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Pilgrimage to the Grave of Mother Benedicta Riepp
In 1852, responding to the need to educate the children of German immigrants, Mother Benedicta (Sybilla) Riepp (1825-1862) left Germany for Pennsylvania with two other Sisters and established the first community of Benedictine women religious in the United States. From there she founded Benedictine communities in Erie, PA; Newark, NJ; and St. Could, MN.
At the age of 37, she died of tuberculosis in St. Cloud on March 15, 1862 and is at rest in the cemetery of Saint Benedict's Monastery in Saint Joseph, MN.
St. Paul's Monastery was founded in 1948 when 178 Sisters moved from Saint Benedict's Monastery (then the largest community of Benedictine women religious in the world) to found the new St. Paul's Priory at 301 Summit near the Cathedral of Saint Paul.
So, Mother Riepp is a very important part of our story here at St. Paul's Monastery.
For years I have made a pilgrimage on October 31 up to Saint John's Abbey for the Vigil of All Saints. It's a powerful evening of prayer and praise. History literally surrounds you as relics of the Saints are on display for veneration. The lower chapels are even opened up for tours and prayer.
Last fall, though, I made my way to Collegeville via St. Joseph in search of Mother Riepp's grave. I parked my car along the road and wandered through many gravesites not quite sure how I would find Mother Riepp's place of rest. But then I heard the sweet sound of nuns singing. Marching single file, the Sisters entered the cemetery and with joyful song on their lips made their way to the Cross. I stood back a bit, feeling like I was intruding on a family celebration. This brief prayer liturgy ended as the Sisters belted out the great hymn "For All The Saints" ringing bells and carrying banners as they made their way back to the Monastic enclosure.
My heart was full and I nearly forgot why I was in the cemetery in the first place. I found a Sister who had lingered behind to pray and asked "Where will I find Benedicta Riepp?" She warmly smiled at me and simply pointed ahead about 20 feet. I'm not sure what I was expecting but was pleased to see she had the same grave cross as all her other Sisters. Her grave had lovely flowers on them, even if already touched by frost and fading away.
I stood before her and said "thank you" for her vocation, her courage, and strength to witness to Christ in good and difficult times. I asked for her intercession and for her prayers as I embraced my new role here at St. Paul's Monastery. I ended my brief time with her asking her to pray and inspire a Benedictine revival of sorts so that the wisdom of St. Benedict (so sorely needed in this world today!) would again live in the hearts of Christ's faithful.
Looking out at row after row after row of crosses, each marking the resting place of countless Benedictine Sisters, I felt the warm embrace of the "cloud of witnesses" before me.
Spiritually nourished in the presence of these Sisters at rest I continued my journey to Saint John's Abbey and enjoyed anew the Vigil of All Saints with the monks. Our holy foundress' name on my lips and gratitude in my heart for every Benedictine Sister who has followed Mother Riepp's invitation to serve witnessing to the love, mercy, and compassion of our God through the Benedictine way of life.
Mother Benedicta Riepp: pray for us.
Saint Scholastica: pray for us.
Saint Benedict: pray for us.
All you holy women and men: pray for us.
View a short history on Mother Riepp from Saint Benedict's Monastery by clicking here.
Travis Salisbury, OblSB serves as the director of mission advancement for St. Paul's Monastery and its Benedictine Center (since 2022) and is an oblate of St. Paul's Monastery since 2015.