Who We Are
Adopted August 1990 | Amended July 2000
We, the Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, have responded to a call to seek God by a total gift of self in a religious community of celibate women, who make profession to live the Gospel according to the Rule of Benedict, the norms of the Federation of St. Gertrude, and the norms of the Monastery.
By professing stability and fidelity to the monastic way of life, we promise to be faithful to our Benedictine tradition of prayer, work, and leisure, and to be a Christian community where persons are reverenced in their uniqueness and diversity.
By professing obedience, we center authority in the Prioress with all Sisters sharing responsibility in corporate decisions. We listen to the Lord inviting us as monastics to be a part of the universal mission of the Church. In a spirit of hospitality and reverence for the connectedness of all creation, we respond to local and global needs according to our giftedness and material resources.
We strive to give witness that people can live in unity and simplicity, that bonds of caring and forgiveness can heal the wounds of loneliness and broken relationships.
To those who hunger for meaning in life, we wish to share the power of the Gospel to free people for a fully human life and to create a community of peace.
St. Scholastica Monastery is a community of Benedictine Sisters in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Our beginnings in Arkansas started with Benedictine Sisters who migrated south in 1878 from Ferdinand, Indiana, to plant the seeds needed to grow and nurture a motherhouse. We have served the local community and the surrounding states for almost two centuries over 140 years. At present we have 25 members, including one novice and one in temporary profession. We follow the Benedictine tradition with its origin in the life of St. Benedict of Nursia who lived in Italy from 480 to 548. This saint left his studies in Rome to live in the mountains of Italy. He pursued a peaceful, humble life as he followed the traditions of Christian monks and ascetics before him. Over time, other hermits in the area were drawn to Benedict, and they gathered around him as a spiritual leader. The growth of the community inspired St. Benedict to create a rule for their way of life together. Today’s Benedictines still follow this Rule of St. Benedict.
Benedictines are not defined by a form of service, but rather by an environment where members can fulfill the primary purpose of seeking God within a stable community, led by an elected leader, called a prioress. The sisters of St. Scholastica balance prayer, work, and leisure, as a model for a holistic lifestyle. Common prayer, private prayer, and lectio divina (holy reading) constitute a significant part of each day along with the monastic work assigned by the prioress.
Seeking God in our life together and enlivened by daily prayer, we, the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, respond to the needs of the people of God in a spirit of hospitality, simplicity, and reverence for one another and all creation.
What We Do
The Benedictine Sisters include service as a part of their communal life. One aspect of this support is their sponsorship of Hesychia House of Prayer at New Blaine, Arkansas. Hesychia House of Prayer is a collaboration between the Benedictine Sisters and the Sisters of Mercy . The sisters also sponsor a scholarship program for girls facing the hardships of poverty. The program allows girls in Esquipulas, Guatemala, to attend the Benedictine school of Colegio San Benito.
In addition to these outreach programs, some of our sisters at St. Scholastica provide spiritual direction, while others volunteer in various local non-profit organizations. Wherever our sisters involve themselves, they advocate for the poor and oppressed as they also strive for peace in the world.
In 1879, two Benedictine Sisters moved from Subiaco, Arkansas, fifteen miles east to Shoal Creek. These sisters were originally part of the group of four sisters who left their motherhouse of Immaculate Conception Convent in Ferdinand, Indiana, to come to join the Benedictine monks in Subiaco.
The vision of a new motherhouse in Arkansas was rooted in the railroad. The Cairo and Fulton Railroad Company sought more settlements near the railroad lines, and they extended an invitation to sisters and priests to settle land in Western Arkansas. The opportunity to serve German Catholic immigrants also settling along the railroad lines appealed to the hearts and mission of the monks and sisters, so land in Subiaco and Shoal Creek became the “promised land” for the Benedictines.
The first building to house the sisters in Shoal Creek was a four-room log cabin. The sisters faced bitterly cold winters, very little water, and a wilderness not easy to conquer. Despite these challenges, the sisters tended the soil, built humble furniture with their own hands, and grew in number. The four-room cabin saw additions as more young women were drawn to the life of a Benedictine Sister, and by 1898, a new quadrangular building surrounded a center courtyard—the new iteration of the cabin as the burgeoning convent grew.
By 1900, about 70 sisters were teaching in roughly 15 elementary schools in Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma. The mission to serve blossomed, but this growth posed a challenge as well. A lack of water, poor roads, and inaccessible healthcare only added to the lack of space, and a decision had to be made. After consideration and prayer, it was decided that Fort Smith would meet the needs of the convent and further the mission of the sisters. In 1924, the move to Fort Smith began a new chapter in the history of St. Scholastica.
History of the Monastery
The towering monastery that stood atop one of the highest points in Fort Smith for almost 100 years originally began as just another area of land at the “Old Barnes place”. The land was purchased in 1922, and the Gothic Revival building testified to the prayer, faith, and labor of the sisters as they trusted God for every step of the building process to proceed. F.W. Redlich of Oklahoma City was the architect of the five-story building that housed the sisters of St. Scholastica.
St. Scholastica Academy opened its doors to students in 1924, continuing the work that began as St. Joseph Academy in Shoal Creek. The building was both a home for the sisters and a boarding school for students.
As the sisters and school expanded in number, an addition in 1929 was built on the north side of the building. This addition included a chapel, a gym, a swimming pool, and the chaplain’s quarters.
The school served students from the first to the twelfth grade until 1936. Afterward, the lower grades through the eighth were gradually dropped. In 1944, St. Scholastica Academy solely functioned as a high school. Although small compared to public schools, the high school flourished in academics and sports, and in 1958 a new St. Scholastica Academy building was built north of the monastery building. Academy students and the sisters lived on the grounds during the school year, and during the summer sisters on missions who taught in other areas of Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas returned to the motherhouse to reside and continue their education until the school term in the fall.
The New Monastery
The sisters have lived in their new one-story, eco-friendly monastery building since February 2019. Although the interior incorporates modern amenities, many elements of the former monastery building ornament the new building. The stained-glass windows of the former chapel are used in several places: in the chapel, in the dining room, and as a memorial art piece in the entrance. The large paintings and the antique mailboxes of the old monastery have been repurposed in the new one. The new and old combine to offer a nostalgic homage to the prayer and work surrounding the old monastery building, while offering a more efficient and comfortable home to the sisters of St. Scholastica.
Although the monastery buildings have changed over the years, the grounds retain many of the features the sisters, chaplains, and volunteers have created or constructed since the monastery relocated to Fort Smith. The sisters share the peace of the grounds with any who ask to walk the grounds, tread the labyrinth, or visit the grottoes. Call 479-783-4147 to make an appointment for a tour of the monastery. The Benedictine sisters invite people to join them for their liturgical services.
As the sisters continue to pray, work, and live together, they continue the way of Saint Benedict from the 6th century into the 21st century because they are simply Benedictine.