The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 30, Nr. 3, October 2000             Richardton, ND 58652


The President's Message

The Past Bodes Well in the Present for the Future


PAST: Amply featured in these pages you will find reports of Convention 2000, held at St. Meinrad Archabbey. One hundred and forty of us were invigorated by "the good news of monastic life." Father Eugene Hensell ably marshalled the troops for a stimulating convention experience. Thanks to him for two years of service as president. In the name of the Academy I also express gratitude to three outstanding collaborators. Sister Emmanuel Pieper served four years on the board, bringing an organized vision to the arts section; Sister Jeanne Giese served as secretary for the same period and computerized the budget and membership operations; Sister Mary Forman (ten years on the board) brought her zest for detail and now begins teaching monastic studies at St. John's School of Theology. Thanks go to them. They are the shoulders on which we stand.


PRESENT: Three members join the ABA board in 2000: Sister Rosemary Rader, with a wide range of administrative and teaching experience, as vice-president; Brother Richard Oliver, well known in Benedictine circles for his shepherding of the OSB website; and Rev. Dennis Okholm, capturing the distinction of being the first oblate on the board. They were the ones elected. However, an unmistakable sign of the vitality of the ABA is that thirteen of you were willing to serve on the board. Thanks to all of you. Your generosity will undoubtedly be called on in the future. One thing the ABA is not: a group of pedantic, humorless "scholar-squirrels," as Gore Vidal once put it, collecting and banking obscure facts until the day we can rain them down on somebody's artistic parade. The organization is concerned about Benedictine issues vital in our day.


FUTURE: For Convention 2002, to be held in Bismarck, the topic of mentoring and monastic spirituality has been suggested. Some questions: Who have been effective mentors and why? Is mentoring different for men and women? How best frame the issue? In the address at the convention I said that you all know that we can read the books, even get the CDs of monastics praying and chanting; there are hundreds of bibliographic tools. But that's not enough many times. This reminds me of Ron Rohlheiser's story (in This Holy Longing) of a little girl frightened to death. Finally her mother comes into her bedroom and consoles her, telling her that there is no reason to be afraid because God is in the room, God is everywhere. The girl looks at her mother, still sobbing I imagine, and says: "Yes, I know that, but sometimes I need someone in here with a little skin!"


That's what mentoring does. It moves the theory into practice, just like a vital wisdom tradition will do. An example that came to my mind in these days is that of a monastic whom many of us heard on the last day of Convention 1998 at St. Vincent Archabbey. The topic was ecological awareness as a natural consequence of a monastic's care for the world around him or her. Father Paul Schweitz shared his community's (St. John's, Collegeville) wetland project and his enthusiasm for the arboretum. What he did not say was that he was also a resident hall director -- one of more than a dozen monks who live with young men in the college dorms. Well, his life was cut short this past May. That evening, in a spontaneous outpouring of grief, the abbey church was filled with men, some weeping at the loss, some giving testimonies to what he had meant in their lives, all touched by the quiet way of living of this monk. He was, in short, one who "put some skin" into what Benedictine or monastic life meant for these men.


As we move in these next years, your input on our common task is greatly appreciated. I look forward to hearing from many of you (keep that mail coming in), as we "put some skin" into Benedictine life in the '00s.


Valerian Odermann, OSB
President, American Benedictine Academy
Assumption Abbey
Paoli, IN


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