Poor Clares of Langhorne: ‘Fruit of the Earth and Work of Human Hands’

This convent in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, has the capacity to bake 10,000 altar breads at a time

The Poor Clare Sisters of Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Top Right: Sister Anne prepares a stove. Lower right: Sister Eden cuts bread.
The Poor Clare Sisters of Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Top Right: Sister Anne prepares a stove. Lower right: Sister Eden cuts bread. (photo: Sister Anne Bartol)

Finding a convent where nuns make altar breads is really a delightful discovery. That is the daily job of the Poor Clare Sisters of Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

According to Sister Anne Bartol, “Our main work is prayer, but to support this ministry, we make altar breads for different parishes in the area and elsewhere,” she said. “We have machines we use to mix the contents. We mix flour and water, and we bake the wafers, dampen the breads, cut, and package them. These are called ‘Communion breads’ until they are consecrated at Mass and then they become ‘Communion Hosts.’”

“Usually when we are baking,” she said, “we will bake for several hours, and we bake enough for about 40 bags times 250 wafers, which equals 10,000 breads altogether. We have to produce a good amount, and we would like to do more but we only have a certain number of machines. Baking is a support to our contemplative community. Some days we bake; some days we don’t. And, of course, the baking is special to us as a way to participate in Holy Communion. Many parishes do request breads made by sisters because we have that connection.”

Sister Anne was raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and comes from a large family; she has five siblings.

“We attended church regularly,” she said, “and we were really active in the church ministry. I taught CCD and helped with our choir. My family was strong about going to church, and half of us went to Catholic schools. The Church has been a very strong presence in our lives, and I felt part of the parish. I am the only one of the children who became a nun.”

Sister Anne explained that she had the calling from a very young age, and in her Catholic school, she felt comfortable there. The students attended Mass regularly, and the whole backdrop of the teaching was religious.

“That planted the seed,” she said. “And when I left college and got a job in my field, the idea was always there. When I turned 30, I knew I needed to make a decision. So I started looking into various communities, and as it happened, my pastor got the ball rolling and I visited several communities. I ended up here.”

At the Poor Clare Sisters of Langhorne community, the emphasis is on prayer, she said. And when she started looking, she did not know about contemplative communities and had not had any exposure to nuns. But a sister who was helping her find the right place gave her a picture of a sister praying in a very focused way in front of a cross in the monastery’s back garden.

“I really wanted that so I could have more of a focus on knowing God on a deeper level. I have been here about 25 years.”

Sister Anne explained their daily routine, noting that the sisters get up at 5:30 a.m. for morning prayer, followed by an hour of Adoration, followed by a half-hour of community prayer and Mass. After attending Mass, the sisters participate in three hours of work, followed by more prayer. After the community meal and conversation, the remaining day is a time of silence. After dinner, another prayer session follows, then another period of work, with half an hour of personal time afterward, and then the Rosary.

“And then at 5:30, we have a community meal that is silent; we then watch religious videos. Then we have night prayers around 7 p.m,” she said.

“Then we have discretionary time to exercise, or whatever we would like. Then we go to bed by 8:30 or 9. It keeps us focused on prayer and focusing on God.”

Recipe: Spinach Madeline

Recipe courtesy of Mrs. Beverly Bartol. Serves 5 to 6. For a larger serving, just double all of the ingredients and use 2 casseroles.

This may be served immediately or put into a casserole and topped with buttered breadcrumbs. The flavor is improved if the latter is done and kept in refrigerator overnight. This may also be frozen.

  • 2 packages frozen chopped spinach (20 oz. total)
  • 3/4 teaspoon celery salt 
  • 4 tablespoons butter 
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 2 tablespoons flour 
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion 
  • 6 ounces Pepper Jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk 
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Red pepper to taste 
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 

Cook spinach according to directions on package. Drain and reserve liquid.

Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Add flour, stirring until blended and smooth, but not brown. Add onion and cook until soft but not brown. Add liquid from spinach slowly, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Add milk.

Cook until smooth and thick; continue stirring. Add seasonings and cheese that has been cut into small pieces. Stir until melted. Combine with cooked spinach.