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Benedictine sister's tasty treats jam-packed with love

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sister pat web 1Inside the basement bakery of St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow, Benedictine Sister Patricia Hagarty — “Sister Pat” — stands in front of a stainless steel industrial sink filling a large black pot with water. She turns around, pulls out a new box of canning jars and lines up the empty glass jars upside down on a blue tray. 

The summer harvest has arrived, which means it’s time for Sister Pat to focus on the holidays — the sisters’ Holydays-Holidays sale in November, that is. Around this time of year, the wood counters in the bakery start to fill with dozens and dozens of juicy peaches soon to become peach jam. Glass jars of dill pickles, zucchini relish and salsa line the metal shelves. In a few months, they’ll all be gone, sold to visitors to help support the sisters’ lives of prayer and labor. 

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Sister Pat Hagarty tightens the lids on a wine jelly mixture before boiling it on the stove. MARY STACHYRA LOPEZ | CATHOLIC HERALD

On this day, Sister Pat is ready to start the canning season with an easy favorite — wine jelly. 

“Jams and jellies, I don’t find them difficult, but some people do,” says Sister Pat, a registered dietician who’s managed the monastery bakery, gardens and kitchen since her retirement from Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton. “If it says four and a half cups, you can’t say, ‘Oh, that looks like four and a half,’ that kind of thing.” Precise measurements are key. 

The beginning of the canning process involves multi-tasking, which Sister Pat does with ease. She’s been doing this since she was a kid growing up in West Virginia, and it shows. As yellow lids for the jars sterilize in the boiling water on the stove, Sister Pat pours red wine into a metal measuring cup and gives it a quick once-over before pouring it into a pot.

“Now sometimes what you can do is add a tablespoon of butter, and you can keep the foam down,” she says. If there’s too much foam, that has to be removed or the product will turn bad. The butter is a preventative measure. 

Sister Pat fills a bowl in the sink with water and places a few sterilizing tablets inside. The water turns light blue and foams slightly as she places half a dozen jars inside. After the jars are clean, she fills them with the red, sugary wine mixture and tightens the lids.  

“Oh, that smells good,” Sister Pat says as she picks up the glass jars with metal tongs. Though there’s no air conditioning in the room, she doesn’t appear bothered by the heat as she turns around to place the jars in the lightly bubbling water on the stove. Now, it’s time to wait as the jelly cooks. 

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Sister Pat Hagarty lifts cans of wine jelly out of the boiling "water bath." MARY STACHYRA LOPEZ | CATHOLIC HERALD

Canning wasn’t something the sisters did often in past years, says Sister Pat, who entered the Bristow community in 1956 and made her monastic profession two years later. Much of her own knowledge is self-taught. 

The completed jars of jelly, now sitting on the counter, make a popping sound. “That’s a good sign,” says Sister Pat. “It means that it’s sealed.” sister pat for web 4

She smiles and says, “All this stuff is made with love.”

Wine jelly cools after the canning process is complete. MARY STACHYRA LOPEZ | CATHOLIC HERALD

Find out more

The Holydays/Holidays sale will include handcrafted items made by the Benedictine sisters, Oblates and friends, homemade goods from Sister Pat, and decorations for fall, Advent and Christmas. The sale runs Nov. 22 -24 at St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow. To learn more, go to osbva.org or call 703/361-0106 or to find out about the sisters’ ongoing jubilee campaign to build a new monastery.

See more photos on SmugMug.  


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019