Founders’ Day

We celebrated our founding this past Sunday, August 20. I can’t imagine what was going through the mind of these sisters. Some questions run through my mind. I wonder if those sisters would think of how the community has grown and what has come of them.

The Sisters of St. Benedict came to Ferdinand, Indiana, in 1867 to fill a need and make a difference in the lives of local settlers. Through the years, our sisters have adapted to the needs of a changing world. Yet we continue to live the 1,500-year-old tradition of Benedictine life faithfully — we seek God together, pray daily, and share our lives and ministries with others.

The story of all Benedictines begins in 16th century Italy. St. Benedict wrote his Rule for monks living in community and dedicated to prayer and work. Monasteries for men (and then women) were established, and monasticism spread throughout Europe. In 1852, the first Benedictine women arrived in the United States from St. Walburga Abbey in Eichstätt, Germany. They settled in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, and soon established multiple foundations, including one at Erie, Pennsylvania. From Erie, the sisters went to Covington, Kentucky, where they founded St. Walburg Monastery.

By 1867, the young Catholic settlement of Ferdinand, Indiana, needed teachers who could speak German. On August 20, 1867, four sisters arrived from St. Walburg — Sisters Benedicta Berns, Xaveria Schroeder, Rose Chapelle, and Clara Vollmer. They began teaching at the Ferdinand parish school, and in 1870, they opened a boarding school for girls named Academy Immaculate Conception (later renamed Marian Heights Academy).

In 1871, our community became independent of St. Walburg Monastery, and Sister Benedicta Berns was elected the first prioress. The rapidly growing community soon needed a larger monastery. In 1886, 72 sisters moved into the quadrangle, a traditional monastic structure they built northeast of St. Ferdinand Parish.