Back home — Benedictines return to Minnesota after Utah monastery closes

Categories: Around the Diocese

August 16, 2013, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

Leaving Utah to return to St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph was bittersweet for Benedictine Sister Luke Hoschette.

Sister Luke left Mount Benedict Monastery in Ogden, Utah, to come to St. Benedict’s Monastery this June. The last group of sisters from the monastery reached St. Joseph on June 21.

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Sister Luke Hoschette

Mount Benedict Monastery is closed now. It is in the process of being sold.

“You have mixed feelings,” Sister Luke said. “You mind leaving the people that you know and you’ve worked with who have been supportive of you for those many years, but yet, with coming home, it’s OK.”

Sister Luke is an alumna of the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph. She made her professions at St. Benedict’s Monastery after graduation. She lived in Minnesota for several years before beginning her assignment in Ogden in 1966. She worked in Utah for five years, returned to Minnesota for seven years and then went to Utah for another 35 years.

Won Mormon hearts

The monastery in Utah was started by sisters from St. Joseph. Sisters from St. Benedict’s Monastery ventured to Utah in 1944 at the request of city and county officials to build and operate a hospital. They formed a dependent priory in 1980, and to insure a continuing presence in the area, they became their own monastery in 1994.

Over the years, the sisters were involved in health care, pastoral ministry and education. They started a foundation to help many people in need and became well respected amongst the Mormons, who comprise a majority of Utah’s population.

“The sisters won the hearts of the Mormon people. [The Mormons] go over backwards to praise the work of the sisters,” Sister Luke said.

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Sister Danile Knight

The number of sisters sent to Utah varied quite a bit over the years. At the time of independence, 11 sisters were part of Mount Benedict Monastery. Since then, four sisters died. With a declining number of sisters and an aging population, the Ogden sisters knew they could not continue at their monastery.

Returning to their roots seemed like the perfect fit. Eight sisters from Ogden transferred their memberships to St. Benedict Monastery in St. Joseph Nov. 20, 2010, just three months after the Benedictine sisters of St. Bede Monastery in Eau Claire, Wis., were also received as members of the Minnesota monastery.

Since then the Utah sisters have been tying up loose ends, wrapping up ministries, saying goodbye and beginning new lives in Minnesota.

“It took a long time to do all the work you need to do in closing a monastery. We had a foundation there as well. There were a lot of legal things that needed to get done,” said Benedictine Sister Danile Knight, the last prioress of Mount Benedict.

Back home, the sisters are continuing to use their skills as they adjust to life in St. Joseph. Adjustments include living in a much larger community, different schedules and different ways of praying, although there are many similarities because “Benedictines are Benedictines,” said Sister Danile.

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Sister Mary Zenzen

This summer, most of the eight Ogden sisters began their new ministries in St. Joseph and St. Cloud. Sister Iris Beckwith works in health care at the monastery and at St. Scholastica Convent in St. Cloud, Sister Mary Zenzen conducts pastoral visits at St. Scholastica Convent in St. Cloud, Sister Danile helps in the monastery archives, Sister Luke works in hospitality at the monastery reception desk and at the Haehn Museum reception desk and Sister Stephanie Mongeon works in the community health services, hospitality and promoting the Benedictine mission.

Sister Jean Gibson lives at St. Scholastica and has a ministry of prayer. Sister Marilyn Mark returned to Utah for pastoral ministry. Sister Virgene Marx died in November 2010.

“It’s been a tremendous blessing to have them home,” said Sister Michaela Hedican, St. Benedict prioress. “They’ve brought tremendous gifts and willingness and readiness to do whatever needs to get done and a great pioneer spirit.”

Opportunity to role model

Sister Michaela, who was a member of St. Bede’s Monastery before it closed, sees the sisters from the different monasteries coming together in a different light than companies merging.

“This gives us a wonderful opportunity to show a world that has a hard time bringing groups together how you bring groups together,” she said.

“We’re still in a climate in our culture of hostile takeovers and who is going to get bigger and better and who is going to get the most advantage from it, and I think we stand out as an example of another way of looking at it and another way of doing it. It is set in the context of prayerful discernment and what God is asking of all of us.”

To Sister Danile, the monastery not only feels like home, but actually is home.

“St. Ben’s has always been home because that’s where I got started,” she said.