Statistics tell us that even as the U.S. Church shrinking in some parts of the country, it is growing in the south and the west. Might monastic communities be following this pattern? One community just taking root in the south is the monastery of The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Peace.
First established in 2003 by Sisters Gertrude Gillette and Theresa Schueren (d. 2008), the community initially sprang up alongside Ave Maria University in Michigan, then Naples, Florida. Now these Benedictines seem to have found their real rooting ground tucked amid the rolling hills and breathtaking mountains of North Carolina.
Numbering just three members when I visited them earlier this fall, the community nevertheless keeps a well-ordered monastic rhythm. The monastery draws its inspiration from the practices of England’s Stanbrook Abbey. The weekday prayer schedule begins with 5:30 am Vigils, and is followed by lectio divina and then Lauds. Midday Prayer comes at 12:30. Toward evening the sisters have Adoration, followed by Vespers. Compline comes at 8:15, closer to bedtime. While most of the hours are prayed in English, Vespers typically is sung in Latin. I was told that this is not for any ideological reason, but simply because of the beauty of the language for prayer, particularly when sung. Community members study the meaning of texts during regular music practices. When large groups are expected, however, they sometimes will use an English version.
The community is fundamentally contemplative in bent. I was impressed with the way they observe silence during work times and meals, which are accompanied by reading about a saint of the day, and then sometimes music. Our drive to the local parish for Sunday mass included praying a psalm and then the rosary, after which we quietly enjoyed the view.
While yet a small community, clearly these sisters cherish the beauty of monastic ritual. Liturgical prayer began with statio in a nearby room, and a procession into the small house chapel. Sisters bowed to the tabernacle and each other before being seated. At the Marian antiphon, the community moved so as to sing facing a lovely Ukrainian icon of the Mother of God. After meals, they also turn in the dining room to face a statue of the Blessed Mother as they sing another antiphon to Our Lady.
Chant has pride of place in the liturgies of these Benedictines. The melodies for hymns, antiphons, and psalm tones have been gathered from a number of different monasteries. Sr. Gertrude says that she visited many houses, and she has tried to collect the best.
The refreshing thing about these sisters is that while they do liturgy, ritual, and silence really well, they also have a lighthearted evangelizing spirit. They host various groups in their guest quarters, including a growing group of oblates, and with constitutional enclosure, they are open to part-time ministries of teaching, lecturing, and giving retreats. Clearly they have a valuable ministry of presence among the local parishioners, who were eager to talk with them before, during, and after mass.
While active ministry opportunities may help support the community, the sisters also raise a beef herd on their pasture land, and keep chickens. Parishioners regularly buy eggs from them before Sunday mass. Certainly the sisters live very simply, but it remains to be seen how the community’s work will continue to evolve. This will in large part depend on the gifts of those who come to join the community. I look forward to watching them grow.
For more information on the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Peace, check out their website: https://qopbenedictines.com/.