“An anniversary is a time to recall the past and celebrate whatever merits celebrating and reconcile whatever needs reconciling. But more importantly, it is a time to turn toward the future… At this time, I would rather dream of the possibilities for the future than dwell on the problems of the past.” – Sister Nancy Bauer (June 24, 2006)
Sister Nancy Bauer’s Reflection
Feast of St. John the Baptist
St. John’s Abbey Church
June 24, 2006
Sister Nancy Bauer, OSB, Prioress, Saint Benedict Monastery
Abbot John, it is an honor for me to extend to you and all the monks of Saint John’s Abbey, the congratulations of all the sisters of Saint Benedict’s Monastery on the occasion of the sesquicentennial of the abbey and university.
On April 20, you heard from the abbot of your mother monastery, Saint Vincent’s. A few minutes ago, you heard from the abbot of your grandmother monastery at Metten. Since we have this matriarchal system going here, I think it is appropriate that I am here to represent your sister monastery.
Our histories have been intertwined since the beginning. I was reminded of this recently when Patrick Henry, former executive director of the Ecumenical Center, made a presentation to various groups of our sisters. He had read the four books that tell the history of Saint Benedict’s Monastery and from this exercise shared with us his thoughts on what we have been about these 150 years. He began his reflection with a quote from one of the earliest monks of Saint John’s. In an August 12, 1857 letter to Abbot Boniface Wimmer, Father Alexius Roetzer wrote: “As soon as one trouble is over, another shows up. Now the sisters have come.”
I understand that Father Alexius, God rest his soul, returned to Saint Vincent’s a short time later. But, Abbot John and brother monks, the sisters have come again today. We are here 70 strong. We are here to recognize and celebrate your fidelity to our common heritage: the living of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. We are here to pray with and for you, as we have been for these fifteen decades. We are here to bless you as you begin the next 150 years.
We are monks, nuns. Brothers, sisters. Johnnies, Bennies. Sons and daughters of Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica. The masculine and feminine expressions of monasticism in the New World. We have been companions on a journey of seeking God and serving the people of God. Many of the family names on your membership list match the names on ours: Gertken, Weber, Primus, Reed, Marx, to mention a few. In the early years, we established missions together — White Earth in the 1870s and Red Lake in the 1880s — and parishes and schools among the immigrants right here in Central Minnesota. We did your laundry. You did our sacraments. In more recent years, the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University began an experiment in collaboration that, while still a work in progress, has already yielded many good results for both campuses.
Yes, there have been lights and shadows in our 150-year relationship. Abbot Wimmer holds a different place in your hearts than in ours. There are good memories and old wounds. There has been collaboration and consternation. We may need to talk. But there have also been deep spiritual friendships, working together for the good of the Church, and mutual assistance.
And this is a new day; a new beginning. An anniversary is a time to recall the past and celebrate whatever merits celebrating and reconcile whatever needs reconciling. But more importantly, it is a time to turn toward the future.
We began our first 150 years in an unequal partnership, with the sisters being subject to the abbot in many ways. We begin our second 150 years as equal partners, co-creators of the Kingdom of God. At this time, I would rather dream of the possibilities for the future than dwell on the problems of the past.
I have the same dream that Father Matthew Luft articulated last night. Like him, I hope for a future of greater collaboration and communion between our two communities. I see our newest members as the catalyst and life force of this movement. I would like to add one more headline to those predicted by Father Daniel Durken. The headline I predict for our bicentennial celebrations is this: St. John’s Abbey and St. Benedict’s Monastery achieve a new model of partnership between men’s and women’s monasteries.
Together we can do marvelous things. Wow.