BETHLEHEM, Conn. -- Mother Benedict Duss, a physician and founder of one of the first female Benedictine monasteries in the United States, has died. She was 94.
Mother Benedict, the first abbess of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a Catholic Church order, died at the abbey on Sunday, Sister Angele Arbib said. She had been in declining health for years.
The community of 37 nuns, who hail from around the world, pray and farm on the 400 acres in Bethlehem, spending most of their time behind the abbey gates, away from public view. The farm has drawn visitors from around the world. They follow the Rule of Saint Benedict, a 6th-century Roman monk.
According to his rule, monks vow to foster stability in the community and completely convert to a monastic lifestyle.
Mother Benedict retired in 1998 but retained the formal title of Abbess Emerita in recognition of her service as founder and leader of the monastery, which started in 1948.
She was born Vera Duss in Pittsburgh on Nov. 21, 1910, and as a young girl traveled to France with her mother and brother. She received her medical degree at the Sorbonne and entered the Benedictine order in 1936 at the ancient Abbey of Notre Dame De Joarre, outside of Paris.
She remained in France during World War II and served as the community physician, treating the nuns and surrounding villagers, despite the risk of being an American, and often hid in local residents' home to avoid enemy soldiers.
After General George Patton's Third Army liberated the abbey in 1944, Mother Benedict returned to the United States.
She has said she regarded it as a call to return to her native country to start her own monastery.
She and cofounder Sister Mary Aline Trilles de Warren gave their monastery the Latin name meaning ''Queen of Praise" in honor of the Virgin Mary.
''Founding a monastery is a continuous process of sawing to build your design and trying to dispose of the sawdust, while you're always being forced to reconstruct. You have to give it your all and it's never done," Mother Benedict had said of her life's work.
In 1976 the Vatican granted the monastery the elevated status of abbey and Mother Benedict received the order's highest title for a female, ''lady abbess."
She leaves two nephews, four great-nephews, and two great-nieces.
A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Abbey.