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Nuns moving into new Saint Leo monastery

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Published:   |   Updated: August 15, 2014 at 09:29 AM

Little by little, the Benedictine Sisters are moving into Saint Leo’s third Holy Name Monastery.

Over the next few days, the boxes will get unpacked. The last of the furniture will be moved out of the three-story building across the road. Sunday night, the sisters will spend their first night in their new home.

This move has been in the works since October 2012, when Sister Roberta Bailey closed the deal to sell the old monastery and 37 surrounding acres on Lake Jovita to Saint Leo University, which is looking to expand. The sisters broke ground on the new building a year later.

Bailey, prioress of the monastery, said it’s difficult to describe her feelings on the eve of the big move.

“It’s a mixture of being excited and anxious that everything works out and no one gets hurt,” she said.

The official opening is slated for Sept. 18, when Bishop Robert Lynch will offer a blessing for the new monastery. The ceremony starts at 4 p.m.

Faith Pridemore, direction of mission advancement, called the chapel the “piece de resistance.” Visitors will see the familiar stained glass windows featuring Saints Benedict and Scholastica as they enter the chapel, which has soaring 24-foot-tall ceilings, skylights and exposed wooden and iron beams.

“It’s actually a little smaller than our old chapel, but it feels larger because of the height,” Pridemore said.

Clearwater-based architect Roberta Klar said the chapel was situated on the most prominent location on the 10-acre site. Its cedar-clad tower, adorned with the Benedictine cross, is visible from State Road 52.

“They have a beautiful site,” Klar said. “We talked about where the chapel should be; we positioned it at the crest of the site, where it’s the most visible. The tower reaches out and acknowledges the community.”

The chapel was designed to compliment the existing pews, tabernacle and altar. But it’s not identical. Klar placed the windows in the chapel near the ceiling to protect the sanctity of the service.

“I wanted it to be an uplifting space with an organic, modern reference,” Klar said.

In their new dining room, the nuns will trade in their view of Lake Jovita for a vista of rolling hills covered in wildflowers and the Saint Leo Benedictine Abbey.

“The view is spectacular,” Bailey said.

The new building has a spacious kitchen, an exercise room and a craft room; each bedroom has an en suite bathroom. There’s a parlor room where sisters can visit with guests, and a community room where they can cheer on their beloved Tampa Bay Rays.

Chef Shawn Leach, who heads the kitchen, said he designed a special area in the kitchen for Sister Donna DeWitt, who does all the baking. She’ll have her own prep area and a Baker’s Pride convection oven. “It’s deluxe,” he said. “She can bake 16 pies at one time if she wants.”

The residential wing has a small kitchenette for coffee in the morning or a midnight snack. Walking trails will meander through the grounds, and there will be a vegetable garden.

“Those are all the things that really contribute to community living and healthy living,” Bailey said.

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