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Benedictine Sisters of Virginia celebrate 125 years in Bristow

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What does it take to keep away the rain when you’ve set your minds and hearts on an outdoor Mass and barbecue? Perhaps it takes a miracle — or the prayers of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia who celebrated their 125th anniversary in Bristow May 4. The sisters also celebrated the 150th anniversary of their founding in Richmond May 1, 1868.

“I would like to welcome you all to this fabulous celebration day. It is the conclusion of our celebration of our 150th anniversary of coming to the commonwealth of Virginia and it is the beginning of 125 years in this spot in Bristow — 125 years we have been teaching and expanding to other ministries,” said Benedictine Sister Joanna Burley, who will become prioress June 22. 

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated Mass under a canopy on the grounds outside the convent. Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde, Father Donald J. Rooney, pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield; Jesuit Father Pat Conroy, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives; and Father Lee R. Roos, pastor of All Saints Church in Manassas; concelebrated. 

“We gather together, dear friends, with profound thanks for relatively a short amount of time for a community whose order’s history spans more than 1,500 years,” Bishop Burbidge said. “But for the church in the Diocese of Arlington, the presence of the Benedictine Sisters at Bristow has been a gift since our own foundation as a diocese in 1974. As the fourth bishop along with Bishop Loverde, I give thanks to the sisters for their tremendous contribution to the spiritual foundation of our local church, which ultimately has its origin in our Risen Lord, Jesus.

“We know that all prayer and reflection, communal and personal, lead us to the Eucharist, the church’s perfect prayer of thanksgiving, which we celebrate with great joy today, marking this significant anniversary,” said Bishop Burbidge. “And the Eucharist, the source of our unity, calls us to humble and sacrificial service. Such service is beautifully reflected in the lives of our Benedictine Sisters throughout their rich history and until the present day.

“We are very pleased you came to our party,” said Benedictine Sister Cecilia Dwyer at the end of Mass, offering a reflection on the history of the order. “So, what you may ask have we been doing for the last 150 years?”

Examples of their evolution and ministries include Linton Hall School; BEACON, an adult literacy program that assists immigrants with low incomes learn English; and the Benedictine Pastoral Center, which offers workshops and spiritual direction. 

For many, the Benedictines provided a home away from home. 

“The sisters here at the monastery and the land itself has been a godsend to me,” said Karen Robicheaux, who recently relocated from Louisiana. “The area has afforded me the opportunity for reflection and growth, and the sisters have been extremely welcoming and hospitable. The land and space offers spirituality and growth on a personal and communal level.” 

When Linda Stoltz first moved to the area and away from family, she looked for a community. “I walked into the chapel on the first day and Sister Pat Hagarty gave me a big hug,” she said. “I felt so blessed and wonderful.” 

When Stoltz’s mother was in town and Stoltz had to leave for her father-in-law’s funeral, it was Sister Hagarty and Sister Ann Marie Lange who kept her mother company. “These ladies are pretty fabulous,” said Stoltz. 

Lisa Fusco, a Benedictine Oblate and teacher at St. Gertrude High School in Richmond, said the Benedictines “continually evolve to meet whatever the need is.” 

Following Mass, guests were treated to burgers and hot dogs with sides served by area Knights of Columbus, and the opportunity to explore the grounds.

Benedictine Sister Charlotte Lange said the celebration was wonderful. “I think there are people who don’t realize we have been around all these years,” she said. “To have all these people here says they support us.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019