PRAIRIE DU SAC, Wis. — A secluded group of religious sisters living in Sauk County are in the midst of an ambitious project.
In just a few years, they hope to break ground on something unprecedented for their Order, a new $18 million monastery.
Valley of our Lady Cistercisan nuns may live out their days in solitude, but their numbers are growing as millennials become attracted to the quiet way of life.
"It really is encouraging that our Lord is still calling people to this very hidden life," Sister Mary Bede explained about three new recruits looking into the lifestyle this year.
Currently, their religious order boasts more than 20 sisters, ranging from their early 20’s to 90’s. However, the nuns are living above capacity, inside a cobbled together non-ADA approved structure.
Not only are the buildings not up to code, but the sisters fear the site that includes the former Governor's summer mansion, won't stand the test of time.
"You would not think of a group of cloistered sisters moving forward on an 18 million dollar project, but this is a perfect storm, the need is now," Valley of our Lady's Director of Advancement Paul Merline said of the master plan to move the nuns.
"It’s not just about building a nice place for us to live, it really is about building his house where young women can continue to enter, we hope for hundreds and hundreds of years," Sister Mary Bede said.
With $12.5 million already raised for the Iowa County medieval styled monastery, this new home provides not just the pastoral space, but the basic necessities for their everyday life.
"One thing I don’t know that a lot of people understand right away is we’re building everything, we live here 24/7 until we die, so we need things that people probably don’t think about, we need a a library, a sewing room, we need a kitchen," Sister Mary Bede said.
She says it's because the sisters need not only a place to make two warm meals a day, but as part of their monastic vows, they make communion bread—for parishes across Wisconsin, the country and Australia. Besides the 13 million altar bread yearly pre-COVID, their days are spent in prayer.
"Our daily schedule is very intense, we gather seven times a day to pray and we get up at 3 a.m. and fitting in the work of building a monastery is a challenge, it doesn’t fall into the normal work routine," Sister Mary Bede said.
While the $18 million plan initially was designed for two phases, Merline believes funding is on track to hopefully do the entire project at once. He says besides helping the sisters seamlessly make the journey, it's just more cost-effective.
"So much more efficient if we can do everything at once, I think we have a lot of people hoping we can get there, we’re spreading the word as much as we can, as they say God has all the money, so it’s one of those things where we ask the Holy Spirit to help up and get it to where it needs to go," Merline said.