About Us


We are a Benedictine Community for Women-

Our History
The Sisterhood of St. Mary, a Episcopal Benedictine monastic community for women, was founded on the feast of the Presentation, February 2, 1865 in New York, when the Bishop of New York, the Rev. Dr. Horatio Potter received the vows of Harriet Starr Canon and four other women to form the community. It was the first Episcopal monastic community in the United States, and its Sisters first managed a “home for the reclamation of fallen women.” Since then it has been involved in a number of ministries, including establishing a free hospital for poor children in New York; establishing schools in New York, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and California; managing retreat centers in such diverse places as Manhattan, the Colorado Rockies, and Sewanee, TN; and developing women’s monastic communities in the Philippines and in Malawi. At present, there are three provinces of the Community -the Eastern Province in New York, the Southern Province inTennessee, and the Western Province inWisconsin. It also has two branch houses, one in the Philippines and the other in Malawi.

In 1873, Bishop Quintard of Tennessee, a friend of Mother Harriet, our founder, invited the community to send Sisters to Memphis to begin a school for girls and establish a Church home for the poor and needy. Four Sisters were sent to start this ministry, but their work was interrupted by the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 which devastated the population of Memphis, reducing the population to such an extend that Memphis lost its status as an incorporated city. During that time, the Sisters, though they had no formal training as nurses, cared for the sick and dying. All but one of the Sisters died in their attempts and are remembered today as the “Martyrs of Memphis” for their heroic service. Sr. Hughetta Snowdon, the one surviving Sister from the Yellow Fever Epidemic, moved to Sewanee, TN, after the epidemic and in 1888, and with other Sisters help start what is now the Southern Province of the Sisterhood of St. Mary in Sewanee, Tennessee. The Sisters soon opened a school for mountain children known as “St. Mary’s on the Mountain,” for whom the county school was too distant and the road too difficult. As transportation improved, it became a boarding school for girls until 1968. Later the school buildings became a retreat center sponsored by the Community of St. Mary, Southern Province. The Retreat Center stills remains and the Sisters continue to have a relationship with it as Board Members, but it no longer manages it on a daily basis. In 1988 the Sisters moved to a nearby location where they built the present convent. They have continued their ministry to the poor, with the help of a grant from the Jessie Ball Dupont Fund, and minister as retreat leaders, spiritual directors, and presenters of church-related programs. They also help in mission churches and have begun a new project on their property: the “Organic Prayer Program.”

This new project attempts to help people realize that their faith should embrace care for the environment. The program springs from the Community’s Benedictine roots and God’s love for all of creation. Thus far, the Community has developed flower gardens, an organic vegetable garden, fruit orchards, and a lavender plot, and is at present preparing a prayer garden. Recently, it has also begun a partnership to grow lavender for Thistlefarms (http://www.thistlefarms.org/index.php/about-thistle-farms), a social enterprise of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. As Sr. Madeleine Mary, the Prioress, said at the blessing of the lavender:“Today was a wonderful experience of truly organic prayer; a gathered community, working and praying with God and each other to renew the earth by making a place of beauty, healing and prayer. We pray that this partnership will foster greater community, will bring beauty and healing into the lives of many through the products that will be made with its soothing oils, and will help create more sustainable systems for Magdalene House, our community, and the earth.”