Early History of the Madison Benedictines

Joanne Kollasch, OSB Living in Community 1 Comment

On March 11, 1953, Mother Monica Black, Sister Annunciata Byrne and Sister Martha Glaser came to Madison, Wisconsin from Sioux City, Iowa. For fifty years St. Vincent Hospital in Sioux City had been the work of the Sisters of St. Benedict. In 1953 Bishop O’Connor of Madison invited them to establish a high school for girls. With this invitation our sisters decided to move the community to Madison.

In search of land for a new beginning, they eventually bought 40 acres of hilly farmland in the Fox Bluff area overlooking Lake Mendota and the city of Madison.

First views of land purchased by the sisters in Madison in 1953, with Lost Lake in the background

First views of land purchased by the sisters in Madison in 1953, with Lost Lake in the background

A residence for the sisters was blessed and dedicated as the new St. Benedict Priory on August 15, 1955. The Academy of St. Benedict opened as a girl’s day and residence college preparatory school in 1959.

The original priory building dedicated in 1955; renovated in 1994, this building now serves as our Retreat and Guest House

The original priory building dedicated in 1955; renovated in 1994, this building now serves as our Retreat and Guest House

In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council had a major influence on the community, particularly the decree on ecumenism and the call to renewal of religious life. Monks of Taizé and university campus ministers began joining the sisters in leading weekend retreats held in the Academy building. At this time a relationship developed between the sisters’ community and members of the Madison Interfaith Dialogue. A petition was presented to Bishop O’Connor by members of the Interfaith Dialogue to open an ecumenical retreat and conference center. The sisters chose to close the Academy and to open Saint Benedict Center in 1966.

Since then the life of the community has been marked by the development of many ecumenical communities of spiritual friends, particularly the Community of Benedict and the Oblates of St. Benedict. A vibrant Sunday worship community grew through the liturgical leadership of the sisters and Phillip Kaufman, OSB, a monk of Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN.

In 1994 a renovation of the original priory building was completed. In the same year, the sisters began to “write the vision down” for a new Christian community in the Benedictine tradition: Benedictine Women of Madison, an ecumenical monastic community of women from various Christian traditions. An ecological vision for the restoration of the monastery grounds followed.

For this community, it has been a history of much change, listening to the Spirit and to the signs of the times, consulting with spiritual friends, and resolutely making our way into an always unknown future. Throughout this process, the constant values of the Benedictine Women of Madison have been the cultivation of prayer and spirituality, providing hospitality, and caring for the earth.

Comments 1

  1. I have been following your beautiful group for at least 10 years. Your philosophy is in line with my own. Even as a child, I was involved with church and caregiving, and always felt deeply about the welfare of people, animals, and the environment. I love reading about your current events and hope someday to visit your beautiful area.

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