ST. LEO — Joyce Joyner Harig grew up with the Benedictine sisters. As a seventh-grader she watched the young nuns in their white wedding dresses during a ceremony.
"They wore wedding gowns because they were the brides of Christ," said Harig, who entered sixth grade at Holy Name Academy. "It was very awe inspiring."
As a young girl, she was particularly enamored of the sisters' home, a three-story wooden structure that had been moved by oxen from nearby San Antonio in 1911.
"It was quite impressive, almost mysterious," recalled Harig, who graduated from Holy Name Academy in 1960, a year before the sisters moved into new quarters beside the campus of Saint Leo University on land overlooking Lake Jovita. "There were areas you couldn't go in. It was strictly eating and sleeping, I'm sure, but you didn't know."
After about 50 years in the current monastery on State Road 52, the sisters are soon to be on the move again. Last week about 100 people joined them to break ground on a new $3.9 million monastery. The new home, which boasts 13,000 square feet of indoor space, will include a chapel, dining room, library, lounge, kitchen and business offices. A separate wing will include private bed and bathrooms as well as laundry and exercise rooms.
"They have this beautiful piece of property with rolling hills," said Roberta Klar, president of Klar and Klar, the Clearwater-based architectural firm that designed the new monastery. She met with the sisters before beginning the project to find out what was most important to them. After God, their second loves were nature and music.
"We tried to create a space that satisfied all three of those interests," said Klar, whose cousin is a Benedictine nun in Minnesota.
The sisters paid for the monastery and property with the $3.4 million in proceeds from the sale of their current land to Saint Leo University. (They are raising the remaining $500,000 through a special gifts campaign.) It was described as a win-win deal. The university needed to expand, and the Benedictines needed a home that fit the needs of the sisters, especially as many grew older.
The new monastery has one story and is fully accessible to those with disabilities. The current building was outdated, with a tiny elevator and restrooms that could not accommodate wheelchairs, Prioress Sister Roberta Bailey told the group.
"I'm very excited for them," San Antonio Mayor Tim Newlon said. He attended St. Anthony School, which was staffed by the sisters, and said he learned to "sit up straight and be quiet when I had to be quiet."
He holds fond memories of the current monastery, which he used to pass as he biked to the university pool as a child. He also recalled going there to pick up Thanksgiving dinners the sisters had cooked for him and other volunteers to take to shut-ins.
"It's going to be kind of sad," Newlon said. "I'm not sure what's going to happen to the old monastery and chapel." At the same time he said, "I'm glad that the sisters have land across the street and have a nice new building. Sometimes change is good."
A couple of things that were a part of the current monastery will remain. The cross on the front of the building, which was part of the original monastery, will be placed on the exterior of the new chapel. Also, the lettering Holy Name Monastery will be moved to the new home.
Replacing the view of Lake Jovita will be a retention pond, "which we will call a reflection pond," Bailey joked.
Klar also designed an entrance tower that represents the sisters' ministry.
"It reaches out to the community as a whole," she said. A window with a cross in it faces north and east, the part of Pasco where the Benedictine Sisters of Florida began in 1889, when five nuns from Pennsylvania arrived to teach in schools established as part of a Catholic community.
Those who remember earlier days say they appreciate the sisters' dedication to local children and to the poor.
"I have a great love for the nuns," said Marlene Sumner, who attended St. Anthony. "I thought they were all saints."