The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 34, Nr. 2b,  June 2004                   Richardton, ND 58652

ABA Art Exhibit Pieces

To American Benedictine Artists

All American Benedictine artists are invited to share their original visual art at the 2004 ABA convention in St. Joseph, MN, August 12-15. Artists may each share up to three pieces of visual art, either two-dimensional or three-dimensional. This is not a juried exhibit. Artists and their communities will be responsible for insurance and for shipping costs to and from the exhibit.

Two-dimensional pieces should not be framed with glass if they are being shipped; acrylic sheets should be used instead. Pottery or breakable sculpture should be packed in one box inside another, with packing in both to buffer them. Return postage must be included, as well as a self-addressed return label. The same packing used to send the art will be used to return it. Artists who are bringing their work with them need not worry about shipping matters, of course.

To register, send name, address, phone and email and a description of the pieces (size, medium, wall space or other requirements), by July 1, to

Kathleen Hickenbotham, OSB
Sacred Heart Monastery
1005 West 8th
Yankton, SD 57078

If sending by carrier, ship to arrive during the first week of August to

ABA Art Exhibit
St. Benedict Monastery
104 Chapel Lane
St. Joseph, MN 56374

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ABA Convention

12-15 August 2004

St. Benedict's Monastery
St. Joseph, Minnesota


2004 Convention Program


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St. Peter's Celebrates 100 Years

May 21, 1903, Ascension Thursday, was the date chosen for the first official Mass of the new Cassinese Benedictine foundation in Muenster, Saskatchewan. Held at Wolverine Creek, southwest of what was to become the main site for the current abbey, this thanksgiving liturgy was attended by seven monks and celebrated by Alfred Mayer, OSB, first prior of this new community. I had the privilege of seeing that spot when I visited the abbey in July 2002. The monk who drove me there told me that some clearing needed to be done before the big anniversary Mass in May 2003. What did I see? Exactly what those first settlers must have seen: the dense growth of shrubs and prairie grasses before the respectful pruning of monastic labor intervened.

May 21, 2003, fell in Ordinary Time. It was exactly 100 years later, so not really ordinary, but very special. Admittedly, that Wolverine Creek area had been cleared; and it was the fifth and current abbot, Peter Novecosky, OSB, who officiated at a special liturgy with the monastic community and many others present. The post-Mass reception was held in much more gracious digs than the first log cabin the pioneer monks built for themselves, even though a replica of that 14' x 16' cabin was constructed as part of the anniversary year's endeavors.

Like a character in one of Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence's books, each of St. Peter's monks this year could say, "I am rampant with memory." I can, too, even though my link to St. Peter's is of contemporary vintage, nothing before 1984. The grounds, nooks and crannies, and stories reveal a great deal; working with many of the monks and witnessing their long-standing traditions, customs, and new ventures adds breadth and depth. When one has been close enough to experience the mixed bag of monastic temperaments, the bad and good days, the frustrations and joys, the failures and successes within the community's various apostolates, respect and affection cannot help but be born and grow, and memories accumulate.

The monastic community at St. Peter's happened because new settlers in the Canadian prairies wanted the benefit of the monks' assistance and ministry as they began life afresh in this place. The threads of Canadian growth, culture, and politics differed from those in the States, however, so the monastic community at St. Peter's developed somewhat differently than many of its American counterparts; but it did develop and thrive in its own way.

A boarding high school and a junior college opened in 1921. The high school closed in 1972, but the college continues and is well-respected. It is known for its focus on the creative arts and for its unique academic link to the large provincial university 75 miles away. It is that college space that I know so well, and I'm pleased to think the building, named after second abbot, Michael Ott, OSB, was declared a provincial heritage site in 1996.

The college also houses the Centre for Rural Studies and Enrichment. Established in 1997, it exists to study issues that affect rural society, based on the Centre's belief that rural life is to be cherished. The Centre has a link to the abbey's well-established farm, 1900 acres which are seeded for mixed crops: wheat, oats, barley, and canola. Recently the abbey began a venture in organic farming, and has 80 acres set aside for this. My favorites, though, are the smaller garden tracts, where food is grown for the abbey's own use. I especially delight in the delicious tomatoes, corn, and raspberries.

The abbey's walking paths, open fields, and orchards -- any time of the year -- have real beauty and appeal. They are also proof of the Benedictines' respect for the land and their overall good stewardship. The unexpected thrill is that any who meander around during the height of winter inevitably experience numerous chickadees flying in and out of the tall fir trees, following along, and lighting on one's fingers in order to take peanuts from one's hand. The delicacy of those wee creatures perched on a fingertip more than compensates for the usual brutal chill, and makes me want to compliment the community's solitary for his gentle persistence in bringing these tiny birds to interact so trustingly with the humans who wander around.

Even before 1984, I've read the weekly paper the abbey produces, the Prairie Messenger. It was begun shortly after the monks arrived in Saskatchewan. Its strong social justice stance, important to the monks since its inception, both informs and challenges its readers, and makes it properly controversial. The monks have as long a history of being in the forefront of liturgical renewal. This has served well both them and the many parishes they continue to staff. In all the years I worked at the college, I was blessed to be present frequently at their times of communal prayer and liturgy. I have been blessed, too, to receive so much hospitality -- central to the Benedictine charism -- both in the guest quarters and the dining room, typically gracious and very prairie.

Every December 31, St. Peter's Abbey has a special Vespers of thanksgiving. As 2003 ended, I thought of the monks, imaging how many prayers might have been offered as they thought back on this special year. I gave thanks, too, for the monks. Then I asked that God bless them as they begin what I hope will be the next 100 years.

Phyllis K. Thompson, OblSB
Retired faculty/campus minister, St. Peter's College

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Book Reviews

[In conjunction with the article above, Phyllis reviews the following two books about the St. Peter's community.]

Begin a Good Work: A History of St. Peter's Abbey, 1903-2003, by Colleen Fitzgerald (Muenster, SK: St. Peter's Press, 2003, $14.95 US, plus $5 shipping, ISBN 1-896971-28-8).

Listening with the Ear of the Heart: Writers at St. Peter's, edited by Dave Margoshes and Shelly Sopher (Muenster, SK: St. Peter's Press, 2003, $21.95 US, plus $5 shipping, ISBN 1-896971-24-5).

The 100th anniversary year of St. Peter's Abbey ushered into existence two commemorative books: the first, the History, was commissioned by the monastic community and was written by the St. Peter's College's president, a historian by profession; the second, Listening, was a collaborative endeavor created by seventy-six writers who have frequented the abbey over the years, who have spent time there for solitary, creative periods, for various summer writing schools, and for public readings.

Dr. Fitzgerald looks at enough of the overall history of the American-Cassinese foundation so that she can place the history of St. Peter's Abbey within that. She briefly traces how many of the American-Cassinese communities grew, again, so one can see how the intentions, desires, and plans laid out for a new community in the Canadian prairies would mesh with what the monks knew was working so well in the States.

Fitzgerald then incorporates a solid history of how pioneers came into the Canadian prairies, the direction the expansion took as rural communities, travel routes, and communications developed, especially in the area where, with the Benedictines, there grew up a major German settlement. Fitzgerald shows how deeply and caringly the new monastic foundation was involved. She catalogues the successes, problems, and creative projects through various eras, addressing the monks' need to be both stable and adaptable.

Thus the book traces how the Saskatchewan Benedictines have honored, and continue to honor, the Gospel, the Rule, and the spirit of Benedict. Ending with the community's most current endeavors, the book articulates how the monks continue to live with the "healthy tension" that results from seeming "to exist outside of time [while remaining] intimately a part of the contemporary culture."

The writers' book is a collage of poems, essays, and short stories. Some were composed during periods the authors resided at the abbey; others were written specifically for this book, to give voice to their feelings of the place and monks who "people" it. Thus a reader discovers what aspects of the abbey have made deep, lasting impressions on these creative folk, be that the abbey proper, the farm buildings and animals, the cemetery and hermitages, the many paths, and always the pervading hospitality. The monks, too, have left their impressions: the pieces in Listening catch that in the sometimes humorous, sometimes endearing, way the authors speak of this or that monastic.

Much of the writing has a very localized focus, Saskatchewan and the abbey's environs. Readers who know the area might be the ones who will appreciate this book the most. Noticeable, too, is that some of the authors bring their own beliefs and baggage to what they write. But the book itself can be added to what, for most Benedictine houses, is a worthy niche that honors and fosters the creative arts and encourages the growth of culture. To purchase either or both book(s) contact

Fr. Richard OSB
Phone: 1-306-682-1791; Fax: 1-306-682-1766

Orders, with a US check enclosed, or valid VISA or MasterCard number/expiration date, can be mailed directly to

St. Peter's Abbey Gift Shop
Box 10
Muenster, SK
Canada, S0K-2Y0

* * * * * *

Wisdom Leadership: Reflections on the Ministry of Monastic Leaders, by Ruth Fox, OSB, (Mott, ND: Eido Printing, 2003, 170 pp., $11.95).

Gerald Brown, in "The Call to Spiritual Leaders: Beacons of Hope" (Review for Religious 55:1), says, "Inspiring leaders . . . are persons with heightened awareness. They see and hear more. They notice more keenly than others the needs and motives of the groups they lead and are more open to the graces of people they serve." It is this kind of leader the book addresses.

A new genre of books on monastic leadership are appearing, but none are addressing feminine leadership in the monastic context. The Federation of St. Gertrude, perceiving a need for a commentary or handbook on the role of the monastic leader written from a woman's perspective, asked Sister Ruth Fox, from the Richardton Benedictine community, to address this issue. Fox brings to this task not only years of membership in a monastic community, but also experience as a prioress and as federation president. Her commentary is, in her own words, "written from a practical, reflective stance."

Noting that the images in the Rule have primarily masculine connotations, she searches for a possible alternative way to image the superior in a feminine manner. To assist the reader in feminizing the ministry of leadership in monastic communities, the image of Sophia wisdom is used. She proposes that the image of Christ in the Rule can be enhanced by an understanding of Christ as the embodiment of Sophia, the feminine wisdom figure from the Hebrew Scriptures. Wisdom gives an image of God as an ever-present teacher, healer, guide, and caring friend for all creation, a model for the prioress as the one believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery.

Using this introduction, Fox begins each chapter with a characteristic of wisdom, quotes from the Rule supporting the application of that characteristic to the feminine monastic leader, and then a personal commentary based on her experience. She closes each chapter with supporting passages from the Wisdom books.

Wisdom Leadership offers a refreshing insight into the role of the prioress, combining the theological and the practical. The work is an insight-filled guide for the prioress with its applications, admonitions, and information. Although intended for Benedictine women leaders, it also has much to offer for others in the role of spiritual leadership.

The chapter on the "Qualities of Wisdom Leadership" succinctly lists the virtues of wisdom leadership identified in chapters 1 and 64 of Benedict's Rule. Fox then images the community as a web-like circle with the prioress in the center. But she cautions, "the circle is not static: it is moving, gliding, stumbling, dancing." Her superb imagery of the role of leader gives a clear sense of the intuitiveness and fluidity required for good leadership. This chapter was the highlight of the book for this reader.

I recommend the work to all who aspire to or find themselves in the role of leadership. Other chapters may speak more powerfully to some. There is some unevenness in the depth at which issues are explored in the various chapters, but as a whole the book is a welcome addition to the commentaries on the Rule and to the literature of feminine leadership. For the community electing a new prioress and for the new prioress, it is a helpful resource.

Jacquelyn Ernster, OSB
Yankton, SD

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