May 8, 2015

Sisters of St. Benedict offer powerful experience of community through prayer, work and hospitality

Sisters of St. Benedict at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove participate in an All Souls Day remembrance of their deceased sisters, on Nov. 2, 2014. Each year, the sisters gather at the cemetery to remember deceased sisters, and then the prioress prays over each grave.

Sisters of St. Benedict at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove participate in an All Souls Day remembrance of their deceased sisters, on Nov. 2, 2014. Each year, the sisters gather at the cemetery to remember deceased sisters, and then the prioress prays over each grave.

(Editor’s note: The Church’s Year of Consecrated Life began in late November, and will conclude on Feb. 2, 2016. During this time, The Criterion will publish a series of articles featuring the life and history of each of the religious communities based in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. This is the second article in that series.)

By Michaela Raffin

BEECH GROVE—Like so many others, Benedictine Sister Anne Louise Frederick struggled to find balance in her busy life.

While receiving religious formation in preparation for her final vows, she also taught full time at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. And she dedicated the little free time she had left to helping her father, who was battling Alzheimer’s disease.

“My father, like some elderly people can, had given to every organization that mailed him something,” Sister Anne recalled. “I would take all these solicitations and put them in a bag and think, ‘I will contact the places when I have a chance,’ and I didn’t know when that was going to happen. However, a couple of the sisters that knew about this took that bag, and then one by one contacted those places.”

Sister Anne never forgot the kindness of the sisters during that difficult time. In 2012, the same year that she professed perpetual vows as a Sister of St. Benedict at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, her father passed away.

“On that journey, I really felt the support of my sisters,” she said. “There was one elderly sister. I remember her catching me one time, and she said, ‘Anne, I keep your dad in prayer. I have Alzheimer’s disease, too.’ And that just struck me. I thought, ‘Wow, those are some powerful prayers.’ That’s a powerful experience of community.”

This strong sense of community life is central to the Benedictine Sisters at Our Lady of Grace. Their charism is that of monastic life, and they live according to the values of prayer, work and hospitality established by St. Benedict.

“For us, I think what’s unique is community is primary,” said Benedictine Sister Juliann Babcock, the monastery’s current prioress. “Benedict’s idea was that you lived in common, and then you went out and ministered to the people according to the needs that were there.”

In 1953, Archbishop Paul C. Schulte recognized the need for a home for the aged in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. At the same time, the Benedictine Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese, had grown to an unsustainable size and was looking to establish another community in Indianapolis.

“I had a new laundry number, and it was 385,” said Sister Phyllis Gronotte, a founding member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery who became a Benedictine in Ferdinand. “We were getting close to 400. There just wasn’t room for that many people.”

After consulting with Archbishop Schulte, the decision was made to establish a community of Benedictines that would manage a home for the aged in Beech Grove. Construction began on a piece of property that the archdiocese owned and had given to the sisters. Little by little, the Ferdinand sisters began coming to Beech Grove.

“We had sort of a pioneer spirit. You know you moved up here, and you worked together, and you got things done,” said Sister Phyllis. “It was exciting just to be part of something that was beginning.”

The home for the aged was named St. Paul Hermitage in honor of Archbishop Schulte’s patron saint, Paul the Hermit. The sisters also built a secondary school for young women attached to the monastery. Our Lady of Grace Academy, a boarding high school for girls, opened in 1956. In addition to the Hermitage and the academy, the sisters began and have continued various ministries throughout the Indianapolis metropolitan area.

“We have a variety of works because we weren’t founded for a particular work,” said Sister Juliann. “Our ministries are varied. There are people in schools and parishes, in health care—librarians, pharmacists.”

In 1978, Our Lady of Grace Academy closed after 22 years of operation because of declining enrollment. The building was transformed into the Benedict Inn Retreat & Conference Center, which holds retreats and religious education programs year-round and continues to be a large ministry of the sisters.

Throughout its many ministries and activities, the purpose of the Benedictines is as clear as the words carved on the entrance to the monastery: Seek God.

“Benedict opens his rule with, ‘Listen with the ear of your heart,’ because he wanted to really seek God,” said Benedictine Sister Carol Falkner, who will be celebrating her 50th jubilee this year. “And the way you do that is by going through the community, through your ministry, whatever you’re about. You really want to seek God and bring God to that environment.”

With a degree in teaching and administration, Sister Carol is an example of the great leadership found at Our Lady of Grace Monastery. Her past roles in the community have included prioress, sub-prioress, assistant administrator and twice as director of the Benedict Inn. She credits some of these leadership skills to her education at the academy.

“It afforded me an opportunity to be me and not follow my brothers. I had two older brothers who were very good students, very bright. And then I get compared. But here I didn’t get compared. I loved it,” she recalled. “The education was very good and the sisters were very loving, and so it was a very comfortable environment.”

That loving environment allowed Sister Carol to realize her calling to religious life and to embrace that vocation at Our Lady of Grace Monastery. It’s also an environment where visitors are welcomed with Benedictine hospitality by the sisters.

“Hospitality, that’s a very important Benedictine value, the way we share God’s love with others, the way that we offer hospitality to others,” said Sister Anne. “We offer space for them to come where they can feel connected to God. Our hospitality to each other is really that mutual love that allows that presence of Jesus to be apparent among us. And as we live that, people can feel that when they come in.”

(For more information about the Sisters of St. Benedict at Our Lady of Grace Monastery visit

Local site Links: