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Retreat reveals life in monastery

For women considering entering an order, the nuns of the Holy Names Monastery show the balance of prayer and work in their lives.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000

SAINT LEO -- Sheila Ryan felt the call to explore the monastic way of life.

So this past week the 41-year-old Atlanta woman attended a retreat, hosted by the Benedictine Sisters of Florida, at the Holy Names Monastery in Saint Leo.

Before coming to Florida, Ryan said she left a business position with AT&T to become more involved in her own community. She took a teaching position to help intellectually disabled elementary students.

Ryan came to the retreat to consider whether to become a sister, a major change in her lifestyle.

"(The monastery) is an intense version of a community," Ryan said. "I don't know yet, this is a process . . . nothing that you can decide in a week."

Jane Martinson, 46 and a retired Navy commander, joined Holy Names Monastery in Saint Leo in January. She attended her first retreat in November 1995 and her second one in November 1998. It was during the second retreat that she made the decision to live the monastic lifestyle.

Martinson attended the Monastic Experience Retreat this past week, to refresh her values and review what she previously learned. She said she is happy and trying to live in the present, discovering exactly what the future holds for her in the monastery. She is not sure if she will work as a teacher or guidance counselor.

During this week's retreat, one of the topics of discussion was about work and attitudes. Other aspects of the retreat include prayer, dialogue and listening to guest speakers.

"Religious women are professional women in our community, but we are not in it for the reward of money," said Sister Mary David. The Catholic church does not support the sisters. Part of the money they earn through teaching at the Academy in Tampa and at Saint Leo University is put back into the community. It is called alms.

The sisters give most of their salary to the local Daystar, an outreach that gives food and clothing to the needy, and to Bread for the World, an organization that helps with world hunger.

They even get personally involved through counseling the clients at the Sunrise Spouse Abuse Center.

Sister Mary David teaches that self-worth is not determined by the work you do, however a task performed in a spirit of serving is more meaningful.

"All work is seen as important, all are to serve," she said.

The sisters believe in the Benedictine motto, Ora et Labora, which means pray and work. This has served the order for more than 1,500 years. Benedictines believe in the dignity of labor. For Benedictines, labor is a sign of seeking God. One of the values that the Benedictine sisters hold close to the heart is: "Work is not meant to be a burden or even our identity; it is a chance to be rooted in our God-likeness, to be co-creator with God. "God created us in his image, in a sense we are co-creators," said Sister Lisa Judene, vocation director and religious teacher at the Academy of Holy Names, a Catholic school in Tampa. She is 35 years old and has lived in the monastery community for more than 12 years.

"I have been blessed, not having any doubts in living this life," said Sister Lisa Judene "I can't see myself doing anything else."

As vocation director, she works with women who are interested in joining the monastery, She guides them, answers their questions, and prays with them to determine their decision to enter.

Sister Mary David is 52 and has been in the Benedictine order a great portion of her life. She is the postulant and novice director, as well as the sub-prioress (similar to vice president) at the Holy Names Monastery in Saint Leo.

Sister Lisa Judene describes Sister Mary David as deeply spiritual, a person who really lives the Benedictine life.

Sister Mary David shepherds the sisters for their first two years of residency, teaching them the lifestyle at the community and leads them spiritually.

Sister Mary David explains how, compared with the "old days," the sisters are much clearer in who they are as monastic women.

"We have reached a different level of maturity, standing on our own feet, making more of our own decisions," Sister Mary David said.

"This is a life that leads you to wholeness, a balance of prayer and work," said Sister Mary David.

- Angela Miller covers Religion news in Pasco County, and can be reached by calling (352) 521-5757, ext. 29, her e-mail address is

For information

The address for Holy Names Monastery is P.O. Box 2450, Saint Leo, FL 33574. Or call (352) 588-8320.

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