Benedictine sisters in Bristow

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In 1894, the Benedictine Sisters of Richmond received a great gift. In fact the offering was so large that they had to travel more than 100 miles to claim it. When they arrived in Bristow, they were greeted by acres of beautiful Virginia countryside known as Linton's Ford, a great expanse of land given to them by the Linton family. It was on this land that the sisters built their monastery and began their ministry. Today, they have grown to a community of 32 and are living a life centered on prayer and good works according to the Rule of St. Benedict. Through their stewardship of the land they have sewn seeds of love that have yielded an abundance of physical and spiritual fruit.

This monastic community does not have one specific mission. According to vocation director Sister Andrea Westkamp, the sisters are "a community of place." They serve the unique needs of the people around their monastery and when these needs change the sisters' ministries do as well.

When they first arrived, they set up a school for the children of poor immigrants in Bristow, and to this day the sisters staff Linton Hall School on the monastery grounds. They began teaching English as a Second Language in 1992 through the Beacon literacy program, which has given individuals the skills needed to achieve financial stability and independence.

The monastery also serves as a refuge. The sisters provide shelter and support to homeless mothers through their transitional housing program, and the property's gardens and trails provide numerous areas for private prayer. Visitors seek out the monastery's forgiveness garden to reconcile with difficult burdens and its stone prayer labyrinth to draw closer to God.

The sisters tend to their visitors' spiritual well-being through prayer and counseling and also care for their natural environment.

"At this point in our monastery we try very hard to reduce what we call the ecological footprint ...," said Sister Andrea. "(We are) very concerned with what products we use, how we do recycling and how we take care of our gardens, our property and the wild animals that live here to prepare our property for future generations to come."

During the Year of Consecrated Life, the sisters are providing different opportunities to share their unique way of life with the public. They invite visitors of all faiths to join them for Mass on Sunday and to pray with them during their three community prayer times for the Liturgy of the Hours. The grounds are open to anyone who needs a break from the aggravations of Northern Virginia traffic and to reconnect with God.

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Listen to exclusive interviews from the Benedictine sisters in the Catholic Herald's new Consecrated Life video. Visit the Catholic Herald's YouTube channel, ArlingCatholicHerald .

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015