Grateful Hearts


Excerpts from With Grateful Hearts The Past We Own written by S. Carole Sweely, OSB.

In 1857 there were 57 sisters at the Convent of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. The chief works of these sisters dealt with teaching music, domestic work, needlework, and elementary school teaching. All prayers (with the exception of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary) were recited in the German language until after World War I. Major superiors were appointed by the abbot or the bishop in the area from 1857 to 1889. St. Benedict’s main focus from 1858 to 1900 was elementary school teaching with secondary and college teaching after 1900.

In 1947, ninety years later, the Benedictine community at St. Joseph, Minnesota, number 1277, staffing elementary schools, secondary schools, a college, hospitals, homes for the aged, and orphanage, Indian missions and mission in Formosa.

A Benedictine monastery, whatever the location, consists of sacred spaces, dreamers with eternal desires, guests who are welcomed as Christ, and events that distinguish monastics as being a school for the Lord’s service. In 1948, with these attributes in mind and at heart, 178 sisters from St. Benedict’s Convent in St. Joseph, Minnesota, chose to establish St. Paul’s Priory at 301 Summit Avenue, one of the oldest and most historical sites in St. Paul, Minnesota. What would motivate 178 sisters to move to a different diocese, seventy-five miles southeast of their Benedictine roots along the Mississippi River to new and uncharted sites? The answers again were varied and yet common: a familiar and to some a more desirable education system, family, and friends in the St. Paul area and the appeal of challenges and adventures of establishing a new priory.

In 1947 with over 1200 sisters at St. Benedict’s, Pope Pius XII perceived it as too large for a Benedictine “family-oriented” community. Mother Rosamond Praschner went to Rome to discuss possibilities of establishing three new foundations to lessen numbers at St. Benedicti’s and to initiate beginnings of the Federation of St. Benedict. In June 1947, 140 sisters had already chosen to establish Annunciation Priory in Bismarck, North Dakota. St. Benedict’s Convent in St. Joseph had appealed to the Sacred Congregation of Religious in Rome for recognition as a pontifical institute and, as a result, in 1947 the sisters were advised to have a minimum of three independent priories inclusive of St. Benedict’s as members of the new congregation.

So, invitations and permissions were sought from local bishops—John Treacy, bishop of LaCrosse and John Gregory Murray, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Once proprieties were in order with the clergy, word was sent to all the sisters at St. Benedict’s informing them that these two new foundations were being made and they could choose by January 15, 1948, of which priory they wished to be a part. This initial information was sent in the fall of 1947 with instructions for secrecy—the sisters were not to discuss their choices with others. Reasons for the secrecy were varied: influencing others was a major concern lest too many leave St. Benedict’s at one time and some believed that only the discontented might leave. So, emphasis was put on the positive aspect of the choice—the adventures of establishing a new foundation. As a result, 950 sisters stayed at St. Benedict’s, 178 chose St. Paul, while 83 signed for Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Previously, 140 sisters had chosen to relocated to Annunciation Priory in Bismarck.

Once names were published for the new foundations, search committees were appointed for each site. These committees had varied responsibilities such as contacting the local bishops for sundry permissions, seeking living accommodations for each community, deciding on feasible dates for the move among the charter members and many other items that had to be taken into consideration for a move that involved so many.

Members of the St. Paul committee were: Sisters Loraine Tracy, Alcuin Braun, Adelia Schmidt, Aquina Hartman, and Ottilia Heibel. An initial meeting for the search committee occurred at the Benedictine House of Studies on Summit Avenue in St. Paul on March 11, 1948 at 1:00pm with Mother Rosamond Pratschner present. Sister Aquina was the appointed secretary, Sister Alcuin, treasurer, and Sister Loraine, chair-person.

A second meeting on April 3, 1948 was held when the questionnaires from the 178 sisters were discussed which consisted of summarizing the required needs of the sisters and the staffing of the schools.

This series of memories from With Grateful Hearts The Past We Own will continue monthly throughout the coming 75th anniversary year.