Nuns in Clyde welcome replica of a pivotal statue in their history
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
CLYDE - The monastery of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration holds the relics of 300 saints and enough church artifacts and artwork to fill a museum.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Bishop Raymond J. Boland anoints a wall in the chapel at Our Lady of Rickenbach, a retirement home for the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde. At left is a replica of the original statue of Our Lady of Rickenbach.
But until this month, it did not hold a statue of Our Lady of Rickenbach - a centerpiece icon of the founding legend of the order which is based in Rickenbach, Switzerland.
A hand-carved wooden statue, an exact replica of the legendary icon, now rests appropriately in a niche inside a hollowed tree at the chapel of Our Lady of Rickenbach, the new 24-bed retirement center for elderly sisters.
On April 20, Bishop Boland dedicated the chapel and retirement center on the grounds of the monastery in Clyde, located about a mile northeast of Conception Abbey, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and Conception Seminary College.
The ultra-modern facility for the retired sisters is fitting, Bishop Boland said in his homily during the Mass of Dedication. The sisters, renowned for their devotion to the Eucharist and famous for providing altar breads to parishes from coast to coast, deserve it, he said.
"Here in this building, those who are retired will receive tender, loving care as a mark of gratitude and reverence for their lifelong dedication to Christ's work," he said.
The brightly colored statue was delivered to the Clyde sisters personally by Mother Andrea, prioress of the convent of Maria Rickenbach in Switzerland, and by Sister Franziska, the Swiss convent's youngest sister who will soon profess permanent vows.
In fact, the sisters purchased three airline tickets - two for themselves and one for the statue - so that the 30-pound statue would never leave their sides during the transatlantic flight.
Benedictine Sister Dawn Annette Mills told the legend of the original statue:
In 1528 as the Protestant Reformation swept across Switzerland, a great iconoclasm took place in which people seized and destroyed statues taken from Catholic churches. The reformers claimed that the statues were false idols, and that Catholics were worshiping the statues instead of God.
A shepherd boy saw a statue of Mary holding the child Jesus on her lap "lightly as if giving him to the world" rise undamaged from a bonfire, Sister Mills said. He rescued the statue and hid it high in the mountains in the hollow of a tree. As Sister Mills told the story, the shepherd boy would pray the rosary before that statue inside the hollow of a tree as he tended his sheep.
Soon the townspeople learned of the boy's devotion and came to retrieve the statue and save it. But it wouldn't budge. Even the strongest men could not move it. So the people decided to build a shrine around it on that very spot.
People came from miles to walk up the mountain and to pray before the statue. The Benedictine monks from nearby Engelberg would care for the pilgrims, and soon an order of Benedictine sisters was established to care for both the site and the pilgrims who came to pray.
Three centuries later, monks from Engelberg came to Missouri to establish Conception Abbey. With political upheaval tearing through Europe, they sent for the sisters at Rickenbach.
In his homily, Bishop Boland said Abbot Conrad summoned the sisters to Missouri for two reasons - to teach German immigrant children in the area, and to provide the sisters a potential refuge from the political upheavals of 19th century Europe.
"Well, the German immigrant children are gone now, and the need for a place of refuge, gratefully, never materialized," the bishop said.
But the sisters adapted as their mandate changed. They began sewing fine vestments, many of them on display at their monastery, and baking altar breads.
"This special event," the bishop said of the April 20 dedication, "recalls the history of this community and its pastoral responses to a society where the only constant seems to be turmoil and change."
He noted how the sisters from Clyde established new convents in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. They also established convents in Kansas City and St. Louis, which are now closed, but they remain a vibrant, prayer-filled community focused on the Eucharist.
"All these factors are a vivid illustration of how God plays a vital role in the shaping of human history," Bishop Boland said. "His graces abound and we can only do our best to be faithfully responsive to the challenges he presents us."