History & Heritage

From Eichstatt in Bavaria, a small group of Sisters traveled to St. Marys, Pennsylvania, to form the first Benedictine women’s community in the U.S. From this initial foundation in 1852, other communities of Benedictine women in the United States were founded, including ones in Kentucky and Florida. Eight Sisters from each of these two communities came together in 1902 to form the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman, Alabama.

To learn about our history, please click on the year in the top timeline and the lower timeline will scroll to the corresponding entry. 

  • St. Benedict

    St. Benedict

    St. Benedict, whose monastic rule we follow, was born around 480 AD in Norcia, a town on the Italian peninsula. St. Benedict was born around 480 AD in Norcia, a town on the Italian peninsula. As a young man, Benedict left his studies in Rome to seek God away from…
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  • St. Walburg Abbey founded

    St. Walburga

    Founding of St. Walburg Abbey in Eichstatt, Bavaria. St. Walburg Abbey is the great-grandmother house of Sacred Heart Monastery.

  • Journey to America

    From Eichstatt in Bavaria, a small group of Sisters traveled to St. Marys, Pennsylvania, to form the first Benedictine women’s community in the U.S. From this initial foundation in 1852, other communities of Benedictine women in the United States were founded, including ones in Kentucky and Florida.

  • Tuscumbia

    The first Benedictine sisters arrive in Alabama, coming from St. Walburg Monastery in Covington, KY, to Tuscumbia, AL, where they taught in the parish school.

  • Birmingham

    Several Sisters from the Tuscumbia mission were sent to Birmingham, a city just fifteen years old, where they taught in the parochial school at St. Paul Parish.

  • Cullman


    The first Benedictine Sisters arrived in Cullman, traveling from Holy Name Monastery in Florida. The Sisters took charge of the parochial school at Sacred Heart Parish. In Cullman, they found a bustling, young town with a distinctly German flavor. A two-story brick structure next to the wooden parish would serve…
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  • A new community elects a Prioress

    Mother Ottilia Haas

    Eight Sisters each from the Kentucky and Florida communities united on April 20, 1902, to form a new community, Benedictine Sisters of Cullman, Alabama. In July, Sister Ottilia Haas was elected Prioress.

  • Land purchased for convent

    Land purchased for convent

    On March 21, 1903, the community purchased 123.5 acres known as “the “Kline Place.” This building located on the original Klien farm was used as the first convent until Ottilia Hall was built; then was moved and used as the laundry.

  • A sturdy structures rises

    In October of 1903, ground was broken for the convent building now known as “Ottilia Hall.” The new structure had multiple functions. It served as convent space for the Sisters, replacing the original overcrowded frame house next to Sacred Heart Church which was their first home in Cullman. It also…
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  • Summer school

    Two Sisters traveled from Cullman to Washington, D.C., for summer school, beginning an enduring community commitment to strong educational and professional preparation for ministry. These two were the first of generations of Benedictine Sisters from Cullman who would board train, bus, or plane to further their education in preparation for…
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  • A meeting of early leaders

    In 1917, Mother Ottilia traveled to Chicago to assist in planning the establishment of the first congregation of Benedictine Sisters in North America.

  • A new prioress is elected

    A new prioress is elected

    Sister Annunciata Janeway was elected to serve as the 2nd Prioress of the community.

  • A Congregation forms

    The Constitution of the Congregation of St. Scholastica was granted approbation in Rome. This decree established the first congregation of Benedictine Sisters in America, of which the Sacred Heart community was a charter member. The work of planning for the Congregation and writing the Constitution had been underway for some…
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  • The Divine Office

    Sisters praying the Divine Office in choir

    Following Vatican approval of the Constitution of the Congregation of St. Scholastica, the Sisters were allowed to begin praying the Divine Office, which was proper to their Benedictine heritage and spiritual patrimony. Prior to the establishment of the Congregation, since their arrival in America from Bavaria, Benedictine Sisters in North…
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  • Making room

    Construction began on Joseph Hall to accommodate the expanding Academy. This large, three-story structure contained classroom, auditorium, gymnasium, and dormitory space. In the first photo shown, students stand on the steps of the new Joseph Hall. To the left is the back of Ottilia Hall in the years when it…
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  • A Monastic Chapel rises

    A Monastic Chapel rises

    Construction begins on Sacred Heart Monastery Chapel. The first Mass was celebrated in the chapel on June 24, 1931, the Feast of John the Baptist. The chapel was dedicated on October 11, 1931.

  • Death of a pioneer

    Death of a pioneer

    Death of Mother Ottilia Haas, the community’s first prioress, at the age of 75. She lived long enough to pray the Divine Office and celebrate the Eucharist in the new chapel for a year and a half before her death.

  • Creating a college

    Creating a college

    Sacred Heart College was established in 1940. This two-year college was formed to offer a traditional liberal arts curriculum to Academy graduates and other girls in the Cullman area as preparation for upper-level study elsewhere. A new three-story dormitory, Mary Hall, was constructed for the college, and dining rooms expanded.…
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  • An organ for the chapel

    An organ for the chapel

    The community purchased its first organ, a four-rank pipe organ, at a cost of $2,751.80. Once installed a glorious concert was held. Sister Mary Vincent remembers attending this concert as a student. Sister Mary Grace Jankowski, one of the pioneer Sisters and a master musician, was able to play the…
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  • Master educators

    Sr. Treva teaching a college class

    The Benedictine Sisters begin what would become almost six decades of service at the newly-opened John Carroll Catholic High School in Birmingham. Noted educators, the Sisters impacted thousands of students over the years. Benedictine Sisters served at a total of twenty-two different Catholic elementary and high schools within the Dioceses…
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  • A new convent

    Annunciata Hall groundbreaking

    Ground was broken in 1950 for a new convent building on the north side of the chapel. Initiation of construction was delayed by the Korean War. On the Feast of St. Gertrude, 1952, the work began. This new structure was to allow for greater quiet and privacy for the Sisters…
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  • A new prioress

    Sr. Mary Susan Sevier

    Mother Mary Susan Sevier elected the third prioress of the community. So surprised was she by her election that after it was over she showed up for her usual table-waiting assignment and had to be reminded that she now had a new place at the table. Mother Mary Susan served…
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  • Renewing the chapel

    1956 renovated chapel

    The original plain plaster walls of Sacred Heart Chapel were painted for the first time. The pale green walls were accented with painted emblems representing events in the life of St. Benedict. New cylindrical lighting fixtures were installed. These fixtures are still in use, and the chapel is still adorned…
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  • The Divine Office

    Mother Mary Susan restored the hours of the Divine Office to their intended times. From the beginning of her tenure as Prioress, Mother Mary Susan had worked to enhance the liturgical prayer of the community. In 1955, the Sisters had instruction in chant from Dom Desroquettes of Solesmes Abbey in…
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  • Theological education

    As part of a Church-wide emphasis on strengthening formation programs in religious communities, the Sisters sent their Novice Director to the University of Notre Dame for theological studies. The following year she transferred her studies to the newly-established Benedictine Institute of Sacred Theology (BIST) at St. John’s University in Minnesota.…
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  • Accommodating growth

    Accommodating growth

    To accommodate a growing student population, the community constructed a frame building above Lake Maurus. This structure, originally named Gertrude Hall, is now known as Benet Guest House and serves as group accommodations for the Retreat Center.

  • Working by committee

    In 1960, need for additional dormitory space led to the creation of a committee to plan for a new dorm. Up until this time, the business of the monastery had been accomplished by the Prioress, Monastic Council, and the Monastic Chapter. In 1960, need for additional dormitory space led to…
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  • Spiritual education

    The community had long stressed excellent preparation for ministry. It was now beginning to enhance preparation for those involved in leadership roles within the community and formation in the area of spirituality. The community had long stressed excellent preparation for ministry. It was now beginning to enhance preparation for those…
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  • Mother Mary Susan, Congregation President

    Mother Mary Susan elected President of the Congregation (now Monastic Congregation) of St. Scholastica. One of the principal efforts of her first two years in office was obtaining permission for the use of English in the Divine Office. Sisters throughout the congregation had overwhelmingly requested this change. In 1964, permission…
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  • Mother Mary Frances elected prioress

    Sr. Mary Frances Crawford

    Sister Mary Frances Crawford elected the fourth prioress of Sacred Heart. Mother Mary Frances led the community during the years following the Second Vatican Council, years when religious communities around the world were responding to the the renewal called for by the Council and the document Perfectae Caritatis. Five months…
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  • Response to Vatican II

    Group photo

    The community faithfully responded to the call of Vatican II and Perfectae Caritatis to update their lives. The years following the conclusion of Vatican II and into the 1970’s were years of study, discussion, experimentation, adaptation, and change. Some changes were visible, such as attire and the expansion of the…
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  • A changing educational envrionment

    The community made the decision to close Sacred Heart Academy. By 1967, Sacred Heart Academy was facing increasing challenges – a changing social environment in the surrounding community, lack of space for boarding students, and the logistical challenges of sharing a campus and some staff with the College. The community…
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  • Renewal in the spirit of St. Benedict

    Sisters Dorothy Flynn and Janet Marie Flemming

    Mother Mary Susan, no longer Prioress but still President of the Congregation of St. Scholastica, led the General Chapters of Renewal which were held in Chicago in 1968 and 1969. These pivotal meetings of prioresses and delegates from the Congregation’s member monasteries were held in order to revise the Congregation’s…
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  • Sr. Patricia Ann elected prioress

    Sr. Patricia Ann Karibo

    Sister Patricia Ann Karibo was elected to serve as the fifth prioress of the community. Sister Patricia Ann was the first prioress to retain the title “Sister” rather than “Mother.” During her term, she led the community through continued phases of the renewal process. Sister Patricia Ann also led the…
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  • Evisioning a retreat ministry

    The future Retreat Center begins to take an early shape as a three-Sister team coordinated it’s early development. An excerpt from an early statement of philosophy for the Center still holds true: “The ministry…is to share with the people of God our personal and communal prayer life as well as…
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  • 75th Jubilee Celebration

    Sisters Mary Frances, Patricia Ann and Mary Susan

    In 1977, the Community held a grand 75th Jubilee Celebration of the Community. Here pictured are the living Prioresses at the celebration dinner. Sisters Mary Frances Crawford (1965-75), Patricia Ann Karibo (1975-83), and Mary Susan Sevier (1953-65)

  • Welcoming the stranger

    The community sponsored a 13-member refugee family from Vietnam. The family was among the “boat people” of that era and moved into lodging on the monastery grounds after their arrival in the United States. Not only did the community provide housing for the family as their resettlement sponsors but also…
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  • Oblate community is formed

    In October of 1980, the community enrolled its first class of Oblate Novices. The Oblates are spiritual associates of the monastic community, following the Rule of Benedict as their state in life allows and sharing in the spirituality of the monastic community. The Oblate community founded in 1980 remains strong.

  • Benedictine Manor founded

    Benedictine Manor began operation as a ministry of the Sisters utilizing the former Janeway Hall. The Manor served for 35 years as a safe and welcoming home for independent retired seniors. The ministry was noted for its strong community life for the residents and an environment marked by Benedictine warmth…
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  • Sr. Virginia elected prioress

    Sr. Virginia Rohling

    Sister Virginia Rohling was elected as the community’s sixth prioress. Sister Virginia oversaw the development and early flourishing of two newly-established ministries on the grounds of Sacred Heart – Benedictine Manor and the Conference Center. She also oversaw a significant renovation of Sacred Heart Chapel during her two four-year terms…
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  • New forms of communication

    The community embraced new methods of communication with their friends and supporters during this era. In 1988, the community began publication of Benedictine Update, a biannual newsletter which still continues. In 1989, the Sisters produced an informational video about the community. In 1993, an official history of the community was…
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  • A new Constitution, Call to Life

    On February 10, 1988, the Feast of St. Scholastica, the Federation of St. Scholastica’s new Constitution, Call to Life, was given final approbation in Rome, signed by the Prefect of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes. This was the culmination of countless hours of study, discussion, consultation, and prayer…
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  • A gift from Louisiana

    Sisters from Covington, LA

    The community accepted as transfers several Sisters from St. Scholastic Priory in Covington, LA. The community accepted as transfers several Sisters from St. Scholastic Priory in Covington, LA, a sister-community in the Federation of St. Scholastica that had recently made the decision to close. These ten Sisters became integral members…
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  • New forms of ministry

    Sr. Mary in ministry

    Throughout this decade, the Sisters expanded the types of ministries in which they were engaged. Throughout this decade, the Sisters expanded the types of ministries in which they were engaged, entering fields such as pastoral ministry, parish administration, civil law, canon law, health care, spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and social…
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  • Welcoming Benedictines

    The community hosted the Conference of Benedictine Prioresses (CBP) for the first time. The CBP has returned several times since 1990 and Sacred Heart has become one of the regular sites at which the prioresses gather for their meetings. It is a gift for the community to host visiting Benedictines…
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  • From Convent to Monastery

    Ottilia Hall entrance window

    Many years of reflection on their monastic heritage and the Benedicine charism lead the Sisters to officially change the title of the monastery to Sacred Heart Monastery from Sacred Heart Convent. The use of the term “monastery” more accurately reflected the monastic character of the community than the more general…
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  • Sister Treva elected prioress

    Sister Treva Heinberg, OSB

    Sister Treva Heinberg was elected to serve as the seventh prioress of the monastic community. Accompanying Sister Treva’s deepening of the community’s contemplative dimension were strategic planning, improvements to the physical plant, and forward-looking improvements to the external environment. Planning for the future – both spiritually and temporally – was…
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  • On the world wide web

    In 1998, the Sisters initiated their presence on the internet with their first website. The current website is the fourth edition of the Sisters’ web presence.

  • Sr. Veronica elected prioress

    Sr. Veronica Ryan

    Sister Veronica Ryan was elected to serve as the eight prioress of the community. Elected on the cusp of a new millennium, Sister Veronica led the community into both the new millennium and, in 2002, into their own second century. Improving the living situation for the infirm Sisters had become…
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  • Celebrating 100 years

    The community opened its centennial celebration on the Feast of St. Scholastica by praying Vespers at Sacred Heart Church in Cullman joined by the monks of St. Bernard Abbey. On April 20, the actual anniversary, Mass was celebrated at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Birmingham with a reception following in the…
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  • Sr. Janet Marie elected prioress

    Sister Janet Marie Flemming, OSB

    Sister Janet Marie Flemming was elected as the ninth prioress of the community. As her time as prioress began, Sister Janet Marie initiated a discernment process with the community regarding the monastery buildings. For two years, community members read a structured series of readings on their monastic charism and gathered…
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  • Renovation

    Renovation begins on Ottilia Hall, initiating the first phase of a major three phase project that touched almost every building on the monastery grounds. Phase I of the project was a renovation of Ottilia Hall to bring it into compliance with current safety codes, install central heat and air, and…
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  • A renewed monastic home

    The Sisters moved into their new dining room which had previously been an auditorium, and into the newly renovated Ottilia Hall. The renewed spaces offered a much-improved setting in which to share fully in monastic community life and to have adequate and appropriate space for solitude and private prayer. With…
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  • A Renewed Retreat Center

    St. Joseph Guest House

    In late May 2014, the Center moved the main Retreat Center accommodations from the old Mary Hall into the newly constructed Mary and St. Joseph Guest Houses. The new guest houses offered updated accommodations for overnight group with private bathroom, improved safety and accessibility. After this 2014 move, all Retreat…
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  • A vision realized

    In early 2015, a Blessing and Open House was held to mark the completion of Phase III. A successful Capital Campaign, careful planning, and wise stewardship enabled the community to realize their vision and complete the entire three-phase project with no debt. During the fall of 2014, following a summer…
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  • Sr. Tonette elected Prioress

    Sister Tonette Sperando

    Sister Tonette Sperando was elected as the tenth prioress of the community. Sister Tonette led the community through a time of visioning for the future. Through structured contemplation and dialogue the community has come to some areas of focus held within a breadth of vision. Among the areas of focus…
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  • Sr. Elisabeth Meadows elected 11th prioress of the community

    Sr. Lynn Elisabeth Meadows

    Sister Lynn Elisabeth Meadows was elected as the eleventh prioress of the community. Sister Elisabeth was called to serve as prioress as the community continues to vision for the future and also seeks to deepen their manifestation of the Benedictine charism. Planning for sustainability and cultivating collaboration with others to…
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