Sister Act | Sojourners

Sister Act

New growth has a history of springing to life at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison, Wisconsin -- and that's just fine with the Benedictine sisters there.

The ancient Benedictine motto "succisa virescit" ("cut down, it ever grows green") is appropriate for a monastic tradition that has survived more than 1,500 years of church history, rooted in stability, yet ever adapting. For the members of Holy Wisdom Monastery, it's a motto that rings particularly true. "If Benedict were living, would he insist that everything be done just the way it was done in 480? Hardly," laughs Sister Joanne Kollasch, OSB, who has seen plenty of change since she joined the community almost 60 years ago.

In 1998, Holy Wisdom became the first Catholic monastery in the country to become ecumenical, extending full membership to single women of all Christian traditions -- not just Roman Catholics. And in 2010, their new monastery became one of the greenest buildings in the nation, earning Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council -- an honor awarded to less than 5 percent of LEED-certified buildings.

From the "green" roofs to the 100-percent recyclable carpet, every nook and cloister of the building embodies the women’s commitment to "use what we need, but not more than that." High-performance windows and solar tubes grace interior spaces with bright, natural light, while photovoltaic panels generate 15 percent of the building's energy. Buried 300 feet beneath the parking lot -- which is itself lit by solar-powered lights and paved with runoff-reducing cement -- 39 geothermal wells harness the earth’s natural temperatures to provide the monastery with efficient, year-round heating and cooling. And when the weather outside is pleasant, the central air shuts off and automatically sends an email to the occupants, inviting them to open their windows.

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