Mutual Mentoring:
A New Paradigm Of An Old Tradition

Examples of Mutual Mentoring

An example of mutual mentoring not happening--we may even call it anti-mentoring--is an incident that has been described by Sister Mary Johnson, S.N.D.deN. Sister Mary has done extensive research on young adults and vocations and has become a popular speaker in regards to vocations. She said this really happened in a community on the East Coast. Three vivacious, talented women had just given up their careers, sold their cars and homes, and said goodbye to family and friends to enter religious life. On the first day of formation class, the director came in, and her first words were "Welcome to a sinking ship." She evidently was not open to the gift and new life these three women could bring to her community.

My favorite example of mutual mentoring happening in my own community is the journey of formation between a young woman from Arkansas and all of us. She is now a perpetually professed member, known as Sister "T". When "T" came to visit, her biggest question was "Can I be myself?" She also kept asking the question "What difference does it make if I become a sister?" She helped us all ask that question of our own lives: "What difference does it make if I am a Sister of St. Benedict?" She would slide down the banisters, whistle in the hallway, and walk up and give an older sister a spontaneous hug and kiss. Over time she mellowed in her expressions--but so did the community. On the day of her profession one of our elderly sisters, not known for her warmth or affection asked me: "You know what Sister "Ts" greatest gift to us is? "I said "No," not knowing what she would say. This sister warmly smiled and proclaimed, "'T' taught us that it is OK to love each other. Yes, "T" taught us and we taught "T," so that both she and we had to give and take regarding our usual ideas of how to do things. Both she and we had to change. Mutual mentoring happened.

Another surprise in my vocation work was the awareness that others outside the community have skills and insights that are needed by us inside community. When I started listening to the laity, even forming a Vocation Advisory Board, I realized the need to be mentored by those outside the community. And the laity have a need to be mentored in understanding our way of life and the Benedictine values.

For all eleven years of my vocation work there were four members of the Vocation Advisory Board who stayed with me through the thick and thin of it. Each one mentored me in a unique way. And I like to think that I mentored them, too! One of the gentlemen owned a local furniture factory and would give me book after book about making sales, marketing, and using the telephone. He told me how honored he was to be able to share his skills with our community and the church. I believe that I, in turn, helped him grow in his faith. I remember his telling me that he had never heard of the word discern and that it was not part of his Catholic upbringing. He began to see that his grade school Catholic education, while very good, was not sufficient to live an adult faith life. A few years ago both he and his wife made a retreat called Christ Renews His Parish. I recall the excitement in his voice as he spoke about the retreat and how his faith had come more alive.

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