The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 43, Nr. 2a,   2012                  Richardton, ND 58652

President's Message

What Might We Learn If We Are Willing to Be Taught?

I found myself back in the classroom after eighteen years. I am teaching in the Religious Studies Department at Saint Martin's University. With a wealth of background from presenting and teaching in our spirituality center, I was all "prepared." My first shock was to discover just how young eighteen had become! Then I began to realize how "middle-aged" and "nunnish" my use of language and imagery had become. I kept facing a sea of willing but blank faces. I struggled to adjust my "talk" and examples to make concepts of the spiritual and religious journey relevant to young minds--mostly not raised in any faith tradition and unaware of faith language. My first semester was a major learning curve for me. They taught me so much: not to assume religious baggage that needed to be unpacked, not to assume they had "issues" with God, and to find their language for the human hunger for God.

Being a university in the Benedictine tradition, I sought to have serious conversation around certain values: the meaning of community and "right relationship," hospitality, the presence of Empire and evil, the possibilities of forgiveness and reconciliation, the value of an authentic peace, and stewardship of the environment. Forgiveness and reconciliation for this post-9/11 generation was a struggle. The way to deal with terrorists was to bomb them; anything else was unpatriotic. They were essentially shocked that anyone (such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi) would dedicate years to peacemaking. While my students held a deep appreciation for living in a multicultural world, they did not quite understand the "details" of a diversely religious world. Above all I was struck with their honest desire to live a good and righteous life. They want their choices and their life to matter. My students want to make a positive impact upon the world.

My wonderful students reminded me of the work ahead for the American Benedictine Academy. Do we need to become more mindful of our use of language? Are we speaking only to one another, as specialists, and leaving cultures and generations outside the realm of our conversation? While the internet is the place of their connecting and conversation, do they understand our language? Do we need to learn theirs? Do we hear their yearnings and struggle? Are we willing to stand alongside them and point the way through the Rule toward a meaningful and effective life?

"Seek peace and pursue it," Benedict admonishes us. His Rule, as we know, provided balanced details on community life and prayer, right relationship and community, and authentic hospitality, among many other matters. Do we notice the compassion and flexibility in his Rule? Will we look anew for contemporary considerations, listening with the ear of this generation's hunger, yearning and discontent? Do we offer hope and a way for the Recession Generation?

We gather at Saint Scholastica Monastery in Duluth. We have four wonderful presenters who will help us reconsider our peacemaking in all its diverse expressions. Bring your own questions and yearnings.

Laura Swan OSB
President, American Benedictine Academy
lswan @

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Canon Law Column

Out of the Ordinary Elections

We turn once again to the topic of the election of abbot/prioress (See the Canon Law Column in the May 2011 American Monastic Newsletter). This time, however, we will look at what some refer to as "out of the ordinary" elections. Perhaps these are becoming not so extraordinary in our own day.

As we have noted, the canons on election in the Code of Canon Law contemplate a set term of office for a superior (canon 624). However, at times a community is in a quandary when the term set by the constitutions has been completed but the community wishes the superior to remain in office. Of course, such a decision, as with every election, requires the community to discern where the Spirit is leading it and then to decide which member of the community is best suited to lead. If, after discernment, a chapter should decide that it wishes to retain the current superior whose maximum time in office has been fulfilled, a special process must be invoked. The usual process of election is not sufficient. Rather, the process of postulation is required.

Postulation is the "process by which a monastery may request to name someone who is canonically impeded from holding office" (Call to Life, Constitution of the Federation of St. Scholastica, Glossary, page 43). As noted above, impediments include having already fulfilled the full time in office allowed by the constitutions. An impediment would be any other canonical reason one is not eligible, such as one who has not been in final profession for a sufficient length of time (canon 623) or who is not old enough. The constitutions may provide any other eligibility criteria that, if not met, create an impediment to office.

How is a candidate postulated and, if postulated, when and how does that candidate take office? Once the community has discerned that it would like to choose a member who is canonically impeded to be monastic superior, then the members must vote, using the words "I elect" or "I postulate" (canon 181.2). There must be at least a two-thirds majority (canon 181.1). The person so postulated does not automatically take office. Rather, within eight days of the postulation, the presider at the election (in our federations of Benedictine sisters, for example, it is usually the one who holds the office of federation president, though she may delegate another if necessary) must send the postulation to the "competent authority" (again, in the case of the US federations of Benedictine sisters, the competent authority here is the federation president) and it is up to that authority to determine whether to dispense from the impediment (canon 182.1). Only if and when the president or other competent authority accedes to the request for dispensation does the person postulated become eligible to take office.

Even when it is not a matter of postulation, it has been known in monastic and other religious communities that a superior leaves office and then is later called back into service again as superior. Some have referred to this as "recycling" a former superior. Fitness for office, including age, physical and intellectual condition, and emotional stability must be factors in making such a determination. The practice of having someone from outside the community to help facilitate the discernment is wise so that the community does not fail to consider all factors. The outside person can ask the hard questions that some within the community might not be willing to ask.

It was mentioned at the outset that perhaps these extraordinary types of elections, postulating or "recycling," might not be so out of the ordinary any more. It is true, at least in the United States, perhaps due to shrinking numbers and increasing ages, that the pool from which to draw leadership is smaller. However, there may be any number of good reasons for such an extraordinary election to occur. As noted, the key is always that the members of the monastery together seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in calling forth the one who is to hold the place of Christ in the monastery. After all, canon 626 directs the members to "elect those whom they know in the Lord to be truly worthy and suitable having nothing in mind but God and the good of the institute." Sometimes that person who is "truly worthy and suitable" is the one who is canonically impeded or who has served before as prioress/abbess/abbot. In that way, the monastic superior will be what RB 2 and 64 call for: one who, among other things, has goodness of life and wisdom of teaching.

Please feel free to submit canonical topics of interest that might be covered in a future column. Send ideas to me <> with "AMN canon law column topic" in the subject line.

Lynn McKenzie, OSB
Sacred Heart Monastery
Cullman, AL

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Monastic News Omnibus

Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB, was elected prioress of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, IL, and Sister Rebecca Stramoski, OCSO, is the newly chosen abbess of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, IA.


The American Benedictine Academy will again have an art display during its convention featuring the work of monastic artists. All visual arts such as painting, photography, sculpture, textiles, pottery, etc. are welcome. ABA members are encouraged to make sure that their communities are represented by inviting their artists to participate in the meeting or at least send works for display. Anyone interested in submitting artwork may contact Sister Mary Josephine ( Gregory Evans, an oblate of Bristow, VA, has graciously offered to convene the arts section at the convention and encourages all visual artists to attend.


The American Benedictine Academy is seeking an executive secretary to replace Sister Adel Sautner. The executive secretary position is part time and carries a stipend of $2,500.00 plus $300.00 to subsidize some of the technology expense. She/he manages all communication with the Academy, such as membership lists, letters to sponsors and donors, and mailing lists, so needs some background in Microsoft Access and Word. The secretary is responsible for minutes of the ABA board meetings and minutes of the meetings of the membership at the biennial ABA conferences. A basic acquaintance with Microsoft Excel makes it easier to do the yearly financial reports. The present executive secretary would like to work with the person who replaces her during 2014 to ease the next person into the work. For a more detailed job description or more information, please contact Sister Adel: <>.


The Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, KS, will host their fifth annual Monastic Institute for Oblates July 12-15. Noted scholar Father Terrence Kardong will have as his topic "Conversing with Benedict about Modern Values." Because of the conversational nature of these institutes, participation is limited to 50 and the event is intended to be for lay oblates rather than Benedictine religious. Information is available from Sister Micaela Randolph at

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ABA Board Nominations

For VICE-PRESIDENT (President-elect)

Romana Fallon, OSB, was born and raised in South Dakota, attended Benedictine elementary and secondary schools and has been a member of Mother of God Monastery, Watertown, SD, for more than 50 years. In that time, Ramona's ministries have included elementary, secondary and higher education, elementary and parish administration, parish ministries, diocesan and state offices, service on many boards including ABA, as well as assistant prioress, prioress and monastery council member. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, and has been a member of ABA for twenty years.

"I have enjoyed participating in ABA for many years and serving one term on the board. I am well aware ABA, as well as other Benedictine associations, has difficulty calling forth members to serve in leadership. If I can be of service I am willing to leave my name in the nomination pool."

Cheryl Crozier Garcia, OblSB, SPHR, GPHR, is an associate professor of human resource management at Hawaii Pacific University where she serves as program chair of the master's degree program in human resource management. Her research interests include workplace ethics and spirituality, gender and leadership, and personal development. She has presented her research in the US and in England, Singapore, India, and Canada. Currently, she is the only certified Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) in the state of Hawaii. Cheryl is an oblate of St. Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph, MN, where she has spent part of every year since 1999 as a Scholar in Residence.

"My particular interest is in making the Rule of St. Benedict accessible to people in every aspect of their lives--professional, personal, and spiritual--and this has been the focus of most of my research. There is great value in both the Rule and the Benedictine lifestyle outside the monastery's walls, and I want to help tell that story."

Susan Quaintance, OSB, has been a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago since 1988, and a member of ABA for twelve years. She has used her monastic studies degree from St. John's University in a variety of ways: as an English and theology teacher at Saint Scholastica Academy in Chicago, as community formation director and past member of the ongoing formation team, and as a workshop director for Benedictine and Trappist communities in Uganda and Kenya through AIM's Commission for African Women. A regular contributor of book reviews for the American Benedictine Review, she also serves on the publication's editorial board. She was a member of the ABA board 2006-08.

"The ABA feeds my soul, and if I can help to serve and further its mission, I would be happy and grateful to do so. Its gatherings are important markers for me, both in the trajectory of American monasticism and in my own monastic life."


Gerry Allen, OblSB, (current board member eligible for reelection) is an oblate of Mother of God Monastery in Watertown, SD. A lifetime resident of Bellevue, NE, he is director of foundation relations at Doane College where he has also taught for 25 years. A father of two daughters, he is a member of Sacred Heart Parish, an urban mission church of the Omaha Archdiocese. Gerry's interests involve social advocacy for the poor, the marginalized and oppressed, and newly arrived immigrants to this country. A member of the ABA for 14 years, Gerry has been active in reviewing Monastic Studies Grants and ABA Junior Essay Competition applications.

"I am completing my first term on the ABA board and would appreciate the opportunity to continue to listen, discern and help shape the future direction of the ABA."

Thomas Bailey, OSB, has been a monk of Marmion Abbey for 14 years. Ordained in 2004, he taught history and theology at Marmion Academy. In 2008 he was assigned to teach at Conception Seminary College and work on the seminary formation staff. There he attended Northwest Missouri State University, earning an MA in history with a thesis on ideologies behind the formation of the Knights Templar. He will begin doctoral studies in medieval history at the University of Missouri this fall and will study medieval Slavic Christianity, focusing on monasticism's role in the spiritual lives of Christians. His published articles have focused on American Benedictine monasticism in the mid-twentieth century.

"I am particularly interested in the renewal era of the Swiss-American Congregation. I am also an avid woodworker, building furnishings for the Byzantine Catholic parish of which I am the Sacramental Minister but also the caskets for my monastic community."

Marianne Burkhard, OSB, was born in Switzerland and obtained a PhD in German literature from the University of Zurich in 1965. After working as literary editor for a daily newspaper, she came to the US to teach German at the University of Illinois. During these years she published a book, articles both here and in Europe, and was editor of several publications. In 1987, she joined St. Mary Monastery in Nauvoo, IL (now Rock Island, IL), made first profession in 1990 and then was given the opportunity to earn a licentiate in Canon Law at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. Since 1993 she has been working as judge and director of the tribunal of the Diocese of Peoria.

"I have attended ABA conventions since 1990, been a member since 1996, and have been on the editorial board of American Benedictine Review for about 20 years. I was one of the translators and the editor of two of Sister Aquinata Böckmann's books. I also continue to do research about the spirituality of the early American sisters using German sources in monastery archives. I greatly enjoy using my linguistic and academic tools for Benedictine scholarship."

Laura Dunham, OblSB, is a Presbyterian minister and author of Path of the Purified Heart: The Spiritual Journey as Transformation (Cascade Books 2012). She teaches and writes about Christian spirituality and spiritual formation. An oblate and Studium scholar of St. Benedict's Monastery, St. Joseph, MN, Laura is engaged in a project she is passionate about: preserving and transmitting Benedictine wisdom and spirituality. A former academic, she also leads the ecumenical Friends of Christ School for Christian Spirituality in Chapel Hill, NC, where she lives.

"I am honored to be considered for the ABA board and would bring a strong commitment, an ecumenical perspective, and extensive board experience to the role."

Edward Emory, OblSB, has been an oblate of New Camaldoli Hermitage at Big Sur, CA, for the past fifteen years. He transferred from St. Vincent's Archabbey, having made oblation at Sacro Speco in Subiaco, Italy. He is a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist, journal editor, author, and teacher with a focus on contemplation and psychotherapy. Interfaith dialogue has led him to participate in the Special Assembly of the Parliament of World Religions, at the consulta to the general chapter of the Camaldolese Order, as an advisor to the secretary general of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, as program organizer for the Spirituality and Values Caucus at the United Nations, and as a United Nations representative.

"In 2000 I was pleased to be included in the pre-conference papers of the Academy with a paper on 'The Post-modern Desert: Solitude and Community in Cyberspace.' Building on these experiences, I would be honored to serve on the board of the Academy and to assist in its expansion in this period of increasing interconnectedness across traditions."

Dennis Okholm, OblSB, (current board member eligible for reelection) has been an oblate of Blue Cloud Abbey since 1989. He has led retreats and taught courses on Benedictine spirituality, culminating in the publication of Monk Habits for Everyday People (Brazos Press 2007). He has served on the ABA board for a total of six years. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA for 29 years before moving his ordination to the Anglican Mission in the Americas last August. His wife Trevecca is minister to children and families at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach. Having taught college for 29 years, he is professor of theology at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, CA.

"Though I keep telling myself that this is the last time I'll serve on the board, I find myself energized and deepened by my involvement with the ABA board members and all that goes on in helping the ABA be better the 'next time.' So, here I am making myself available once more because I am happy to serve in ways that spread the good news of what Benedictines have to offer the world."

Julie Peak, OSB, (current board member eligible for reelection), a member of Sacred Heart Monastery since 2004, is archivist for the community. Prior to entering, she was an oblate of the monastery and worked in college registrar offices. Julie holds a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's in higher education. She has been a member of ABA since 2006, when she won the Junior Essay Competition. She has attended the conventions since that time, participating in the archivist's section and serving on the ABA board since 2010.

"I bring an understanding of the oblate way of life as well as the perspective from within the monastery. I believe that the ABA is an invaluable resource for our members to further pursue scholarship and reflection about monastic and Benedictine life."

Antoinette Purcell, OSB, of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, IN, holds master's degrees in pastoral studies and in elementary education/administration, has done CPE training, and completed an internship in spiritual direction. She has been a teacher, principal, DRE, consultant in the archdiocesan catechetical office, presenter for the Center for Ministry Development, and program director for Benedict Inn Retreat Center. She was president of the North American Association of Benedictine Oblate Directors 1996-2011. She serves as spiritual director, retreat leader, group facilitator, and supervisor for spiritual direction interns while continuing as oblate director, monastic council secretary and instructor for the initial formation program.

"I have been a member of ABA for a number of years and enjoy the biannual meeting as a way to connect with others who treasure the Rule of Benedict as a guide for life and to expose myself to ongoing formation in this way of life."

Jeanette von Herrmann, OSB, is a member of Queen of Angels Monastery in Mt. Angel, OR, with an MA in theology from Mt. Angel Seminary and a PhD in biblical studies from Catholic University of America. She teaches and give retreats in parishes and at her community's Shalom Prayer Center, is on staff of Spirit & Life (publication of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration), teaches in her community's formation program, runs the community library, is responsible for her community's blogs Seeking God: A Benedictine Blog and Seeking God: A Benedictine Ministries Blog and other online publications, and works with the Benedictine Foundation of Oregon.

"Being on the west coast, there is little opportunity to interact face-to-face with other monastics, so being elected to the ABA board would be a blessing both for me and my community. I will be attending the pre-convention library section due to my interest in providing spiritual resources to my community and to explore how we might join together to assist one another."

Issue Contents


Book Reviews: Desert Wisdom

The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated into English from the Greek critical text by John Wortley (Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2012, 386 pages, $49.95, ISBN 978-0-87907-201-8.

This book is a new translation of the sixth-century collection of the apophthegmata from the desert tradition. It consists of the systematic collection, organized by subject matter. This organization is very helpful for those who are looking for a story or saying that will address a certain topic, something always appreciated by teachers of spirituality and givers of retreats. Jean-Claude Guy  translated from the pre-tenth-century Greek text to French and now Wortley has made a translation from Greek to English. As with any translation, there are probably words and phrases open to scholarly debate, but for the average reader, the substance of the text is presented in good, readable and quotable form. The author presents a glossary, before the text, of some key Greek terms (e.g. synaxis, logismos) and then leaves them in their original Greek in the text. This prevents trying to put the terms into what might be a lengthy or less clear English equivalent. Although the price of this in hard cover may be steep for an individual, it will certainly be a good value for a library, formation house, or serious student of early monasticism.

Desert Banquet: A Year of Wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers compiled by David G. R. Keller (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011, 282 pages, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-8146-3387-8.

A different approach to the desert tradition is taken by this collection, which is in the ever-popular style of 365 short readings dated for a calendar year. There is a specific theme for each month, including areas of transformation, prayer, sin, and the struggles of the ascetic life. A page or two at the beginning of the month's selections introduces the topic with a bit of history and practical context for a contemporary reader. For each day, there is a short saying, drawn from a variety of the early texts, and also from other contemporary writers' quotes of the quotes from the desert. This occasionally complicates the reference as when he uses citations such as "RB 165," the page on which the quote is found in the Fry version of Benedict's Rule, rather than the actual chapter and verse in the Rule itself for someone who might want to find it in a different version. Each is followed by a paragraph by Keller, who has both an academic and a pastoral background. His observations are generally a restating of the theme, so there is no specific question for personal reflection. This book might be attractive for someone who likes desert spirituality, or is just looking to sample it, and who likes the structure of a daily sampler.

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Convention of the American Benedictine Academy

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

August 2 - 5, 2012

St. Scholastica Monastery
Duluth, MN


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