They Could Stand the Heat

Let clothing be given to the brethren according to the circumstances of the place and the nature of the climate in which they live…  Rule of Benedict

Whether trying to teach young Sisters how to work in the kitchen (one Sister dumped congealing grease down the sink, thinking it was it was 'dirty water'; another Sister, following orders, put a ham into the oven ... without a pan), or sleeping on cots in the kitchen to keep marauding campers from pilfering snacks in the middle of the night, Srs. Anne Newcomer and Norberta Vandersnick can offer plenty of entertaining tales – along with a few lessons - from their years of service there.

Preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for hundreds of Sisters and Academy students a day, seven days a week, is not a job many folks would take on happily. But Srs. Anne Newcomer and Norberta Vandersnick loved it for their 70 combined years of service in the monastery kitchen in Nauvoo, Ill.

Despite the lack of so-called modern conveniences. Despite the lack of air conditioning. Despite the sometimes awkward and restrictive habits they wore for many of the years.


“We’ve talked about it many times,” Sr. Anne begins. “We both enjoyed cooking because we knew if we fed the Sisters well, they would teach better, and if we fed the students well, they would learn better. We loved serving them that way, although it was hard work.”

Indeed. In the years between 1948, when Sr. Anne began her work in the kitchen (Sr. Norberta began around 1960), and 1990, when they both retired, there were many fewer convenience foods than exist today. From peeling pounds of potatoes to stirring stockpots of gravy, the Sisters prepared everything fresh and from scratch.

“Saturday was butchering day,” Sr. Anne, who was in charge of the meat department, remembers. “We would buy a leg or a side of beef and cut pieces, wrap them and freeze them. Same with turkeys and chickens. And we always were canning fresh produce.”

Sr. Anne remembers putting up one ton of strawberries one summer. “A man had planted a patch and offered it to us. The Sisters walked down the hill at dawn to pick the strawberries, with their habits trailing in the dew. By the time they came back, their habits were soaking wet!”

“We didn’t waste anything,” Sr. Norberta says. “If an apple was bad on one side, we saved the other side.”

From practicing good stewardship to offering hospitality, Srs. Anne and Norberta say they followed the guidelines of The Rule of St. Benedict as best they could in the kitchen.

“We tried to take the beauty of God’s creation and give it back, beautiful,” Sr. Norberta adds. “It was a joy to make people happy there.”

“That’s all I wanted to do,” Sr. Anne says. “Make people happy.”