OUR BENEDICTINE ROOTS:
Benedictines have been serving God and His Church for over 1500 years! A young man named Benedict, at a time in history when ungodliness and the lack of faith and morals permeated the culture, founded the order in Italy in the 6th century. In 1852, a group of Benedictine women from Bavaria founded the first American monastery at St. Marys, Pennsylvania.
As the community of sisters grew, branch houses were founded in various parts of the United States. One was in St. Joseph, Minnesota and in 1919 a monastery was founded in Crookston, Minnesota. Sisters from the Crookston, Minnesota branch established the Benedictine Monastery of the Good Shepherd in El Sauz, near Rio Grande City, Texas as a dependent monastery in 1992. The founders of the Texas monastery are: Sister Frances Solum, Sister Luella Walsh and Sister Nancy Boushey.
For many years the Hispanic Migrants from the Asherton, Carizzo Springs would go north to the Crookston and Morehead, Minnesota area to obtain summer work in the sugar beet fields. Our Sisters taught their children and were their “housemothers” over the summer in order that the children could continue their education and be away from the hot fieldwork. The children would live with the sisters and have classes and catechism during the week at our Catholic Grade Schools in Crookston and Morehead. On weekends they would return home to their parents on the farms where they were employed.
In the l950’s school officials and individuals from the church contacted our Reverend Mother, from Mount St. Benedict in Crookston and requested that some of our Sisters be allowed to do ministry in Carrizo Springs and Asherton, TX. After meeting with the sister’s monastic community they voted to start a new ministry in TX. For the next twenty years the Sisters taught and did catechetical ministry in the area. In the 70’s there was turmoil in the community because of the La Raza Unida Party and The Hispanic Youth Organization. Because of that disturbance, which had a serious affect on the school, it was necessary for the Sisters to relocate their ministry among the Hispanics.
In l971 four of our Sisters, who had been working in Asherton began working in the Harlingen School system. Sister Luella was one of the “originals” that migrated from Asherton/Carrizo Springs to the Rio Grande Valley. She had been here in the valley from l971-1985, and in 1985 Sr. Fran came in from Bogotá’, Colombia and was accepted as a teacher in Rio Grande City at the Immaculate Conception Catholic School.
Sister Fran was drawn to the valley to test out her “dream” of starting a new monastery in the area, a dream which Sister Luella also carried with her for those fourteen years of living with the Mexican-Americans. The possibility of being in a community of sisters who were all part of Charismatic renewal was another reason why Sister Fran came. Having been in Colombia for seven years as a missionary among the economically disadvantaged and knowing how to speak Spanish, she felt prepared her for ministry in the Rio Grande Valley.
Sisters Luella and Fran’s dream to begin a monastery in this diocese would allow Mexican-American women the opportunity to become members of a religious order without being away from their roots. This would be a major cultural shift. From the sister’s experience in Crookston, all the Mexican-Americans who joined the Minnesota monastery eventually left the community. Sisters Luella and Fran wanted a monastic environment that could integrate the culture and the spirituality of the local people here in the Rio Grande Valley with the monastic way of life.
Another reason for a new monastery location was to have their monastic way of life transplanted into a new area of church. They knew the people of the Rio Grand Valley, with their rich spirituality, would eventually treasure the Benedictine way of life and would grow in their understanding of it.
In the meantime, Sister Nancy Boushey was doing ministry on a Chippewa Indian Reservation in Red Lake, Minnestoa. She was very drawn to have a new beginning in her life. She had completed further studies in Steubenville, OH and had a great hunger for a more Spirit-filled life. The openings in the area where the Crookston Sisters did ministry just did not “fit” what she was longing for. The Prioress at the time encouraged her to pray about going to Texas to join Sisters Luella and Fran in the process of establishing a monastery in the Brownsville Diocese.
Sister Nancy remembers telling Sr. Joan, “I need to give God a chance even though I don’t feel drawn to this possible new monastery.” On the plane trip from Fargo, ND to McAllen, TX, the words to a song kept going through her, “Go now and leave your homeland and I will give you a home!” Two Christian radio announcers from Roma seated near her, asked Sister Nancy if she was coming down to be a missionary. She was ignorant at that time as to what was ahead for her in the area; nevertheless she found excitement in her heart about being a missionary, and recalled that that was her desire when she was a teenager.
1986 was a special year for the sisters. It was the year that the three of lived in community together and began their pioneering of a new monastery. Sister Luella had been serving as a chaplain at Knapp Hospital in Weslaco for three years when Sister Fran moved from Rio Grande City and was welcomed to do colonia and RCIA ministry at St. Pius Parish in Weslaco. Sister Nancy likewise was accepted and became the Director of Religious Education and Coordinator of retreats. These ministries provided opportunities for the Sisters to meet many faith-filled people from many places in the diocese.
Sister Joan, the Prioress of their founding monastery in Minnesota kept encouraging the three Sisters to pursue the establishment of a monastery in the Brownsville Diocese. After working intensely in Weslaco and living community for three years, the Sisters knew that it was time to take serious action in starting the monastery.
First in l988 they approached Bishop Fitzpatrick who said, “It’s not every day that people come in, requesting to start a monastery in the diocese. It is like a breath of fresh air!” The Sisters remember him being very fatherly, and concerned.
They next spoke with the late Amelia Reyes, (RIP) who had worked with Bishop Fitzpatrick as his liaison in Starr County, and she advised the Sisters to make a novena to all the saints, praying for guidance in their journey. The All Saints Novena ended on November 1.
During their prayer discernment each Sister went off alone to pray and to list the pros and cons of where they might want to situate the monastery in the diocese. When they came together to share their pros and cons, they were amazed at how the Holy Spirit had guided them unanimously to root themselves in Starr County!
They had several reasons for choosing Starr County:
It is very physically separated from the rest of the diocese and they felt people there would probably welcome the stability of a monastery; The area not a popular area where people in church ministry are drawn to serve in; It is on record for being the poorest county in the U.S. The environment in the Rio Grande Valley that would provide solitude for the monastery. They were seeing how the Valley was growing very rapidly and felt called to be “on the edge”.
They proceeded to pray and ask about the “where” in Starr County they should locate. Unbeknown to one another, Fr. Eddie Villa, at that time pastor in Escobares, El Sauz and La Rosita told them, “El Sauz”. Amelia Reyes also told them, “El Sauz”. Patty Margo, who was living in Weslaco, the widow of Dr. Rudy Margo, knew about El Sauz and also encouraged them to consider that little ranchito, because her husband’s family ranched in Starr County.
It was a cold January day in _____(year) when Patty Margo drove them over to Starr County to visit Fr. Eddie Villa. Fr. Eddie had a warm welcome for them and was very receptive to help them get “planted” in the county, which he also had a great love for. Finances from his parish along with some grant money allowed him to hire two of the Sisters. Sister Luella did ministry with the elderly. Sister Nancy did ministry with the youth and helped to co-ordinate retreats. Sister Fran was eagerly accepted into the Roma ISD. Being in these ministries again exposed them to many faith-filled and hurting people in the area.
Later they made efforts to start a monastery-ministry, that of a Day Care for children in Rosita, which later, due to lack of government funding was terminated. Sisters Fran and Nancy than went into JTPA (now similar to Texas Work Force) for several years. They again were blessed to meet many people struggling to “get on their feet”. As time went on the nudging became stronger and stronger to go full force into the development of buildings and their ministry of living their monastic life. That would be their work! The Sisters remained in salaried positions from l989-l997.
In October of l997, on the feast of St. Theresa of Avila, the three of them made the leap of faith to surrender their financial security and to place their total trust in their Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. This decision allowed them more time for personal prayer and sacred reading, time for vocation contacts, time for welcoming lay people into the monastic family as Benedictine Oblates, time for hospitality for those who desired to go their way and ultimately, the much needed work ahead to establish a permanent residence in Starr County for themselves and for new members.
Within with three months after they surrendered their salaried positions over to the Providence of God, friends from Sr. Nancy’s school days sent a check for $27,000 at Christmas. They did NOT know that the Sisters had given up their salaries. It was then that the sisters knew for sure that they were on the right track.
8 years laters – after receiving 115 acres from Texaco Oil co., being in a law suit for 6 years to receive an easement, having a pro bono architect, civil engineer, bridge builders, and hundreds of volunteers and benefactors, they are realizing their dream.
THEY ARE WHERE THEY ARE!!
“THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD THERE IS NOTHING I SHALL WANT!”