Each year, we commemorate the arrival of Mother Benedicta Riepp and two companions in St. Marys, Pennsylvania on July 22, 1862. They had traveled from St. Walburg Convent in Bavaria to found St. Joseph Monastery, the first convent of Benedictine Sisters in North America. These pioneers would eventually create a whole new way of life for Benedictine women by accepting ministries outside the convent walls.They began with a school for German-speaking immigrant girls in St. Marys. As their numbers grew, they established new foundations, among them St. Benedict Convent in the frontier town of St. Cloud, Minnesota in 1857. In 1881 the fourth prioress of that community, Mother Scholastica Kerst, sent Sisters to new ministries in Duluth, 140 miles to the northeast. By the end of that decade, Sisters were staffing several parish schools and a Catholic hospital in Duluth.
When the Diocese of Duluth was established in 1889, Bishop James T. McGolrick was appointed as its first bishop. He wanted an independent community of Benedictine Sisters for his diocese. In 1892, thirty-two sisters from St. Benedict’s chose to join a new foundation, headed by Mother Scholastica Kerst. When she died in 1911, Bishop James McGolrick said, “She built my diocese. May her good work grow and prosper.” And it did. Over the years the Community has founded elementary and high schools, a college, several hospitals including one that grew to become Essentia Health system, and the Benedictine Health System (now known as Benedictine).
You can read more of our Community’s history at https://duluthbenedictines.org/monastic-life/our-history/.
The commemoration opens with prayer and singing. We then take turns reciting the names of the 32 pioneering Sisters who came to Duluth to teach and provide medical care for the people of Duluth. Every year we marvel at what grew from the work of these women. We end with singing “Pray for us, Lady, Queen of Peace,” written for the Community shortly before the beginning of the Second World War.