By Sister Hannah, CSM
Even though the Community of St. Mary has been around for 153 years, a lot of people are still not aware of our existence. We are the oldest Episcopal monastic community for women in America, but there are those who try to convince us that there are no such persons as Episcopal nuns! And yet, here I am, a Sister of St. Mary in the Southern Province with our convent in Sewanee, Tennessee. There is also an Eastern Province in New York, where the Community was founded, which moved from Peekskill to Greenwich in 2003, and a Western Province in Wisconsin.
I was very surprised and startled when, on Thursday August 9th, I found a connection between the Community of St. Mary and Greeneville, Tennessee. I had the honor and privilege of attending the installation of the Rev. Kenneth Saunders as new rector of St. James Episcopal Church that evening. It was my first visit, and I felt very welcome. As I entered the church, my gaze was transfixed by the magnificent Mater Purissima painting behind the altar. I eventually made my way to the plaque on the nearby wall which informed me that this dazzling artwork was painted by Sister Mary Veronica of the Community of St. Mary. It was commissioned by St. James Episcopal Church in 1950 and completed in 19521,2. After reading some articles about this painting online, I learned that this altarpiece was made using the medieval styles of the 15th century European masters Friars Angelic and Lippi1,2. Sister learned the technique of Italian Renaissance when she studied in Florence, Italy1. The red was used to signify Our Lord’s kingship while the blue indicates the purity of the Virgin Mary2.
A contemporary of Sr. Mary Veronica, Ralph Adams Cram, a widely respected ecclesiastical architect, thought Sister was the best iconographer of his time1,2. Other paintings of Sr. Mary Veronica can be found throughout various churches and cathedral s in the United States and abroad. It is reported that she made 34 religious works which included mural and altar works as well as 90 secular works of which the majority was portraits and landscapes1.
Not only do the works of Sr. Mary Veronica continue to inspire and beautify a variety of sacred and secular spaces, but the works of the Community of St. Mary continue to inspire others as well. The Community has always encouraged Sisters to use their gifts to God’s glory and to further education. Sr. Deborah and Sr. Mary Demetria designed cards; Sr. Virginia Clare studied Chinese brush painting. Sr. Lucy and Sr. Madeleine Mary went to seminary at the University of the South and I am now also a seminarian there. The Southern province ministers to people through spiritual direction, guest ministries, hospitality, and our Organic Prayer Program (OPP) internship program. This internship is designed for college students, or recent college graduates, who want to further their spiritual and personal growth. They do this by engaging in a life structured by the Benedictine values of prayer, work, study, and rest; rooted in intentional community that seeks to live in harmony with the natural work, another work of art!
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 Hernandez, M. (2016, January 26). Peekskill’s Historic Community of St Mary. Retrieved from https://newyorkhistoryblog.org/2016/01/26/peekskills-historic-community-of-st-mary/
 St. James Episcopal Church. Altarpiece “Mater Purissima.” Retrieved from http://www.st-james-episcopal.com/history/mater-purrisma