Written by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas
Long Island was fertile ground for Catholic witness and became the mission ground for a number of the most notable of the Benedictine monks, including Fathers Denis Parnell, Arnold Mondloch and Cornelius Osendorf. Out of that island came several vocations to religious life, two of which were to last more than fifty years. Sister Mary Benedict Pratt, who was elected third Prioress of Saint Martin Monastery in 2006 was one of them.
The Prioress was born at Clarence Town, Long Island to John Samuel Pratt and his wife Mathilda Ann (nee Dean). She showed early promise educationally, sitting and passing the Junior and Senior Cambridge examinations. In the Bahamas in the days before free secondary education was available on the out islands, school ended for the average student at age 14. Bright students tended to be offered the role of monitor, which allowed them to remain under the headmasters tutelage for longer. It was an indication of the young Long Islander’s ability that she was given such an opportunity.
Her parish priest, Father Cornelius Osendorf, OSB, was elated to perceive what appeared to be a religious vocation in the young girl and encouraged it. He wrote to her father, who objected initially, though his wife was fully prepared to support her daughter in whatever choice she made. It was a brother, Vincent Pratt, who persuaded their father to allow the young girl to follow her heart.
She entered Blessed Martin Convent 8th September, 1955. During a nine-month postulancy and two-year novitiate, she had to get to know her new sisters, the rule she was to live by and how to accommodate to religious life in general. There were hardships. During the first canonical year, when novices are not normally permitted to leave the community, her father fell ill. To visit him, the young sister had to be accompanied by a chaperone from the community. Hardest of all, she was not permitted to attend her father’s funeral when he died shortly after her return to the convent. This led her to doubt her vocation, but she persisted, a decision for which Sister Mary Benedict thanks the Lord and the community which she has served as a teacher, social worker and educational leader most gratefully.
Sister Mary Benedict’s missions have been many and varied, including many years of service in education at several levels. The schools at which she taught were St Bede’s, Our Lady’s, St Thomas More, St Joseph and Aquinas College. She taught and was principal (1983-1984) at Xavier’s Lower School. Following the amalgamation with the Benedictines, she served in several Minnesota Catholic schools, including Saints Peter and Paul School at Elrosa.
Sister Mary Benedict was appointed Superintendent of Catholic Schools in The Bahamas in 1984, a challenging position she would manage successfully for eighteen years until her retirement in 2002. It was a role that called for fortitude; even with the assistance of fees and a government subsidy, it took skill to stretch budgets to meet needs.
Sister Mary Benedict also spent many years ministering at Her Majesty’s Prison on New Providence through teaching remedial mathematics, reading and religious education.
Through the years, Sister Mary Benedict continued her own education. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education from the College of St Benedict, Minnesota, a Master of Science degree in Administration from Barry University, Miami, Florida and a diploma in Pastoral Studies from St Louis University, Missouri.
All of her life as a religious, Sister Mary Benedict has demonstrated remarkable talents in leadership. Her career in administration began when she was elected Regional Superior of U Saint Martin community in 1974 ar she would serve two four-year terms this capacity. It was the first local election: before this, community leaders had been appointed by the hierarchy abroad. Sister Mary Benedict noted that they had internal self-government, which meant that she had to learn to deal with budgets, construction, repairs and other considerations.
During a canonical election ceremony on June 3, 2006, Sister Mary Benedict was elected Prioress to lead Saint Martin Monastery for the next four years. She was officially installed by Sister Michaela Hedican, President of the Federation of Saint Benedict on June 23 during Evening Prayer at the Monastery in the presence of the Most Reverend Patrick Pinder, Archbishop of Nassau, Monsignor Preston Moss, Monsignor Simeon Roberts, her Benedictine Sister family and friends.
In 2007, she expressed concern for the future of the Monastery as there had been no new vocations for many years, a crisis, she said that was afflicting the Church worldwide. She said that the Catholic youth over the years have not shown a great deal of interest over the years and more inquiries had come from among other denominations. The Monastery invites young people to come for reflection days during the year to learn about religious life, but seldom did more than participate.