Founded in the 1950s, Holy Wisdom Monastery near Madison, Wisconsin was the first ecumenical Benedictine community in the United States. Completely rebuilt in 2009 with a primary focus on environmental sustainability, the monastery is now the greenest LEED-NC building in the country.
History of the Holy Wisdom Monastery
The Sisters who run Holy Wisdom Monastery went into the countryside outside of Madison in the early 1950s looking for a site suitable for a new Benedictine community. What they found was a hilltop in the country with an unparalleled vista of the Madison skyline and Lake Mendota.
After saying a few prayers and burying medals of St. Benedict, they set out to acquire the land. The Sisters found the owner and purchased the first 42.5 acres that included Lost Lake and the hilltop often referred to as "God’s Hill."
Several years later they acquired the balance of the 138 acres that make up the current grounds. The property was originally farmed and only a few trees existed on the initial parcel. Over the years, the Sisters have returned 95 acres to native prairie and wetlands. This includes the restoration of Lost Lake - a remaining example of a 10,000-year-old glacial kettle - to its original size and pristine condition.
When the time came to build a new monastery, the Sisters determined that it needed to embody their mission of weaving prayer, hospitality, justice, and care for the earth into a shared way of life as an ecumenical Benedictine community. They also knew that the design and construction of the building needed to be sustainable - respectful of its natural environment. The project offered the Sisters an opportunity to explore what a 21st-century Benedictine monastery could be.
Planning began in 2006, followed soon after by tearing down the old buildings. Even this was done in an environmentally friendly way - an impressive 99.75% of the deconstructed Benedict House was recycled or reused. The project was completed in August 2009, and the result is everything that the Sisters had envisioned.
The U.S. Green Building Council awarded Holy Wisdom Monastery 63 out of a possible 69 points under LEED-NC version 2.2, the most points of any LEED-NC building in the United States to date. The goal is to eventually provide 100% of the monastery's net energy needs from on-site, renewable sources.
What to See at the Holy Wisdom Monastery
The monastery serves as home to the Sisters' community; a retreat center for women and men; a place of prayer and Sunday worship, which draws many people of varied traditions, cultures, and lifestyles; and a hospitable place of welcome for a variety of meetings, programs, tours, concerts, and weddings.
In addition to fulfilling its primary role as a monastery, the Sisters are using Holy Wisdom Monastery to help inspire and encourage others to build and live sustainably. A primary focus of Benedictine Women of Madison (BWM) is to work towards environmental solutions and to teach the importance of nature in religious and daily life.
The monastery reflects a commitment to the earth - a 21st century expression of 1500 years of Benedictine tradition.
Holy Wisdom Monastery is a 30,000 square-foot, two-story structure with a detached, 4,000 square foot remodeled maintenance building on 138 acres. The new building is "right-sized" for the community's needs - and 50% smaller than its predecessor, Benedict House. The concert and conference space holds up to 400 people.
The Benedictine Women of Madison welcome visitors to tour their award-winning modern building and beautiful grounds, to attend regular worship services, or to stay longer on a retreat. Nature walks are regularly scheduled and there are opportunities to care for the land as a volunteer. Retreats for spiritual growth are offered year-round, with such titles as "Exploring Community: Benedictine Life," "Wisdom of the Seasons," etc. See the monastery's official website for details on all activities.
In addition, single women ages 20-50 can explore a shared way of life with the Benedictine Women of Madison through the Volunteer in Community program. Women can live in the retreat house while experiencing the rhythm of work and prayer, learning and leisure in the ecumenical Benedictine community. The Sisters see this exposure as a way to communicate their desire to grow the monastic community and let others know of the opportunity to go on retreats for personal and spiritual renewal and growth.
From Minneapolis/St. Paul, take I-90/94 to the Highway 19 exit. Turn right on Highway 19 west for 3 miles to Highway 113. Turn left on Highway 113 (south) for 2.5 miles to County Road M. Turn right on Highway M (west) for 4 miles to the monastery driveway, on the right.
Quick Facts on the Holy Wisdom Monastery
|Names:||Holy Wisdom Monastery|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||43.118393° N, 89.454138° W|
|Address:||4200 County Road M
Middleton, WI 53562-2317|
Sat-Sun: hours vary (call ahead)
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Holy Wisdom Monastery|
Map of the Holy Wisdom Monastery, Madison
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Holy Wisdom Monastery. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.