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Benedictines advance plans to build smaller monastery

Infirm sisters will move to a nearby nursing home for continued health care

Published: December 1, 2016   
St. Scholastica plans to build a new one-level monastery, shown here in an artist’s rendering, on the grounds of the existing monastery building.

FORT SMITH — The Benedictine sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery have begun a capital campaign to raise $5 million to construct a new, smaller, more efficient monastery on their current grounds.

Moving into a smaller space will allow the sisters to focus on their ministries, lower maintenance expenses and free up resources as they continue to serve in Fort Smith and attract new members to monastic life. A capital campaign called Forward in Faith kicked off in November.

The community has a 137-year history in Arkansas, with the sisters working as teachers, nurses, pastoral ministers, spiritual directors and volunteers. Their two newest sisters are continuing that tradition. Sister Judith Marie Timmerman, OSB, teaches Spanish at Christ the King School in Fort Smith, and Sister Michaela Marie Boucaud, OSB, is a hospitalist/nurse practitioner at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith.

The new monastery will be one story with 24 bedrooms, a chapel, dining room, kitchen, office space, meeting rooms and rooms for overnight guests. Each bedroom will be designed to meet assisted living requirements, with adaptability and energy efficiency built into the architectural design. The sisters hope to break ground in the spring.

“In every venture we undertake, we know inwardly that God gives us the grace to move forward. ...” Sister Maria De Angeli, OSB, prioress of St. Scholastica Monastery

Five years of discernment preceded the decision, as the sisters realized that their 90-year-old, six-story monastery was too large and expensive to maintain for their 39 sisters, including two in temporary profession. In fiscal year 2015, their housing costs were $380,430, representing a per-capita expense of $9,756 per sister.

They also realized that their elderly sisters could not receive the care they needed, including specialized services and therapies, in the current monastery. A lightning strike in the sixth-floor tower on May 12 underscored the vulnerability of non-ambulatory sisters living in a difficult-to-evacuate, third-floor infirmary.

In the spring of 2015, the sisters entered into a purchase agreement with Reliance Health Care, to allow it to buy 9.75 acres to build a 140-bed nursing home near the new monastery. The community was hopeful that its elderly sisters would be cared for in that new location so the other sisters could have daily contact with them.

However, 18 months later, on Oct. 1, Reliance Health Care moved out of the Sebastian County nursing home market, selling its existing property, Chapel Ridge Nursing Home, to Central Arkansas Nursing Centers Inc.

The sisters currently have one sister who needs special care living at Chapel Ridge, a few blocks from the monastery. They decided it was best to gradually move other infirm sisters to Chapel Ridge.

The capital campaign is being chaired by Leo and Barbara Anhalt of Fort Smith and Buddy and Linda Spradlin of Muldrow, Okla. Tom and Dorothy Caldarera of Fort Smith are serving as honorary co-chairs. The couples have had a close relationship with the sisters.

No decision has been made on what the sisters would do with the current building once it is vacant in 2018.

“Our five-year journey in faith has been painful but also life-giving,” prioress Sister Maria De Angeli, OSB, said. “Our journey with Reliance Health Care brought light, but that changed when the company decided to end its land purchase agreement with us. In every venture we undertake, we know inwardly that God gives us the grace to move forward and we must wait patiently for what he has in store of us. We are grateful for the many good and loving people who are helping us as we move ‘Forward in Faith.’ I believe there is a new day dawning because our God is faithful."

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