When the Benedictine Sisters of Florida arrived in East Pasco from Elk County, Pennsylvania, in 1889, they lived in a three-story hotel in San Antonio.
This week, they’re hosting an open house at their new quarters, marking another major milestone in their 125-year history in Pasco County.
The new Holy Name Monastery replaces the sisters’ former quarters, which were in a 100,000-square-foot structure across State Road 52.
Saint Leo University purchased that building in October 2012, along with some additional acreage from the sisters. The purchase helped cover the cost of the new 28,000-square-foot monastery. The sisters also conducted a capital campaign for $500,000.
Like any new home, there are advantages and disadvantages.
The sisters have less space. However, the old multi-story structure where they had lived since 1960 had become too large for them and too expensive to operate and maintain.
Sister Mary Romana Gomez is delighted with the sisters’ new home.
“I just thank God for a dream come true,” she said.
“I’m just in awe,” added Sister Margaret Mary Roberts.
“It’s what we wanted,” Sister Jean Abbott agreed.
Visitors arriving at the monastery, at 12138 Wichers Road, will be greeted in a small lobby, which is flanked by stained glass windows representing Saint Benedict and his sister, Saint Scholastica.
The chapel is large and in a place of prominence, signifying its important role in the monastery. Furnishings for the chapel were moved there from the former monastery’s chapel.
Other features of the new monastery include a dining room and kitchen, as well as two small kitchens, where light meals and snacks can be prepared.
There’s also a multipurpose room adjoining the chapel. It has a wall that can be moved to create a larger chapel space when that is needed. Or, the room can be used to provide additional dining space.
The monastery also has an archives room, a library, an exercise room and a laundry room. There’s a television room, too, equipped with a wide-screen television, a gift to the sisters from the Tampa Bay Rays.
The living quarters are housed in a separate building, connected by a corridor that incorporates additional storage space.
There are 20 bedrooms, including four guest rooms.
It is easy to see that this is a place devoted to worship and spiritual growth. There’s an outdoor statue representing the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, which stands near the front of the building.
At the end of one corridor, there’s a statue representing the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In the dining hall, there’s a sign that says, “Give us this day, our daily bread” — an excerpt from the “Our Father,” a prayer recited in Catholic masses. There’s also a painting of the Last Supper, which represents when Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, a fundamental part of the Catholic faith.
With just four guest rooms, the new monastery cannot accommodate overnight retreats. Still, Sister Mary David Hydro, who helps plan retreats, said she thinks the opportunity for hosting such gatherings may be even greater now.
Many people who are unable to attend overnight retreats may be able to break away for a day of reflection, she said.
The need for retreats is there, she said. “People are hungry for spiritual life.”
Providing spiritual replenishment is just one role the sisters have played through the years. They lead lives of prayer and accept prayer requests from the community.
They also have been instrumental in schools and on organization boards including Sunrise Spouse Abuse Shelter, Saint Leo University Haitian Mission Project, Florida Association for the Education of Young Children, Catholic Charities, Coalition for the Homeless, Hospice, Habitat for Humanity, and DayStar Hope Thrift Store and Food Pantry.
Each year they provide a Thanksgiving meal to feed more than 200 people. They’ll do the same this year, but will need to adjust their logistics, said Sister Mary Clare Neuhofer, the monastery’s immediate past prioress.
While a move to a new place requires adjustments, there are plenty of pluses, the sisters said.
For one thing, the views are fantastic. The monastery’s back porch sits at the top of a grassy hill.
Clusters of wildflower add bits of color, and the hills slope down to stands of trees below. There’s a wide expanse of sky above, and off in the distance, is a view of the steeple for Saint Leo Abbey church.
There is beauty and serenity at this place, on a hill.
As they were sharing their first meal together in their new dwelling place, the sisters saw a double rainbow arch across the sky. They took that as a sign of God’s blessing on their new home.
Published September 17, 2014
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