Sister Edith, who blogs at Monastic Musings and teaches at the College of Scholastica in Duluth, had a really interesting post the other day on how architecture has been shaped by and shaped, too, by the evolving mission of her religious order over 120 years or so.
[...] I have been pondering the history of my own community. Benedictine sisters came to Duluth because they were so aware of the need for teachers and health care - and built those institutions. For most of our history, we really did not have a monastery as a separate building.
On the missions - schools and hospitals throughout the state - there was a convent that had a certain degree of separation - but only for the sisters who lived there. The sisters lived and slept in wings of Tower Hall - our College's first building - surrounded by classrooms, student living quarters (when the school was much smaller), and offices.
They were aware of the toll that it took on their monastic life. One sister, now deceased, had the same response whenever the community was called on to provide a new building for the college, or hospital, or school - "But we need a MONASTERY!" She was right. As changes occurred - the high school was closed, the college needed more space - the possibility of creating a single monastic space took shape. Sister Clare Marie Trettel, during her term as prioress, drew all the threads together. With the building of Stanbrook West, the sisters were able to move out of Tower Hall entirely, and to have a cloister around a central courtyard: a real monastery.
As the community ages and decreases and size, more and more of the sisters come home from missions and live here in Duluth. This, too, is re-shaping our community life. When hundreds of sisters lived and served dozens of schools and hospitals, the sense of vocation was largely in the work. As the number of sisters whose ministry takes them far away decreases, and more have returned to Duluth and to the monastery, there is a very subtle but discernible shift in our self-awareness.
The lived experience of the majority of sisters is now that of living together in one central community. It is not (yet) enough to create a renewed identity; the decades living in the missions were vibrant and filled with memories. We are studying and reading and working at revitalizing our monastic life. As I reflect, though, I realize that perhaps our architecture is doing the best part of the work for us - in the slow and subtle way that bricks and stone can reshape the humans who inhabit them. Read it All