Benedictines reflect on a journey of faith

Sisters from St. Mary Monastery and Benet House Retreat Center in Rock Island, Ill., are pictured at the motherhouse. The religious order is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

By Sr. Bobbi Bussan, OSB and Debbie Schwiebert
For The Catholic Messenger

Life is a journey and we know not if it will unfold according to our plans and dreams. We hope for a meaningful outcome but there are surprises along the way and new directions taken.

Imagine it is 1874. Four sisters and one postulant are setting out from St. Scholastica’s Convent in Chicago for Nauvoo, Illinois to establish a school for girls. Excitement, apprehension, concern and a little fear of the unknown may have been some of the emotions they experienced. Their pastor gave them this mission. They believed that God and our Blessed Mother would guide and inspire them and direct their paths.

The sisters established the first convent and school in a residence built as the Mormon arsenal. The local parish had purchased this home for the sisters to use as a school and living quarters. St. Scholastica Academy (later St. Mary’s Academy) opened on All Souls Day in 1874, with seven girls enrolled. Their schooling was paid for with food, fuel and even a cow in one instance.


St. Mary’s Academy thrived throughout the latter part of the 19th century and most of the 20th century. After 123 years, with the popularity of boarding schools declining, the sisters made the difficult decision in 1997 to close the academy. Today the spirit of the academy lives on through the families of thousands of alumnae who benefited from the teaching, lives and love of the sisters.

In addition to the academy, the sisters have served in parishes, elementary and high schools, social agencies, hospitals and communities in Illinois, Iowa and Indiana. The sisters have also ministered in colleges, universities and diocesan chancery offices. Special ministries in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Mexico and New Mexico were begun following Vatican II.

In 2001, the sisters made another leap of faith when they moved from Nauvoo to Rock Island, Illinois and built a new complex comprised of St. Mary Monastery and Benet House Retreat Center. Respect for the environment was a driving force behind the innovative design of the complex: acres of woods for wild life preserved, native prairie grasses planted, and a five-acre lake created to allow geothermal heating and cooling. More recently, the community added an array of solar panels to provide sustainable electrical power.

The sisters follow the Rule of St. Benedict in their everyday life, particularly valuing community, prayer, hospitality, peace and justice and care of creation. At the Rock Island monastery, the sisters engage in prayer, retreats, education and outreach to the poor. Benedictine oblates, lay women and men who feel called to live the Rule of St. Benedict according to their ability and lifestyle, participate with the sisters in living the Benedictine values. Many volunteers work with the sisters and provide assistance for their ministries and daily tasks at the monastery.

Four sisters and one postulant could not have known, 150 years ago, how many lives would be touched, changed and enriched through their response to God’s call.

The 150th Anniversary of the Founding of the Sisters of St. Benedict began in October 2023 and continues through October 2024. Celebrations, activities and special liturgies will take place for families and friends, alumnae of St. Mary’s Academy, and area clergy and special guests. Follow along with us during the year, as we celebrate and honor the joy and memories of these 150 years.

To learn more about the 150th anniversary celebrations in honor of the Sisters of St. Benedict, St. Mary Monastery, and the gift of these years, visit

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