FORT SMITH — The transition to a smaller monastery for the nuns at St. Scholastica Monastery was made easier with a familiar sight: stained-glass windows of Benedictine saints that were transferred to their new home.
Several hundred friends, family and supporters gathered Oct. 7 in Fort Smith to celebrate the dedication of their new 30,000-square-foot monastery. They processed to the new chapel, led by celebrant Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, singing “All Are Welcome.” As Bishop Taylor celebrated Mass, he anointed and incensed the altar and inaugurated the adjacent adoration chapel. The familiar rituals served as a reminder of the sisters’ 139 years of service to Arkansas Catholics, in Shoal Creek, Fort Smith and schools and hospitals throughout the diocese.
In his homily, Bishop Taylor offered a prayer for the sisters: “May you always be one and may your lives always be filled with joy. You are countercultural, just like those first disciples, and it is your obvious unity and evident joy that will give most eloquent evidence to the presence of the Lord in our midst.”
Prioress Sister Maria DeAngeli, OSB, offered special thanks to the chairs of the $5 million capital campaign — Leo and Barbara Anhalt, Buddy and Linda Spradlin, and Tom and Dorothy Caldarera — who made it possible for the nuns to relocate on the same grounds.
“We thank you, you generous people for helping us by being a donor and doing whatever you may have been asked to do,” Leo Anhalt said. “I’m especially honored to be the contractor who built this building … it’s been a lot of work and we just, again, are so happy to have worked with the sisters in this effort and seeing it come to a conclusion.”
“This building will provide a much safer and efficient structure to carry on the ministry of the sisters,” Buddy Spradlin said.
In 2016 the sisters announced that their six-story building was no longer suitable for their needs. With fewer nuns and high operational expenses, upkeep and energy costs, the monastery’s multiple-story design created difficulties, especially for the older sisters.
After Mass, sisters led tours of their new home, which contains a chapel, 26 bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, meeting rooms, offices, library and gift shop. The building is not quite finished, and Leo Anhalt, who was also the general contractor, had crews working to lay the chapel floor just hours before the dedication. The sisters expect to complete their move in November.
The community currently has 32 members, one in temporary profession and two new postulants. Instead of operating an infirmary on site, eight elderly and infirm sisters reside at Chapel Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center one block east of the monastery. The community was saddened by the death of Sister Jeremy Mollett, OSB, a Chapel Ridge resident, who died the morning of the dedication.
The reception was held in the current monastery dining room, hosted by graduates of the former St. Scholastica Academy, affectionately known as the “Scho Girls.” The attendees, many of whom had volunteered and donated to the capital campaign, were both nostalgic about leaving the current monastery and grateful the project was complete.
With substantially lower expenses and maintenance in the new monastery, the sisters look forward to being able to focus on their ministries of prayer, community, hospitality and service.
When the campaign began, the sisters chose Forward in Faith as their theme.
“I believe it was a walk of faith and not of sight,” Sister Maria said, “because we really did not know what was ahead of us. Like our former prioresses, we took the challenge and forged ahead.”
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