Poverty. Chastity. Obedience.
In 1898, Eva Lee Matthews and Beatrice Henderson, in the presence of Episcopal Bishop Boyd Vincent, committed themselves to live for five years under those sacred vows. It was the beginning of the Community of the Transfiguration, the first Episcopalian community of women in Ohio. The Sisters moved from downtown Cincinnati to Glendale, where the convent is still located.
On Aug. 6, the Community of the Transfiguration will celebrate 125 years of service to people in need worldwide.
Through the years, the Sisters have served in China, Japan, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, California, North Carolina, New York, Texas and various locations in Ohio. With prayer and worship at their core, the Sisters have established schools and churches and other spiritual, educational and social ministries.
“We believe that prayer has a real purpose,” says Sister Diana Doncaster. “We pray for the world, for healing, and any needs that come to us.”
Equally important is worship, and out of that comes their four active ministries: Bethany School, St. Monica’s Recreation Center, the Transfiguration Spirituality Center, and Food for the Soul.
Where Curious Learners Thrive
Their first ministry, Bethany School, began as a home for babies and children. In 1977, Bethany Home became Bethany School, a co-ed, Episcopal day school for grades K-8. The maximum class size is 15. Openings are still available for the 2023-2024 school year.
“High schools seek Bethany School graduates because they are students who exhibit compassion, empathy and a commitment to serving their community,” says Holly Fidler, Head of Bethany School. “Our graduates get noticed because they bring the life skills and work habits that make them successful in high school and beyond.”
According to Fidler, they are currently focused on building their scholarship fund to provide financial assistance to students whose families desire to send them to Bethany School but have difficulty affording the tuition.
Saving Lives After School
St. Monica’s Recreation Center provides engaging and positive activities for children during after-school hours. Located a mile from the Convent in Lincoln Heights, the Center started as St. Simon’s, a K-8 school. Out of that grew an independent church, St. Simon of Cyrene, and the Recreation Center which was founded in 1969.
St. Monica’s has a roster of 300 children and youth aged 6-18. Seventy-five to 100 students show up daily to play games, hang out, and have fun at no cost to their families.
“While they are hanging out, we try to instill positive character traits and values into our kids through programming,” says Michael Pearl, Director at St. Monica’s.
The Center, a staple in the community, has an indoor playground, library, gym, indoor basketball court and a kitchen. Students enjoy field trips, and the center hosts several annual events, including a Back to School Bash in August, a Christmas party in December, and an Easter egg hunt in the spring.
There is a special event for girls called “God’s Girls” and another for boys called “Man Up.” Both involve food, speakers, games and gift bags. The events provide the center’s staff additional opportunities to demonstrate God’s love for the children.
“The staff at St. Monica pour the love of God into these kids,” says Pearl. “We want them to feel loved, appreciated, and respected, which boosts their confidence.”
The students enjoy simple yet entertaining activities such as coloring contests, board and card games, ping pong and pool.
“It’s about engaging with these kids, meeting them and accepting them where they are and keeping them on the right track,” says Pearl. “Each day presents us with the chance to make a life-saving difference.”
Retreat and Recharge
The Transfiguration Spirituality Center began as a retirement home, which eventually became a nursing home. Maintaining a small nursing home became unsustainable, so, after considerable prayer and discernment, the building was repurposed as a retreat center for faith and secular communities. It was blessed and opened on Oct. 10, 2010.
Corporate-sponsored and faith-based groups are invited to hold day- or week-long retreats or leadership meetings at the Spirituality Center. In addition, the Center has launched a clergy respite group so that clergy can recharge and rejuvenate or simply study, have private conversations or focus on sermon writing.
“I’m a clergy spouse,” says Transfiguration Spirituality Center Director Rob Konkol. “My wife is always looking for quiet spaces to get work done because everyone needs her attention when she’s at her church.”
Because the Spirituality Center is located in a Cincinnati suburb, one need not go far to find respite. “It’s on 23 hidden acres in the middle of Glendale,” Konkol notes.
Private retreats and spiritual direction are also available.
This summer, the Spirituality Center is hosting an international retreat titled “The Art of Hosting and Harvesting: Conversations That Matter.” The program offers a comprehensive guide to navigating difficult conversations, equipping individuals with essential skills for effective group management.
The Spirituality Center can host up to 40 overnight guests in its small cottages and accommodate 100 to 150 people for weekday retreats.
Rescuing Food, Fighting Hunger
The COVID-19 pandemic led to the creation of Food for the Soul. When it became clear that shutdowns would be ongoing during COVID’s early phase, Mary Knight, the Spirituality Center’s Director of Operations at the time, began brainstorming for ways she could keep her staff employed.
With a lot of food on hand due to canceled retreats, Knight asked if she and her team could redirect their efforts, cook the food and serve it to people in need.
“I didn’t want to lay off our staff when we knew there was greater work to do,” Knight recalls.
Food for the Soul’s mission, Knight explains, is to match food rescue with hunger relief. They rescue food by cutting down on food waste, composting foods they can’t use, and recycling. They currently use the retreat center’s kitchen.
The ministry accepts donations of excess food from grocery stores, restaurants, businesses, hotels and convention centers. Knight and her team upcycle the food into tasty, nutritious meals and distribute them to numerous agencies in the local area, including Food Pantry, St. Monica’s, Friendship Plaza, City Gospel Mission, Lydia House, YWCA, Talbert House, Haven House, Phil’s Place, CAIN’s, Partners in the City of Forest Park, and Hamilton County Communities. Food boxes are also prepared and delivered to individual families in need. Food for the Soul also receives donations of household essentials such as cleaning supplies, and personal supplies, (diapers, pads, tampons) and sets up giveaways in various locations.
Over the past three years, Food for the Soul has saved approximately 350,000 pounds of food and has served 150,000 meals. They typically provide meals for at least 1,200 to 1,500 individuals weekly. The ministry is hoping to raise enough money to buy a piece of property and build a commercial kitchen.
“Had it not been for COVID, we would still operate as a retreat center rather than an independent ministry,” says Knight. “Food for the Soul is bigger than feeding people. It’s feeding people a nutritious meal, made with love. It’s rescuing the food and repurposing it. It’s stopping food waste and helping to put a dent in hunger.”
Small But Mighty
Eleven Anglican nuns live in the Episcopal Community of the Spiritual Transfiguration’s motherhouse in Glendale, and two live in northern Ohio. In addition to supporting the four major ministries, they offer spiritual direction, provide intercessory prayer, lead retreats, help out in churches, sew for children, knit or crochet prayer shawls, make scarves for the homeless, and create a variety of items to sell to raise funds for charitable purposes.
“We are prayerfully supported in our ministries by affiliate members — Associates and Oblates — who also commit themselves to prayer and service as they sense they are called to do in their own lives,” Sister Diana says. “We’re small, we’re aging, but we’re active.”
As the Community of the Transfiguration nears its 125th anniversary, the Sisters and ministry leaders are experiencing a strengthening synergy.
“We are communicating and more connected than ever,” Michael Pearl says.
Interested in supporting the Community of the Spiritual Transfiguration’s ministries? Contact the following: Bethany School: Holly Fidler, email@example.com; St. Monica’s Recreation Center: Michael Pearl, firstname.lastname@example.org; Transfiguration Spirituality Center: Rob Konkol, email@example.com; and Food for the Soul: Mary Knight, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mail donations to the Society of the Transfiguration, 495 Albion Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45246. Mention in the memo line which ministry or ministries you would like to support. For more information, call 513-771-5291 or visit ctsisters.org.
To give to the Bethany School’s Annual Fund and/or the Andrew Dawson Scholarship Fund, visit www.bethanyschool.org/support.