Time slips quietly by for Austrian nuns' resort

Wed Apr 16, 2014 6:38am EDT
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By Georgina Prodhan

GOLS, Austria (Reuters) - Being blasted with jets of hot and cold water by a 70-year-old nun may not be everyone's idea of fun, but it has some firm fans. They return year after year to Marienkron, an Austrian health resort 3 km (2 miles) from the Hungarian border.

The regular guests relish the tranquil yet disciplined atmosphere fostered by the Cistercian nuns who run the Kneipp hydrotherapy centre, look after the visitors and offer opportunities for prayer and life-coaching.

But the ethos of Marienkron, a low-profile resort frequented mainly by older guests seeking relief from aches and pains and mobility problems, may not survive once the current generation of nuns is gone.

Just five of the abbey's 12 nuns are still fit or young enough to work in the resort, and management has already been handed over to a secular director.

Its dominant figures, 71-year-old Sister Elisabeth and Sister Bernarda - who declines to give her age - have been there for decades. They fear they may have no successors.

"I don't think so. Not in the next 10 years," Sister Elisabeth said when asked about the prospects for new joiners.

She administers the Kneipp treatments with a firm but kindly hand - a skill she learned after the abbey first began taking in guests in 1969.

The nuns who went on to found the resort had moved from Germany in 1955 to pray for the souls on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Before the guests arrived, they eked out a living growing vegetables, raising chickens and teaching.   Continued...

Sister Elisabeth (C) talks to guests at the abbey retreat in Marienkron April 11, 2014. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger