Meet the Sisters

Sister Tonette Sperando

Sister Tonette Sperando, OSB

Place of Birth: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Prioress of the Community
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Sister Treva Heinberg

Sister Treva Heinberg, OSB

Place of Birth: Pensacola, Florida
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Sister Treva has a great appreciation of the unique individuality of each Sister. “I’m inspired by the diversity of personalities that the Lord calls to our community, and the diverse talents we have to serve the People of God.” Sister Treva first encountered the individuality of Sisters as a young student when she experienced the Sisters as uniformly “loving and caring, yet individuals.” Their example would eventually influence not just Sister Treva’s vocation, but her style of leadership and ministry – loving and caring, with an ability to listen and to appreciate the unique personality of each. “Listening well and then assisting in any way I can is satisfying and meaningful,” she says.

Sister Treva’s ministerial background includes many years of both teaching and parish ministry in addition to two terms as Prioress.  She also has a graduate degree in clinical psychology and has been able to minister in this area.

Sister Therese Haydel

Sister Therese Haydel, OSB

Place of Birth: New Orleans, Lousiana
  • Treasurer of the Community
  • Director of Monastery Grounds
  • Community Archivist
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Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB

Place of Birth: Eglin AFB, Florida
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More About Sister Priscilla Cohen

Sister Priscilla was taught by Benedictines in high school. “Their loving presence was awesome to me, and God called me to join them in monastic life,” she relates.  A particularly meaningful element of monastic life for Sister Priscilla is the Liturgy of the Hours. “The participation in daily prayer together and knowing that we are in harmony with so many all over the world is deeply inspiring to me.”  Sister Priscilla also finds it inspiring to watch prayer flow into fidelity in the lives of her Sisters.  “Not only are we in harmony with the prayer of others, our prayer keeps us in harmony with our own monastic call,” she explains.

Sister Priscilla’s ministerial background is primarily in the field of nursing, having spent many years in both hospital and home health settings.  She has simultaneously served (and continues to serve) as a retreat leader, spiritual director, and Oblate Director.

Sister Regina Barrett

Sister Regina Barrett, OSB

Place of Birth: Saltillo, Mississippi
  • Community Service
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More About Sister Regina Barrett

Sister Regina’s sense of wonder and love for the natural world are evident to all who encounter her as she bird-watches, cultivates tree seedlings, tends plants, enjoys the monastery grounds, or simply sits on the porch appreciating the view.  Growing up in the country surrounded by a large extended family gave her a strong sense of family that she brought to the monastic community.  “Entering the monastic community was like coming home,” she says, adding that “I loved it here from the first.”  In roles as diverse as educator, Retreat Center administrator, and Food Service manager, Sister Regina has helped make both classroom and monastery home for many.

Sister Regina’s original ministerial background was in education, and she especially enjoyed teaching biology.  In all of her subsequent roles, she also continues to be a natural educator.

Sister Mary Vincent Beckman

Sister Mary Vincent Beckman, OSB

Place of Birth: Sheffield, Alabama
  • Ministry of Prayer and Presence
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More About Sister Mary Vincent Beckman

Of all the things that Sister Mary Vincent taught her students in her many years of teaching, faith was what she most wanted to convey to them. “I was instilled with faith and love of the Church in my family, and I wanted to convey that to my students,” she relates.  Sister Mary Vincent expresses her faith within the community through abiding fidelity to prayer, her Sisters, and community life.  When asked what she most admires about her sisters, she responds “their fidelity to the vows and to the community itself.”  These are characteristics that Sister Mary Vincent herself has consistently embodied, teaching not just her students, but her Sisters.

Sister Mary Vincent’s ministerial background includes many years of teaching in the elementary grades as well as in educational administration.  She has also served as organist in many of her parochial school settings, and in the monastery.

Sister Jane Bishop

Sister Jane Bishop, OSB

Place of Birth: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Community Service
  • Volunteer ESL Teacher
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More About Sister Jane Bishop

Sister Jane relates that, “Listening has been and is the most challenging yet the most rewarding monastic virtue for me.”  As a young Sister she focused on listening for the voice of God in her superiors, later learning the importance of listening to all, both in community and outside the community.  She goes on to share, “I learned that to truly listen – whether to God in prayer or to another person – I must lay down my life, emptying myself in a loving attentiveness and presence.”  One of Sr. Jane’s favorite places to listen to God is on our monastery grounds. “I love to sit outside and drink in the quiet beauty of God’s creation as I pray.”

Sister Jane’s ministerial background includes many years of teaching social studies at the high school level.  She followed years in education with over twenty years in parish ministry in which she worked particularly closely with sick, home-bound, dying, or bereaved parishioners.

Sister Sherrie Brainard

Sister Sherrie Brainard, OSB

Place of Birth: Warren, Pennsylvania
  • Supervisor of Information Technology
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More About Sister Sherrie Brainard

Whether the cords she is handling at any given time are data cables or guitar strings, Sister Sherrie brings a cheerful spirit and a deft hand to many types of projects within the monastery.  Her primary ministry has been as an educator serving in parochial schools.  Within school settings, Sister Sherrie has also typically been involved in music and technology in addition to classroom teaching. Presently, she keeps the technology systems running smoothly here at the monastery and brings a smiling spirit when helping Sisters with their technological needs.  Whenever needed, Sister Sherrie puts aside the data cables and picks up her guitar or slides onto the organ bench to offer her musical talents.

 

 

Sister Sara Aiden Burress

Sister Sara Aiden Burress, OSB

Place of Birth: Anchorage, Alaska
  • Director of Pastoral Ministry, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Birmingham
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More About Sister Sara Aiden Burress

Sister Sara Aiden is sustained through the challenges of monastic life by the Rule of Benedict, describing it as “truly my ‘north star’ to help me orient and navigate through life.”  The Christ-centered focus of the Rule and of monastic life provides a structure that, as Sister Sara Aiden describes it, “helps me to seek and serve Christ in my Sisters, in my work, in the weak and sick, in the study of scripture, in prayer, and in the beauty of God’s creation.”  She adds that, “Behind the structure of monastic living is prayer and our commitment to seek Christ above all else, daily seeking to live and share his prophetic good news.”

Sister Sara Aiden’s ministerial background includes many years of working in church and parish settings, currently with a particular focus on the sick, dying, and bereaved.

Sister Brigid Clarke

Sister Brigid Clarke, OSB

Place of Birth: Savannah, Georgia
  • Community Service
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Of the various monastic virtues, stability is particularly meaningful for Sister Brigid.  “Stability calls to me deeply.  This monastic community is a family of God’s children, diverse in background and culture, given a lifetime to learn and practice what that truly means”, she explains.  Within the stability of community, Sister Brigid appreciates that “we know how to enjoy each other and celebrate our life, and we are open and willing to grow.”  Ever open to her own growth, Sister Brigid can often be found at prayer in the Blessed Sacrament chapel or with a book in hand or deep in conversation with a Sister or guest, filled with gratitude that God called her to monastic life.

Sister Brigid’s ministerial background includes years as a hospital chaplain as well as offering hospitality within the Retreat Center and other community ministries.

Sister Madeline Contorno

Sister Madeline Contorno, OSB

Place of Birth: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Pastoral Associate, St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, Birmingham
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Sister Magdalena Craig

Sister Magdalena Craig, OSB

Place of Birth: Louisville, Kentucky
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More About Sister Magdalena Craig

Sister Magdalena was taught by Sisters from four different orders, but none were Benedictine.  “I didn’t know anything about Benedictines,” she relates, “but when I visited Sacred Heart during high school there was something about this place that drew me.”  The spirit of the community and the liturgy were initial attractions.  These still sustain her, as does the Benedictine virtue of stability.  “The monastic commitment to stability provides a sense of belonging and a daily sharing with people who are seeking the same relationship with God that I am,” she explains.  When not on the organ bench or serving in another role, Sister Magdalena can often be found reading and she loves to play the community’s Steinway piano.

Sister Magdalena’s ministerial background includes years of teaching prior to service full-time as liturgist and organist for the monastic.  She has also served for many years as Novice Director and as a leader in Benedictine liturgy and formation organizations.

Sister Marian Davis

Sister Marian Davis, OSB

Place of Birth: Dublin, Ireland
  • Educator at St. Bernard Preparatory School
  • Community Librarian
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More About Sister Marian Davis

From her native land of Ireland to the hills of North Alabama, Sister Marian brings poetry and a poetic sensibility to all that she does. As a professor of English who has taught at high school, college and university levels, she imparts her deep appreciation and keen knowledge of literature to students. As a retreat leader, she leads others in exploring the spiritual dimensions of poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and T.S. Eliot. As a gardener, she brings eloquent beauty to the monastery grounds. As monastic librarian, she tends a garden of good books and a welcoming space. Currently teaching at the high school level, Sister Marian seeks to awaken in her students their own poetic sensibilities.

 

Sister Minona Anne D'Souza

Sister Minona Anne D'Souza, OSB

Place of Birth: (Valsad) Gujarat, India
  • Scholastic in Initial Formation
  • Community Service / Ministry of Presence
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More About Sister Minona Anne D'Souza

Sister Minona Anne views life in monastic community as a sacred experience. In speaking of the community she says, “I admire the Sisters of our monastery who gather each day for prayer, work, meals, and holy leisure; this inspires me to be grounded in stability, fidelity to the monastic way of life and obedience according to the rule of St. Benedict.”  A particular monastic heroine is St. Gertrude of Helfta, a 13th century German Benedictine known for her special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion which Sister Minona Anne has long shared.  In her spare time, Sister Minona Anne enjoys baking and caring for rose bushes and other plants.

Prior to entering the monastic community, Sister Minona Anne served in a variety of administrative and office roles.  She also volunteered in ministry to the sick and hospitalized.

Sister Janet Marie Flemming

Sister Janet Marie Flemming, OSB

Place of Birth: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Pastoral Associate, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Birmingham
  • Former Prioress
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More About Sister Janet Marie Flemming

Having served as Prioress, Sister Janet Marie has a unique vantage point from which to view the community.  She says that “fidelity to prayer and fidelity to each other” are the characteristics of our community that most impress her.  “We give ourselves to community, sharing responsibilities for the community’s well-being as a whole and for each Sister within community” relates Sister Janet.  One of Sister Janet Marie’s monastic heroes is now-deceased Sister Ursula Weiss: “She lived monastic life to its fullest and shared gifts where they needed to be shared.  She was a great example of the strength that comes from sharing fully of oneself, and of the fruit that comes from fidelity.”

Sister Janet Marie’s ministerial service includes many years of teaching and educational administration, a lengthy stint as community Infirmarian, and various administrative roles, including ten years as Prioress during which she led the community through an extensive renovation and construction project.

Sister Eileen Gallagher

Sister Eileen Gallagher, OSB

Place of Birth: Queens, New York
  • Family Practice Physician
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More About Sister Eileen Gallagher

Sister Eileen sees a natural connection between her work as a physician and the monastic tradition of hospitality.  “Many of the earliest hospitals in Europe were in monasteries” she explains.  “They  originally were guest houses and then began welcoming people who were ill.  There were few cures, and that is similar to the patients I have,” she says.  “There are few cures, but there are treatments.  There is help.  I see myself as carrying on a very long tradition in monastic life.  The building I work in may not be part of the monastery, but I carry the monastic spirit of hospitality and care for the stranger into the clinic with me.”

Sister Eileen’s ministerial background includes work as a rural social worker and as a hospital nurse prior to her becoming a physician. She has a particular love for rural health care.

Sister Kathleen Gallas

Sister Kathleen Gallas, OSB

Place of Birth: South Bend, Indiana
  • Spiritual Director
  • Gardener – Monastery Grounds
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More About Sister Kathleen Gallas

As a child, Sister Kathleen loved going to Mass.  “My mother gave me a daily Missal, and that became my prayer,” she relates.  Nature also gave her a strong connection with God. “I experienced nature as a sanctuary. I felt comfortable, at peace, at home in nature and have always gardened, hiked, and spent time in creation. I encounter God there as an intimate friend.”  Sister Kathleen was attracted to Benedictine life because of its emphasis on community, which she connected with a sense of family. “That appealed to me,” she says.  She also appreciates that in community “we all offer our gifts and our imperfections and they are brought into harmony.”

Sister Kathleen’s ministerial background includes many years of teaching home economics and science at both the high school and college levels.  She has also served many years as a spiritual director, retreat leader, Director of Monastery Grounds, and baker.

 

 

Sister Eleanor Harrison

Sister Eleanor Harrison, OSB

Place of Birth: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Community Service
  • Ministry of Prayer and Presence
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More About Sister Eleanor Harrison

“Being at prayer with my Sisters gives me life,” says Sister Eleanor about her love for the liturgical life of the community. “During the Divine Office there is joy, sometimes surprise, maybe challenge, never boredom.  After this prayer I know that all will be well.”  She adds that “I like to think of the circle of prayer through the time zones as a kind of symphony of God’s praise in which I get to have a place.”  No matter the role she has had at any given time – teacher, educational administrator, Retreat Center administrator, community service – the community’s liturgical prayer has been at the life-giving center for Sister Eleanor.

Sister Eleanor’s ministerial service includes many years as a beloved high school and college teacher as well as many years in a variety of administrative roles.

Sister Marie Leonard

Sister Marie Leonard, OSB

Place of Birth: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Retreat Center Staff
  • Adult Faith Formation
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More About Sister Marie Leonard

Sister Marie’s many years of working in Adult Faith Formation have honed her skills of listening, and this Benedictine virtue is particularly meaningful to her, especially listening ‘with the ear of the heart’ as Benedict challenges us to do.  Sr. Marie has come to see a natural connection between compassion and listening, “Listening with your heart opens your heart to compassion, and opening your heart with compassion helps you to listen,” she explains.   She goes on to say, “If I don’t listen, how can I be compassionate and walk in someone else’s shoes?”  Within the community, Sister Marie keeps a listening ear on all things theological, staying up to date on new writings and publications.

Sister Marie’s ministerial background contains some years serving in secondary education, followed by many years in parish and diocesan faith formation settings.

Sister Margaret Mary Liang

Sister Margaret Mary Liang, OSB

Place of Birth: Karachi, Pakistan
  • Infirmarian and Wellness Coordinator for the Monastic Community
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More About Sister Margaret Mary Liang

“Monastic life is boundless, and there is no end to becoming what God intends us to become” says Sister Margaret Mary.  Yet she also notes that this boundless arc of growth takes place because of the boundaries created by stability.  “To grow roots, to be stable…this allows us to mature in our relationship to one another and to God.  This is why our monastic promise of stability means so much to me,” she explains.  In coming to monastic life, Sister Margaret Mary was drawn to a place where she could come to know God and herself through the dailiness of life, finding reflections of both in daily life and growing in knowledge of God and self.

Sister Margaret Mary’s ministerial service includes teaching theology at the high school level and many years of parish ministry to the sick, dying, and home-bound.  She has also served with monastic communities in Africa through the Alliance for International Monasticism.

 

Sister Karen Ann Lortscher

Sister Karen Ann Lortscher, OSB

Place of Birth: Columbus, Ohio
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More About Sister Karen Ann Lortscher

When Sister Karen Ann was introduced as a young sister to the monastic prayer practice of Lectio Divina, she immediately connected with this prayer form.  “It was not something I knew much about.  I had been reading scripture, but actually having a set practice of spending an hour a day just reading and ‘chewing on’ the text was new.”  Because prayer was one of the key factors that drew Sister Karen Ann to monastic life, this ancient prayer practice was a natural fit.  Sister Karen Ann deeply appreciates the enduring value in today’s world of Benedictine practices and values. “I think the world needs today what Benedict gave us 1500 years ago,” she says.

Sister Karen Ann’s ministerial background prior to her work in Development includes teaching in the elementary grades, college campus ministry, and Vocation ministry.

 

 

Sister Cecilia Mac Dermott

Sister Cecilia Mac Dermott, OSB

Place of Birth: Holywood, Ireland
  • Community Service
  • Ministry of Prayer and Presence
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More About Sister Cecilia Mac Dermott

Among Sister Cecilia’s monastic heroines are our founding Sisters.  “The courage and strength that they showed in founding this community in the face of challenge and hardship is inspiring to me,” she says.   Sister Cecilia demonstrated her own courage when she left Ireland as an 18 year old to enter Sacred Heart in Alabama.  When she entered the community she was already well imbued with the monastic value of hospitality.  “It comes from my home,” she says.  “Ireland is noted for its hospitality, and I was taught that when a guest was in our home they were part of the family while they were there.  Benedictine hospitality came naturally.”  It seems that courage does, too.

Sister Cecilia’s ministerial background has been primarily in the field of education, including educational administration.

 

Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie

Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie, OSB

Place of Birth: Mobile, Alabama
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More About Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie

Sister Lynn Marie’s current ministerial role requires frequent national and international travel, yet stability is the monastic value that means the most to her as stability in her own community is what anchors her frequent travel.  Sister Lynn Marie links stability with love as the key to why it is so important.  She explains that, “Stability keeps us rooted here in our monastic community where we learn to love each other and live together, no matter the disagreements we may have from time to time.  Stability keeps us from walking away when we disagree and to work through things as Sisters, and we do!”  She adds, “We don’t go to God by ourselves but with and because of each other.”

Sister Lynn Marie’s ministerial background includes many years of private practice as an attorney in Cullman, service in the diocesan tribunal, and working with individual Religious and religious communities on matters pertaining to canon law.

 

 

 

Sister Mary Adrian McLean

Sister Mary Adrian McLean, OSB

Place of Birth: Jasper, Alabama
  • Artisan (potter)
  • Community Service
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More About Sister Mary Adrian McLean

An inner call to “come and see” led Sister Mary Adrian to the monastic community. Once here, she was inspired by the Sisters’ devotion to monastic prayer, which she describes as the “core of our life and ministry.”  After many years as an educator in which she delighted in working with mentally and physically challenged children, Sister Mary Adrian had an opportunity to work with clay and she became aware of an untapped creative gift.  She now creates works of art in a pottery studio on the monastery grounds.  Sister Mary Adrian sees obedience as the monastic commitment that embraces all other monastic commitments.  “Obedience is expressed throughout the day,” she says, “from our promptness to prayer to our fidelity to our daily responsibilities.”

Sister Mary Adrian’s ministerial background has been primarily in the field of education. She felt a particular draw toward and enjoyment of working with challenged children.

Sister Kathleen Christa Murphy

Sister Kathleen Christa Murphy, OSB

Place of Birth: Northampton, Massachusetts
  • Community Service
  • Ministry of Prayer and Presence
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Sister Mary Robert Oliver

Sister Mary Robert Oliver, OSB

Place of Birth: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Retired Teacher and Minister to the Homeless
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More About Sister Mary Robert Oliver

For many years, Sister Mary Robert was engaged in the ministry of education, serving primarily in Catholic schools in Birmingham and Pensacola. She is presently engaged in direct service to the poor and in support of social justice efforts in the Birmingham area.

Sister Benita Peters

Sister Benita Peters, OSB

Place of Birth: Abita Springs, Louisiana
  • Community Service
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More About Sister Benita Peters

Sister Benita’s favorite monastic hero is her patron saint – St. Benedict.  “I’m happy to have him as my patron,” she says.  “Through the instructions in his Holy Rule, with Sacred Scripture as its foundation, St. Benedict provides a great model to follow because he is a true follower of Christ.” Sister Benita says that the most essential element of her monastic life is prayer, explaining that “Prayer alone and together in community provides spiritual nourishment and allows me to grow in my relationship with God, with my Sisters in  community, and beyond.”  In her spare time, Sisters Benita enjoys reading, listening to music, conversing with her Sisters and family, and enjoying the changing seasons.

Sister Benita’s ministerial background has primarily been in the field of education.

Sister Virginia Rohling

Sister Virginia Rohling, OSB

Place of Birth: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Volunteer Tutor
  • Community Service
  • Former Prioress
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More About Sister Virginia Rohling

In daily life within the monastery, Sister Virginia observes the care and concern of the Sisters for each other and finds it inspiring, particularly as it gives witness to the good zeal to which Benedict calls us.  She exemplifies this care herself in her daily visits to infirm Sisters, her tutoring ministry, and other forms of service.  Prior to her current ministries, Sister Virginia served as a teacher, principal, parish minister, and two terms as Prioress. Each of these ministries deepened her appreciation of the preeminence of prayer in monastic life.  She explains that  “Prayer is intrinsically related  to our commitment to always seek God, a search around which Benedictine life is centered and which never ceases.”

Sister Virginia’s ministerial background has been primarily in the fields of teaching, administration, and parish ministry.  She continues to serve as a math tutor for students at Catholic schools in the area.

Sister Veronica Ryan

Sister Veronica Ryan, OSB

Place of Birth: Rochester, New York
  • Pastoral Ministry, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Huntsville
  • Former Prioress
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More About Sister Veronica Ryan

Hospitality comes naturally to Sister Veronica and is a monastic value that she particularly cherishes. “Hospitality is a key aspect of Christ’s character – compassionate for the sick, the needy, welcoming them when others would like to avoid them, treating them with love.” Sister Veronica is herself a shining example of joyful and Christ-like hospitality and this characteristic has shown through in her ministries as educator, administrator, Prioress, and pastoral minister.  Sister Veronica was first drawn to Benedictine life by the joy, devotion, and prayer life that she saw in the Sisters.  She relates that after entering monastic community, “it is the prayer life that has both sustained and supported me and challenged me to grow.”

Alongside, Sister Veronica’s ministerial background noted above, she has served in prison ministry at a federal prison and served as a chaplain at the Talladega Superspeedway.

 

 

Sister Bernadette Sachs

Sister Bernadette Sachs, OSB

Place of Birth: Cullman, Alabama
  • Director of Food Service
  • Community Service
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More About Sister Bernadette Sachs

“The love of God and the love of each other that I saw in the Sisters was a strong draw for me,” Sister Bernadette replied when asked what drew her to Benedictine life.  She mentioned the influence of Sister Martina, relating that “she noticed the call I had and helped me find the life I have lived and loved for 60 years.”  In those 60 years, Sister Bernadette has in turn influenced countless others as a teacher and as a vocation and formation minister.  She has helped others find their call just as Sister Martina had helped her.  Sister Bernadette enjoys being outdoors, especially at dawn or dusk, and can often be seen taking a walk before Lauds.

Sister Bernadette’s ministerial service includes many years in the field of education, including teaching first grade to multiple generations.  She has also served the community as Subprioress, as Novice Director,  as Infirmarian, and as Kitchen Manager.

Sister Emilie Schmitt

Sister Emilie Schmitt, OSB

Place of Birth: Eufaula, Alabama
  • Community Service
  • Ministry of Prayer and Presence
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More About Sister Emilie Schmitt

“Their prayerfulness and their love for one another,” was Sister Emilie’s immediate response when asked what inspires her most about her Sisters in monastic community.  Her Sisters could say the same about Sister Emilie who is a true anchor of prayer in the community and always ready with a loving word and helping hand.  Sister Emilie’s favorite monastic value is stability, especially for the sense of “togetherness” it fosters among the community.  “We’re all here together,” she says appreciatively of life in community.  A beloved first grade teacher for many years, Sister Emilie still keeps children in mind with two of her favorite activities – crocheting baby blankets and making holiday “slippers” from old Christmas cards.

Sister Emilie’s ministerial background has primarily been in the field of education, with many years of service as a beloved first grade teacher.

Sister Michelle St. Marie

Sister Michelle Renee St. Marie, OSB

Place of Birth: Warren, Ohio
  • Pediatric Occupational Therapist
  • Volunteer with Catholic Center of Concern, Birmingham
  • Vocation Team Member
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