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Christmas camaraderie: Decorating the monastery

Christmas camaraderie: Decorating the monastery - (10-12-2015)

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Photo: Last Christmas, Benedictine Sister of Perpetual Adoration Jane Heschmeyer, OSB (forefront) and Sister Rebecca Leis, OSB contemplate how to use glasses, bowls and ornaments that were showcased in Clyde’s Adoration Chapel. The red theme was in tribute to Sister Denise McMahon, who usually led the decorating efforts but passed away unexpectedly before the holiday in 2014. The task of decorating the entire monastery is accomplished by dozens of Sisters working together to create beautiful spaces to celebrate the season.

The creativity. The smell of fresh pine. The sparkles and the glitter. The sheer beauty of holiness. According to Benedictine Sister of Perpetual Adoration Jane Heschmeyer, OSB, these are the hallmarks of one of the most special times in her monastery in Clyde, Missouri, - decorating for the Christmas season.

While many holiday decorations pop up around homes soon after Thanksgiving (and sometimes even before), things are done a bit differently when the building in question is one dedicated to Christ and to prayer.

“I love the fact that we don’t begin to decorate until Dec. 17, which coincides with the Catholic Church’s O Antiphons that are sung the last seven evenings of Advent,” Sister Lynn Marie D’Souza, OSB said. “I enjoy savoring the Advent season, which flies by all too quickly.”

In the end, almost every room and hallway in the monastery is represented by greenery, a tree, an angel or a nativity set.

There are usually one or two Sisters who take the lead on decorations. Until last Christmas, that duty fell to Sister Denise McMahon, OSB, whose artistic talents created a wide variety of beautiful pieces. When she passed away unexpectedly on Dec. 1, 2014, Sister Jane was tasked with carrying on the tradition.

“Sister Denise was gifted beyond measure in the ways of art, design and decor.” Sister Jane said. “I never had to think about the theme or how to incorporate it. Sister Denise orchestrated everything.”

So Sister Jane, still mourning the loss of her dear friend, decided on the color red to be the center of the monastery’s decorations last year.

“For some reason, I kept envisioning red,” she said, “a shiny, sparkly, glittery red. I thought of Sister Denise at every turn and often felt her presence with me, along with a profound sense of her absence. Everywhere in our monastery bears the mark of beauty left by her touch.”

At the Tucson, Arizona, monastery Sister Lucia Anne Le, OSB spearheads the decoration of the chapel while the others divvy up the remainder of the monastery.

At the heart of it all is the desire to celebrate the Christmas season, to spend time together, trimming dozens of trees, decking the halls, singing carols and working together to create a reverent atmosphere dedicated to one of the holiest seasons.

The public can view many of the monastery’s decorations during visiting hours and prayer services, which are listed online www.BenedictineSisters.org and choosing the Tucson or Clyde monastery. In addition, the Benedictine Sisters in Tucson will host Solemn First Vespers at 6 p.m. and Clyde will host a Christmas Eve Mass at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 24.