Benedictine Sisters – August 2012
Benedictine Sisters – Boerne Pioneers in Health, Learning and Spirit
By Leah Bredemeyer
When most people think about Sisters, they think of Catholic School teacher with their strict rules. The Benedictine Sisters of Boerne could not be further from that perception. According to Sister Michael Brandt, OSB, the Benedictine Sisters are a model for a microcosm of community stewardship, hospitality and prayer. This was evident to me when I visited with them recently. On top of a hill overlooking Boerne, the Benedictine Sisters practice more than just their prayers. This year they are celebrating their 50th year in Boerne and looking back at what
they have done is astonishing.
Many people believe they are associated with St. Peter’s Catholic Church, but are actually with the Archdiocese of San Antonio and Diocese of Laredo in both parish and school work. The Benedictine Sisters, mainly teachers and nurses, were originally founded in Cuba in 1911 by Mother Lidwina Weber, but were forced to relocate to South Texas in 1918 because of a hurricane. Then in October 1961, the sisters bought the land on top of the hill from Albert Kronkosky, Jr. The land had been for sale for quite some time, and many offers were not accepted by Kronkosky. When the Sisters’ made their offer, they had been throwing medals over the fence and praying for the purchase. Needless to say the offer was accepted and the Sisters began renovations.
The original family houses already on the property were converted into the Sisters’ residence, what is now Emmaus House and the Children’s Inn. In 1962 St. Albert Hall was built and became the all girls boarding school. Eventually it was converted into a pre-K thru 12 grade school until 1982. Once the High School was changed to St. Albert Early Learning Center, which was also called Mother’s Day Out.
Someone who was in a pivotal position was Sister Sylvia Ahr, OSB who started out with the Sisters when she attended the all girls boarding school. She then went on to teach as one of the Sisters and made some pretty substantial waves in the community. After Mother’s Day Out was beginning to grow, Ahr wanted to expand to include more kids, but didn’t know she was supposed to get a permit to do that. “I wanted to see if it would work first. I went ahead and expanded the program to four days and to have the kids stay for a longer period of time. People told me after we got it started that we needed a permit. What went through my mind was ‘It is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.’ We did get the permit, and the woman who helped up ended up becoming a good friend.”
Gradually the classes grew and Ahr wanted to expand again. “We decided to try the Little Red Schoolhouse approach. We started with 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. Eventually we added another teacher and 4th and 5th grades. But this approach wasn’t panning out, while the childcare was taking off. We ended up being at capacity with children from infants all the way up to school age.”
Of the many things she experienced during her time teaching, Ahr said one thing stood out that really astonished her. “We found out in early education that there is a correlation between physical ability and skills that help you develop physically and reading ability. We brought in Lorna Spellman to learn gymnastics and you could see these children pick up reading abilities faster because they had the physical abilities. We sent some well rounded educated children out into the world – at least we felt like we did.”
1992 was another big year for the Sisters. The after school program was initiated and Ahr also volunteered the Sisters to host the first Head Start program of the area. “I was invited to a meeting and before I knew it I was opening my mouth saying ‘Well I’m sure the Sisters could provide the space.’ I was thinking ‘Oh my goodness. What am I doing?’ We ended up taking some of our classrooms (which doubled in size) and added on Head Start. As you know, though, childcare is not a money making venture. Eventually we had to close most of the programs, but Head Start is still housed on
property, but now run by the government. But we continue. We’re always trying to see what’s next.”
Besides the education, the Benedictine Sisters also run many other ventures. The Omega Retreat Center was established in 1982. At the moment they are booked solid until 2016. They have had approximately 3,000 retreats a year, which means within the 30 years the program has been going, over 90,000 people have visited. Also on property is the Sisters’ Attic Resale Shop and the Health & Wholeness Center that provides activities and programs for those 55 and older. With the only large, heated, indoor pool of the area, it is a possibility they may open their doors for people who would like to work out early in the morning. Besides these ventures, the Sisters have also created many programs that have spun off like the Children’s Inn, a home for medically fragile children, C.P.P.P., P.E.A.C.E. and Joven to name a few.
Spending just one day with the Sisters barely broke the surface of what all they have done and has forever changed my view of nuns. Today there are 16 Sisters in the Boerne community. As Sister Micahel Brandt said, “At the time of my entrance into the Community in 1964, there was, and still might be, a misconception that young women joint the convent to escape the world. In my experience as a Boerne Benedictine, nothing could be farther from the truth.”