It began with an idea of Dr. Steven Schweitzer, professor of political science at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. Having developed a personal appreciation of Benedictine spirituality, he began to reflect on the many ways in which these values could interact with issues in the social and physical sciences. He envisioned a conference where people from various academic disciplines could share their perspectives with one another. He also saw this as a way for people from many Benedictine educational institutions to get together and to affirm the distinctly monastic character of their style of education. The result was a conference in October of 1997 entitled "Benedictine Perspectives on the Environment."
The conference offered a broad and stimulating collection of presentations by monastics and non-monastics, teachers and practitioners, artists and theorists. The day began with theological reflections, joined to descriptions of practical programs which are under way at monasteries and which give expression to the Benedictine charism in actual everyday practice. The essence of this segment was the way in which the teaching of St. Benedict forms ecological practice.
The second group of workshops brought together monastic thought and other philosophies. Church teaching, public agenda, Native American and Franciscan elements entered into this dialogue. The range was further expanded with a cluster of presentations on the contributions of Benedictinism to past and present ecology, social thought, education and art.
The conference was affectionately dedicated to Eric Deitchman, OSB. Father Eric, a monk of St. Benedict's Abbey in Atchison, had served the past thirty-two years at St. Joseph Priory in Mineiros, Goias, Brazil. There he had become identified with the Benedictine spirit of stewardship among the people and environment of Brazil. Helping area farmers and herders to utilize available technology, he had assisted them also in forming a local agrarian cooperative and was its first president.
He was well known for his promotion of the development of the National Park of the Emas to preserve and protect the area's ecosystems. In 1995, the Catholic University of Goias granted him an honorary degree "Professor Benemerento" in recognition of his "scientific, educational and humanitarian work conducive to the development of the far southwest of Goias." It was through his work at the national park that Father Eric met Dr. Kent Radford, now head of the Nature Conservancy in Washington, DC. Dr. Radford gave the keynote address at the Atchison conference describing the monk's work, his important contribution both scientifically and spiritually, and his personal influence on Dr. Radford. Father Eric died from his cancer one week later at his monastery in Brazil.
It is hoped by organizers and participants at the conference that this will be a model for other such conferences. There is great benefit to be derived from sharing among faculty and students of Benedictine colleges. Bringing together people from a variety of fields allows for exploration of topics from diverse points of view. Conferences which apply monastic values to contemporary issues will foster further study and action. Other professors, institutions and monasteries are being encouraged to consider hosting such events in the future.
A full list of presentation topics from the meeting is listed below and these may be ordered on audio tapes. They are $4.00 each and are available by contacting:
Judith Sutera, OSB
Mount St. Scholastica
801 South 8th
Atchison, KS 66002
BENEDICTINES AND THE ENVIRONMENT
1. "Elements of Process Thinking in the Rule of Benedict" - Terrence Kardong, OSB
"The Garden and the Desert" - Mark Gruber
2. "Water, Oneness and the West" - Hugh Feiss, OSB
"A Marian Body: Monastic Environment and the Groaning of Creation" - Iain Highet
3. "Sustainability and the Benedictine Way" - Russell Butkus
"The Vow of Stability and Environmental Stewardship" - John Klassen, OSB
4. "Benedictine, Franciscan and Native American Consciousness" - Thomas Marshall
"Learning from Each Other: Native American and Benedictine Perspectives on the Environment" - Robert Craig
5. "A Benedictine and Franciscan Connection?" - Phil Hoebing, OFM
"Benedictine Responsibility and Franciscan Mutuality: Complementary Perspectives" - Dawn Nothwehr, OSF
6. "Considering a Balanced Environment: The Benedictine Message" - Peter Longo
"The New Environmental Agenda and Benedictine Perspectives: Exploring the Linkages" - Chris Reed
"Stewards and Companions: Official Catholic Teaching on the Environment" - Roger Bergman
7. "Benedictines and National Catholic Rural Life" - David Andrews
8. "Land Stewardship at St. John's Abbey" - Paul Schweitz, OSB
"Impact of Land Use on Climate and Environment: The Medieval Benedictine Contribution" - Benjamin Tremmel, OSB
9. "Benedictinism and Political Bioregionalism" - Darren Samson
"Balance of Perspectives in Environmental Policy" - Michael McEwen
10. "Balancing Energy Conservation With Resource Conservation: A Wind Power Study" - Ernie Diedrich "Harnessing the Wind" - Bernadette Bodine, OSB
11. "Rule of Benedict and Stewardship of the Earth" - Patricia Minx
"Reconnecting with Creation" - Barbara McCracken, OSB
12. Environmental Studies Program at St. Vincent College:
"The Monastery Run Improvement Project" - Caryl Fish
"Undergraduate Environmental Studies Program" - William Hisker
"Teaching Teachers to Grow the environment" - Frances Murphy Zauhar
13. Keynote Address - "The Garden and the Gardeners" - Kent Radford
Contents February 1998
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