The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 43, Nr. 3a, October 2011                  Richardton, ND 58652

President's Message

Encountering Beauty as God's Healing Embrace

Beauty heals. I have made this statement any number of times in the context of ministry and in simple conversation. I intuitively knew that beauty heals without any "authoritative" sources to defend or explain my intuitive knowing. I am acquainted with Catholic sisters who work with survivors of torture and other trauma. They too know that beauty heals. They tell me stories of taking women survivors to arboretums to soak in God's creation; one trip to a park or public garden moved these women closer toward health than hours of talk therapy could ever hope to accomplish. How might beauty undermine violence and greed? How might beauty be an effective tool in peacemaking?

The ABA board met at The Community of Jesus in Orleans, MA, in early August. As one would expect with a Benedictine community, the hospitality was warm, generous and gracious. I arrived some days before the other board members with my brother, sister-in-law, and beautiful niece, Mary Joan. I so enjoyed watching this blossoming fourteen-year-old experience Benedictine hospitality. Her young eyes soaked in everything: the solicitous interest of our hosting sisters, the elegance of the guest house with the artwork, flowers, fine china, cloth napkins, and an artistic presentation of food

Mary Joan's eyes keenly observed the kindness members extended to one another and the many unexpected guests. She delighted in the different expressions of artwork found around the monastery complex and, of course, the "monastic" animals wrought a broad smile. At 7:30 p.m. we sauntered down to Rock Harbor to watch the sunset over Cape Cod Bay and, with all the neighbors, applauded when the sun fully set. God's beauty abounded

Needless to say, the hospitality continued. The chant was divine; the church is stunning, proclaiming God's Presence in so many diverse ways. There is the cloister garden with the ongoing project of carving "the Communion of Saints," the icons that one sister is slowly writing, the very forward looking chapter room that proclaims with confidence that monasticism is moving into the future, and the quilted blankets, quilted pillows and quilted hangings that greeted us in each of our rooms.

I was personally intrigued by stories I heard of community members assisting and learning from the artists commissioned to design and execute Ravenna tile floors, Byzantine apses, carved columns, and frescoes. They took ownership and contributed to the "story" of creation. I also heard--whether these words were spoken by a community member or an &quoqt;angel" whispered them in my ears--that an expression of the early founder's healing prayer ministry was to create a beautiful environment in support of the healing process.

Beauty heals. Returning from Cape Cod and singing the praises of the beauty I witnessed, one of our Oblates encouraged me to read Gregory Wolfe's Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age. I am savoring it (note: said Oblate painted the picture that became this book's cover).

Sandra Schneiders, IHM, in a recent speech at St. Mary's College entitled "The Future of Religious Life," named four prophetic clusters of ministry: social justice ministers working for systemic change; direct ministry to victims of social injustice; intellectuals, scholars and artists; and ministers providing spiritual nourishment and growth. Yes, artists as prophetic ministry. Beauty heals.

Laura Swan, OSB
ABA President

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

Sandra Schneider's "clusters" of ministry are well represented in the four speakers for the upcoming ABA gathering. We encourage each member to invite someone who has never "done" the ABA biennial gathering: an Oblate? An associate? A fellow monastic who would benefit from involvement in the Academy? Someone curious and interested? If you know of a nearby group that identifies itself as "Benedictine," reach out and encourage them to join with other Benedictines through the Academy. Our boundaries are permeable and our hearts are welcoming. May we meet many new friends!

Four fine presenters will share their scholarship, insights and experience:

Sister Susan Mika, OSB, of St. Scholastica Monastery, Boerne, TX, has long been committed to social justice and corporate responsibility issues, currently serving as the executive director of the Benedictine Coalition for Responsible Investment (CRI). She works with the Socially Responsible Investment Coalition, primarily consisting of religious groups in Texas. Susan is passionate about the possibilities for a more just society.

Sister Colleen Maura McGrane, OSB, of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Clyde, MO, has been dedicating her "spare" time to translating the many volume commentary on the Rule of Benedict by the French Benedictine scholar Adalbert de Vogüé, OSB. She has published in The American Benedictine Review and Magistra. Sister Colleen presented a very fine paper at the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, MI, this year.

Brother Luke Devine, OSB, of St. Martin's Abbey, Olympia, WA, has taught in the religious studies department at Saint Martin's University and is currently pursuing his doctorate in Christian Spirituality at the GTU in Berkeley. He is a board member for MID (Monastic Interreligious Dialogue), a passion of his. Brother Luke is also an artist.

Weldon Nisly, Oblate of Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, MN, is a pastor at Seattle Mennonite Church and active in peace ministry, serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams ( in Iraq, as a founder of the Mennonite Catholic peace group called Bridgefolk (, and with the Network of Biblical Storytellers. He has been a resident scholar three times at the Collegeville Institute.

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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While the topic is not specifically canonical, the author thought that it might be of interest to other Benedictines around the United States.

Benedictines Join Bishops in Opposing Alabama Anti-Immigration Law

In June 2011 the Alabama legislature, following Arizona's lead, passed an anti-immigration law, but the Alabama law is even more draconian than the Arizona law. Governor Robert Bentley has proudly proclaimed that Alabama has the toughest law in the country. The law was to have taken effect on September 1, 2011. The official title of the law, which is a misnomer, is the "Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act," but many have referred to it simply as Alabama's anti-immigration law. One of the lawsuits filed in connection with this law called the law "the nation's most merciless anti-immigration legislation."

In July 2011 a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Alabama challenging the constitutionality of the law on many different grounds. That lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, AL, together with the ACLU, on behalf of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) and other Hispanic advocacy groups and individuals. Later that same month, in an unprecedented action, Alabama's Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist bishops also jointly sued the state of Alabama challenging the constitutionality of the law on 1st Amendment free exercise of religion grounds, among others. Shortly thereafter, the Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman and the Benedictine monks of Saint Bernard Abbey in Cullman joined the bishops as plaintiffs in the same lawsuit. In their lawsuit, the Cullman Benedictines quoted the Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 53 on the reception of guests. The Cullman Benedictines contend that St. Benedict's admonition to receive the guest as Christ means that they are to receive their undocumented sisters and brothers as Christ, without concern for whether their undocumented status would subject the Benedictines to criminal prosecution.

Following the religious leaders' lawsuit, the US Department of Justice also filed suit in federal court in Alabama challenging the constitutionality of the law, largely on grounds that the federal immigration law preempts states from passing their own immigration laws. These three lawsuits were consolidated into one suit to be heard in the same federal court.

There are several copycat states following on the heels of Arizona's anti-immigration law. In all of these states the law has been challenged in court. However, it appears that only in Alabama have religious leaders challenged the law. The bishops and the Cullman Benedictines asked the federal court to protect people of faith from being prosecuted under the new criminal sections of the law. For example, the law made it a crime for anyone to transport, harbor, shelter, or rent lodging to illegal immigrants. While the term "illegal immigrant" is controversial, yielding to the current use of "undocumented persons," the Alabama law uses the term "illegal immigrant" as well as "unauthorized aliens."

Another controversial part of the law that the bishops and the Cullman Benedictines challenged is the section making unenforceable any contract entered into by an illegal immigrant. Not only does this law make undocumented persons more legally vulnerable than ever, it also means, potentially, that church officials could not officiate at weddings of these persons, as marriage is a contract. Nor could churches enforce contracts for stays at church camps or child daycare programs.

On August 24, 2011, a long day of oral arguments regarding the new law was held in federal court in Birmingham before Federal Judge Sharon Blackburn, an appointee of the elder President Bush. The courtroom was packed and arrangements had to be made for an overflow room in the basement of the courthouse with closed circuit TV in order to hold all those interested in hearing the arguments. Signs of the media presence were everywhere both inside and outside the courthouse. At the end of the long day, which stretched from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., many of the parties and their lawyers were being interviewed for the late night news.

Within a few days after that court hearing, Judge Blackburn entered a temporary injunction blocking the law from taking effect as scheduled on September 1, 2011. That was so that the judge would have time to properly study all the legal issues and enter a comprehensive ruling on the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. On September 28, 2011, Judge Blackburn entered her opinion and order in each of the three cases, in part upholding Alabama's law and in part blocking it, thereby granting in part the plaintiff's requests for a preliminary injunction and in part denying those requests. Some of the plaintiffs have already announced that they intend to appeal the partial denial of the relief requested, while other plaintiffs are still evaluating the matter and considering their options. The state has also indicated that it might appeal the judge's partial grant of the plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction against the law taking effect.

Most pertinent to the bishops' and Benedictines' lawsuit, the judge did block that portion of the law that would criminalize the transportation and harboring of, shielding and sheltering of, and renting to undocumented persons. That provides relief to those engaged in church ministries who would otherwise have been subject to criminal prosecution for simply carrying out the Gospel directives of feeding, clothing, and otherwise ministering to the least of our sisters and brothers.

It is expected that the lawsuit will continue over a period of some years, given that it is now only in its most preliminary stage, and likely not close to reaching trial. Then, however the federal trial judge rules, there will be a lengthy appeal process. In the meantime, it is expected that the state legislators, who have been watching with interest this lawsuit as it unfolds, might modify the most offensive portions of the law, to respond to the loudest complaints. The unusual sharing of common interests among Hispanic advocacy groups, the US Justice Department, and Alabama's bishops and Benedictines has swelled to include others who are speaking out against this law--including farmers who depend on undocumented persons to harvest crops, homebuilders and other construction groups who rely on skilled undocumented workers, educators who teach children of undocumented persons, and a host of others as they come to understand the impact of this new law in Alabama.

The next canon law column is expected to return to a more canonical topic. Please feel free, as always, to submit canonical topics of interest that might be covered in a future column. Send to Lynn McKenzie, OSB, at <> with "AMN canon law column topic" in the subject line or by post to

Lynn McKenzie, OSB
Sacred Heart Monastery
916 Convent Road NE
Cullman, AL 35055

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Guest Essay: Seeking Peace

Sister Laura Swan, president of ABA, announced that she would be seeking thought-provoking pieces on the theme 'Seek Peace and Pursue It' for this newsletter in the issues preceding the 2012 convention with that theme. Below is a contribution from Brother Daniel Saavedra, OSB, of Weston Priory.

A favorite story during our liturgy here at Weston Priory is the tale of the prophet Jonah, who is asked to go on a journey, far away from his native country. As the narrative is being read, smiles appear on people's faces, there are a few winks of merriment and everybody seems to get ready for the fun of this biblical spoof. The reluctant prophet does not want to travel to where he is being asked by God to go. While he doesn't want any trouble, the chaos creates a delightfully charming adventure. Contrary to his intentions, Jonah ends up preaching to the Ninevites with great success. Yet he himself feels hoodwinked and, to his astonishment, he is the one gifted with the invitation to practice compassion. It is the prophet more than anyone else who has the choice to develop a sense of humor and to take himself lightly. Jonah is given a beautiful opportunity to learn the even more awesome adventure of heartfelt empathy.

In mid-September of 2010, four of us, Brothers Richard, Peter, Mark and Daniel, had the opportunity to cross the great body of water to Spain. I was happily amused by the echoes of Jonah's story as we considered this journey. We had received an invitation the previous year from the community of Trinitarian Nuns of Suesa who were celebrating the sesquicentennial of the foundation of their monastery in the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain. They had organized a "Feminine Monastic Forum" and had invited our community to attend. We had gracefully declined since we were a community of men with culture, language and issues very different from those of Spain.

However, like Lydia in the Acts of the Apostles, who made an invitation to Paul and would not take "no" for an answer, the Trinitarians pursued the invitation. As we continued to dialogue with them and among ourselves, we suggested that, if we were to attend, it would be true to our life and witness to also invite two of our Mexican Benedictine sisters. The nuns agreed and, again like Lydia, they prevailed. We agreed to travel to Spain with our Mexican Sisters Miguelina and Fidelina accompanying us.

Prior to our leaving we were sent an agenda of the issues to be discussed at the forum: solitude, silence, and current communication media; our experience of community, authority, prayer and liturgy; and our hopes for a monastic life relevant to today's world. As part of our own annual retreat, we brothers discussed these topics, and addressed how these reflected our own monastic experience.

Several days prior to the forum, we and our sisters arrived in Suesa, where the small community of eight dynamic women welcomed us warmly. Recognizing our cultural, linguistic and gender differences, our initial reticence turned into curiosity and excitement. We realized that we had much to learn and share with this vibrant group of nuns. Our early arrival allowed for a more intimate exchange among our three communities. The vulnerability, trust and honesty of the conversations turned us from strangers into loving friends, a powerful sign of the Spirit of Pentecost among us.

What astounded us was the simplicity in which we were able to engage one another. Our visit was neither formal nor institutional, and without any external agendas, which at times impede a more familial interaction. Communion and trust blossomed. Tears, hugs, and laughter culminated in lively liturgies.

The day of the Feminine Monastic Forum finally arrived. I was somewhat concerned that, given the depth of the sharing, we might experience a let down with the different voices now engaged in these conversations. There were Benedictine, Trappistine, Carmelite, and Poor Clare nuns in attendance. Our accents contrasted with Catalonian, Galician, and Basque lilts. The forum was a great success, the confluent interaction planting seeds for a rich communal harvest for all.

The poignant finale in the book of Jonah resonates loudly with one of our experiences in Spain, that of being surprised. It was humility rather than intelligence that was needed to engage the Ninevites with deep empathy. How do we learn this humble wisdom? What is the path towards empathy? Perhaps it is a glimpse of the path that emerged on the first Pentecost: everyone speaking in tongues. Does it make a difference if no one is listening with an understanding heart?

The story of Jonah ends suddenly. We do not learn how the prophet responds to God's question inviting compassion and acceptance. Perhaps the question that Jonah recognized as coming from God was also coming to us through the hearts and voices of this experience. How far are we willing to travel to welcome in wonder the surprise of the Holy One, present in everyone and everything?

Our attempts at responding can be steps towards being fully alive, fearlessly engaging ourselves in forgiveness and peacemaking. May we have the grace and courage to listen openly and to understand in our own native tongue, the language of the heart. Can we journey together in the wild adventure of being enveloped by the fire of Pentecost, whose dancing flames tenderly embrace all that is? The gift of this mystery lingers in our response to a world longing for that embrace.

Kalamazoo Medieval Congress Report: ABA Presentations

Report on American Benedictine Academy Sessions at the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, May 12-15, 2011

The ABA sponsored one session and co-sponsored, with the Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies of Western Michigan University, another session and a reception. The theme of the ABA session was collaboration and friendship between monks and nuns in Medieval Benedictine monasticism. There were five papers on the theme, divided between the two sessions (at the last minute a sixth presenter was unable to come).

Lucy Barnhart, a doctoral student at Fordham University, studied conciliar legislation from the sixth to the ninth centuries on mixed male and female monastic houses. She found that there was a broad spectrum of opinion and no sudden or drastic changes. The tendency of the legislation was to enhance episcopal control, to impose the Rule of Benedict, and to strengthen separation from the world.

Sister Colleen Maura McGrane, OSB, of the Benedictine Sisters of Clyde, MO, studied three accounts of the transmission of the bones of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica from Italy to France, an event that is reported to have occurred about 660 AD. She focused on a specific moment in the translation, when at Fleury the bones of Benedict and Scholastica, hitherto mixed together, were separately identified. This occurred when Benedict's bones raised back to life a deceased boy, and Scholastica's did the same for a deceased girl. The earliest extant account, by a cleric of Le Mans, where Scholastica's bones were buried, describes the retrieval of the bones as a joint expedition of his diocese and the monks of Fleury. Benedict and Scholastica work parallel miracles in raising the boy and girl to life.

A second account by Adrevald of Fleury, de-emphasizes the role of Le Mans. He also casts his account as a work of divine intervention, in which human prayer and effort play very subordinate roles. He omits Scholastica's name from the title of his narrative and does not mention the role of Scholastica's bones in the restoration of a girl to life. A third, eleventh-century account, by Giraldus of Fleury, restores Scholastica to the title of his work and credits her with a part in the resuscitation of the girl.

Father Terrence Kardong, OSB, of Assumption Abbey, Richardton, ND, considered the issue of work in the Institutiones nostraeof the Paraclete Congregation, founded by Heloise, who may have drafted this set of customs. The Rule of Benedict divides the day into fairly short segments by interspersing seven liturgical hours. The times for work were further curtailed at the Paraclete by celebrating two Eucharists each day. The sisters spent some four hours a day in church (about half the time devoted to liturgy at Cluny). There was little time for sustained work. Like most monastics, the sisters of the Paraclete could not support themselves by their own work; they had to rely on the contributions of donors and lay brothers and sisters.

Two papers considered the collaboration of Christina of Markyate and Abbot Geoffrey of St. Albans. Ellen Martin examined how human faces and written text are matrices of meaning. In the Life of Christina mutual glances and writing express oneness of mind and soul. In Geoffrey and St. Alban's, Christina found the home she had never had before, and Geoffrey found a friend and advisor. Katie Bugyis, doctoral student at the University of Notre Dame, showed how in the illustrations of St. Alban's Psalter (prepared by Geoffrey for Christina) Mary Magdalene and Christina touch Christ. Christina, like Mary Magdalene, is an apostola apostolorum.

In addition to the sessions sponsored by the American Benedictine Academy and Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies, there was a series of three sessions sponsored by departments of Syracuse University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison on monasticism in the early ages, a topic that currently is the object of some very interesting scholarly work.

For example, Albrecht Diem (Syracuse), one of the organizers, explained that successful monastic reformers or institutions provide themselves with a legitimating past, so one must regard their narratives with some skepticism. Bede is the first one to connect the Benedict of Gregory's Dialogueswith the author of the Rule of Benedict. Paul the Deacon connected the Rule of Benedict with Montecassino in the late eighth century. It is conceivable that the Anglo-Saxon monk, Willibald, brought the Rule of Benedict to Montecassino.

Julian Hendrix (UCLA) showed from the treatment of liturgy in the commentaries of Hildemar and Smaragdus that Carolingian monks felt no need to follow the Rule of Benedict strictly. Hendrik Dey (Hunter College, CUNY) shows that following a common practice in late Roman urban environments, some leading Carolingian monasteries did not have a square cloister on the south side of the church, but a larger, more diffused and more public series of colonnades, next to which was a processional route.

In addition, Sisters Laura Swan, OSB, of St. Placid's Priory (president of ABA from Lacey, WA) and Judith Sutera, OSB, of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, KS, organized and presided at sessions sponsored by Magistra, a Journal of Women's Spirituality in History.

So, monastic studies were particularly well represented at Kalamazoo this year. The ABA sponsored papers were exceptionally well done. Our presence at Kalamazoo is small (2 of 580 sessions), but significant; it nurtures our presenters and those who hear them, and testifies to commitment of American Benedictines to the study of their own tradition.

Hugh Feiss, OSB
Kalamazoo Medieval Congress Report

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