Mentoring and Monitoring Benedictine
Voices From The Monastery
In addition to Dennis' delightful introduction, I would mention that I currently work at the University of Texas at Austin as Associate Director for Liberal Arts Career Services. But I have also worked and taught at a small private college and taught in university and public school settings. I have been working on a PhD in the Department of Higher Education Administration at the University (which, along with Fr.Valerian Odermann's persistence and the movements of the Holy Spirit, brings me to your meeting).
I am proud to be a relatively new Oblate with St. Scholastica Monastery in Boerne, Texas, so I feel especially privileged to be invited to be among you. And I am looking forward to meeting and learning from all of you. I must admit I am somewhat intimidated because, for me, some of you are Benedictine celebrities: I have read or pray daily from books you have written or you have contributed to my study by responding to the survey. By the way, those of you who did not respond to the survey are forgiven. Have no fear, you will have an additional chance to contribute as I will explain at the end of the presentation.
So as to the subject of the presentation: Mentoring and Modeling Benedictine Values as Educators. From my perspective, many of you have become mentors for those of use who see the potential of the Rule of St. Benedict as a guide book for educational leadership as well as a guide for living and for those of us who look to the monastery as a model for educational and other communities. Indeed I look forward to continuing a dialogue with you on this subject.
Before I share with you some of the results of my study, I would like to tell you about my spiritual path. (You are probably looking at my grey hair and saying to yourself that this could take a while, but I will provide an abridged version!) I come to this scholarly work and this place as a stranger to things Benedictine. My roots are Lutheran, and hearing stories about saints was not part of my heritage. For Lutherans, saints were the Mr. and Mrs. sitting in the same pew year after year; the communion of saints. While perhaps theologically persuasive, this belief does not exactly capture the imagination. It is not very gripping. What must it have been like, I would ask myself, to have grown up in Roman Catholicism with stories of saints: St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, St. Agnes and countless others swimming in one's head?
I confess that the word Benedictine did become part of my vocabulary during my college days but only as Benedictine liqueur. I tell you this not merely to elaborate on my spiritual path but to try to explain my own amazement that I am here now in this time and place.
I first met St. Benedict for the first time on the ceiling frescos at Melk Abbey in Austria. I was touring with the Texas Bach Choir and as we toured the abbey, I remember being transfixed by a figure in black surrounded by gilt Baroque splendor. Now here was a "man in black"! I remember standing a while in that presence drawn to something I did not understand at the time. I wanted to linger there.
I was introduced to Benedictine Oblates, as have been many others, via The Cloister Walk. My first exposure to real live Benedictines was as a privileged witness to an incense-filled oblation in a tiny Anglican Catholic Church. This attraction to Benedictine spirituality has grown through reading the Rule of St. Benedict and experiencing its resonant power, even in translation, and as interpreted by Joan Chittister, Esther DeWaal, Norvene West and others.
However, I found myself working in a research university environment that felt more like a corporation where humanistic concerns were not valued, where students were viewed as customers or assembly-line products, where the profit motive seemed to be more important than the mission. This situation was coupled with my educational course work in the graduate program which I found frustrating as educational leadership theory was dominated by military and business metaphors and seemed devoid of spiritual values.
And so the combination of this attraction and frustration led me to a dissertation topic which has evolved into a study titled "Voices from the Monastery: The Benedictine Higher Education Community on the Rule of St. Benedict." The evolution continues but the project is rapidly drawing to a close. My original plan was to evaluate the congruence of administrative practice to the actual concepts represented in the chapters of the Rule of St. Benedict. Aware of the power of the RB tocontinue to speak to a pluralistic society in the contemporary world, I wanted to see how the RB has actually been used to develop community in higher education settings. I asked Benedictines serving on campuses as educators and administrators which parts of theRule they found essential to creating campus community, and to evaluate the degree of relevance and degree of implementation of those essential chapters.
The final step would have been to "carry the message" to focus groups primarily in student affairs at my university and compare their experience to determine congruence or establish common ground by translating those essential chapters of the Rule in a non-Benedictine environment. In other words, to "evangelize."
I was interested in the actual application of the RB1 as a guide and the precepts as they appear in chapter form. I used this translation of the RB although there are more recent translations, such as the one by Patrick Barry, O.S.B., which might lend themselves well for interpretations into non-Benedictine environments. I focused the survey on the use of the RB itself rather than the application of Benedictine values which might be derived from it, as have others. The survey mentions "the Rule's relevance to maintaining a community in a higher education setting." I used the word community assuming that it was a common term. However community is often a reality in monastery but only an ideal on campuses such as mine.
The question became, to quote one of my committee members, "Well do they (Benedictine administrators) practice what they preach? Or do they just give lip service to this Rule?" I apologize for the skepticism--remember I am coming from a public research university.
I will not subject you to the entire dissertation here, but I will provide an overview of the review of literature and the results. In the literature review, I considered arguments from Sinclair Goodlad, among others, for the monastic model for highereducation. Goodlad characterizes models for types of educational institutions as "airport" or "monastic" and he bases his typology on function, relationship types, social interactions, rules, hospitality, entertainment and central component. Contrasted with the airport culture, as a place of transit, promoting functional relationships and little interest in social lives of those passing through, and where discipline serves as a penalty for law infringement and entertainment reflects the outside culture; the monastic culture affords permanent membership, values relationships, has a "paternalistic" interest in social and spiritual development and a discipline for inappropriate behavior.2
No doubt you are familiar with the work of Carney Strange and Harry Hagan, O.S.B., and their application of Benedictine values to the higher education environment. They offer six foundational values from the RBwhich serve as essential in building community in higher education and which they consider to be essential to the mission of teaching and learning. The six values and their interpretation are tradition et regula, or lived and documented experience serving to define culture and shape community ethos; stabilitas which develops from continued affiliation and commitment to something larger than individual interests; conversatio or openness to change and growth; ora et labora, a balance between integration and balance; obedientia or seeking counsel from all members of the community; and hospitalitas, being open and providing an atmosphere of accessibility and caring.3
In a booklet entitled "Heritage, Tradition and Identity," a digest of values reflected in the Rule provided to me by Fr. David Turner, O.S.B., the following values are listed: awareness of God, living in community, the dignity of work, hospitality, justice, listening, moderation, peace, respect for persons, stability and stewardship.4
In addition to the literature review surveys, there are arguments for the creation of community in higher education as well as a history of Benedictine higher education in the United States which I need not summarize for this audience! I also reviewed mission statements from some of the institutions I surveyed, noting those which have direct references to the RBin their published mission statements.
As I progressed, I found myself becoming more interested in the actual responses from a follow-up email which had elicited comments on the chapters the respondents listed as most relevant. As I looked at the demographics represented by the responders, I realized that the voices were getting older and fewer, and I found myself less interested in the question of congruence and more in actually listening to the voices from the monastery as they shared their experience. By the way, I see this development as a growth step on my path: applying that great Benedictine value of listening. So I decided to focus more on the actual voices from the monastery speaking on the utility of the RB in their work in higher education. As longtime practitioners, what else might they have to share with the rest of us?
But before sharing from some of the voices from the monastery, here is a brief representation of the results from the survey in which I asked Benedictine administrators to indicate, using a 1-4 rating scale, which chapters of the Rule they considered not relevant, somewhat relevant, very relevant or essential to maintaining community in a higher education setting.
What follows is the results in descending order of those chapters the respondents considered most essential: chapter 72 "The Good Zeal of Monks"; chapter 2 "The Qualities of the Abbot"; chapter 53 "The Reception of Guests"; chapter 71 "Mutual Obedience"; chapter 3 "Summoning the Brothers for Counsel"; chapter 7 "Humility"; the Prologue; and chapter 73 "This Rule only a Beginning of Perfection."
The survey then asked the respondents to rank in descending order the chapters in the Rule that they viewed as most essential and then rank how well they perceived the implementation of those aspects on their respective campuses. For this presentation I will note some of the more interesting comparisons from the sections on the degree of relevance and the implementation on campus. The Prologue ranked at the top for most relevant, but ranked considerably lower on implementation. This passage from the Prologue resonates: "One who walks without blemish . . . and is just in all his dealings; who speaks the truth from his heart and has not practiced deceit with his tongue; who has not wronged a fellow man in any way, nor listened to slanders against his neighbor. . . ." Chapter 7 "Humility" ranked lower on degree of implementation than on relevance. Chapter 4 "Tools for Good Works" ranked ninth on degree of relevance but did not appear not on implementation ranking at all. "You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge"; "Guard your lips from deceptive speech."
But now let us return to some of the voices from a section called additional comments of respondents. These comments were sent via email on the chapters the respondents listed as most relevant.
- On the Prologue: "We listen to God in our individual lives (true for all, not just Benedictines or the like), but we also listen to our colleagues and especially to students: their presence says the most about what we do, and why we are doing all this--and here, I think, we find the value of tradition. We learn to take the long view. We learn that we are not just hired for a job, rather we have a profession, we have a purpose in life."
- "The Prologue is really a basis for the whole environment. . . .The Prologue establishes a listening stance--listening to God, listening to the leadership and listening to all parts of the college or university. At an annual meeting of the Benedictine presidents a couple of years ago, these leaders noted that no Benedictine college or university grew very large--they decided that the closeness of the community was an essential part of any Benedictine college."
- On chapter 2 "Qualities of the Abbot": "The qualities of the president are described in this chapter--balanced, understanding, listening, etc." (I'm reminded of the model of the university president as CEO . . . father-like?)
- On chapter 64 "The Election of an Abbot": "The abbot focuses the community on its common task; he galvanizes the troops and helps articulate a vision."
- "Without leadership there is no common direction; the group dissolves. It's like sheets flying in the wind. On campuses, people are involved in mentor-like activities, led by both administration as well as older students. A problem of university 'community' is the rapid turnover. As a result, it is hard for the constituents to do much long-term thinking."
- "This applies in a college and in a university, in appropriate ways to everyone in a position of responsibility: president, deans, faculty, advisors, coaches, students too. One must recognize individuals, their needs and strengths; one must not play favorites; there is a time to take it easy and a time to be firm (but not ruthless). Most of all, you do whatever you're doing not for your own benefit but for the group."
- On chapter 3 "Summoning the Brothers for Counsel": "This doesn't refer to a democracy in a monastery, nor need it so refer in a college. It's nice to have decision-making power spread around (subsidiary); but it's essential that everyone involved in a given matter be informed and have a chance to provide input by some means. On the other hand, if my input doesn't seem to have much effect, I can't threaten mutiny . . . ."
- Another comment: "Consensus-building is the essence of community . . . all strata of learners need to be represented, especially those disenfranchised." (This comment contrasted with my experience: How often do we include all students, even the ones with low GPA's or in "developmental classes," or those many students just struggling to get through? The scholarship winners are always consulted.)
- Another respondent on Chapter 3: "It is essential that the leaders of the college seek input from all constituents of the college community in planning the future of the institution and in establishing goals."
- On chapter 7 "Humility": "This chapter provides the innards of life together. It presupposes that people are willing to WORK toward becoming better people. The 12-step programs for addiction presuppose as much. . . . No problem is beyond the pale, even on a college campus. This WE can deal with anything, if there is goodwill and the desire to grow. It is also an antidote to the 'terminal uniqueness' of many in late adolescence--no, your issues are quite similar to those of many others before you! Are you willing to deal with them? If so, we'll work this out together. We're to develop together a learning culture."
- On chapter 31 "Qualifications of the Monastery Cellarer": "The one controlling the funds is not controlling one's own funds and dispensing them but rather holding the common funds in trust and assuring that wise use is made of them." (Even in large universities with huge investment funds.)
- "A college needs to promote stewardship (in the generic sense, not in the sense of fund-raising). . . ."
- On chapter 36 "The Sick Brothers": "The provision of the Rule agrees with, and surely goes beyond, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Students and staff with disabilities must not just be dealt with in a legally correct way, but must be enabled to feel a part of the community (which emphasizes that there must be a community!). This applies to classes, activities, etc. of course, but also and primarily to personal relations."
- On chapter 53 "The Reception of Guests": "Hospitality should be the hallmark of a Benedictine institution with everyone received as Christ--not just 'Hello, how are you?' but an acceptance of different ideas and different people."
- On chapter 61 "Reception of Visiting Monks": ". . . receiving strangers as Christ and allowing them to join, but if they don't fit in, they need to be dismissed rather than upset the whole campus. With activists, this is delicate because maybe we need to be made uncomfortable. Benedict would say they were sent for a purpose. He was firmer on dismissing the grumblers, not those pushing for needed change."
- On chapter 63 "Community Rank": "To 'pull rank' is to strike at the possibility of building community. Those who are secure in their desire to nurture and mentor others will not go down that path."
- On chapter 65 "The Prior of the Monastery": "This chapter in itself is not important except that it points out that no one is to set up a little fiefdom apart from the main thrust of the institution. It harkens back to chapter 1 'The Kinds of Monks' . . .to have people working at cross-purposes serves no one. The prior is one who serves. On campuses, students, staff and faculty all need to adopt the attitude of serving from their particular position. When they do this, good things happen--and distinctions get lost."
- On chapter 71 "Mutual Obedience": "Without it, it is hard to conceive of life together. While leadership is a key concept, the respect for persons that this chapter talks about provides the foundation for leadership to function. And it is 'mutual'--it runs in all directions. No military chain-of-command type hierarchy can create a brotherhood."
- On chapter 72 "The Good Zeal of Monks": "There is often much enthusiasm on college campuses, no end to energy. The problem is that much of it is misdirected. When motivation can be channeled . . . this serves to create an ambience which promotes 'learning'--not in some narrow book sense but in life skills that never go out of fashion."
- On chapter 31 "Qualifications of the Monastery Cellarer" and chapter 32 "The Tools and Goods of the Monastery": "All call for a spirit of ownership: 'This is my school.' No one can be involved in every aspect of an institution, college or monastery, but everyone should feel a desire to be involved wherever they can contribute and a willingness to be 'stretched' by the needs of a situation or the call of a colleague. A college needs to model this for each generation of students.
After looking at these comments and considering the results of the ranking of essential concepts from the Rule, I was encouraged to carry this study to another level, which my chair says will "enrich the study." In evaluating the responses, I was not surprised to see the management and governance chapters relating to the cellarer, the abbot and the election of the abbot or the reception of guests listed as essential. I was more interested in those chapters which for me suggested applications to the personal qualities for necessary for educational leadership and effective community building in higher education: "Good Zeal of Monks," "Tools for Good Works," "Humility," the Prologue, and "Mutual Obedience."
So I now again turn to you as mentors and ask you to help me refine and verify my results. I will be taking your contact information if you work as an administrator or an educator in higher education. I would like to continue the dialogue with you through email. I will be asking you to comment on this last list of chapters as they inform your work.
In closing, I work in an environment, as do some of you, where many seem drunk with power and I have worked in toxic environments and seen and felt the destruction caused by this addiction. I am not naive about power just disgusted by the illusions of dominance which accompany it. And so I look to the Rule of St. Benedict, as have countless others through the centuries, as a countercultural way to prepare educational leadership. Perhaps the Rule of St. Benedict will be taught in educational leadership classes or at least placed on the suggested additional readings list. Perhaps more of us in educational administration will look back to the monastery as a model rather than the corporation.
As I was flying into Bismarck for this convention, I finished reading Doing Business with Benedict: The Rule of St Benedict and Business Management: A Conversation written by Kit Dollard, Anthony Marett-Crosby, O.S.B., and Abbot Timothy Wright, O.S.B. Perhaps this publication will serve as a model with examples directly applicable to educational settings ("Doing Education with Benedict"?). If business management is moving in this direction, can educational leadership and management for higher education be too far behind?
I gain hope and challenge from the words of Sister Joan Chittister and since she is infinitely more eloquent, I will end with this quote from The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages: "In the House of Benedict, the principles of life live in ways no words can convey, in the people who carry them out. The call to be what we say we believe becomes a measure of authenticity for teachers, parents and administrators everywhere."5
4Heritage, Tradition, and Identity: A Collection of Resources and References Related to the Mission of Benedictine University, booklet one entitled "Benedictine Heritage" (Lisle, IL: Benedictine University 2000). return