The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 4041, Nr. 3a, October 2010                  Richardton, ND 58652

President's Message

We Prepare to "Seek Peace and Pursue It" at Next ABA

One of the "givens" of monastic life is that "the same" is never the same; change is healthy and inevitable. Change may indeed be the most embedded monastic tradition!

We welcome to the ABA board Father Martin Shannon of the Community of Jesus as our incoming vice-president. We also welcome Oblate Gerry Allen, Sister Julie Peak, Oblate Dennis Okholm, and, returning for another term, Sister Ephrem Hollermann. We are blessed with a rich and diverse group, geographically, experientially, and in monastic expression of life. Sister Adel Sautner has agreed to continue her service to the board, and we are grateful. The Academy is in good hands; each member is reflective, prayerful and passionate about our life.

I thank outgoing president Sister Jacquelyn Ernster for her service, support and guidance to the Academy and board. I thank outgoing board members Brother Aaron Raverty, Sister Mary Kay Panowicz and Sister Theresa Schumacher, each having made significant contributions to the work of the Academy, especially in updating the Constitutions and Bylaws, and in creating the handbook.

I am grateful to Father Meinrad Miller and the monks of St. Benedict Abbey in Atchison for their warm and gracious hospitality. Father Meinrad was caring and attentive to many details. I was amazed at how many students he knows, each by name, area of studies and interests!

Finally I want to express my thanks and gratitude for two people who work quietly behind the scenes. Sister Judith Sutera and Sister Rene Branigan have faithfully served the Academy. They encourage members to submit content and are thoughtful as they seek to develop this newsletter.

St. Scholastica Monastery, Duluth, MN, will be hosting us August 2-5, 2012. Our conference theme is "Seek Peace and Pursue It: Monasticism in the Midst of Global Upheaval." In keeping with the hopes of the Academy, two of our excellent presenters are younger, newer monastics. I cannot imagine a finer group to welcome, support and gently challenge the thinking of scholars in their newer formative years. Put these dates on your calendar, and invite someone to attend with you!

Appreciative inquiry encourages us to give our energy and attention to that of which we want more. I invite each of us to ponder Benedict's famous quote from the psalmist to "Seek peace and pursue it"in our prayerful pondering, our lectio, our other reading and research. Let the poets and artists among us feed our collective imagination. Let our researchers revisit these familiar words and break open possibilities we may have forgotten. With our peacemakers, let us pursue peace like the "Hound of Heaven."

I am seeking some poignant, thought-provoking pieces on the theme Seek Peace and Pursue It for this newsletter over the next five issues. If you're feeling impelled, compelled (by the Holy Spirit) or simply interested, please contact me.

Blessings on your journey as we move through autumn and into Advent waiting.

Laura Swan, OSB
President, American Benedictine Academy
LauraSwanOSB @

Issue Contents



Constitution Revision: How and Why

Sister Lynn McKenzie invited Sister Mary Catherine Wenstrup to write a guest column for this issue. Sister Mary Catherine has been involved in the process of the Federation of St. Scholastica's update of their constitution. The thinking behind the evolution of the constitution may be of interest and value to those outside that federation.

In 2002 the chapter delegates of the Federation of St. Scholastica approved a proposal to revise the declarations and specific norms of their constitution, Call to Life, approved by Rome in 1988. After eight years of work, the revised constitution was approved in 2010 by the federation's chapter members. What follows is a brief reflection on the how and why of the current revision.

The revision committee was committed to involving the twenty-three monasteries of the federation from beginning to end. We involved the total membership of our monasteries, asking each monastery to review two chapters of Call to Life, and to name the values and teachings that should be retained, added or deleted. This review also produced several suggested changes in specific norms. In a second round of consultation, specific persons and groups were asked to review and critique the first draft of individual chapters. Reviewers included such persons as formation personnel, liturgists, treasurers, monastic and federation councilors, prioresses, former federation presidents, etc. Drafts of the revision were submitted to chapter delegates at least four times. This involvement was essential to the project and helped to make the final document well known and understood by the members before the final vote.

The Federation of St. Scholastica holds a pre-chapter every four years to set the agenda for the chapter meeting the following year. This gave the revision committee the opportunity in 2005 to present a framework for the revision.

Using the TV show, Extreme Makeover, as a point of reference, the committee recommended a Moderate Makeover. This new framework called for moving the declarations and norms of the federation to the front of the constitutions. Previously they were at the end of the constitution. This moderate makeover, however, was nearly extreme in that it required reordering the place and number of almost every norm.

Very early in their work, the committee established a list of revision principles to guide the process. These seven principles are included in this article because of their significance to the committee's work. Approved at a meeting of chapter delegates in 2005, the principles were the committee's guide throughout the entire process. They defined the scope and limits of the project. Most of the principles listed here can be found in Father Dan Ward's article, "Constitutions in a Changing World: Institutes of Pontifical Right" and from conversations with him about our constitutions. The article is available through The Resource Center for Religious Institutes.

Revision Principles and Working Guidelines

  1. Legislative statements in the current declarations will be removed and included in a new or current specific norm.
  2. Revised declarations will be condensed and concise. They will preserve the history, spirit, character and tradition of the Benedictine monasteries of this federation.
  3. A bibliography on the teachings found in the declarations will be added to expand initial and ongoing education and formation.
  4. Constitutional norms will not be revised, but their placement may be new.
  5. Related norms will be cross-referenced to one another.
  6. Consistent language and terms will be used.
  7. Unless the federation chapter agrees on a limitation or restriction of practice in a specific instance, the revision committee will respect and protect the diversity of practice that exists in the different monasteries.

Our federation's constitution is unique in having Declarations. These texts precede each section of the constitution. As indicated in an earlier footnote, the declarations are theological statements that emphasize Benedict's charism to seek God in community through specific monastic practices. They also build on basic liturgical and ecclesiological teachings and elements of Benedictine tradition and spirituality. Monastery members wanted to keep declarations in the constitution, but felt they needed to be more concise. The declarations are useful for teaching, and give a proper Benedictine and monastic context to the norms that follow them.

After eight years of work, the revision of Call to Life was approved at the 2010 meeting of the federation chapter. The revision will become effective January 1, 2011. This gives each community time to have the revised constitution printed and prepare the members for the new arrangement and texts.

The work of the past eight years included much more than updating the declarations and rearranging the norms. Every meeting of the revision committee included interaction with the Rule and the values, beliefs and practices named by the members of our monasteries. Individual committee members excelled in reading for meaning, finding creative ways to present our work to chapter delegates, cutting and pasting within the ever-changing drafts, keeping track of cross-references (a task akin to keeping hangers untangled), checking with the Code of Canon Law when necessary and discerning what to do next.

Although we did not know this at the beginning of our work, we knew at the end that the core of our work was about the proclamation of Benedict's charism and the monastic way of life. We acknowledged the present time and place in which we live out that charism, its tradition and spirituality. We respected the common good and rights of each monastery and its members. We named the boundaries that protect the charism and each member's vocation. Where required, we accommodated the requirements of church law.

At the end of the revision process the committee was enriched through its work. Our hope is that the revised constitution is a new call to life and an arrangement that gives the strong something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from (RB 64.19).

Mary Catherine Wenstrup, OSB
St. Walburg Monastery,
Covington, KY

Readers are reminded that the canon law columnist welcomes ideas for exploration in these columns. These may be submitted by email to or by post to Lynn McKenzie, OSB, at Sacred Heart Monastery, 916 Convent Road NE, Cullman, AL 35055.

Issue Contents

American Benedictine Academy
Elections, Business, Reports

The American Benedictine Academy held its biennial business meeting on August 7 as part of its convention at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. Some changes were approved for the Constitution and Bylaws of the organization. A major revision was a change to the composition of the board of directors, which will consist of seven members: the president, vice-president, executive secretary, and four at-large members, one of whom is an oblate member of ABA. The past president will no longer remain on the board.

A new award has been initiated, the Egregia Award, described in the constitution as "the principal award conferred by the American Benedictine Academy. The award is publicly bestowed at the biennial meeting and includes gratis lifetime membership."

In board elections, Father Martin Shannon was elected vice-president to take the presidency in two years. He is an Episcopal priest and member of the Community of Jesus, an ecumenical Benedictine community on Cape Cod, MA. The other board members elected were Sister Ephrem Hollermann, OSB, St. Benedict's Monastery, St. Joseph, MN; Gerry Allen, Oblate, Bellevue, NE; Dennis Okholm, Oblate, Costa Mesa, CA; and Sister Julie Peak, OSB, Sacred Heart Monastery, Yankton, SD.

Sister Adel Sautner, executive secretary, reported that the ABA currently has 287 members, of whom 193 are members of monastic communities, 64 are oblates, and there are 30 others. There are 76 sponsors and donors. She also reported on finances and other business matters.

Reports were also given by the ABA's special interest sections, each of which had a meeting during the convention. Terrence Kardong, OSB, reported on behalf of the Monastic Research Section, observing that, at this time, fewer persons in the US are doing intense monastic research. Cheryl Crozier, Martin Shannon and Colleen Maura McGrane shared projects and studies in progress. Sister Ephrem Hollermann has taken over the publication of a regular newsletter sharing research in progress, an effort which is much appreciated.

Sister Hildegard Varga, OSB, reported that the Archivists Section had gathered for a stimulating discussion about what was happening in each of their monastery archives. Sister Kathleen Hickenbotham, OSB, coordinated the meeting of the Visual Arts Section, in which the women from the Community of Jesus shared a description of the formation of guilds where art work is done for use in church and homes.

Father Hugh Feiss, OSB, who organizes sessions for the International Medieval Studies Congress at Kalamazoo, stated that the 2010 session was well attended, and the four papers were of very high quality. He expressed hope that more monastics would offer papers for next May's presentation on the theme "Cooperation and Friendship between Benedictine Monks and Nuns in the Middle Ages."

The next ABA biennial convention will be held at St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, MN, August 2-5, 2012. The theme will be "Seek Peace and Pursue It: Monasticism in the Midst of Global Upheaval."

Issue Contents

Seek Peace and Pursue It:
Monasticism in the Midst of Global Upheaval

2-5 August 2012

St. Scholastica Monastery
Duluth, Minnesota


Issue Contents


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