'Contemplative but active': Monastery channels charism into civic action

The monastery building on the Benet Hill property on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, Colorado. (GSR photo / Chris Herlinger)

Colorado Springs, Colo. — The northern outskirts of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is dotted with acres of ponderosa pines, a quiet, peaceful locale befitting a group of Benedictine sisters embracing the contemplative life.

"This forest here is such a healing space," said Sr. Rose Ann Barmann, former prioress of the Sisters of Benet Hill Monastery.

When the Benet Hill congregation engaged in a process of discernment more than a decade ago about what to do about their future, its members decided to build a monastery on this pine-filled land. It is a decision he sisters do not regret, one that puts them on a path to further planting Benedictine values in Colorado's second-largest city, hoping to ensure their charism lives on after they are gone.

But the values the sisters affirm are not only contemplative, the sisters say. The congregation combines a monastic community life with a robust role in Colorado Springs' civic life, including advocating against human trafficking, having their monastery serve as a place of learning and spiritual retreats, and developing a thrift shop off-site that raises money for retired sisters while raising the sisters' visibility in Colorado Springs.

"We are contemplative but active at the same time," said Barmann, who heads the congregation's anti-human-trafficking ministry and was the congregation's prioress from 1999 to 2005.

Affirming a long Benedictine tradition of "contemplation leading to action," Barmann said the sisters' ministry "combines the best of two worlds," noting the Benedictine charism of hospitality has a wide meaning.

In making the decision to turn the monastery into a retreat and education center, the sisters knew the future did not hold a clear, singular path. The oldest sister in the congregation is 89, and the youngest is 56. In the next 10 to 15 years, "we'll probably be down to about 15 sisters" from the 30 sisters in the community today, said prioress Sr. Clare Carr, 68, who took her vows at age 26 and is now in her second term as prioress.

"It's confronting our reality," Carr said about the future. "It's not been easy ... there is a sense of grieving."

"But we're not despairing," she added, noting that in her first term as prioress from 2011 to 2017, three sisters took final professions and another took first vows.

Read the full story at Global Sisters Report

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here