Like many religious communities, both Saint Johnís and Saint Benedictís have experienced declines in numbers since the middle of the 20th century. In typical Benedictine fashion, they have been attentive to what the Spirit might be saying.
For me personally and for many others in the monastic community, the study of theology has provided the framework within which one could understand the place of monasticism in the church and the world.
Saint Johnís is a place that stresses the importance of theology both in its work of pastoral ministry and in its pursuit of the monastic vocation.
Saint Johnís is a place of struggle and mystery. It is a struggle for the monks to come to some realization of who they are as human beings, Christian believers, and monastic persons.
Saint Johnís is a place of trial, discernment, and decision. Some react to the discovery of themselves and to the mystery of the divine by leaving the space. Confronted by the mystery, they realize they do not belong here or in any monastic space. They may come to realize that they should seek and serve God elsewhere. The monastic space of Saint Johnís provides many with room for enlightenment about God and themselves.
Saint Johnís is not utopia (which means ďno placeĒ). It is some place. It is not the kingdom to come; it is not a perfect community. It is not a place without problems, nor a people without problems. But it is a place to seek God.
[From Jerome Theisen, OSB, in Colman J. Barry, OSB, ed., A Sense of Place II: The Benedictines of Collegeville (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1990, 237. Fr. Jerome Theisen was 8th Abbot of Saint Johnís, serving from 1979 until 1992, when he became Abbot Primate. He died of a heart attack in Rome in 1995.]
The first reunion with former members was held in 1993. Because departures had been negotiated in private by the community and/or by the individuals, these sisters had left without closure to their experience as religious, and consequently without a sense of freedom to associate with the community again.
Likewise, members of the community were in need of reconciling the fractured bonds that had once been an important part of their lives.
The reunion was welcomed by former members and proved to be one of the most healing and reconciling events in the communityís history. Sister Ephrem Hollermann shared her experience of that reunion:
I was overcome with bittersweet emotions. On the one hand, I remembered my own feelings of abandonment, as one by one twenty-three women who entered the postulancy [preparatory to novitiate] with me left between the years 1961 and 1974. I realized how much I still missed them and needed them.
On the other hand, I was intensely inspired by their lives and the diverse ways in which each oneís search for God was bearing fruit in prayer, work, and service to the people of God all over the country.
I knew with certainty that for those who have lived together in the heart of Christ and continue to cling to the desire to seek God, there is no separation, no permanent leave-taking.
A second reunion in August 1998, with eighty-six former members attending, convinced the sisters of the need to continue these contacts. In a treasured response to these renewed relationships, twenty-two former members shared their experience of life in the community, their leaving, and their life after departure in Forever Your Sister, edited by Sister Janice Wedl and Eileen Maas Nalevanko.
[Note: Forever Your Sister: Reflections on Leaving Convent Life, North Star Press of St. Cloud, 1998, $12.95, can be ordered from www.csbsju.edu/bookstore.]
[From Evin Rademacher, OSB, Emmanuel Renner, OSB, Olivia Forster, OSB, and Carol Berg, OSB, With Hearts Expanded: Transformations in the Lives of Benedictine Women, St. Joseph, Minnesota, 1957-2000 (St. Cloud, Minnesota: North Star Press Cloud of St. Cloud, Inc., 2000), 65-66. Sister Ephrem Hollermann served as prioress from 1995 to 2005.]
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