Readers may know that the Roman Catholic Church has numerous religious orders of nuns and monks, but may not know that the Protestant Episcopal Church has them as well. Overall, there are 18 Episcopal religious orders and 14 “Christian Communities” comprised of men, women, or both. This is the story of the Community of St Mary (CSM) and the remarkable religious buildings they had constructed at Peekskill, NY from 1872 to 1963. The order was founded by Sister Harriet Starr Cannon, (1823-1896) its Mother Superior, on the Feast of the Purification of Mary on February 2, 1865 in St. Michael’s Church, 86th Street, New York City, about two months before the close of the Civil War.
Accordingly, it is said to be the oldest Episcopal religious community in the US still in existence (now headquartered in Greenwich, Washington County, New York. Sister Harriet was the temporal head of this community of Protestant Episcopal nuns from its founding in 1865, to her death in 1896. Based on a Benedictine model, the CSM adhered to a simple monastic life centered on prayer, reflection, and service. The forms of service practiced by the nuns of the order have varied over the years and places where they chosen to have a presence. At Peekskill for instance, they operated a high school for girls and the manufacture and sale of “Alter Bread” (aka communion wafers) was one of the CSM’s primary means of self-sustainment. Continue reading