Benedictine sisters start community near Charlotte
MOUNT HOLLY — In a simple little home in Mount Holly – with the looks of the typical American dream: two stories and a two-car garage – something more than the American dream is being realized for a budding community of sisters following the Rule of St. Benedict.
On Feb. 9, they were acknowledged by Bishop Peter J. Jugis as a "Private Association of the Faithful" within the Diocese of Charlotte.
It is the first step for the two Benedictine women religious – now known as the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Peace – who moved to Mount Holly last fall.
"The Holy Spirit moves where He wills," said Sister Gertrude Gillette, superior of the new community, "but these steps must be taken as we move toward becoming a religious institute in the diocese."
"Anything new must be tested to see if it is true," she added. Anticipating and hoping for vocations, she continued, "There is a certain kind of character that goes with a certain type of vocation. To join a new community, it takes someone with a pioneering spirit and courage, someone with flexibility and ability to take a risk."
Pictured: Sister Gertrude and Sister Scholastica, two Benedictine nuns who recently moved to the Diocese of Charlotte, meet with Bishop Peter J. Jugis. (Mary B. Worthington, Catholic News Herald)
The sisters came to Charlotte specifically to discern founding a community near Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts college founded by Benedictine monks more than 130 years ago in Belmont.
Sister Gertrude Gillette, who explains that she has been "under St. Benedict's wing since the age of 14," is the visionary and superior of the new community, which lives the complete Benedictine style of monastic life while teaching at parishes and schools.
Since Benedictine women first came to the U.S. in 1852 from Eichstätt, Germany, they have always been either very active sisters or very contemplative nuns, Sister Gertrude explained.
Originally from one of these contemplative orders in Massachusetts, Sister Gertrude spent several years studying at the Catholic University of America, where she met monks from monasteries affiliated with Catholic colleges. Her eyes were opened when she saw that they lived the whole monastic life but at the same time taught students.
Her decision to pursue a similar vocation led her to Rome.
"In Rome, I was learning Italian, getting into the system, and then the Lord very strongly one day told me in His own mystical way that I would be returning to the United States and founding a house of Benedictine women near a Catholic college," Sister Gertrude explained.
"But He didn't tell me which one!" she continued with a laugh.
In 2006, a friend invited her to attend the Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte, and there she ran into a priest friend from her time at Catholic University – who is now Bishop Jugis.
This reignited a friendship that eventually led to an invitation to come to the diocese.
Sister Gertrude and one other sister, Sister Scholastica Auguste, arrived in Charlotte in late August. Last semester, Sister Gertrude taught two theology classes at Belmont Abbey. Currently, she is teaching women at St. Mark Church in Huntersville and will be the featured speaker at the upcoming Charlotte Catholic Women's Guild retreat on Feb. 25.
Sister Gertrude said she loves her students and has already noted how the Holy Spirit is moving quickly. For example, last semester, one non-Catholic student told her: "Sister, I've learned more Scripture from you in two classes than I learned as a Baptist in the past 45 years!"
Sister Scholastica does everything necessary around the house from cooking to cleaning to shopping.
Together, they keep the monastic schedule of praying five hours of the Divine Office, attend Holy Mass at the Belmont Abbey basilica, practice Lectio Divina, and spend a half hour daily in Adoration. They are also devoted to praying the rosary and observing monastic silence, speaking only when necessary.
Sister Scholastica said she didn't consider becoming a woman religious until she was about 20, when she attended a silent retreat with her mother in her home country of St. Lucia.
She felt a mysterious voice during a Holy Hour tell her, "I do not want you to get married." To which she replied, "Not even to have children?!" When she heard no, she began to cry, but this experience opened the door for her to consider a religious vocation. She moved to America six years ago to join the Benedictines.
They often have people approach them, remarking in a positive way on their religious habits or asking questions about the Benedictine way of life, they said.
"One man asked, 'How could you live if you can't have children, can't have a husband?'" Sister Scholastica recalled. "I simply answered, 'Only for the love of Christ'."
Those interested in visiting or inviting Sister Gertrude to speak at their parishes can call 704-827-2490.
— Mary B. Worthington, correspondent
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