Wednesday, October 19, 2016

First Profession of Monastic Vows

On October 7, 2016, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, we celebrated the self-giving of our two senior novices, Sr. Ann and Sr. Catherine, as they made their first profession of monastic vows. Promising obedience, stability, and fidelity to the monastic way of life for three years, they were given new names to underscore their new identities as professed Benedictine nuns.

We are now practicing calling them Sr. Maria-Raphaelle and Sr. Fidelis, and rejoice with them in this major step in faith on their journey to God.

Sr. Maria-Raphaelle and Sr. Fidelis in the guest dining room on October 7, after the Mass in which they professed their first vows as Benedictine nuns.

Sr. Maria-Raphaelle, 25, is one of the six children of Davin and Janet Lee of Huntsvillte, Alabama. She was homeschooled in a lively and inventive family, and spent three years working with  Monrovia Volunteer Fire/Rescue, learning emergency response skills that have already come in handy around the Abbey. One of her four brothers is also a Benedictine, Br. Dominic of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. Besides helping in our infirmary, she paints Pascal candles and is learning to accompany our night office of Compline on the psaltery.

Sr. Fidelis, 29, is also one of six, and was also homeschooled; her parents are John and Marie- Emmanuelle Bartle of Victoria, British Columbia. She has a degree in history in art from the University of Victoria, and is another member of the Pascal candle staff. As an accomplished pianist and organist, she often accompanies our singing of the Liturgy of the Hours and Mass.

Besides being artistic and musical, both of the newly professed are always willing to find additional outlets for creativity in garden, kitchen, and elsewhere around the Abbey.

Monday, October 10, 2016

New Novices join our Abbey Community

Three new novices have joined our community  this year. On February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Sr. Catherine Marie Carlin of Lufkin, Texas, received her habit, followed on April 17, the 4th Sunday of Easter, by  Sr. Brandi Lynn McWhorter of St. Louis, Missouri. On September 8, the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary,  Sr. Hillary Kunz of Austin, Texas, joined the novitiate as well.
Sr. Catherine Marie got to know our Abbey several years ago when she was attending Wyoming Catholic College north of us in Lander, Wyoming. As the youngest of a family of ten, she is already well acquainted with community life, and we are all benefiting from her musical and culinary gifts, among many others.
Sr. Brandi Lynn became acquainted with Benedictine life through our brother monks of St. Louis Abbey in her hometown. A convert to the faith, she  worked for several years as an accountant, and is our house expert in Microsoft Excel.
Sr. Hillary Kunz  studied education at Baylor University and has worked as a camp counselor, and in outdoor recreation programs for disadvantaged youth in Austin, Texas. Her extensive travels include walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain and visiting her cousin, Fr. Martin, a Benedictine monk at Norcia, Italy.
Life in the monastery makes use of any and all experience, and we pray for our three new Sisters as they run the course of this more intensive period of their Benedictine formation.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Altar Bread Department passes a milestone

Our altar bread department last month shipped an order with invoice # 10,000 -- meaning, yes, that 10,000 orders, some consisting of many thousands of individual breads, have passed through our packing and shipping operation since it began in 1997.

Sr. Pauline in our altar bread packing room, surrounded by bags of hosts to be shipped, boxes of more hosts to be bagged, and the trademark foam "peanuts" that ensure the breads' safe arrival at parishes and religious communities across the country.

We do not bake the hosts ourselves, but are happy to be able to support our fellow Benedictines, the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri, who have been baking breads for more than 100 years, and have all the requisite equipment for large-scale baking. From them we buy hosts in bulk, then pack them into smaller bags and packages for shipment to our own customers, removing broken or flawed breads in the process. Sr. Augustine, our eldest nun at 91, still puts in a good day's work packing breads, something she has been doing since we started in late 1997.

Although one of our own Sisters had baked hosts back in the 1950s, we had shifted our energies to other work and ministries by 1963. The impetus to bring back altar bread work was our impending move from Boulder to Virginia Dale in 1997. Sr. Regina Krushen started our altar bread department during our early days in the "modulstery" of prefabricated buildings which was our home for the first two years in our new location. As she wrote for our newsletter at that time,

"This ministry serves two purposes for our Abbey. First of all, it is a means of support while our new retreat house and other facilities are under construction over the next couple of years. But more important is the spiritual dimension of this service. As contemplative Benedictine nuns committed to Christ and his Church through our lives of prayer, we endeavor by our altar bread work to share the spirit of our worship in a concrete way with all the faithful."

Sr. Regina died in 2003, but the altar bread department has continued under the guidance of Sr. Pauline, and with the help of other Sisters and many generous oblates and volunteers, who come regularly to spend a few prayerful hours at the contemplative task of sorting the breads.

For more information on our altar bread, please visit  or email us at

Saturday, September 17, 2016

More smoke

Preparing for a cookout in the Abbey courtyard earlier this summer -- something we don't do when conditions are very dry and fire danger correspondingly high.
In an earlier post we spoke of the occasional scent of wood smoke from wildfires -- often quite distant. But on September 4, our idyllic Sunday afternoon was disrupted by evidence of a fire much closer to our Abbey. A great plume of smoke was visible to the west, especially from the higher ground closer to the highway. We heard the reassuring sound of sirens as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene -- near the Starwood Trail on public land, as we later learned, so the blaze was dubbed the Starwood Fire.

As some Sisters telephoned around for news, others hustled the cattle down to the hayfields along the creek, where the grass is moist and green. The cattle were certainly happy about it, and looked beautiful against the green, in the evening light of late summer.

Providence -- and fast work by firefighters -- kept the fire  to a very modest 300 acres. Last we heard, it was quite contained, and had caused no injuries or damage to buildings. We even had some rain overnight a few days later -- not so great in quantity, but slow and gentle, so that it soaked in to the dry land and vegetation.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cannery Row

Our monastic refectory became a fruit processing center in late August as we cut and bagged many pounds of luscious peaches for freezing and canning.

August in Colorado means PEACHES! And we are the grateful beneficiaries of many kind donors of crates of these delicious orchard-fresh fruits. Even better, not all of the peaches came already ripe at the same time. Our stalwart kitchen staff certainly had a busy couple of weeks, but not absolute frenzy to try to get all of them canned or frozen before they were past any hope of use.

We also blanched, cut, and froze several crates of sweet corn -- after eating as much of is as we reasonably could. This is also turning out to be a good year for our native fruits, and some of the more agile and ambitious Sisters have been collecting chokecherries and currants before the bears get all of them. Chokecherries are said to be very nutritious, but need to be made into jelly to be palatable to most humans. They are also pretty heavy on the pit. Currants are sweeter and pitless, but pretty small. Now ripening are the wild plums, which are quite tasty, and large enough to seem worthwhile.

Black bears relish all of these, and are not constrained by worries about tearing their clothes on the branches, or about breaking the branches in the process of berry-picking. We've seen signs of bear feeding (you know what we mean) quite close to our buildings and on our entrance road, so they are definitely finding the food sources. Indeed, it is amazing that an animal as large as a black bear can subsist on such tiny fruits.

One can easily sympathize with Yogi and Boo-Boo and their interest in "pickanick baskets".

Friday, August 26, 2016

How many Nuns...

...does it take to feed a water buffalo calf?

"Maggie" was born earlier this summer, and is being trained to the  bottle so that  her mother becomes more accustomed to being milked by humans. Water buffalo milk is especially prized for making mozzarella cheese, so we will hope for success all the way around.

It's a bit hard to see in this picture, but that milk bottle is being aimed at the muzzle of Maggie, the new water buffalo calf. We're hoping she soon gets the concept and stops requiring two Sisters to restrain her while she's being fed.

We've been happy to enjoy the great outdoors quite a bit this summer. Our weather has not been as hot and dry as in many parts of the country. While the grass in the picture below does look pretty scraggly, that is fairly normal for our arid climate.

An evening recreation in our courtyard, Abbey friend Father Robert from Texas regales us with tales of his adventures in parish life and seminary administration.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Abbess Emerita Mother Maria-Thomas Beil celebrates Diamond Jubilee of Vows

On July 29th we had the great joy of celebrating the 60th anniversary of monastic profession with our retired Abbess, Mother Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB. Upwards of sixty guests -- old friends, oblates, and benefactors -- joined us for the beautiful Mass of the Memorial of Sts. Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Friends of the Lord.
Mother Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, Abbess Emerita, with her festively decorated profession candle and wreath of "diamonds" on her 60th anniversary of profession. Since we burn our profession candles every year on our anniversary, hers has become quite short by now!

Since this feast celebrates friendship and hospitality at Bethany, it is especially dear to us as Benedictines. In his homily on John 11:19-27, Abbey friend Father Frank Garcia underlined the growth of St. Martha's faith -- attested to in her declaration, "I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God". As is our custom, the  Sister celebrating a jubilee takes an additional name, and Mother Maria-Thomas chose "Fides", the Latin word for "faith", as her diamond anniversary name.

Clergy, jubilarian, and choir of nuns and postulants sing together at the Mass for Mother Maria-Thomas' 60th anniversary of monastic profession.

In the last several years, Mother Maria-Thomas has pursued her long-standing interest in art by trying her own hand at colorful paintings and poetic reflections on Scripture passages. She has shared these results of her creative lectio divina with friends and oblates. Some of them arranged a small exhibition of some of her watercolors and pastels in the Abbey lobby and conference room on the occasion of this 60th jubilee.

Some of the paintings and accompanying poems by Mother Maria-Thomas that were displayed at the reception following the celebration of the Eucharist.
A special joy was the presence of several family members of the Jubilarian, who had traveled from Germany and the Netherlands. Also attending were friends from her days as a 5th-grade teacher in Eichstaett, at the school run by our mother house, the Abtei St. Walburg.