|Sister Angela with miniature horses|
Originally a community of 20 sisters, it has dwindled to three: Sister Angela Chandler, 54, who oversees the convent and runs the place with Bill Chandler, her brother, and his wife Becky, and two sisters Chandler cares for: 95-year-old Sister Holy Spirit Aleman and 89-year-old Sister Joseph Palacios.
“It’s gotten to be a lot just to try to keep up. It’s too much for us,” Chandler told the Associated Press. “We’ve reached a burnout phase, I think, and so much of our energies have gone outward and it’s time to focus them inward before we totally die out. It feels like it’s time for us to move on without the horses and without the tourists.”
The monastery is worth nearly $2 million with the horses, $1.7 million without, and includes a gift shop, commercial kitchen, chapel, 18-bedroom residence, and several smaller buildings. Chandler has received inquiries from potential buyers interested in creating a retreat center or an assisted living facility.
Miniature horses have been bred for over a century after owners selectively mated their smallest horses. Standing at about 34 inches at the shoulder, the animals can weigh as much as 350 pounds and pull carts carrying two adults. They are not strong enough to carry a rider.
The idea to raise horses first came to Chandler’s predecessor, the late Sister Bernadette Muller (coauthor of Sister Bernadette: Cowboy Nun from Texas, a copy of which you reporter, who has also visited the monastery, is a proud owner). Muller oversaw a cat- and bird-raising business but switched to miniature horses once she discovered their earning potential. A trained mare can sell for $3,000, and gelded yearlings start at $500. In 1985 the monastery outgrew it 20-acre site in Corpus Christi and moved to Brenham.
“We were just expecting to—as with the birds—just quietly raise horses and sell them to a few people here and there,” Chandler says. Instead, tourists came from across the country and as far as Tasmania and Russia to see the horses. Chandler estimated the monastery has welcomed 20,000 tourists and earned about $250,000 each year through admissions, donations, and sales from horses and the gift shop.
She says the plans are to bring more sisters into the monastery and focus on the nuns’ spiritual life. The monastery also gets income from selling altar breads, and Chandler plans to expand her desktop publishing and design business.
“It’s been wonderful and we’ve loved meeting these people,” Chandler says. “But at the same time, all good things must come to an end. It’s time for us to change focus.”