M. Cecilia Kapsner, ca. 1900 (click thumbnail for larger image)
Mother Cecilia Kapsner was born in Dambrau, Prussia in 1859. In 1874 she came with her parents to the United States, and the family settled in Pierz, Minnesota. Two years later she entered St. Benedict's Convent, St. Joseph, where she was invested in 1877. She made her first vows in 1878 and her final profession in 1881.
Before she was elected Mother Prioress on July 27, 1901, she served her community as teacher, as mistress of novices, and, for eighteen years (1883-1901) as subprioress and bookkeeper. Mother Cecilia was the first prioress whose background was similar to the majority of the members of St. Benedict's Convent as well as the people in the St. Joseph area. Gifted with keen perception and ready judgment, she provided leadership under which the community prospered and grew.
During the three consecutive terms as prioress (1901-1919) there was considerable material expansion. This included the building of an infirmary at the Motherhouse (1903), a wing and a laundry (1904-1910) for St. Joseph's Home in St. Cloud, an addition to St. Alexius Hospital in Bismarck, North Dakota (1905), and finally (1914) the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Motherhouse and a new wing for the Main Building for the newly founded Saint Benedict's College.
During these years, too, Benedictine influence in the Midwest was extended as the growing community accepted twenty-eight new missions, including two in North Dakota and one in Wisconsin. The continuity and deepening of this influence was assured by the establishment, in 1913, of a four-year college.
Initially the college was founded to further the education of the sisters so that they could better the educational, medical, and other services they provided for the local community. As time went on, Saint Benedict's College (later College of Saint Benedict) served to continue to educate the students of St. Benedict's Academy as well as students from the Midwest region in a Catholic and Benedictine setting. In 1917, the College was accredited by Catholic University as a two-year junior college and was able to issue its first degree.
Mother Cecilia continued to exercise her personal influence on the formation of the younger members of the community by serving as mistress of junior professed sisters from 1921-37.
Many Kapsner family members joined the convent or St. John's Abbey. One of Mother Cecilia's great-nieces joined the St. Benedict's Convent in 1933 and became Sister Mary Cecilia Kapsner. S. Mary Cecilia's oral history, in the St. Benedict's Monastery Archives, mentions that, when she was a child, her home was visited by four of her grandfather's sisters, all of whom were nuns: Cecilia, Leonarda, Loyola and Auxilia. A fifth, S. Bonaventure, had died before Mary Cecilia was born.
Mother Cecilia died on August 16, 1952, at the age of ninety-two and in the seventy-fifth year of her religious profession.
For more on Mother Cecilia:
Special thanks to Megan Girgen '13 and Meghan Flannery '15 for drafting this text.