Monastery technology spikes novice interest

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“The first thing I tell the men coming in is the information about the past cases,” Niebauer said. “I don’t want them to be blind-sided or to present something that is other than what it is. They appreciate that, and I think that transparency is the best policy.” – Br. Paul-Vincent Niebauer

 

[Webmaster’s Note: In an email [ View ] sent on May 11, 2011, Br. Paul-Vincent Niebauer was asked to request that Abbot John Klassen take a similar “transparency is the best policy” approach so that the ongoing blindsiding of the entire St. John’s community might one day stop. ]

Monastery technology spikes novice interest

According to the Rule of St. Benedict, the moral code that guides the life of monastics from the St. Ben’s Monastery and the St. John’s Abbey, each member of the community is allowed one quill or stylus. For Br. Paul-Vincent Niebauer, the vocation director for the SJU Abbey, his quill just happens to be an iPhone.

“We are an abbey attached to a prep school, a university and a liturgical press,” Niebauer said. “If we were a monastery in the Alps, we could be fine with one computer terminal or so. Because we aren’t, we need to be able to meet and respond to the world on its own level.”

Despite the situation surrounding past sexual abuse allegations at the SJU Abbey, the number of novices seeking admission to the Abbey is trending upward each year. According to Niebauer, the role of technology in the monastic life of CSB/SJU is part of the ever-rising numbers of those seeking the religious vocation.

“We are growing, the median age of the monks is dropping and I think its partly because of the role of our website sharing common information and knowledge about what it means to be a religious here,” Niebauer said.

In 2007, five novices, men at many different levels of the admission process, were seeking to join the Abbey. Now four years later, 13 novices seek the vocation of monastic life at the SJU Abbey. Additionally, the approximate average age in the monastery has fallen from 66.7 years to 65.9 years in the past four years and continues to fall.

“The difference between the monastic demographic and that of a typical organization, is the age range is so extreme. Monks seem to live forever, and so do the sisters,” Niebauer said. “When an elderly monk dies and a young man joins the monastery, the shift can be quite dramatic.”

The numbers of those seeking to join the monastery because of a better spread of monastic information may be rising, but the actual process to become a novice remains stringent and comprehensive.

“It’s a 12 hour interview, a full psychological and physical analysis, as well as federal background check fingerprints as well,” Niebauer said.

The SJU Abbey is not the only monastic community benefitting from modern technology like the Internet and social networking. The CSB Monastery has been using technology to establish and build connections with potential candidates.

“We have a blog and a Facebook page for reaching people we might not normally reach,” CSB Monastery Communications Director Susan Sink said. “The best thing about them is the relationship-building, the ability for the sisters to e-mail interested candidates and to build relationships is definitely the most important.”

With the number of novices rising as a result of some modern technologies used by monastics, there are also other steps being taken to help soothe the emotional damage of the past allegations.

“The first thing I tell the men coming in is the information about the past cases,” Niebauer said. “I don’t want them to be blind-sided or to present something that is other than what it is. They appreciate that, and I think that transparency is the best policy.”

“The most important thing is what we are doing to make sure that never happens again. Transparency is totally necessary for that. The old adage ‘honesty is the best policy?’ It is true. We are a family, and we are working through it.”

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Monastery technology spikes novice interest
By Adam Tucker | Posted on Friday, May 06, 2011 at 6:05 pm

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Topics: BS, Paul-Vincent Niebauer, PR Machine

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