Two pieces of Eau Claire’s history — a bell and an engraved slab — have a home at The Monastery Cemetery at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn.
When the sisters at St. Bede Monastery in Eau Claire transferred their vows to St. Benedict’s in 2010, the bell and the slab went with them.
The first — with the inscription “From the Children of St. Patrick School, Eau Claire, Wis., Christmas 1884” — years later became the property of the sisters of St. Bede who were teaching at the school.
The bell hangs from a tower frame built in 2015. Under the tower, the slab with the names of 74 sisters who are buried in Wisconsin and Utah engraved in it sits. Prior to its arrival in Minnesota, the slab was the altar top in the St. Bede Chapel.
“It was very important that we bring that along,” said Sister Ruth Feeney, who was born in Eau Claire and once lived at St. Bede Monastery. “It was blessed, it was sacred, and (the new owners of the monastery) were no longer going to be using that as a chapel.”
St. Bede originated as an outreach of St. Benedict’s, which sent sisters to Eau Claire in 1892. In 1948, 83 sisters from St. Benedict’s established the Eau Claire priory.
The St. Bede Monastery was built in 1964 and opened with more than 100 members. In its chapel were the altar, matching podium and holy water stand, Feeney said.
Deciding the property was too large, the Sisters of St. Bede Monastery decided it was time to sell the 112-acre campus at 1190 Priory Road in the town of Washington and put it on the market in 2007. The UW-Eau Claire Foundation later bought the property.
St. Bede members requested the merger with St. Benedict’s in March 2010, and St. Benedict’s approved the union the same month.
“We chose St. Benedict’s because many of our sisters have classmates and friends in (that) community,” said Sister Michaela Hedican, prioress of St. Bede Monastery, in 2010. “We have our roots there.”
On Aug. 15, 2010, 28 sisters transferred their vows to St. Benedict’s and began to move west.
“It’s kind of like following a loved one,” said Sister Monica Mai, a former St. Bede prioress, in 2011. “You give up one thing for something else you love.”
When the sisters were planning to leave Eau Claire, “we didn’t want to exhume all of the bodies and move them here,” Feeney said from St. Benedict’s Monastery. “We felt confident that the cemetery — (St. Patrick’s, where many of the sisters are buried) — is well cared for in Eau Claire, but we wanted the sisters here to know all of those names.
“It was really one of our property grounds sisters who thought we could take the top slab (of the altar) and write on that.”
Sister Anatolia Langford’s date of death — May 30, 1949 — is the earliest recorded on the slab, according to the St. Benedict’s Monastery archives. And, Sister Therese Roth’s date of death — May 22, 2010 — is the last.
Feeney occasionally goes to The Monastery Cemetery, which was laid out in 1884, to look at the slab and remember the sisters.
“Even though their bodies were not exhumed, we are connected,” she said. And, “any time we have visitors from Eau Claire we take them out there.”
Feeney and Sister Judy Kramer also return to Eau Claire twice a year to visit St. Patrick’s Cemetery to clean the headstones of fellow sisters and bless their graves.
“It’s a good chance to walk the graves and remember … the lovely connections with these people,” Feeney said.
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