Benedictines mark 150th anniversary with special Mass at Mount
by Sara Stacey
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — The old college chapel here, where schoolgirls once gathered, saw women religious from near and far come to celebrate on Feb. 10. Some were returning to the monastery that had housed them while they attended Mount St. Scholastica College. Others were from nearby communities.
But all had a connection to the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison.
Prioress Anne Shepard welcomed the guests who had joined them for one of the signature events of the order’s yearlong celebration of its 150th anniversary: a Mass and lunch on the feast of St. Scholastica, foundress of the women’s side of the Benedictine order.
“Our theme this year is ‘With grateful hearts,’” she told the gathering, “and we are most grateful to you for being here with us,” with a special nod to Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, celebrant of the Mass.
The archbishop started off his homily by comparing the Sisters’ 150th anniversary with the anniversary of a family or married couple: The event gives all an occasion to recall the good times and to renew their vows for the future.
“It’s amazing to recall the faith, and boldness, and courage of those first seven Sisters who first came to Atchison 150 years ago in the midst of our nation’s Civil War,” he said, “to be God’s instruments in beginning a rich history of witness, of service to the children and the families of Atchison and the surrounding area.”
But what they and their successors accomplished was even more amazing still.
“It is truly remarkable how much God has accomplished because of the faith and the trust of those first seven young Sisters,” he said, from the generations of students the college attracted, to the daughter houses the Mount has founded in Mexico, Brazil and California.
“When you reflect on how many lives have been enriched — not only in a material sense but, more importantly, in a spiritual, an eternal sense . . . because of the faith of those founding Sisters — it is as miraculous as when Jesus blessed the five barley loaves and a couple of fish to feed thousands,” he said.
Despite never being attracted to community life himself, said the archbishop, “since my priestly ordination and even more so in my years as a bishop, I have become more and more convinced of the importance of the religious life — not just for the members of the communities, but for the life of the church.”
“Religious life,” he said, “when lived with joy and enthusiasm, is an instrument that God uses to renew his entire church.”
The Gospel reading for the feast of St. Scholastica features the story of Martha and Mary — the sister who worked, and the sister who sat at the feet of Christ.
That reading, said the archbishop, speaks the truth about what’s at the heart of the religious life.
“There is need for only one thing,” and that is choosing to listen to Christ, he said.
“Martha missed the point of hospitality,” he continued. Hospitality means doing whatever the guest most desires, and what Jesus desired was for Mary and Martha to sit and talk with him. Martha was doing what she thought Jesus wanted, perhaps because she wanted him to think highly of her, said the archbishop, acknowledging his own desire to be well-liked to the audience’s chuckles.
Prayer is the gift of the Benedictines to the church, continued Archbishop Naumann.
“It is in listening to the Lord that we discover what the Lord wants from us” and how much he loves us, he added.
“Prayer gives us the energy to spend our lives in the service of the One who first loved us,” he concluded.
As a token of the prayers and appreciation of the community, Sister Anne presented the archbishop with a plaque with the image of St. Scholastica.
After the Mass, Sister Glenna Smith, president of the Federation of St. Scholastica, shared with a smile her reason for traveling all the way from St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow, Va., for the occasion.
“I came to party,” she said with a laugh.
“I really did come to celebrate with these Sisters,” Sister Glenna continued. “They are a gift to the Benedictine world, and have been for years and years.”
While each monastery in the federation is independent, they do share gifts and resources.
“They are very gifted and very generous,” Sister Glenna said of the Mount community.
Sister Jacinta Conklin and Sister John Paul Bauer, from St. Joseph Monastery in St. Marys, Pa., the first Benedictine women’s house in America where the original seven Sisters came from, were also on hand for the occasion.
They came to deliver their archives to Sister Marie Louise Krenner, retired archivist at the Mount, and were invited to come for the Mass to represent the first house of Benedictines.
Sister Jacinta had been a student at Mount St. Scholastica College for a year for monastic studies.
“It’s so cool. I always said it was my second home,” she said happily.
Sister Thomasita Homan, who wrote the “Beanie Blessing” famous at Benedictine College’s Beanie Banquet new student initiation, entered the Mount in 1956 at the age of 17. When she asked the prioress what the community could offer her, she was told, “Not much. Just a group of women who will join hands with you seeking God.”
That is exactly what being a religious woman is all about, said Sister Thomasita — and getting to celebrate with other religious women was something she had been looking forward to.
Planning for the yearlong celebration of the 150th anniversary began five years ago. An event is planned to celebrate with each constituency that has impacted the religious community.
But the one on Feb. 10, explained Sister Thomasita, “is very close to our hearts.”
Still to come
The following is a list of future celebrations honoring the Benedictine Sisters of Atchison’s 150th year:
Citywide picnic on the lawn at Mount St. Scholastica, 801 S. 8th, Atchison
Celebration in Kansas City for family and friends at St. Pius X Church, 5500 Woodson Ave., Mission
Fellin Lecture: Judy Valente, PBS reporter and author, at Benedictine College, Atchison
Celebration at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Seneca
Night of Dreams benefit auction and dinner