Sisters all a’Twitter

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Sister Mary Clark wasn’t in Washington for this year’s March for Life. But she found her own way to honor the unborn: with a tweet.

On the Twitter account for the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia in Bristow, she took a picture of their burial ground for miscarried and stillborn babies, then tweeted, “On this day when many are at #MarchforLife, I took a walk to visit ‘our’ babies. We have a little cemetery for babies whom God couldn't part with. While sad, there is so much love there.”

 osb twitter

The Bristow sisters aren’t cloistered, and visitors are welcome to visit their grounds. But their Twitter account gives Catholics and others a more intimate look at their everyday lives, such as trips to their garden, or a night of community charades. On social media, Sister Mary, director of the monastery’s columbarium, might share a Bible verse from morning prayer, updates on their many ministries and personal stories from monastery life. 

“I would call her the social media guru, we just haven’t printed up a plaque or anything,” quipped Sister Joanne Burley, director of mission integration and communication for the monastery.

Sister Mary first started using social media to connect with her students at St. Gertrude High School, an all-girls Benedictine school in Richmond. “The way I got started was right before Lent five years ago.  For whatever reason, I had this inspiration I would take up Twitter for Lent and use it for evangelization purposes,” said Sister Mary.

When she moved to the Bristow monastery, Sister Joanne asked her to tweet about monastery life. “What I discovered was all these wonderful people out there, the worldwide Benedictine community and also just regular Catholic Twitter, and others,” she said.

“Some people give up Twitter for Lent — we went into Twitter and never looked back,” said Sister Joanne.

Their most popular tweets or Facebook posts usually feature personal stories, such as a novice entering the monastery or a sister celebrating her jubilee. People appreciate the daily inspirations from scripture or quotes of saints, said Sister Mary. Others love to see pictures of the monastery dogs, Gypsy and Moji. 

Some people direct message Sister Mary and ask what it’s like to be a sister and how to discern. Others ask for prayers. “People know that we pray, and it’s good to be able to give that comfort to them, to know that there’s spiritual help,” said Sister Joanne. People pray for the sisters as well.

Read Bishop Burbidge's message for the World Day of Consecrated Life

Sister Anita Sherwood had been a Benedictine for more than 80 years when she died at age 98 in 2016, and Sister Mary tweeted about her passing. “A monk from England tweeted back and said ‘I said my Mass for her today,’ ” said Sister Mary. “Talk about the power of social media for the good. I was so struck by that. It’s a nice praying community.”

In honor of the Benedictine’s 150th anniversary of arriving in Virginia, Sister Mary has been posting stories and pictures to highlight their milestones. “People seem to be enjoying those. It’s been fun to go back and review our own history and to see where we came from,” said Sister Mary. 

“We’re very far removed from the early 1900s, so even seeing that part of history and learning about Richmond and Northern Virginia — it’s all a part of our history,” said Sister Joanne. 

Using email, Facebook and Twitter, the sisters are able to keep in contact with friends from around the diocese. But they don’t let social media consume them. “This is our ministry for the sisters. But there’s more to life than social media. We have the community and prayer,” said Sister Joanne. 

The time the sisters do spend on social media is spent sharing their message and encouraging others. For example, Sister Mary reaches out to different schools or groups when it’s their patron saint’s feast day.  “People are grateful for that. It’s a way of connecting and celebrating other people out there. We see Christ in everybody,” she said. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

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