Benedictine Sisters Weave Faith With Environmental Care

Audio | October 7, 2015
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For a community of Benedictine nuns in Dane County, “going green” isn’t just a fad. It has roots dating back fifteen hundred years. 

Sister Mary David Walgenbach is prioress of Holy Wisdom Monastery on the outskirts of Middleton, Wisconsin.

"We are an ecumenical Benedictine community of sisters," explains Walgenbach, "meaning that we are open to people of any religious tradition. We're one of the first in North America to have an ecumenical monastery for women."

The sisters came here in 1953 at the invitation of the first Bishop of Madison, Bishop O'Connor, to start a school for girls. The school closed in 1966. The site became an ecumenical retreat center. 

"Benedict lived in the sixth century, and he was the first one to really write a rule for people living the common life. So a Benedictine means you join a community, you take a promise of stability that I will stay with this group of people," says Walgenbach.

The sisters live in a house at the edge of the woods. There are four miles of walking trails around the property as well as a vegetable garden. 

"And we take walks in the woods so I know where the owls nest, we know where the fox walks, I know where those wild flowers are going to bloom first because I've lived on this place for so many years," says Walgenbach.

The Sisters took down the large building that was used as a school and constructed a new green building in 2009. The building is almost entirely off the grid. Walgenbach says they are the biggest user of solar power for Madison Gas and Electric. 

"I've done what I've been called to do. I hope there will be women after me, and we will continue to pass that tradition on of caring for the land," says Walgebach. "When you look at the 1500 year tradition of Benedictine life in the world, that's what happens. People come, they die at the place, and a new group comes. And it repeats." 

Tags: faith / benedictine / Holy Wisdom Monastery / Sisters / environment / woods / religion

Seth Jovaag is a journalist and independent radio producer.