Elders of the Benedictines:
A Portrait and Interview Project

Mark W. McGinnis

Introduction

This project consists of a series of 30" x 30" acrylic on canvas portraits and companion written interviews with each elder from thirty Benedictine monasteries throughout the United States.

A variety of experiences I have had in previous projects inspired me to want to know more about the Benedictines. I decided to undertake a project that gave me the pleasure of meeting elders from various monasteries around the United States.

I approached monasteries that were on travel routes that I was taking on other business and on two month-long sweeps of the country, one in 1996 and one in 1998, that were planned to specifically interview Benedictines. The abbots and prioresses of these communities were kind enough to have me and many times my wife, Sammy, as their guests and in most cases they or the monastery's council of elders selected the representative of the community with whom I would work. Participants in the project were interviewed and photographed in a one- to two-day visit to each monastery. I then developed the written interviews and painted portraits in my studio. The portraits are not an attempt to give a photographic likeness of the elder. The paintings are an interpretation of my experiences with the elder and the monastery through my painting style. The character of these portraits hopefully expresses some of the range I found in these remarkable people: kindness, seriousness, intensity, gentleness, intelligence, and sincerity are all qualities I hope are reflected in the faces I have painted. The portraits are also filtered through my painting style of emphasized textural and color qualities which creates a personalized representation. After I distilled the taped interviews and my notes into written form, I sent a copy of the interview to the elder for corrections. It was imperative to me that the interviews accurately reflect the elders' ideas. The interviews consisted of the following set of questions that were sometimes all dealt with and sometimes edited to suit the elder.

The following are short excerpts from each of the thirty interviews to give you a sample of the elders' insight and wisdom:

Father Vincent Martin, O.S.B., b. 1912

Father Vincent Martin, O.S.B.Father Vincent is a member of the Benedictine community at Saint Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo, California.

Q: What do you believe are the most important values to uphold and promote?

A: We are living in a time that is more religious than it was fifty or sixty years ago. However the biblical God is disappearing. People are open to the divine but Yahweh is being ignored. There is a strong influence from India and a return to a kind of pantheism. We are seeing much concentration on the humanity of Christ and with it the sense of the sacred is lost. People don't seem to be really worshipping. They get together and feel good--a kind of new opium for the people. It is a very serious problem. The sense of God, the sense of the transcendent, the sense of worship is failing. . . .

Father Placid Pientek, O.S.B., b. 1918

Father Placid Pientek, O.S.B.Father Placid is a member of the Benedictine community at Saint Andrew Svorad Abbey in Cleveland, Ohio.

Q: How does the Benedictine tradition serve as a foundation for the way you live your spiritual life?

A: When I came here at the age of fourteen I automatically became part of the spiritual practices of the Benedictines and I have been part of that practice for the last sixty-six years. I began the Divine Office as a novice. The Office creates the rhythm of life with the seasons, the psalms, and the readings. It grows on you over the years. Even the changes from Latin to English didn't upset me. It seemed a normal growth. The Office is living. Even during the Easter season when some reading might have as many as nine "Alleluias" you might think one or two would have been enough but I like it with all nine. Some days we sing the Office rather than recite it. You're happy with the embellishment, for the Office never gets boring.

Father Alban Boultwood, O.S.B., b. 1911

Father Alban Boultwood, O.S.B.Father Alban is the retired abbot of the Benedictine community at Saint Anselm's Abbey in Washington DC.

Q: Is there any part of the Rule of Saint Benedict that has special significance for you?

A: . . . The Rule is not superficial; it does not prescribe arbitrary pieties or mortifications. It is concerned with the gospel ideals of following Christ in simplicity and poverty, with a practical daily routine. It tries to establish a reality, not just talk of ideals. We indeed need ideals, but we cannot live on ideals. We need to live on the level of humble reality. Indeed the Rule anticipates all sorts of failures but encourages perseverance. G. K. Chesterton said, in typical paradox, "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly." When the ideals are so high, the call so insistent, then it's worth setting out on the way, even though we may fall short in attainment. I find both the spirit and the humanity of the Rule helpful and attractive. . . .

Brother Victor J. Frankenhauser, O.S.B., b. 1920

Brother Victor J. Frankenhauser, O.S.B.Brother Victor is a member of the Benedictine community at Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota.

Q: How does the Benedictine tradition serve as foundation for the way you live your physical life?

A: . . . I believe God created me specifically to be a lay brother. It is my calling in life. When Vatican II came and eliminated so many of the distinctions between lay brothers and priests in the community I felt we brothers lost much of our identity. I'm afraid that when lay brothers who developed in the monasteries during the 1940s and 1950s pass away there will be no one left that remembers what it was like to truly be a lay brother in the old way. In many ways I feel the lay brothers were the real monks of the monastery, as they were home at the monastery doing the work of the monastery. They kept the home fires burning. The priests were many times busy teaching, going to school, or doing parish work. Our abbot for many years, Abbot Cuthbert, used to come back from visitations to other monasteries and call our brothers the "cream of the crop." About the only requirement for a brother at that time was that the candidate truly seek God and could contribute some useful service to the monastery. Among them were the most dedicated and sincere monks one could find anywhere. I'm concerned all they did will be forgotten.

Sister M. Gregory Cushing, O.S.B., b. 1913

Sister M. Gregory Cushing, O.S.B.Sister Mary Gregory is a member of the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Benedictine Monastery, Tucson, Arizona.

Q: What do you believe are the most important values to uphold and promote?

A: The most important values to uphold are community life, silence, and the acceptance of others as they are. We can promote these by sharing with our brothers and sisters any part of our Benedictine life that is possible for us. We can invite them to experience the silence and solitude of our lives by making retreats here. We can share the importance of the acceptance of others as they are, whenever people come to us for help in their spiritual life.

Sister M. Juliana Bresson, O.S.B., b. 1904

Sister M. Juliana Bresson, O.S.B.Sister Juliana is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri.

Q: What have been your primary duties within the order?

A: When I first arrived I was so young they sent me to their boarding school where I studied for a few months, then they sent me to the printery. At that time we were using foundry type. You set one letter at a time. For six years I used that method. Then we received a machine similar to a linotype, called an intertype. I learned that typesetting process and operated that machine for over eighteen years. Then I was receptionist at the monastery for four years, then back to the printery, then I took care of the sacristy for two years, then back to the printery again. They always wanted me back at the printery. We had that intertype machine for forty-seven years. When we had to have it repaired the repair people could not believe that we were still using it. I would tell them that we knew how to take care of a machine. It's like a human--keep it well oiled, cleaned and it will operate. If you don't feed a human and give it rest it won't operate. We took good care of all our machines. I remember once when we were having trouble I took the whole ninety-key keyboard apart. Each key had five parts, as the machine was very complicated. The supervising sister at that time didn't think I should do it. But I thought I could do it. I took every key apart and had all the parts strung out on three tables. The supervisor was so nervous she wouldn't come in the room. She was sure we would have to bring in a mechanic to put it back together. But I got it all back together and it worked, and later I took it apart a second time. When the old intertype did finally give out, we went with an IBM cold type system. I learned this new typesetting system in 1972 and ran it for nine years. I went from hand setting metal type to IBM electronic typesetting in my work. When they transferred the magazine to our monastery in Tucson, I volunteered to go down and typeset on the new computers, but, believe it or not, they turned me down. . . .

Father Eugene W. Dehner, O.S.B., b. 1914

Father Eugene W. Dehner, O.S.B.Father Eugene is a member of the Benedictine community at Saint Benedict's Abbey in Atchison, Kansas.

Q: Do you have any regrets in having chosen a monastic life?

A: No, I thank God everyday I wound up this way. People seem to be very timid now about making choices, especially life forming choices such as marriage or joining a religious order. People seem to have a hard time making firm long-term commitments. I prayed like the dickens before I made vows. I've had many critical times, like in marriage where you get to the point where you might betray one another, and the same thing can happen to a priest or monk. I've been fortunate to make the right choices in serious situations for which I thank God. Maybe it has been someone's prayers that have helped me. . . .

Sister Firmin Escher, O.S.B., b. 1915

Sister Firmin Escher, O.S.B.Sister Firmin is a member of the Benedictine community at Saint Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Q: How has monastic life shaped your attitudes to the outside world?

A: I feel we must be aware of what is happening in the outside world. In the 1980s when we were working on community planning I organized a multi-media event for the sisters dealing with the need for world vision and an understanding of global issues. I had eight slide projectors set up to project images of different subjects. I also had three movie projectors set up. We started them all up at once and let them run for about ten minutes. The sisters were in the middle and didn't know where to look or what to do. When we stopped the projectors you could have heard a pin drop. I tried to make the point that that is way things are when we don't do planning and cannot focus. For the rest of the day we went to panels and discussions on a wide variety of issues.

Sister Liguori Sullivan, O.S.B., b. 1913

Sister Liguori Sullivan, O.S.B.Sister Liguori is a member of the community at Benet Hill Monastery in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Q: Do you have any regrets in having chosen a monastic life?

A: None whatsoever. There was one time when I was a candidate! It was a hot, summer afternoon and I had been working in the laundry for hours. I finally came to the conclusion that it was far too hot and I did not belong in this place when I could be back at home with my old friends down at the creek swimming. The novice mistress, Sister Josephine, was there and I told her I wanted my clothes because I was catching the afternoon train for home. She did not say a word. She simply opened a box of divinity candy and offered me a piece. I took one but was determined not to be conned. I restated my case and she offered me another piece. This went on until I had about four pieces of candy. She still had not said a word. Finally, I turned on my heel and went back to my work. I told this story much later to an old German Sister and she said, "Ach, child, it's always the divinity that saves us." Had I not returned to the laundry that hot, summer day what adventures of life I would have missed! My choice of fidelity has kept me "seeking" God for all these sixty years and has made monastic life a "finding" him in a community of people, in milieu of prayer, in ministry of people. All this I might have missed had I left that summer day. The richness of monastic life, imperfectly yet faithfully lived, has been fulfilling and I have savored it.

Sister M. Matthias Igoe, O.S.B., b. 1923

Sister M. Matthias Igoe, O.S.B.Sister Matthias is a member of the Benedictine community at San Benito Monastery in Dayton, Wyoming.

Q: Do you have any regrets in having chosen a monastic life?

A: Every woman regrets not having a child. I had to decide when I joined the community if I was running away from the responsibility of motherhood and marriage relationships. I saw that I was not running away; rather I saw another way of loving, caring, and giving. At the same time I see something very beautiful in the spousal relationship and the relationship of child and mother. This does create a void, but it is not that my life must have every void filled--that is not the human condition. If everything were filled I would be God. This is one of the voids in my life, a void which gives me a way of experiencing God in a special way.

Father Stanislaus Maudlin, O.S.B., b. 1916

Father Stanislaus Maudlin, O.S.B.Father Stan is a member of the Benedictine community at Blue Cloud Abbey in northeastern South Dakota.

Q: What do you believe are the most important values to uphold and promote?

A: Simplicity and listening, being close to the Creator through the things that he has made.Listen to the sky, sun, sleet, wind, rain, and animals. At last, some people in science are beginning to see that everything is fundamentally spiritual. At one time scientists thought the atom was the smallest component of matter, then the quark. Now they know there is something even smaller. Someday they will have to see that it is all spiritual. The Indian people see this clearly and could teach it to us all, if we would listen. Most people are too divorced from the earth to see the presence of the spirit in all that is around us: the spirit in the rock, the fire, animal, the water, the spirit in all Creation.

Father James Jones, O.S.B., b. 1924

Father James Jones, O.S.B.Abbot James is a member of the Benedictine community at Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri.

Q: Do you have any regrets in having chosen a monastic life?

A: About three times a day. No, not really. One thing keeps nagging at me, that I should have been in the armed forces during World War II. I made a decision to go to the seminary in 1941 as I felt God was calling me. But it I still wonder and have some regret. I remember once when I wasn't regretting being a Benedictine but I was regretting being prior. I sat down with Abbot Jerome, who was many years my junior, and said that I'd had it. I told him I'd been prior four or five years and I felt I wasn't getting anywhere and I thought I should get out. Abbot Jerome took me on a walk. He walked me up to the cemetery and said, "These are our successes. You will admit that every one of them that you knew were good men. They were faithful to the end. That's all we have to do is to keep our community together, faithful to Jesus Christ and the Father. So don't be so discouraged. Every one of these crosses is a victory." That made me feel good. They were all good guys who succeeded in life. They all had faults like you and me. They weren't cannonizable saints but they were real victories. I have no serious regret about having chosen the monastic life.

Sister M. Louise Frankenberger, O.S.B.Sister M. Louise Frankenberger, O.S.B., b. 1916

Sister Louise is a member of the Olivetan Benedictine community at Holy Angels Convent in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Q: How does the Benedictine tradition serve as foundation for the way you live your physical life?

A: As a child we fished for food and raised a big garden and we ate good sensible food. It is the same here, a real sensible physical life. We live a life that has a rhythm combining the physical and the spiritual.

Father Berthold Ricker, O.S.B., b. 1907

Father Berthold Ricker, O.S.B.Father Berthold is a member of the Benedictine community at Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.

Q: How does the Benedictine tradition serve as foundation for the way you live your physical life?

A: It's family life. The Benedictine Rule is humanizing. The Benedictine life is a very human life. There is a strictness but with moderation. You have the vow of poverty--you don't own things. You have the vow of chastity--you don't marry. You have the vow of obedience--you obey the abbot at the monastery and bishop if you are working in a parish. The Rule is very practical. It says that if you are working in the kitchen you should have enough help. It says that your clothes and shoes should fit you. It says you should get enough to eat. It says many things to lead you to a life of physical moderation.The rank in the monastery is according to the date you entered the monastery, not age, education, ordination, or any other factor. You don't fight for position. You have your place. It creates good order. This order is enhanced by our autonomy as a monastery. We are not told what to do by some regional, national, or international authority. Our abbot is the authority as he is guided by the community. If you read the Rule of Benedict, which was written in the sixth century, you have to marvel at the psychological astuteness of the document.

Sister Agatha Burke, O.S.B., b. 1920

Sister Agatha Burke, O.S.B.Sister Agatha is a member of the Benedictine community at Saint Joseph Monastery in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Q: What has given you the most joy in your life?

A: . . . The joy of working with people and children in particular has been wonderful. Working with small children is like working with flowers. You work with them, such as teaching them to read, and they just open up. It's so beautiful to watch. There is so much excitement in them. It is a true joy to be part of that.

Father Bede Stocker, O.S.B., b. 1916

Father Bede Stocker, O.S.B.Father Bede is a member of the Benedictine community at Marmion Abbey in Aurora, Illinois.

Q: What has given you the most joy in your life?

A: I can really not point to any one big joy. My life has been one of continual joy and peace with the community. The day I took my vows and the day of my ordination were a special part of that continual joy--the joy of realizing the privilege of living with dedicated men. Well, I do enjoy playing cards and winning too. I do grumble when I don't get good cards all evening. Benedict has some hard things to say about grumbling.

Father Clement Pangratz, O.S.B., b. 1919

Father Clement Pangratz, O.S.B.Father Clement is a member of the Benedictine community at Saint Martin's Abbey in Lacey, Washington.

Q: What has given you the most sorrow in your life?

A: I made up my mind early that nothing was going to throw me for a loop and I've managed to stick with it. When I was twelve years old I heard the doctor tell my father in the next room that he was going to die of cancer. I knelt down and cried. It was a deep sorrow. I learned responsibility early by helping my mother survive. I earned $2.50 a week doing maintenance at a creamery beginning at 3:30 in the morning. But I was fortunate. My childhood was really great.

Father Theodore Heck, O.S.B., b. 1901

Father Theodore Heck, O.S.B.Father Theodore is a member of the Benedictine community at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana.

Q: What have been your primary duties within the order?

A: In 1987 I quit teaching but I haven't quit learning. I still help students and also help occasionally in parishes and the infirmary. I have set myself up with a reading program where I read so much history, so much science, so much religion a day. To date, I have read 1956 books. I write a little summary of each book and keep it in my records.

Father Frederic Schindler, O.S.B., b. 1921

Father Frederic Schindler, O.S.B.Father Frederic is a member of the Benedictine community at Mount Michael Abbey in Elkhorn, Nebraska.

Q: Is there any of the Rule of Saint Benedict that has a special significance for you?

A: The Rule is so remarkable. Benedict was not a theologian. But the Rule is not man's work alone. Benedict was God's creation and through his Holy Rule he speaks with a deep awareness of God and a taste for the things of God. The Rule drinks deep from the well of the Scriptures. In fact there are more than 500 quotations or allusions to the Holy Scripture in the Holy Rule. Benedict didn't write the Rule because he saw the need for it in the ages to come, but rather he wrote it to fill the need at his time, for poor people who came to him for help. So he put into writing a few things, and now it continues to be this marvelous living document created fifteen hundred years ago. . . . God is not physical, not of the world of our senses, He is beyond that. Faith gives way to vision, hope gives way to love and possession. Love is what God is. Our love is a participation in the Divine. In this life we can know only through analogy and concept. In the next life we will know God as he is, seeing him face to face.

Sister Marmion Maiers, O.S.B., b. 1924

Sister Marmion Maiers, O.S.B.Sister Marmion is a member of the Benedictine community at Mother of God Monastery in Watertown, South Dakota.

Q: Is there any of the Rule of Saint Benedict that have a special significance for you?

A: I do like chapter 72 which is about the good zeal of monastics. I think it says in a nutshell what the life of Benedictines should be--to compete with a holy zeal to do good to one another. I remember one of the exercises we did as novices was to go through the Holy Rule and find every reference we could to charity. It was a huge number because that is what our life is about--charity and love. It comes down to Matthew's chapter 25: "Truly I tell you: anything you did for one of by brothers here, however insignificant, you did for me." It is not about how much time we spend on our knees. It is how we treat our fellow human beings that matters now and will matter in the end. I think that is what Benedict is saying with the good zeal of the monastic--treat others as Christ. It always comes back to that for me.

Sister Augustine Uhlenkott, O.S.B., b. 1903

Sister Augustine Uhlenkott, O.S.B.Sister Augustine is a member of the Benedictine community at the Monastery of Saint Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho.

Q: What has given you the most joy in your life?

A: The highlight would have to be when I took first vows, and my three years as a junior were all very happy. There were many joys teaching in the mission life. All my jubilee days have been wonderful; I've had six now: 25, 50, 60, 65, 70, and 75. There has been so much joy in just living with the sisters and being one myself. At one time we had twenty-one sisters join us from Switzerland. I could speak German because we always spoke German at home. It just never seemed right to speak anything but German with my parents. However, with my brothers and sister I always talked English. The Swiss sisters just loved that I could speak with them in German. We have just three of them left now.

Father Bernard Sander, O.S.B., b. 1918

Father Bernard Sander, O.S.B.Father Bernard is a member of the Benedictine community at Mount Angel Abbey in Saint Benedict, Oregon.

Q: How does the Benedictine tradition serve as foundation for the way you live your physical life?

A: I can plan to be around here. Living in this beautiful spot on the mountain, looking at the valley all around is an inspiring physical environment. Our community is a permanent one. We are able to help each other. We have physical security in knowing the community will always take care of us. It is a family inspired institution. We are part of a community that serves people educationally and spiritually in an enthusiastic and dedicated life.

Sister Victorine Fenton, O.S.B., b. 1920

Sister Victorine Fenton, O.S.B.Sister Victorine is a member of the Benedictine community at Mount Saint Benedict Monastery in Crookston, Minnesota.

Q: What has given you the most joy in your life?

A: The joy of teaching and seeing your students blossom. As a music teacher it is joyful being able to see the satisfaction and delight students have when they discover they can create something beautiful. A joy I remember from my younger days was after having been out on assignment for some time and coming back to the community in the summer and seeing the sisters and even just walls and the floors of the monastery was such a joy. Now when I see the younger sisters come back in the summer it is the same kind of joy. Even our funerals are joys. Even if the deceased sister might have been a bit hard to live with, someone will find something wonderful to remember about her. We sing triumphant songs and it makes you feel it's worthwhile to die.

Sister Lillian Harrington, O.S.B., b. 1918

Sister Lillian Harrington, O.S.B.Sister Lillian is a member of the Benedictine community at Mount Saint Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, Kansas.

Q: How does the Benedictine tradition serve as a foundation for the way you live your spiritual life?

A: . . In our spiritual lives I believe we need to steep ourselves in beauty. To cut beauty and art out of our lives is to diminish ourselves. Beauty does something to our lives just as ugliness does something to our lives. Ours is a community of very highly educated and gifted women. I can always find someone with the gift I might have need of and people are always willing to share their gifts. My spirituality would be seeing all of life: the contemplative, the silence (which I used to hate), the manual labor, the Divine Office, the community, the hospitality, and art and learning are all one piece. All of that is a way of trying to find God. I can't find God in a vacuum. I have to find God in the events of my life. People are windows of good. They enrich my life.

Sister Placidia Haehn, O.S.B., b. 1909

Sister Placidia Haehn, O.S.B.Sister Placidia is a member of the Benedictine community at the Saint Placid Priory in Lacey, Washington.

Q: How has monastic life shaped your attitudes to the outside world?

A: When we have work that takes us out of the community or brings others into our community the Benedictine values are with us and give witness. The foundation that we received in becoming Benedictines continues with us in our teaching. We are willing to extend ourselves to our students. We know this from how many of our students return to us years later and tell us what we meant to them. Not to be proud, but it happens often. I didn't raise my voice in class. Instead, if necessary, I would take the arm and squeeze a bit. I do this because I remember my calm, gentle mother doing it to me. She has been my inspiration and helped me all the way.

Sister Joeine Darrington, O.S.B., b. 1915

Sister Joeine Darrington, O.S.B.Sister Joeine is a member of the Benedictine community at Queen of Angels Monastery in Mount Angel, Oregon.

Q: How does the Benedictine tradition serve as foundation for the way you live your physical life?

A: . . . Another aspect of the physical life, and spiritual as well, of Benedictine Sisters was the dramatic change that occurred in our Monastery during the 1960s. I call it the "time of liberation." My first thirty three years were a very different time compared to the years after Vatican II. On August 16, 1966, we were called into one of the most important meetings of my convent life. Our superior announced that we could start experimenting with contemporary dress. Our black habits soon became attractive suits, skirts, and dresses. This change was optional, and difficult for some while easy for others, and unacceptable to those who chose to continue wearing the traditional habit. Another "drastic" announcement was that we would now make decisions for ourselves and assume responsibility as adults. That was a surprise and even a shock. We could now leave the campus by just signing the "check-out" book. We could budget our own small personal allowance. We could accept invitations to dinners, concerts, and plays. We could visit relatives without a companion. How can I convey the sense of freedom, of excitement, of the "new life" that these changes brought? The most important announcement for me was that now we could develop deep, personal friendships, forbidden for so many years. These were innovative, unheard of changes that our Superior believed in. She saw them as implementing the guidelines of Vatican II. Those were truly wonderful days and the changes have continued to be special parts of my day-to-day life.

Sister Annella Gardner, O.S.B., b. 1918

Sister Annella Gardner, O.S.B.Sister Annella is a member of the Benedictine community at Sacred Heart Monastery in Richardton, North Dakota.

Q: What are your hopes for the future?

A: First and foremost, don't worry about Y2K! For our community, I hope we will gain new vocations. Our membership will be dropping off rapidly. We have about twenty-five in the house now and half of us are above eighty years old, and we have few that are younger than fifty. It's hard to say what will happen to the community if we don't get new members. I do feel that somehow we are going to go on. At the millennium our community will have been in existence for eighty years. We are a small group but I feel we are a great group. I don't think God will let that dwindle out. The community will undoubtedly change. People coming into community now have a completely different background than we did in the 1930s. Each new member puts a different flavor into the community. All these new flavors are going to create a new community flavor. I don't know if it will be chocolate or strawberry, but it will be different from what we have today.

Sister Leonette Hoesing, O.S.B., b. 1915

Sister Leonette Hoesing, O.S.B.Sister Leonette is a member of the Benedictine community at Sacred Heart Monastery in Yankton, South Dakota.

Q: What has given you the most joy in your life?

A: . . . The greatest community joys come in the times we spend together. Every year we do a Mardi Gras celebration that is much fun. We need some occasions that we can do downright stupid things to give us the strength for our other work. This year we did an Olympic theme. Each of our small living groups created an Olympic team theme for their group. My, we were a sight. It really brings out the creativity of sisters.

Sister Jane Frances Brockman, O.S.B., b. 1908

Sister Jane Frances Brockman, O.S.B.Sister Jane Frances is a member of the Benedictine community at Saint Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Q: What have been your primary duties within the order?

A: I began teaching grade school when I was eighteen. The older sisters taught the younger ones who were starting to teach. I don't think I did much harm. My main problem was that I was too nice to the kids in the beginning. I had third, fourth, and fifth graders and they were all Italians. Some of those fifth grade boys were pretty big and they got out of hand. But I learned as I went along. I remember reading in a book on tips for teachers, "Remember, don't smile until Christmas." So I started out being strict the next year and established good discipline. I grew to greatly enjoy teaching. I taught grade school for about five years and then taught seventh and eighth grades at St. Joseph's Orphanage in North Little Rock for five more years. I thoroughly enjoyed those grades as well. I was then sent to study for one year at Atchison, Kansas, and two years at St. Mary's at Notre Dame where I received my Bachelors degree in Math with a Latin minor. I was then sent to Catholic University in Washington DC, where I received a Masters degree in Math. I then returned to St. Scholsatica where we had an academy, a high school forgirls. I was appointed principal of the academy and I taught as well. I was not thirty-two years old at the time but I guess I had already had quite a bit of experience. In the late 1940s we began to discuss the possibility of admitting black girls to our academy. Arkansas law said they couldn't and our bishop would not allow us to let them enter. Some of us decided to fast one day a week until the bishop relented. He finally did but we could only allow the black girls to come for classes but not social events. In the fall of 1952 we enrolled two black girls, becoming what may have been the first integrated school in Arkansas. . . .

Father Paul R. Maher, O.S.B., b. 1925

Father Paul R. Maher, O.S.B.Father Paul is a member of the Benedictine community at Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Q: What has given you the most joy in your life?

A: As an abbot my goal was to enable individual monks to best use their gifts and talents; when that worked and I could see it happening in the monk and within the community it was very satisfying. It is rewarding to see a young man come as a novice and get a feel for where he is at that time and then watch him evolve academically, monastically, and spiritually. It may almost be like a married couple watching one of their kids grow up. Our contact comes later in life but there is still so much growth that takes place. While we are now in a period of contraction rather than growth when it comes to numbers in our community, that doesn't mean that there can't be a real vitality in the community.

Conclusion

Throughout this paper the elders have been referred to in the present tense, but since the completion of the project some of them have died. Yet they most certainly live on in the words of these interviews, and more importantly in the thousands of lives they touched. I believe goodness is immortal. I began this study as search for more understanding of the Benedictines and I have succeeded on a beginning level to achieve that goal. While on that path I have been taught many things. I was especially impressed with the attitude of brothers and sisters to their fellow Benedictines and to outsiders. It has led me to think very deeply about how I treat others. The Benedictines have taught me a new dimension to the concept of love. An unconditional love that does not discriminate about who you are, what faith you are, or even why you have come to them. It took me a while to understand that this is simply the love of Jesus in practice. It is faith as conceived by the prophet. This love was epitomized by many of the elders I interviewed and none better than the late Father Frederic Schindler of Mount Michael Abbey in Elkhorn, Nebraska. I could not put words to my experience with Father Frederic until I was interviewing Abbot James Jones some days later at Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri. When I mentioned that I had recently interviewed Father Frederic, Abbot James said, "Ah, Father Frederic, he is a transparently good man." It was a perfect description.

It was at Conception Abbey that the general US population had a glimpse of Benedictine life in June 2002. It was a most tragic glimpse in relation to the shooting of four monks by a deranged gunman. In the 1500-year history of the Benedictines violence has not been unknown--it may not be far from the truth to say that to some degree all that occurs outside the monastery also happens inside. But that in no way diminishes the great sorrow and loss at Conception. I saw a "sound bite" covering the event on a network news channel that brought tears to my eyes. The current abbot was being interviewed and he spoke of the gunman and the dead monks being taken away together. His wording left little doubt in my mind that he saw all the dead as children of God. The compassion and forgiveness in his tone and demeanor could not have been a clearer contrast to the hate and vengeance that has filled the air of our country since September 11, 2001. This was the transparent goodness that I found in so many Benedictines and unconditional of love of Jesus that has been so beautifully developed in the Benedictine tradition.

Return to 'Elders of the Benedictines' Index

© 2003 by The American Benedictine Academy / www.osb.org/aba/