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. 

480 - St. Benedict

St. Benedict, whose monastic rule we follow, was born around 480 AD in Norcia, a town on the Italian peninsula.
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1035 - St. Walburg Abbey founded

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

1852 - 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.
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1881 - 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. Read more

1886 - 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. Read more

1898 - Cullman

The first Benedictine Sisters arrived in Cullman, traveling from Holy Name Monastery in Florida.
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1902 - A new community elects a Prioress

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. Read more

1903 - Land purchased for convent

On March 21, 1903, the community purchased 123.5 acres known as "the "Kline Place." Read more

1903 - A sturdy structures rises

In October of 1903, ground was broken for the convent building now known as "Ottilia Hall."
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1911 - 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. Read more

1917 - 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. Read more

1920 - A new prioress is elected

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

1922 - A Congregation forms

The Constitution of the Congregation of St. Scholastica was granted approbation in Rome. Read more

1922 - The Divine Office

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.
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1924 - Making room

Construction began on Joseph Hall to accommodate the expanding Academy.
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1930 - 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. Read more

1933 - 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. Read more

1940 - Creating a college

Sacred Heart College was established in 1940.
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1942 - 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.
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1947 - Master educators

The Benedictine Sisters begin what would become almost six decades of service at the newly-opened John Carroll Catholic High School in Birmingham.
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1950 - A new convent

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.
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1953 - A new prioress

Mother Mary Susan Sevier elected the third prioress of the community.
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1956 - Renewing the chapel

The original plain plaster walls of Sacred Heart Chapel were painted for the first time.
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1957 - The Divine Office

Mother Mary Susan restored the hours of the Divine Office to their intended times.
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1958 - 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.
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1960 - Accommodating growth

To accommodate a growing student population, the community constructed a frame building above Lake Maurus.
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1960 - Working by committee

In 1960, need for additional dormitory space led to the creation of a committee to plan for a new dorm.
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1960 - 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.
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1962 - Mother Mary Susan, Congregation President

Mother Mary Susan elected President of the Congregation (now Federation) of St. Scholastica.
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1965 - Mothr Mary Frances elected prioress

Sister Mary Frances Crawford elected the fourth prioress of Sacred Heart.
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1966 - Response to Vatican II

The community faithfully responded to the call of Vatican II and Perfectae Caritatis to update their lives.
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1967 - A changing educational envrionment

The community made the decision to close Sacred Heart Academy.
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1968 - Renewal in the spirit of St. Benedict

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.
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1975 - Death of the last pioneer

Sister Perpetua Tape, the last surviving founding member of the community, died on July 6, 1975. Read more

1975 - Sr. Patricia Ann elected prioress

Sister Patricia Ann Karibo was elected to serve as the fifth prioress of the community.
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1976 - Evisioning a retreat ministry

The future Retreat Center begins to take an early shape as a three-Sister team coordinated it's early development.
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1977-75th Jubilee Celebration

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)
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1979 - Welcoming the stranger

The community sponsored a 13-member refugee family from Vietnam.
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1980 - Oblate community is formed

In October of 1980, the community enrolled its first class of Oblate Novices.
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1983 - Benedictine Manor founded

Benedictine Manor began operation as a ministry of the Sisters utilizing the former Janeway Hall.
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1983 - Sr. Virginia elected prioress

Sister Virginia Rohling was elected as the community's sixth prioress.
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1988 - New forms of communication

The community embraced new methods of communication with their friends and supporters during this era.
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1988 - 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.
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1988 - A gift from Louisiana

The community accepted as transfers several Sisters from St. Scholastic Priory in Covington, LA.
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1989 - New forms of ministry

Throughout this decade, the Sisters expanded the types of ministries in which they were engaged.
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1990 - Welcoming Benedictines

The community hosted the Conference of Benedictine Prioresses (CBP) for the first time.
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1990 - From Convent to Monastery

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.
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1991 - Sister Treva elected prioress

Sister Treva Heinberg was elected to serve as the seventh prioress of the monastic community.
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1998 - On the world wide web

In 1998, the Sisters initiated their presence on the internet with their first website.
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1999 - Sr. Veronica elected prioress

Sister Veronica Ryan was elected to serve as the eight prioress of the community.
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2002 - 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 Civic Center. Other events throughout the year also marked the occasion.
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2005 - Sr. Janet Marie elected prioress

Sister Janet Marie Flemming was elected as the ninth prioress of the community.
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2011 - 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.
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2013 - 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.
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2014 - A renewed Retreat Center

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.
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2015 - 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.
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2015 - Sr. Tonette elected Prioress

Sister Tonette Sperando was elected as the tenth prioress of the community.
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2021 - Sr. Elisabeth elected prioress

Sister Lynn Elisabeth Meadows was elected as the eleventh prioress of the community.
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