Sisters making mainstream headlines

This story appears in the Sisters Making Mainstream Headlines feature series. View the full series.

What a bumper crop of feel-good stories this week from the mainstream media that show the depth and breadth – and occasionally oddball joy – of life as a sister. And one of these stories simply cries out to be discussed during happy hour.

Riding the waves

First up, we have this charming feature from The Philadelphia Inquirer on about Nuns’ Beach, a one-block stretch of sand on the Jersey Shore about 40 miles south of Atlantic City.

It’s attached to a retreat house owned by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a teaching order based in Pennsylvania. Every summer sisters go there to relax and recharge their batteries.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the sisters staying at Villa Maria by the Sea used the beach a couple of hours each day and let local surfers have it the rest of the time. The sisters kept their distance from the locals, who nicknamed the place the 111th Street Nuns Beach.

But now? For the last 18 years the sisters have thrown a surf contest fundraiser on the beach to help keep their 160-bedroom retreat house afloat, so to speak. This year’s event will take place Sept. 13.

Sr. James Dolores and Sr. Andrew Marie sell Nuns’ Beach hats, sweatshirts and beach towels out of a double garage at the beach, a “joyful if kooky massive branding of Nuns’ Beach, with its Sister-insisted-upon plural possessive apostrophe and cartoons of the nuns on surfboards,” writes Inquirer reporter Amy S. Rosenberg.

She describes the women as “two aging Deadheads with leftover T-shirts who just can’t let the tour end.” They enjoy the daily interaction with beachgoers as they work the souvenir stand, where they also keep a list of prayer requests.

“We’ve always been mindful of the people who come here,” Andrew Marie said. “Sometimes they just come to talk. That’s a big dimension.

“People come back to you if they’ve had their prayers answered, or if it hasn't turned out the way they want, they’ve had the faith and strength to go on.”


A joyful sound

Now see, this is why God gave us technology.

The women of the Discalced Carmelite order, scattered across the globe in 23 countries, recently came together via the Internet to sing together in beautiful harmony.

It was a glorious milestone for the 500-year-old order. The occasion? Celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila, the order’s founder.

The inspiration came from one of the now-famous performances of musician Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir on YouTube. Opera singer Dolora Zajick, a friend of Reno’s Carmelite community, showed the video to the sisters there.

“I thought, why not have something that they could all participate in vicariously?” the singer told the TV station.

The sisters loved the idea, so much so that some of them cried as they watched Whitacre’s virtual choir sing. Their own virtual performance – by 100 sisters, some living in cloistered communities – premiered in a San Jose, Calif. cathedral on Aug. 22. (Global Sisters Report was there and has a story coming next week by Monica Clark.)

“There’s so much sadness and brokeness in our world that I hope people will be inspired to believe in the goodness of human beings and will be touch by a spirit that is beyond us,” said Sr. Claire Sokol, who wrote the song her colleagues lifted to the heavens.


And, another good use of the World Wide Web . . .

Add the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing in Nebraska to the list of women religious making good use of social media these days.

The sisters have earned the nickname, “the tweeting nuns,” which led the Lincoln Journal Star to check out what the women are up to on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

The order has been based in Nebraska since 1923. Earlier this year the sisters launched a new website – – with a devotional blog, a “virtual” chapel that plays soothing music and a live link for one-on-one chats.

A media center on the website also keeps the public informed of the order’s work around the globe. For instance, it recently opened an orphanage in Tanzania.

“It’s no longer the monastery that’s the front door to our ministry; it’s the website,” said Sr. Kevin Hermsen, development director at Immaculata Monastery. “This way, we can reach hundreds of thousands of people.”

Their Twitter account – @MBSnorfolk – has more than 250 followers; their Facebook page has attracted more than 1,500 likes.

“Who would have guessed this group of nuns in the Midwest would be reaching the world 140 characters at a time,” said prioress Sr. Pia Portmann.

Bottoms up in Bavaria

Oh the things you learn from CNN, which recently filed a report on Sr. Doris, “Europe’s last beer-making nun.”

That is definitely a new one on us.

Apparently the good sister has been turning water into wine, er, beer for more than 40 years at Mallersdorf, a 12th-century abbey in the Bavarian highlands.

The Franciscan sister is one of a handful of “ladies who lager” – female brewers – in Bavaria and reportedly the only remaining brewmaster nun in Europe. She took on the job in 1975.

She is a connection to the monastery’s days in the Middle Ages, when beer was one of the few drinks safe for visiting pilgrims to drink at a time when local water was iffy at best.

“Beer brewing is women’s work,” she said.

Feeding souls

Stop and consider what this bounty must look like: 124 pounds of tomatoes, 201 peppers, 26 cabbages, 50 cucumbers, 86 squash, 16 beets and 101 hot peppers.

That’s the food that Srs. Jeremias Stinson and Grace Ellen Urban have harvested so far this year from their very fertile, year-round garden in northwestern Ohio.

The Sisters of St. Francis grow food to supply food pantries and soup kitchens in their neck of the woods, according to a glowing feature in the Daily Reporter.

They spend all year tending crops in an outdoor garden and a plastic-covered greenhouse at their motherhouse in Sylvania, Ohio.

Their work means a great deal to the people who depend on the Helping Hands of St. Louis in Toledo for sustenance, said the facility’s director, Paul Cook. Not only do families enjoy meals cooked from the produce, they also get to take fresh vegetables home with their weekly groceries.

“We take for granted that we can walk into a store and purchase food,” Cook said. “A lot of people cannot do that.”

Recognizing that “hunger is not seasonal,” the order built the “polyhouse” greenhouse in 2006 to supplement the outdoor garden. Warm even in the winter, the solar-powered greenhouse allows the sister to harvest year-round 

“We aren’t food suppliers,” a humble Stinson said. “We can't feed the masses. But, for us to show up on a weekly basis to the soup kitchen with baskets of food, it gives them courage and lets them know we are thinking of them everyday.”

Bad habits?

This next story sounds like the plot of a Quentin Tarantino movie. But, sadly, it’s not “Pulp Fiction.”

Officials in Nigeria this week alerted their countrymen that terrorists plotting suicide bomb attacks might try to pull off their evil deeds dressed as Catholic nuns.

According to a statement from Nigeria’s Department of State Services that was reported by several news outlets, unidentified persons recently broke into a tailor’s shop in Kano and stole about a dozen nuns’ habits.

Given recent suicide bombings carried out by women, the government warned that “the theft of these regalia heightens concerns about the possibility of terrorist elements using (the habits) to perpetrate acts of terror.”

Sahara reported that officials wanted to warn the public and ask citizens to be more watchful of “users of such peculiar attires.”

Hmmm. Peculiar attire? Do you think something got lost in translation there?

[Lisa Gutierrez is a reporter in Kansas City, Mo., who scans the non-NCR news every week for interesting pieces about sisters. She can be reached at]