Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
February 5, 2001
Knights help nuns fix altar bread ovens
Breakdown threatens Precious Blood Sister's ministry
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Sister Mary Teresa was thinking of shutting down the operation at the westside monastery where she and almost a dozen Sisters Adorers of The Precious Blood reside.
It wasn't the convent that she was referring to, but the production of altar bread, something the sisters have been involved in for more than half a century.
The reason? One of the three ovens has been on the fritz since December. "It's an old machine," said Sister Mary Teresa, whose order is based on contemplative prayer. "They don't even make them anymore. You have to order the parts from the States, but they're very hard to find."
Although the sisters call them ovens, the machines actually resemble a large flat waffle iron. A batter of flour and water is poured onto the flat surface and pressed flat between two hot metal plates.
One oven has a cooking time of 80 seconds, another more than two minutes and the third was taking half an hour to reheat after every sheet of altar bread was cooked.
It takes all day to make 300 sheets of altar bread when the ovens are up to par. But the malfunctioning oven was putting out only four sheets a day.
The model that the sisters use is discontinued, so it can't be replaced even if the sisters had the money to buy another one.
A newer version of the model, which is available only in Europe cost about $300,000, said Sister Mary Teresa. But that machine is like an assembly line type operation, "and you have to have an engineer to operate it. It's not something we could use."
So in came St. Joseph's Assembly of the Knights of Columbus and its crew of handymen. Stan Chajkowski is one of the half dozen Knights who have spent the odd day here or there fixing the oven. The Knights have also donated $5,000 for parts.
"They're all getting old," said the retired railroad signal communication technician, who's quite handy with a screwdriver and sockets of all sorts. "The wiring is getting old. But when it gets fixed, it'll run like a clock."
Making altar bread no longer provides the sisters' livelihood as it once did, but it is a tradition the sisters will continue for as long as they can afford to. The sisters take care of the cutting and packing of the altar bread, but hire a full-time baker to operate the machines.
"We don't make any money from it," said Sister Mary Teresa. "It's just something we do. We want to supply the diocese with (altar bread)."
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