The College of St. Scholastica

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A Century of Saints

The great divide

Mother Aloysia and others at Minnehaha Falls, 1880
Mother Aloysia and others at Minnehaha Falls, 1880

In 1890, Mother Scholastica Kerst was replaced as prioress of St. Benedict's by Mother Aloysia Bath. The election was heated, and it reopened old wounds. Mother Scholastica had been a strong leader for St. Ben's, but her decisiveness and quick action made some of the more deliberative Sisters uncomfortable, and her initial election as prioress had amounted largely to an abbatial appointment (which was not uncommon). Scholastica had also made changes to the constitution of St. Ben's without presenting them to the community for discussion and vote. This caused the convent to split into factions that were loyal to Mother Scholastica and wanted her to be re-elected as prioress, and another faction that wanted to return to the old ways. Archbishop John Ireland asked Mother Scholastica to refuse reelection, per Benedictine tradition, and she assented. Mother Aloysia Bath, who also served as prioress of St. Ben's before Mother Scholastica, was elected to another term.

Bishop McGolrick, Duluth Diocese
Bishop McGolrick, Duluth Diocese

At the same time, the St. Ben's was growing in commitments. The Sisters' work in Duluth was a small part of a large organization that founded and staffed hospitals as far away as Bismark, ND, and elementary schools across central and northern Minnesota. A new diocese had been formed in Duluth, and Bishop James McGolrick was anxious to attend to the needs of his district. He requested that St. Ben's form a girls' academy in Duluth. Mother Aloysia refused his request, believing that it would spread the monastery too thin. Over the next few months, Bishop McGolrick noticed that Mother Aloysia was removing the experienced teachers from Duluth and replacing them with new teachers.

The needs of the two communities were in direct conflict. Bishop McGolrick met with Bishop Zardetti of St. Joseph and the two agreed to split St. Ben's into two groups. All sisters who wished to stay in Duluth would form the new convent, and those who wished to stay at St. Ben's would be allowed to do so. Mother Scholastica was chosen to lead the new community.

Mother Aloysia was annoyed that she wasn't consulted in such a major decision, and threw up as many roadblocks as possible, lobbying sisters to stay at St. Ben's, and trying to prevent others from leaving to Duluth. Still, 32 women left St. Ben's and became the Duluth Benedictines, eventually forming St. Scholastica Monastery.

The split was complete, but the tension didn't end. Mother Scholastica assumed that St. Ben's would provide financial assistance to the fledgling community, but Mother Aloysia felt that her offers of support had been rejected. Mother Scholastica's parents, Peter and Anna Kerst, were quite wealthy and had given a large share of their daughters' inheritance to St. Ben's, to provide for both Mother Scholastica and another daughter, Sister Alexia. In addition, St. Ben's owned several pieces of property in Duluth that the new community felt should transfer to them. The two groups struggled over these for the next several years, with Mother Scholastica feeling that they were owed to the Duluth community, and Mother Aloysia feeling that they rightfully belonged to St. Ben's. The argument was settled when St. Ben's transferred their Duluth property and paid most of Mother Scholastica and Sister Alexia's inheritance to the Duluth Benedictines.

Sisters who taught in Duluth in 1885
Sisters who taught in Duluth schools in 1885

Still, it's tragic that two communities with so much in common, a shared mission, shared loyalties, shared friendships, and a shared history, should experience so much conflict. In the end, though, the split was necessary and best for both communities. Duluth gained a devoted community of Benedictine Sisters, and St. Ben's was able to focus on their core missions in St. Joseph and elsewhere.


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