The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 42, Nr. 2b, June 2011                  Richardton, ND 58652

Monastic News Omnibus

From St. Placid Priory, Lacey, WA: We enjoyed an evening of vibrant celebration. Sister Anamaria Haule, OSB, completed her BA in primary education and would soon be returning to St. Agnes, Chipole, Tanzania, to teach in one of their primary schools. Splashes of bright color---a blend of flowers and balloons and festive kitenges (cloths) filled the room. Swahili and English abounded; our schola was joined by drumming. The community gathered to celebrate--oblates and volunteers, sisters and monks, including Brother Pius from Hanga Abbey, Sisters Agatha and Beatrice from her community, and Tanzanians (some whom we hadn't yet met!), including diocesan priest Father Hugo. I was so aware that our little monastery has grown huge . . . all through the generosity of the Holy Spirit.

I was equally aware that the community that shaped and formed and supported Sister Anamaria through her educational journey was so much greater than our little priory. Friends shared their professional expertise, their time and resources, their friendship and most importantly, their faith. Sister Anamaria, in return, has shaped and enriched all of us. We are blessed with new friends and unearthed skills we did not know that we possessed. Our concept of community is so much more broad and complex.

In Sister Anamaria's own words: "I have made a journey from Africa to America, from village skills and learning to multiple global skills and learning, from my little circle to a big circle of unity. The education I have received will make a big difference in my homeland. Thank you!"

Our relationship continues. Sister Anamaria returns to Tanzania to join in ministry with other sisters who have been fortunate to study in the United States, Europe, and India. Each brings home an expanded understanding of leadership that non-violent change is possible--that will enrich African monasticism. Our hearts are full.

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It is the season of many leadership elections in Benedictine monasteries.

The following have been recently elected:

Prioress Clare Carr, OSB - Benet Hill (Colorado Springs, CO)

Prioress Penny Bingham, OSB - Sacred Heart (Yankton, SD)

Prioress Michaela Hedican, OSB - St. Benedict (St. Joseph, MN)

Prioress Paula Larson, OSB - Sacred Heart (Richardton, ND)

Abbot Philip Davey, OSB - St. Bede Abbey (Peru, IL)

Abbot James A. Wiseman, OSB - St. Anselm's Abbey (Washington, DC)

Recently reelected to continue their ministry were

Mother Betty Pusgsley - Community of Jesus (Orleans, MA)

Prioress Cecilia Dwyer, OSB - St. Benedict (Bristow, VA)

Prioress Bernadine Reyes, OSB - St. Scholastica (Boerne, TX)

Prioress Janet Marie Fleming, OSB - Sacred Heart (Cullman, AL)

Prioress Patricia Crowley, OSB - St. Scholastica (Chicago, IL) 

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After serving in California since 1966, the sisters of Holy Spirit Monastery in Grand Terrace have announced their intent to close the monastery. Citing declining numbers and income, prioress Mary Ann Schepers and four other sisters will return to their founding monastery of Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, IN.

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Interreligious Dialogue Featured in New Works

There are two new volumes by leading thinkers in the realm of interreligious dialogue, both translated from French to welcome a broader audience into the conversation. They are not works that attempt to inform readers about other traditions so much as they challenge readers to expand the way they look at their own beliefs and how they can intersect with, learn from, and engage with other traditions.

The Third Desert: The Story of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010, 227 pages, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8146-3357-1) was written by Fabrice Ble, theology professor at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Quebec, Canada, and translated by William Skudlarek with Mary Grady. While not a monk himself, the author shows a great understanding of monastic life across religious traditions and a deep appreciation of the significant role monastics can play in fostering communication across boundaries.

The title comes from his notion that the monastic tradition values the "desert spirituality" of silence and solitude that leads to openness to the divine. Today, there is also a "desert of otherness," the open place of encounter with diverse persons, a place that can be enriching if emptied of personal judgments and the focus on conversion. This, he asserts, will lead to a third desert of sharing sacred space in such a way that "communication becomes communion."

The book identifies many individuals and events that have shaped the way in the four decades since Merton. It is a solid history of the ups and downs, and he does not avoid discussion of the sticking points, such as Cardinal Ratzinger's 1989 admonition regarding Eastern spiritual practices. He places such controversies in historical perspective, describing multiple sides of issues. More important than the history is the challenge to readers to become a part of this movement themselves. Readers will find it difficult to avoid facing their own beliefs and locating themselves on the continuum of dialogue.

Interreligious Hospitality: The Fulfillment of Dialogue (Liturgical Press, 2010, 168 pages, $21.95, ISBN 978-0-8146-3305-2) is a personal reflection by the Belgian monk, Pierre-Francois de Bthune, OSB, longtime Secretary General of the international Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, skillfully translated by Robert Henrey and with an introduction by Raimon Pannikar.

The material level of the reflection is a description of his experiences with Zen practices within a monastery, in meditation, and with the ritual of the tea ceremony. This is the entry point into a world that Western monastics will find in some ways very familiar and in other ways unfathomable. This, in fact, is one of the main points of the book. The author quotes a commentary on a koan, in which the commentator speaks of "assertions that can be 'neither swallowed nor spat out.'"

His ultimate conclusion, no surprise for a Benedictine monk, is that the ultimate form of dialogue is hospitality. His observations about the true nature of hospitality should form a basis for dialogue in every monastery. He challenges the reader to look at hospitality as pure welcome, with no intent to impress the guest, judge the guest, change anything about the guest, or even make any distinction between giving and receiving. Beautiful quotes from the Buddhist tradition and the gentle, inspiring thoughtfulness of the writer make this book suitable for meditative reading by anyone, especially those involved in ministries of hospitality.

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Come and See: The Monastic Way for Today by Brendan Freeman, OCSO (Trappist, KY: Cistercian Publications [distributed by Liturgical Press], 2010, 202 pages, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-87907-022-9) is well named. Each of the short essays, reflections or homilies by the abbot of New Melleray Abbey in Iowa welcomes the reader to get to know something about monastic life.

There is a series of homilies for different liturgical celebrations, such as profession and jubilees, that explain what is happening, and why, to a congregation of non-monastics. Other selections introduce monastic history and basic monastic values. The explanations are simple enough to offer to someone who knows little about the tradition. Yet at the same time, the spiritual depth the author elicits in his observations and challenges are substantial enough for the long-professed to ponder.

Abbot Brendan's grounded, holy approach to life makes this book a true spiritual resource. It is one that could be offered to those discerning a vocation as a monastic or oblate, or anyone who wants to know more about what monasticism is all about, which includes its practitioners.

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Grants and Scholarships

Monastic Studies Grant (next deadline is July 1, 2011)

Send completed grant applications (Word document via e-mail preferred) to:

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


2-5 August 2012

St. Scholastica Monastery
Duluth, Minnesota

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