Good Zeal

Keepers of the Charism

Community photo 2022When I attended my first conference as an archivist in 2018, the keynote speaker opened my eyes to the primary function of an archivist. While preserving and maintaining the “stuff” of a given organization (founding documents, meeting minutes, audio/visual materials, publications and other creative works, etc.) is an important part of what an archivist does, the primary function is to “keep the charism” of an organization alive for present and future generations.

The charism of an organization is the WHY that is behind the WHAT of an organization’s activities. The Benedictine Sisters of Cullman, Alabama have inherited the charism of St. Benedict of Nursia, who wrote a rule of life for communities of Christian monks in the 5th century. Benedictine monasteries of men and women throughout the centuries have adapted to the time and places in which they lived while remaining faithful to the essential elements of common life, common prayer, and common work as the means through which God is sought. The core of the Benedictine charism is to live the Gospel in Christian community through praying together daily, loving and serving one another, welcoming guests and travelers, helping the poor and needy, and ministering in whatever ways necessary to meet the needs of the monastic community and the people of God.

Benedictine women first travelled from Germany to the United States in 1852 with the mission of teaching the children of Catholic German immigrants as they settled in their new homeland. Anti-Catholic sentiment in the young and ever-expanding nation made the lives of these and other Catholic immigrants very difficult. In rural areas access to the sacraments was rare and religious instruction virtually absent. After the Civil War, many of the new immigrants settled in newly established towns along the railroads and rivers, particularly in the South.

Four Benedictine Sisters sent out on mission from Covington, KY traveled to the growing settlement of Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1881 to establish a school for the German immigrant community. In 1886, four of the seven Kentucky Benedictines serving at the poor mission in Tuscumbia set off for the rapidly expanding city of Birmingham to establish a convent and school at St. Paul Parish. Benedictine Sisters from San Antonio, FL arrived in Cullman in 1898 in response to an urgent request from Abbot Benedict Menges of St. Bernard Abbey to staff the parish school after the departure of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The faith, courage and passion of these pioneering women rose to meet the needs of God’s people wherever the Holy Spirit guided them. In 1902, the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman, Alabama came into being as a single community made up of Sisters from both Kentucky and Florida motherhouses. This is our story, our heritage, our charism faithfully lived in trying times and challenging circumstances.

Over the next 122 years, more women of passion and faith joined the ranks of the monastic community. Most have been teachers at one time or another if not for their entire time in active ministry. Some Sisters have brought the pastoral love of the Risen Christ to the sick and homebound as well as to the grief-stricken. Other ministerial activities have included nursing and medical services, legal services, social justice advocacy, retreat ministry and pastoral administration. The primary “work” of the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman is to remain steadfast and faithful to the call of seeking God together in community. In this togetherness of love and faith, we nurture and support one another as each one is called to use her gifts and abilities for the glory and praise of God throughout her life. It isn’t what we do that matter most. It is the WHY that energizes everything else. It is not our own will that we seek. It is God’s will for us and for all creation that we seek to discover and to manifest.

All of us, in some way, are the “keepers of the charism” if we are putting into the practice the Christian faith that we profess and if we are truly living out the monastic profession that we publicly commit our lives to living. The humble archivist’s job is to refresh the memory of the community every now and then so that we know ourselves and our charism more fully as we face the challenges of today and the uncertainties of tomorrow.

By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB

Back to Blog