Sister Louise Sharum, OSB  and Sister Andrea Loron, OSB both live 50 miles away from the St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, AR, where their community of Benedictine Sisters live.

The pair run a retreat center, Hesychia House of Prayer, nestled in the Ozarks. This year they received a $2700 grant for a chairlift to go up and down the staircase. Sister Louise recently shared her story with SOAR! 

Sister Louise, left, and Sister Andrea

Sister Louise, left, and Sister Andrea run Hesychia House of Prayer.

In the mid-1970s, while she was working on her dissertation for a doctorate in history, Sister Louise Sharum became convinced that teaching history in college was not what God was calling her to do after all.

At the time she had no idea what that call might be.

After receiving her degree, the call became clear and urgent: to provide a place for adults to spend time in prayer. In 1981, Sister Louise and two other Sisters of St. Scholastica began this ministry in an under-used 1908 building on their property in Shoal Creek, the site of their community’s founding in 1879.

“Back when first experiencing the desire and felt call to start a house of prayer, the words I heard in my heart and felt was from God was: ‘If you give me a heart of prayer, I can give you a house of prayer. Without the former, the latter is meaningless,'” writes Sister Louise. “We try to give God that heart of prayer in all we do. We know we cannot fake it with God.”

In 1982, soon after they moved to Shoal Creek, the Sisters added another hermitage to the site, followed by two more for short-term stays and one designed for a long-term stay, and in 1999, the Sisters dedicated a new building to replace the 1908 building, which had developed many structural problems.

All went well until not the building, but the Sisters, began having aging problems.

At present there are two members on staff: Sister Andrea Loran, age 90, and Sister Louise, age 85.

The Sisters maintain the buildings, do the laundry for the hermitages, and prepare the evening meal for the retreatants who want to share it with them. The upper level of the main building has the chapel, library, dining room, conference rooms, office, kitchen, and Sisters’ community room and bedroom area.  The downstairs has the laundry, a storage room, the fruit cellar, and a kitchen area. The two levels are connected by a stairway of 16 steps.

That stairway was the problem.

Climbing the stairs had become not only difficult for both of them, but painful for Sr. Louise. When her physical therapist told her to avoid climbing the stairs because it was damaging her joints, she began using the golf cart to drive from one level to the other.  This was inconvenient and time-consuming, and in the winter when it was cold, icy, and perhaps raining, it was not exactly a joy ride.

That all changed this summer when SOAR! provided a grant for a stair lift.

“Since, at present there are no community members free to replace us,  the stair lift made possible by the grant from SOAR!, which we affectionately call ‘The Express,’ is making our continuing this ministry possible,” Sr. Louise writes.

“For this we are grateful, as are the many retreatants who use this facility, and express repeatedly their experience of how much this ministry is needed.  All connected with SOAR! have a permanent place in our daily prayer and monthly Mass offered for our benefactors.”

The Sisters’ chairlift is one of SOAR!’s Founders’ Grants — a special grant for our 30th anniversary to help aging religious to stay active in ministry. Read more. 

Featured image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks LCC) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons