By 1936, Mr and Mrs Senior were planning to sell and retire to a smaller property. It proved difficult, however, to find a buyer. At this time the parish priest of the small Roman Catholic Church at Minster was Dom Bede Winslow OSB, a monk of St. Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate. Inspired by the idea that Minster might once again become home to a monastic community, he 'advertised' it to a number of English monastic houses. Since no-one took up his suggestion, he went further afield with his dream, using his ecumenical and Benedictine contacts on the continent.
According to the Minster Chronicle, Abbess Benedicta von Spiegel zu Peckelsheim of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga in Eichstatt, our founding house in Bavaria, received Dom Bede's letter on the same day on which an officer of the Nazi SS requisitioned part of the abbey property for the use of Hitler's 'storm troops'. Abbess Benedicta saw the hand of providence in this 'coincidence' and determined, if at all possible, to view the property. On the return journey from a visitation to St. Walbuga's foundations in the United States she made an undeclared stop-over at Southampton and a friend motored her down to Kent.
Abbess Benedicta fell in love with Minster the moment she stepped through the gate, commenting that the centuries of prayer had left a great sense of peace. In Eichstatt the Abbess urged her community to buy the property. Since, however, it was impossible under the Nazi government to take money out of the country, the American foundations had to set up a trust and raise funds to buy Minster. When the American solicitor acting for the nuns was ready to travel to England to meet with Mr and Mrs Senior, Abbess Benedicta was able to send Sr Columbana Plomer, originally from Cornwall, on an innocuous 'home-visit' at the same time. Thus she was present on behalf of the Abbess on 25th March 1937, the feast of the Annunciation, when the deeds of Minster Abbey were handed over. Following these successful manoeuvres, the Abbess of East-Bergholt in the UK, a friend of Abbess Benedicta, wrote to inform the Eichstatt community that an ancient monastic site in England was about to be resettled as a monastery. She begged that a few sisters might be sent from St. Walburga's to help. Armed with this invitation Abbess Benedicta was able to obtain travel papers for a group of sisters to leave Germany to 'aid' the new house. Thus, after almost exactly 400 years as a private house, the abbey buildings once again became the home of a monastic community.
The new foundation was dedicated to Saint Mildred. The sisters, six choir nuns and three lay sisters, were very warmly welcomed, not only by the little Catholic parish and the monks of Ramsgate but by many in the village. They began to adapt the house to monastic use. The drawing room with its half-panelled walls became the chapel, some of the larger upstairs rooms were divided into cells, the ballroom became the sewing department... In the early days the community went to the parish church for daily Mass but from the first day the Liturgy of the Hours was celebrated in the little monastery chapel. The lay sisters began farming on a small scale, doing all the heavy work by hand, since they had no machinery – and certainly no money to buy any! Eventually they acquired Pippi, a sturdy pony, a plough and a cart, then a couple of cows and some hens. The sisters tried to make some money by vestment-making and took in one or two guests.
It was a hard life with many daily worries. Abbess Benedicta tried to encourage the sisters by her letters, assuring them that, “the Lord will help you, all the more as you rely on Him alone. It is important that you should have the same spirit as at St. Walburga's. ... Be simple and joyful. ... All the people who visit our monastery are deeply impressed with the spirit of joy that shines on our faces. This is what you must aim at.”
This spirit stood the sisters in good stead when Mother Columbana died of consumption in 1938. Her successor, Mother Hiltraud Weinschenk, had to guide the community during the harrowing period of 1939/40 with the outbreak of the second world war and the internment of the community. Through the great generosity of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at Teignmouth in Devon, the German sisters found a refuge there for the duration of the war. Living alongside an English speaking community, they learned the language and also many gardening skills for a climate so different from their Bavarian home. When Mother Hiltraud died of cancer in exile in 1943, Mother Emmanuel Drey, a Jewish convert, was appointed to succeed her. She led the community back to Minster in November 1944. The house, having been requisitioned for a period as an officer's mess for RAF Manston, was in a run-down state. The garden and farm were worse, overgrown and overrun with vermin. The sisters threw themselves into the work. Living on – or even without – the bare necessities, they gradually re-established themselves.
By the end of the war, when the contact with the mother-house was finally restored, the Abbess was seriously considering recalling the sisters and selling Minster. Mother Emmanuel and the community, however, persuaded her to give them more time to make Minster viable. Among the reasons advanced for their continued stay were the growing ecumenical contacts of the community with the local Anglican churches. The mother-house agreed, on condition that the Minster community should find its own income, since the Abbey of St. Walburga's had no resources to spare. With great trust in God's providence and a true pioneering spirit the little community of nuns continued the life of prayer and work.
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