometimes it’s just seems better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.)
And the “rest of the story” ??? Most of us in this room are the “rest of the story” …years of decisions, chapel renovations and praying in the parlor, spreading to unused space than down-sizing, planning and building and moving, welcoming candidates and saying good-byes; jubilees and funerals, galas and retreats … the list goes on. And, here we are 48, 212 days after those four adventurous souls (remember one that we call foundress didn’t come until June). We live assured, that with every venture we consider, the words of Paul in the second reading are our firm foundation: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If God is in this, if this is God’s will, if this is the voice of God from the cloud, a rainbow of blessings will be there for us. And we can say with Peter: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”
Have you ever really given thought about the magnitude of giving that a woman of God vows. Her entire life is committed to Him and bringing people to His Kingdom. It is difficult to imagine what faith and love that it takes. It could never be measured except by God.
The Benedictine Sisters of Florida are such women living their lives in faithful service to God and His people. February 28, 2021 represents their 132nd anniversary of commitment to the message of Jesus – peace, love, forgiveness and giving. The five founding Sisters of the Benedictine Sisters of Florida came in 1889 from Pennsylvania to San Antonio, Florida to answer the call to educate the children of poor German immigrants. Touching lives through their prayer
s and service, they and the Sisters who followed have brought light, love and hope to countless students whom they have taught and to a multitude of individuals in need of guidance. To this very day, their role in the Church has never faltered.
In remembering the strong shoulders upon whom they stand, the Sisters invite you to celebrate in spirit and prayer the Feast Day of Saint Scholastica, February 10, 2021. You may recall, she is the twin sister of Saint Benedict and the patron saint of Benedictine nuns. Born in Norcia, Italy on March 2, 480 AD into a wealthy family, she chose to establish a religious community only a few miles from Saint Benedict’s. Like her brother, Saint Scholastica walked with God throughout her life. Please keep her and all her followers in your thoughts and prayers tomorrow.
Prayers for you and the world continue daily at Holy Name Monastery by the Sisters for peace and unity.