Encyclopedia of Appalachia
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Catholic Communities

From large Catholic religious orders such as the Benedictines, Franciscans, and Dominicans to smaller groups and volunteer programs, communities of Catholics have played a significant role in Appalachia. Strongly encouraged by church leaders to directly serve Appalachians in both religious and secular areas, members of planned Catholic communities have worked alongside secular groups on issues of poverty, education, health, the environment, and other social concerns in the region.

Catholic communities vary in size from large monasteries to smaller outreach programs and missions consisting of only a few members living as a family. Members of monastic communities take vows of a particular Catholic order and center their daily life on prayer. Chores and activities necessary to the success of the community are shared among the members and performed around a strict schedule of prayer and religious services. Non-monastic Catholic communities may include lay people and generally concentrate on providing to the community at large specific services such as nursing, elder care, or aiding recovery from substance abuse.

Saint Vincent Archabbey, located near Latrobe, Pennsylvania, was the first Benedictine monastery in the United States. Founded by Boniface Wimmer in 1846, the monastery includes a seminary and college with a faculty of both Benedictines and laypersons serving a student body of about fifteen hundred.

Cullman, Alabama, is the location of two notable Appalachian monasteries—Saint Bernard Abbey, established in 1891, and Sacred Heart Monastery, founded in 1902. The approximately twenty-four Benedictine monks of Saint Bernard devote their lives to daily worship, prayer, and meditation, as well as other kinds of spiritual labor. This includes caring for the abbey’s more than eight hundred acres of property, operating a college preparatory school (grades 9–12), and running a retreat center. Saint Bernard Abbey is also the location of the Ave Maria Grotto, a four-acre park featuring 125 miniature reproductions of famous buildings and shrines of the world. The sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery originally went to Appalachia to teach the children of farmers, immigrant workers, and miners near Birmingham but have diversified their mission to provide ministerial, hospital chaplain, legal, medical, social, and educational services. On the monastery grounds, Sacred Heart operates Benedictine Manor, a retirement home, and the Benedictine Spirituality and Conference Center for retreats and workshops.

Other examples of Catholic communities in Appalachia, both permanent and temporary, include Nazareth Farm in Doddridge County, West Virginia; Glenmary Farm (sponsored by Glenmary Home Missioners) in Vanceburg, Kentucky; Young People Who Care, based in Frenchville, Pennsylvania; and the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh. Smaller Catholic orders of Salesians, Carmelites, Passionists, and the Sisters of Saint Joseph also live in planned communities throughout the region. See also: CATHOLICISM (RELIGION); GLENMARY HOME MISSIONERS (RELIGION); GLENMARY SISTERS (RELIGION).

—Mary Ruth Coffman, Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, Alabama; Jessica Hoey, Jefferson City, Missouri; and Deborah J. Thompson, University of Kentucky

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