The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 31, Nr. 3, October 2001                   Richardton, ND 58652


President's Message

Wisdom and Life: Learning well

A new school year is underway. Most of us have been affected in some way. Behind noisy halls, homework, football games, ringing bells, syllabi, faculty workshops, and a host of other paraphernalia (let your imagination go), lies one simple process: people are learning.

The years have not passed in vain. Experience has taught us that learning goes beyond schooling. Life's best lessons have been learned outside classrooms. Monastics capitalize on the glories of life -- changing conversion eking its way out of apparently humdrum activity.

Just over a decade ago Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline challenged organizations to think differently. He pushed them to forego the bottom line mentality, which throttles the human spirit, and to invite members to expand their creativity and aspire to a "more." This mode of operating he called a learning organization. Only a learning organization, in his vision of groups working together, has much future.

A learning organization or, as he also called it, an intentional learning community . . . What a pleasing way to describe a monastery. I doubt that monasteries were what Senge had in mind as he sought to grapple with the malaise of hidebound organizations. I suggest, however, that it is not a huge leap to find parallels between his analysis and the "school of the Lord's service," where the heart is to be enlarged and engaged.

The intentional element is the key. In Benedictine monasteries we "make vows," a terminology that does not do justice to what's going on. We promise that the process will not die. True, in life, learning often happens whether we want it or not; it can, in fact, be forced down our throats. But if we're involved in it and crave it, self-imposed limits disappear.

I am reminded of an incident when a couple went to their daughter's high school volleyball game. The wife tells the story: "We noticed an adult couple in the bleachers being very affectionate. The woman kept running her hands down the man's arms and massaging his shoulders and neck while kissing his ear. 'I don't know if I should watch them or the game,' I said to my husband. Without missing a beat, he said, 'Watch them. You already know how to play volleyball.'"

A monastery can have all the marks of an intentional learning community; the horarium provides a structure of sorts for a syllabus of prayer, work, recreation, and the common life - and that includes doing the dishes. While not courses as such, all these certainly provide the "stuff" whereby we "learn" about and grow deeper in our call. A quick look at the Rule uncovers a great deal of energy dedicated to means of helping people deal with "learning disabilities" (remember the penal code and the recurring injunctions against murmuring).

Learning often happens through intergenerational or international or intercultural exchanges. I know that our community in Bogotà (Monasterio Benedictino de Tibatì) contributes more to our perspective at Assumption Abbey than we realize. It has demanded of us a great deal over the years but we are richer for it.

One example of intergenerational learning: Some time ago our community took up Tuesdays with Morrie for table reading. A dying Morrie Schwartz, sociology professor at Brandeis, had, years earlier, mentored Mitch Albom. Albom, now a decorated sports writer in Detroit, discovers his mentor through a news broadcast and describes their final encounters with sensitivity and warmth. Few books capture the depth of feeling and the wisdom transfer like that one did. (In our case, the monk reading at the end asked another to replace him; he was afraid he'd choke up on the closing poignant scenes.) The book touched a chord. We learned from it. The monastic process was abetted.

For monastics, "school" is always in session. Mentoring others, as well as being mentored, is the norm. But, yes, there are learning disabilities to be dealt with. Plan to join the Academy at its biennial convention in 2002 as we explore this terrain more fully.

ABA 2002

The place: University of Mary, Bismarck, ND.
The theme: Monastics and Mentoring: Re-Founding the Tradition.


Valerian Odermann, OSB
President, American Benedictine Academy


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Monastic News Omnibus


Seventy-six Benedictine women participated in the American Benedictine Formation Conference Symposium held at Schuyler, NE, in May. The theme of "Mutual Conversion: Together into the Heart of God" was addressed by Sister Mary Collins, prioress of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, KS. She explored some of the concerns regarding the incorporation of new members with their diverse ages, cultures and background experiences for her audience of persons involved in vocation and initial formation work.


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Subsequent to the appointment of their abbot as an auxiliary bishop, the monks of St. Andrew's in Cleveland, OH, recently elected Clement Zeleznik OSB as their new abbot. The abbot of Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in Pecos, NM, has appointed Sister Helen Vasquez, OSB, to be the superior of the women's community there. At The Dwelling Place Monastery, Martin, KY, Eileen Schepers, OSB, was elected prioress. Nathan Zodrow, OSB, is the new abbot of Mount Angel Abbey, OR.


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The American-Cassinese Congregation of Benedictine monks held a general chapter June 17 to 22 at Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. The meeting included delegates from 21 abbeys and ten priories located in several countries. Timothy Kelly, former abbot of Saint John's, was elected to succeed Abbot Melvin Valvano of Newark Abbey in the office of congregation president. Two new members of his council were also chosen, Abbot Barnabas Senecal of St. Benedict's Abbey, Atchison, KS, and Archabbot Douglas Nowicki of St. Vincent's Archabbey in Latrobe, PA.


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Thirteen Cistercian monasteries were represented at a gathering of junior directors held at Spencer, MA. Father Ray Carey of the archdiocese of Portland, OR, and Dr. Rosemary Burns of Washington, D.C., were speakers. Both are psychologists who have worked extensively with religious communities and shared their insights on "generation X" and the "millenial generation."


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Abbot Patrick Regan of St. Joseph Abbey in St. Benedict, LA has ended his service as president of the Alliance for International Monasticism USA. For fourteen years, he led the American branch of this international organization which provides assistance to third world monasteries and fosters links between Benedictine and Cistercian monastics in the United States and their counterparts around the world. He will be succeeded by Abbot Timothy Kelly. Other board members elected were Sister Patricia Henry, prioress of Pan de Vida Monastery in Torreon, Mexico, and Prior Richard Iaquinto of Weston Priory in Vermont.


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The American Benedictine Academy

Junior Essay Competition


To foster use of local archives in monastic communities

To develop interest in local history and tradition

To acquaint young monastics with the history of the community, the purposes and personalities of its founders, significant events, developments, and challenges in the community

To encourage the collection of personal memoirs

To stimulate interest in and study of monastic history




The essay must be an historical or biographical study centered in the junior monastic's own monastery and utilizing archival material. The paper should be 2,000-2,500 words in length, typewritten or computer generated, double-spaced.



The winner of the Junior Essay Competition will be awarded:

- a two-year membership in ABA

- a waiver of registration and hospitality fees for the 2002 ABA convention

- a book of interest to monastics




Send essay and the following information to:


Dennis Okholm
314 Brookside Circle
Wheaton, IL 60187
Phone: 630-752-5055
Fax: 630-752-5296




Community name, address, phone and fax numbers

Personal address (if different from above)

Current status (pre-novitiate, novitiate, temporarily professed)

Title of essay


All essays must be received by March 1, 2002

The winner will be announced by April 15, 2002.


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Monastic Studies Grant


ABA members are invited to apply for funds to support projects which foster the objectives of the American Benedictine Academy: "to cultivate, support and transmit the Benedictine heritage within contemporary culture." Grant support may be used for research, travel, or other modes of exploring and promoting the Benedictine heritage. It may also be used for travel expenses and registration fees for the purpose of presenting a scholarly paper on a monastic topic related to the Benedictine heritage at a scholarly convention. A total of $2800 is available to fund these grants.

Applicants, who must be members of the ABA, will be selected on the basis of:


The quality of their proposal (originality, feasibility, clarity of purpose)

Potential benefit for monastics, and

Relevance to the purposes of the Academy.


Recipients of grants support must be willing to submit a report on the use of the grant and/or brief summary of the topic of the scholarly paper to the ABA Board of Directors within one year from the completion of the project/presentation of the paper for which the grant was given.


Applications must be received by December 31, 2001. Recipients will be chosen by the ABA Awards Committee and approved by the ABA Board of Directors at their winter meeting (January, 2002) and announced immediately thereafter.


To apply for a grant you may either supply the following information listed or write for an application form. Applications should include:




Religious or Academic Affiliation (if any)

Proposed Project:


Description of Project

Budget -- Please itemize:


Total cost of project

Sources of funding other than the ABA

Sum requested from the ABA


Completed grant applications or requests for application form should be sent to the following address:


Dennis Okholm
314 Brookside Circle
Wheaton, IL 60187
Phone: 630-752-5055
Fax: 630-752-5296


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© Copyright October 2001 by American Benedictine Academy / Richard Oliver OSB /