September 1, 2021 | Local News

Kyle Cook (left), and Greg “Trey” Dooley (right), both of Helming Brothers, Inc. show Mother John Mary Reed, CP, how to load the clay tiles onto the conveyor to the monastery roof on Aug. 4, 2021. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

‘If God wants it, it will happen’

Passionists’ renovation campaign focuses on both practicality and beauty


When Mother John Mary Reed, CP, requested a visitation to assess the needs of the Passionist Nuns at St. Joseph Monastery in Whitesville, she never dreamed of setting a plan into motion to massively renovate the monastery itself.

Mother John Mary had become mother superior of the community in 2016, and invited Nashville Dominican Sr. Ann Marie Karlovic, OP – formerly the Dominicans’ prioress general – to spend a period of time living with the Passionists in their cloister.

Sr. Ann Marie came in 2018 and gave a thorough recommendation based on feedback from the nuns.

“Through living with us and meeting with each sister one-on-one, there was a thread for needing better spaces in the community and refectory area,” said Mother John Mary in an Aug. 4, 2021 interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic.

But the Dominican sister’s recommendations went far beyond needing to update those two spaces.

She raised multiple points about the sustainability of a healthy atmosphere for the nuns, who had relocated from Owensboro to Whitesville in 1995, and had built a new monastery from the ground up.

The Whitesville monastery had provided a good home for the Passionists, but time takes its toll on any building.

In fact, Sr. Ann Marie’s assessment of the state of the monastery was, “Mother John Mary, this is ghastly.”

Mother John Mary took this to prayer and discernment – and the thought popped into her head: “Build.”

She replied, “Ok, Lord…”

And that was the beginning.

Mother John Mary Reed, CP, watches construction on the new roof of St. Joseph Monastery in Whitesville on Aug. 4, 2021. This is part of a larger renovation project to repair and enhance the home of western Kentucky’s only community of cloistered nuns.

Work to be done

The Passionists started to develop plans for a renovation campaign in May and June 2019. At that point, they were not even thinking of a new roof.

But contractors had repeatedly tried to fix the clay tiles for more than 20 years – while the roof continued to develop major leaks and mold. The nuns realized that if they were to do a renovation, the roof would need to be part of the goal.

In February 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, they added the roof to the plan.

Mother John Mary told the WKC that early on, she was unsure if all of the nuns would be comfortable with the idea of such a large-scale renovation campaign.

However, “that has been a great blessing, that the whole community is on board,” she said, expressing her gratitude for the excitement of the youngest sisters and the blessing of the eldest sisters.

“The older sisters have been longing to be able to do this,” said Mother John Mary, and said this campaign is happening “for the sake of our current sisters as well as our future sisters. We’re building on what our needs are.”

The plans

The campaign, which has been named Cherish the Flame, includes a new roof, a brand-new wing (called the Holy Family Wing) and some much-needed renovation to various spaces, such as expanding the refectory and kitchen.

They hope to add cloister walks (covered spaces around the courtyard to facilitate prayer and outdoor recreation; this is where cloisters get their name), a new community room (where the nuns spend their “family time,” explained Mother John Mary), an exercise room (to care for their bodies, minds and spirits), and a storage room (since empty bedrooms are currently being used for storage, creating a problem when guests visit and new sisters enter the monastery).

The Passionists also plan to finally build a Chapter Room, which Mother John Mary said is “an extension of the chapel” in a monastery.

In the monastery’s original building plans, both the cloister walks and the Chapter Room had to be nixed due to budget constraints. Over the years, the nuns have unsuccessfully tried to soundproof their parlor to serve the role of a Chapter Room.

“The Chapter Room is a sacred confidential space where the Monastic Chapter (nuns in perpetual vows) gather before God in order to discern and discuss important decisions that affect the life of the community such as voting on the entrance of new members and the various stages of commitment, and a space where a woman is vested in the holy habit,” said Mother John Mary.

Mother John Mary said the room also includes decisions about “temporal matters and the running of the monastery,” which she described as essentially being a little city. “It will also be a space where classes and conferences will be held for the nuns.”

The renovations will also take into account the needs of the sisters who are elderly or are less mobile, providing wheelchair-accessible doors and acoustical treatment of rooms for those with hearing difficulties.

Mother John Mary Reed, CP, (left), and Sr. Mary Elizabeth Sauer, CP, (right), sit by St. Joseph Monastery’s current recreation room, which is cramped, badly-lit and has poor acoustics. The Cherish the Flame Campaign hopes to build a brand-new recreation room in the new wing. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

Trusting St. Joseph

Mother John Mary told the WKC that the total cost of the renovations is $3.85 million; they have currently raised $1.88 million.

Since their monastery is named after St. Joseph, Mother John Mary said they would love to reach the remaining amount before the conclusion of the Year of St. Joseph in December.

Work has already started on the roof, thanks to their roofing contractors, Helming Brothers, Inc., of Jasper, Ind. In order that the new roof will be more sustainable than their old roof, a waterproof underlayment is being placed before the roof receives its new layer of Ludowici clay tiles.

Aside from the practical needs of the monastery, the nuns look forward to making their home a more beautiful space – which will hopefully even invite new vocations.

“We know that beauty attracts because God is beauty, truth, and goodness,” said Mother John Mary.

Sr. Cecilia Maria Wynn, CP, said she is excited about “the process of renewal.”

“It’s a grace for the whole community,” she said. “Beyond the construction and the roof, it reminds us of the vitality and grace of the community. It is such a sign of hope in the future of exciting things happening in the community.”

Sr. Mary Elizabeth Sauer, CP, credits Mother John Mary’s “prompting to start the process for the future.”

“God’s been with us since we started,” she said. “God’s goodness provides for us in so many ways.”

Mother John Mary said St. Joseph monastery is the only contemplative community in the Diocese of Owensboro. A contemplative community focuses on intercessory prayer for the world; the cloistered Passionists’ charism is specifically to pray at the foot of the cross with Our Lady of Sorrows, united with Jesus in his great act of redemption for all humanity.

As such, they hope their improved monastery home will foster a greater space for prayer for the world, which is suffering from the pandemic, global conflict and so much more.

Though the pandemic has slowed their progress, Cherish the Flame has still received a great deal of donations, which Mother John Mary said “shows how many friends we have.”

“I never dreamed anything like this would happen when I was elected superior,” she said.

Mother John Mary said that when the project began she knew nothing about construction or fundraising: “This project continually pushes me beyond my comfort zone.”

“Every morning I turn the details over to St. Joseph trusting that if God wants it, it will happen!” she said.


Help the nuns

To learn more or donate to Cherish the Flame, visit

Originally printed in the September 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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