The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 32, Nr. 3, October 2002                   Richardton, ND 58652


Scholarship Report

Each year, the American Benedictine Academy awards financial support for work in the area of monastic studies. A condition of the prize is that the scholar makes a written report of how the money was spent. Recent recipient Phyllis Thompson was raised in the United States, but moved to Canada in 1970. She is an oblate of St. Peter's Abbey, Muenster, SK, and ABA member. Retired after twenty years of university teaching and campus ministry, she lives in Nanaimo, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island. Shortly after being a speaker at the 1999 National Oblate Directors' Conference, she was invited to write one of the chapters, the one on Eric Dean, for an upcoming book on Benedictine oblates. Articles by her also have appeared in the American Benedictine Review and Benedictines, and she has given numerous retreats for oblates at various monasteries. Phyllis fulfills her accountability to the ABA with the following summary.

I want to thank the Grants' Committee of the ABA for the monies they awarded me in 2000. The grant eased my way, quite literally, as I did the research for the chapter on late oblate, Professor Eric Dean, for the book Sister Linda Kulzer and oblate Professor Roberta Bondi co-edited on Benedictine oblates. I was honored even to have been asked to contribute one of the chapters; the grant was a bonus I never expected either! I also want to thank Sister Miriam Schmitt who encouraged me to apply for the grant initially.

In 2000, the exchange on the Canadian/US currency meant it cost me $1.57 Canadian to buy a US dollar. The exchange rate continues to fluctuate by roughly five cents in either direction. Whatever the rate, the ABA grant really assisted in covering the costs of my two research trips to the States, one to the Archabbey at St. Meinrad and Wabash College, both in Indiana, and one to Mt. Saviour Monastery outside of Elmira, NY.

I went to Indiana in May 2000 and to Pine City, NY, in September of that year. I put the grant toward expenses within the States, for copying of archival materials, the overnight and meals at Wabash College, the rental car in New York, and the per diem for my week at Mt. Saviour.

The chapter's manuscript was completed by November 2000. Beyond saying that it meant a great deal to me that the Grants Committee had the confidence in me it did and that it judged the project worthwhile enough to give me some financial assistance, all I can add is that I spent the ABA's money carefully but with delight. Receiving it eased my way, but it also boosted my morale as a scholar. Should another project surface which might need help with funding, be assured I shall apply again, with the hopes that we both find the project worthy.

That is the official report, but I want to add two personal notes here.

First, I was blessed that the oblate office at St. Meinrad, all thanks to Father Meinrad Brune, absorbed the cost of my 10-day stay there and of all the duplicating I did. But Fr. Meinrad wasn't the only person who donated time, energy, and materials. To people like the archivists at St. Meinrad and at Wabash College, both of whom ferreted out all the Eric Dean materials before I even arrived, to Eric Dean's widow and son, to Dean's former Wabash colleagues, and to the many monks at both St. Meinrad and Mt. Saviour who took the time to permit interviews, to Eric Dean's one son who, at his own expense, copied and couriered to me a good four inches of his dad's private and pertinent, handwritten journals, and to those monks still around at other abbeys Dean visited and who took the time to answer my letters-to all of them I owe a huge debt.

Second, I cannot tell you how much it meant to me to spend ten days at St. Meinrad and a week at Mt. Saviour, to be back at monasteries and participate in the communal prayer times and Eucharist with those communities.

That is part of what I truly, and still, miss in my retirement, after a solid six years of week-in, week-out involvement at St. Peter's, Muenster.

The time at St. Meinrad permitted me to hear wondrous chant and singing at both prayers and Mass. I consider myself truly blessed to have had the opportunity to interview Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer a few days prior to his death and to experience how those monks honor their deceased. Tolling bells, their particular rituals surrounding a wake and funeral may be things those monastics are accustomed to, but I wasn't, and they had a lasting effect on me.

And the time spent at Mt. Saviour? It gave me the chance literally to pray "seven times a day," plus attend Eucharist. A chance to experience Vigils at 4:15 a.m. (4:00 a.m. on Sundays because it's longer), walking to/from their chapel in the pitch black, but with the stars brilliant in the clear sky and the monastery's dog at my side. To experience compline chanted in the dark except for two candles, and the chant accompanied by the Celtic harp, then to process to the underground grotto and candle-lit statue of Our Lady, chant the "Salve Regina," and have that followed by a sprinkling/blessing from the prior. The grant didn't give me those things and experiences; but you should know how seriously they impacted on me. Thank you.

Phyllis Thompson

Issue Contents


ABA Convention News 2002

From the Ex-files: Nine ex-presidents gathered at Convention 2002.
Front: Jeanne Ranek (1992-94), Shawn Carruth (1988-94), Mary Forman (1996-98), Dorothy Neuhofer (1982-84), Dorothy Neuhofer (1982-84).
: Valerian Odermann (2002-02), Joel Rippinger (1994-96), Ruth Fox (1986-88), Timothy Joyce (1990-92), Eugene Hensell (1998-2000).

Nearly two hundred people attended the August ABA convention in Bismarck. As part of its convention, the American Benedictine Academy holds a biennial business meeting for its members in attendance. This year's meeting was held on August 10 and included reports from several groups within the membership.

Adel Sautner, OSB, executive secretary of the ABA, gave a financial report. The Academy has 322 individual members and 96 sponsors and donors. Of the members, eighteen have been awarded life membership and two are honorary members. Most new memberships are a result of e-mail contact via the ABA Webpage.

Before the convention, sectional meetings were held in several areas of special interest. In the absence of Columba Stewart, OSB, chair, Renée Branigan, OSB, presided at the Monastic Researchers section. The group of 25 shared projects in progress as well as plans for further research and reflection. The group was widely varied in background and interest, but is homogenous in enthusiasm and desire. Those who so chose submitted index cards with brief descriptions of their research projects, to be forwarded to Columba for inclusion in the next newsletter.

Benedictine Information Technology Section was led by Richard Oliver, OSB, who reported on its activities. Chief among them was a pre-convention workshop. Elias Thienpont, OSB, conducted the "Networking in Small Communities" workshop for 15 participants. The presentation was rich in definitions, examples and illustrations. He concluded with a typical budget for a medium-sized network. The ABA website continues to attract many visitors. The American Monastic Newsletter online reaches a broad readership, both Benedictine and non-Benedictine. Information about the ABA itself, lists of its members, sponsors and donors as well as the schedule and registration form for the biennial convention have been helpful resources.

The "ABA Talk" discussion forum established at Yahoo Groups as an alternative to pre-convention papers was highly underutilized. It might better serve as a way to share reactions and reflections to this conference. The alternative might be a listserve such as the OSB List. Mention was also made of scholarly resources online. Many Benedictines met Sister Aquinata Böckmann this summer. She continues to update and revise the online version of her extensive "Bibliography for Students of the Rule of St. Benedict," available online at the following web address: Since the last convention, several other longer articles have been added to the OSB website.

Hildegard Varga, OSB, gave the Archivists' section report. Five members met. Major interest was on the need for start-up information and resources. After introductions, discussion followed on (1) advisability of written policies, especially record retention schedules; (2) access to personnel files; (3) benefits of membership in other than Benedictine archival organizations; (4) relationship between the Monastic Archives Conference and the ABA Archives Section; (5) reference and outreach activities; (6) community museums/ heritage rooms vis-à-vis archives. Sister Hildegard will continue as section head. The 2000-02 Archives Section Report and Financial Statement were distributed and will be mailed to section members who could not attend. The meeting closed with a short slide presentation by Sister Hildegard on the archives of her community, St. Benedict Monastery, Canyon, TX, and the renovation of the archives of the Diocese of Amarillo, for which she is also archivist.

The Visual Arts Section Meeting was reported by Kathleen Hickenbotham, OSB (Yankton, SD). At their meeting vision and mission statements for the section were approved. Their vision: "The ABA Visual Arts Section brings to the American Benedictine Academy a dimension of learning and human experience that flows from the mind, heart and imagination in visual images that can go deeper than words."

The mission statement says: "The Visual Arts Section of the American Benedictine Academy brings Benedictine Artists together for the purpose of mutual exchange of information and encouragement, sharing with one another and with the American Benedictine Academy the fruit of their labors and ideas, organization and participation in an exhibit held at each ABA convention, and the keeping of a permanent record of artists who exhibit at each ABA convention, with photos of their art work. This record will go into the ABA archives."

There was discussion of ideas for future ways of serving the ABA through the arts, including: the possibility of a talk at the convention on the role of arts in Benedictine life and liturgy, the enduring nature of a heritage, a book on American Benedictine artists with color photographs of their work, beginning a virtual collection of material by artists, putting information and photos on monastery websites to be later gathered and compiled into book form. Other suggestions were that three mini-sessions pertinent to the interest sections replace one convention talk, and re-visiting slide shows from past conventions that are in the ABA archives.

The 2002 exhibit showcased over 100 art works by 35 artists from 10 states. The preliminary organization, mailing, registration, etc. was done by Sister Kathleen and Brother Llewellyn Koubas (Richardton, ND). Succeeding Father Michael Komechak (Lisle, IL), Sister Emmanuel Pieper (Villa Hills, KY) is the photographer and keeps the photo record up to date. Llewellyn and Emmanuel hung the art exhibit for the convention with the assistance of Sisters Hildegard Urlacher and Edith Selzer (Bismarck, ND).

Linda Kulzer, OSB, reported that the ABA sponsored sessions at the 36th and 37th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI. Sessions at the 2001 Congress were "Familia: The Monastic Family Beyond the Cloister" and "Medieval Monastic Exegesis." Sessions at the 2002 Congress were on "Monasticism and Julian of Norwich" and "Medieval Monastic Women."

The concept of pre-convention papers will be evaluated. One question was whether to post papers on a browser other than Yahoo. Could membership use this means for suggestions about topics or speakers for next convention? Commemoration was also made of ABA members deceased since the last convention: Christian Ceplecha, OSB (St. Procopius Abbey, Lisle, IL); Jane Frances McAtee, OSB (Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, KS); Alicine Tucker, OSB (St. Bede Monastery, Eau Claire, WI).

There was also a question about why the number of oblates attending the convention was down from the 2000 convention. As to whether there should be a section for oblates, it was suggested that persons who work with oblates write a proposal and submit it to the January board meeting. Suggestion was also made that Mark McGinnis' pictures from his convention presentation be put on video with voice-over comments. This would be less costly and accessible to more persons than a book. Corinne Fair, OSB, invited the board hold their winter meeting at Holy Trinity Monastery, St. David, AZ, and the 2004 ABA convention will be hosted by St. Benedict's Monastery, St. Joseph, MN, August 12-15, 2004.


Dennis Okholm, OblOSB, announced the recipients of recent monastic studies grants. In 2001 Jonathan Zingales, OSB (St. Leo, FL) received $600 for a study of the relation between the mission statements of Benedictine institutions of higher learning and the values those institutions instill in their students. The 2002 awards went to Christine Valters Painter, $420 to attend the Studium program at St. Benedict's this summer, and to Sister Mary Anna Fay, $835 for work on a history of Mt. St. Benedict's (Crookston) ministries.

Junior Essay Winners

Valerian Oderman (center) congratulates the two Junior Essay Winners, Antonia Ryan and Boniface Hamilton.

Judges for the Junior Essay Competition were Linda Kulzer, OSB (St. Benedict's, MN), James Flint, OSB (St. Procopius, IL), and Dennis Okholm, OblOSB. There was a tie between the winning essays of Boniface Hamilton, OSB, (Belmont Abbey, NC), "Deepening Union: A Benedictine Commitment" and Antonia Ryan, OSB, (Mt. St. Scholastica, KS), "Mount Saint Scholastica's French Refugees: In Search of Liberty."

(Editor's note: Neither judges nor winners realized how well matched the two honorees were. When they arrived at the meeting, both with "new" religious first names, they discovered that they had gone to high school together. For two years in the early 1990s, both were students at the same small Catholic school, Bishop McGuinness Memorial High School, in Winston-Salem, NC.

The odds of two students with such different life paths becoming Benedictines in different geographic areas and then tying for the same literary prize in the same year are unknown, but undoubtedly small! The English department at Bishop McGuinness should be proud.)

Scholarships Awarded

Valerian Odermann (left) introduces the ABA Convention scholarship winners, Valentian Pilla and Atukuzwe Nyirenda, both of Tanzania; and John Baptist Selmar, of the Philippines.

The ABA board made several announcements at the end of the meeting. Initiated by AIM, four scholarships to the ABA 2002 convention were offered to monastics from developing countries. ABA covered all fees; AIM selected the candidates and paid travel. The first to receive these scholarships were Atukuzwe Nyirenda, OSB (St. Agnes Convent, Chipole, Tanzania), Valentina Pilla, OSB (Imiliwaha Convent, Njombe, Tanzania), and John Baptist Selmar, OSB (St. Benedict's Monastery, Digos, Philippines).

* * * * *

As part of the biennial meeting of the American Benedictine Academy, new members were elected to its board of directors. The assembly elected a vice-president, who succeeds to the presidency in 2004, and three board members, who serve a term of two years.

Richard Oliver, OSB (St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, MN) was elected vice-president. He holds a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in library science, with further library training at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. He has worked in diverse roles as a university librarian at Collegeville, including microfilming medieval manuscripts. Since 1995, he has been webmaster for several monastic websites, including ""

He has been instrumental in establishing the Benedictine Internet Commission and its successor, the Benedictine Internet Technology section of ABA. His vision for the ABA includes "a more widely diverse membership of technically savvy monastics and oblates for whom the wide realm of 'scholarship' allows and fosters individual expression of an integrated commitment to seeking and listening to God together."

Ramona Fallon, OSB (Mother of God Monastery, Watertown, SD) who had also been a vice-presidential candidate, was elected to the board of directors. The second new member is Cyril Drnjevic, OSB (Mount Angel, OR). Dennis Okholm was reelected for a second two-year term on the board. They join Rosemary Rader, OSB, current president, and Valerian Odermann, OSB, who remains on the board as past-president.


Amusing anecdotes of Benedictine community life are requested for the opening session of the ABA convention in 2004. They should be either autobiographical or about the contributor's house. Brother Benet Tvedten of Blue Cloud Abbey (whose book View from a Monastery provides good examples of the kind of contributions requested) will emcee the session, as well as read from his own writings and files.

The sooner this is done, the better, as, during their January 2003 meeting, the ABA board of directors will begin selecting contributions to be read at the convention. Anecdotes should be submitted to

Dennis Okholm
Dept. of Bible and Theology
Wheaton College
Wheaton, IL 60187

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