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Mother Benedicta Riepp

Today, March 15, we celebrate the first Benedictine sister who came to and founded the first Benedictine convent in America, Mother Benedicta Riepp.

Mother Benedicta Riepp was born Maria Sybilla Riepp on June 28, 1825, in Waal in the Bavarian province of Swabia. At age 19, she entered the Benedictine Convent of Saint Walburga in Eichstätt, where she took her final vows in 1849. She then became a teacher and mistress of novices at the convent. In 1852, at the request of Abbot Boniface Wimmer, monk of Metten Abbey in Bavaria, Riepp sailed for America with two companions to establish the first Benedictine convent there. They settled in the German colony of St. Marys, Elk County, Pennsylvania, the site of an existing Benedictine monastery, and established St. Joseph’s Convent and School, of which Mother Benedicta became superior.

In the course of 15 years, nine independent convents were established from the original community, but not without hardships. Enduring jurisdictional disputes with Abbot Wimmer and the motherhouse, in 1859 Riepp returned to Europe in order to secure independence for the American convents. Although she was successful in separating from the motherhouse, the American convents were placed under the authority of their respective diocesan bishops. Wimmer also had Riepp removed as superior of St. Joseph’s. Returning to America, she spent her last years at convents in Erie, Pennsylvania, and St. Cloud, Minnesota, and died in St. Cloud on March 15, 1862. By 1964, over 30 independent convents traced their origin to the first convent in St. Marys.

Sources: James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971. McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

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