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Miracle at the last minute

Miracle at the last minute - (16-07-2013)

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Photo: Benedictine Sister Jane Heschmeyer, OSB inspects a sheet of low-gluten altar breads immediately after it is removed from a new baking machine.

Just as things seemed bleak, help arrived from an unexpected place and transformed the low-gluten altar bread department of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration this summer.

“We had surpassed our capacity to produce the number of quality low-gluten breads we needed when using our previous baking methods,” Sister Jane Heschmeyer, OSB recalled. “We were desperate to advance but had trouble locating - and affording - new equipment. Discouraged and frustrated, it seemed like we were in a losing battle.”

That battle included two problems: the old process simply wasn’t producing enough breads quickly enough, and medical problems had begun to develop due to how the breads were prepared.

In the past, the Sisters baked the breads using a series of 16 small, flat waffle iron appliances lined up assembly-style on counters. All those waffle irons baking at once produced a lot of steam and heat in close quarters, resulting in painful burns to tender hands and arms. Add in the repetitive motion of using a small squeeze bottle to place the individual plops of batter onto the irons, some Sisters began to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.

Because of these issues, the Sisters searched for alternative ways to bake their Vatican-approved, low-gluten breads. Since Church doctrine dictates the amount of wheat gluten that is necessary in approved hosts, the Benedictine Sisters’ recipe for low-gluten breads is simple but precise. Thus, finding equipment that would bake the precious batter correctly and at a price they could afford proved impossible.

That is, until a miracle happened.

“We finally discovered a machine designed to make regular altar breads that could also handle our specific low-gluten batter requirements,” Sister Dawn Annette Mills, OSB said. “We also found a humidifier and a cutter that were similar to those we used in our regular altar bread production. All thanks to an anonymous donation.”

Plus, the Sisters received $30,000 in grants from the Koch Foundation and the Miller-Mellor Association that paid for the department renovation and equipment installation. 

The new bakers produce sheets of bread that are then placed into a humidifier and finally cut into uniform breads, individually inspected then packaged by hand.

This new process provides a boon of positives, including extended shelf life of the breads, a uniform size, shape, color and consistency, and allows Sisters and lay employees to rotate through various aspects of production.

“In the past, mixing and baking proved fussy by nature so only certain people could do them,” Sister Rebecca Leis, OSB said. “Now each of us can handle all areas of production. And thanks to the new process, we can bake breads almost three times faster now.”

This comes just in the nick of time as the Sisters were debating whether they’d be able to add any new customers after 2014. With the new equipment, now they can. 

“God has allowed us to grace the lives of a very specific group of people, and we are honored to do so,” Sister Jane said with gratefulness.

For more information regarding the Benedictine Sisters' altar bread production, both regular and low-gluten hosts, please visit http://www.altarbreadsbspa.com/altarbreads/.