FORT SMITH -- There's a pistol from the Spanish-American War in a cabinet in the basement of St. Scholastica Monastery.
And a Civil War-era rifle with bayonet.
"We were in the wilderness when we got here," said Sister Cecelia Brickell, referring to the 1878 move from Ferdinand, Ind., to Shoal Creek, more commonly known as New Blaine in Logan County.
The area lacked amenities such as water, roads and doctors.
So, in 1925, the sisters moved 60 miles to the west to the outskirts of a big city, Fort Smith, population 28,870.
There, they lived in a six-story convent with a bell tower on top and a swimming pool in the basement.
The nuns stayed there until Feb. 8 of this year, when they moved to a modern building next door. It's half the size as the old monastery, so there's not room for a century of stuff.
The guns, and thousands of other items, will be auctioned off this week. It's being billed as a "once in a lifetime auction."
Sister Maria Goretti DeAngeli, the prioress at St. Scholastica, said she won't miss the firearms. It's been a while since the nuns have had to hunt for food or protect themselves from wild animals.
"I don't know where that gun came from," she said, referring to the Springfield Trapdoor rifle. "It's a long thing."
In the 19th-century wilderness, the federal government gave land grants to railroad companies willing to encourage settlers to populate both sides of the track in western Arkansas, according to a history of St. Scholastica at stscho.org.
W.D. Slack, land commissioner for the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railway, secured a commitment from the monks of St. Meinrad Abbey in St. Meinrad, Ind., and from the Sisters of Immaculate Conception Convent in Ferdinand, Ind., to found monasteries in Logan County. He then made an attractive deal for German and Irish Catholics to settle in western Arkansas, according to the website.
Benedictine monks arrived in the spring of 1878 and built some primitive living quarters at what is now Subiaco, 10 miles west of Shoal Creek. Four nuns arrived in September of that year, and St. Scholastica Convent was established at Shoal Creek in January 1879. (Since 1986, it has been known as St. Scholastica Monastery.)
In America, the nuns' primary ministry, initially, was to educate the children of immigrants.
Over the years, the sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery staffed 70 schools, five hospitals, two orphanages and one institution, Subiaco Academy, said Sister Maria.
"Work, pray and leisure is our motto," she said. "But there's not much leisure sometimes."
Leisure activities included everything from hiking to air hockey and basketball to bowling, according to stscho.org. There was also a gymnasium in the basement of the old Gothic monastery in Fort Smith.
The new monastery contains neither a gym nor a swimming pool.
Sister Maria is from Lake Village. Her father was a cotton farmer who moved there from Italy.
She lived in the monastery building in Fort Smith from 1949 until the move in February.
"It's been hard, the whole moving and all of that," she said. "I grew up in that building. It's been my home for a long time, but I was glad to get out of it because it was deteriorating. ... So, it's bittersweet but I've been preparing myself for it."
Over the past century, Fort Smith grew around St. Scholastica. The property was once in the country where the nuns could keep cattle, pigs, chickens and rabbits.
They still have 65 acres right in the middle of what is now the city of Fort Smith.
St. Scholastica had 375 sisters in the 1960s. The sisters ran an academy for girls until 1968. Some graduates took the vows and joined the sisters in the monastery.
Since then, the number of nuns at St. Scholastica has dwindled to 33, and eight of them are in a nearby nursing home.
Sister Maria, 84, said the average age of the nuns at St. Scholastica is 82. But the monastery is still active, and it has a new postulant this year.
"We're an aging community," Sister Maria said. "But we're hopeful. They won't be coming as teenagers as I did, but women will be coming. And I think throughout history we weren't really large communities at all until we came to America, and that was for education purposes."
Sister Maria said she doesn't know why women aren't choosing monastic life as they once did.
"I think because of the change in women being able to do more things, going to school, getting educations and that kind of thing," she said. "Getting into the corporate world, I think, is more enticing probably."
Sister Maria said there was just too much unneeded space in the old monastery building, and it was time for the sisters to have more modern accommodations. She said no decision has been made regarding what will happen with the six-story monastery building.
Sister Maria said money from the auction will be used to pay off the new building.
The auction will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
There are probably more than 5,000 items to be auctioned, said Dennis Huggins, owner and auctioneer of Border Town Auctions in Muldrow, Okla. He's expecting 500 people each day, some of whom will travel from neighboring states. People must be present to bid.
The items include furniture, kitchen supplies, artwork, antiques, angel statues and an organ with 1,187 pipes.
Different items will be featured on different days of the auction. Details and hundreds of photographs are available at bordertownauctions.com.
"What we told them the day we had the mock auction," said Huggins, "is they have cherished and lived with these items for years, and they have enjoyed them. And now it's their turn to allow someone else to own them, and they can enjoy them and pass them on down the line.
"The items continue to live on, but it's their turn to pass them on."
Sister Regina Schroeder and auctioneer Dennis Huggins walk through the chapel of the old St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith. About 5,000 items from the monastery will be put up for auction Thursday through Saturday, and Huggins said he’s expecting 500 people each day. More photos are available at arkansasonline.com/512monastery/.
Sister Maria Goretti DeAngeli, prioress at St. Scholastica, shows portraits of nuns that will be kept at the new monastery in Fort Smith. She said the move from the place that was her home since 1949 has been hard but for the best because the old building was deteriorating.
The original St. Scholastica Monastery on the outskirts of Fort Smith has been home to a group of nuns since 1925.
The original St. Scholastica Monastery on the outskirts of Fort Smith has been home to a group of nuns since 1925. The new monastery sits next to the old one but is half the size.
Dennis Huggins displays an old Springfield rifle and a pistol that he said was from the Spanish-American War period. Sister Maria Goretti DeAngeli said she won’t miss the firearms. It’s been a while since the nuns have had to hunt for food or fend off wild animals.
Stained-glass panels from the old St. Scholastica Monastery now sit on display at the new monastery.
SundayMonday on 05/12/2019