The Rule of Saint Benedict has a lot to say about the spiritual qualifications of an abbot. But this sixth-century guide to monastic life has less to say about the actual election process that will be followed as the monastic community of Saint John’s Abbey begins to consider the successor to newly elected Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen, OSB.
The abbey will look to the Guide for the Election of an Abbot in the American-Cassinese Congregation, a handbook of election directions just approved at the 44th General Chapter of the Congregation held last June at Saint Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman, Ala.
The guide calls for the election to be held within three months of the previous abbot’s resignation or death. The first step of the process is the selection of a steering committee by the abbey’s Senior Council and the appointment of the secretary of the election. The secretary in turn notifies all finally professed monks of the date of the election.
The date of the election is chosen by the abbot president of the American-Cassinese Congregation who is Abbot Melvin Valvano, OSB, of Newark Abbey in Newark, N.J. Abbot Melvin will be the presiding official at the election.
Before the election date, the monks will meet to discern the needs of the community and the qualifications desired in the next abbot. The guidance of the Holy Spirit will be sought in public and private prayer.
At the time of the election, tellers will be chosen and the roll call of the community made. The monks eligible to vote will then nominate by individual secret ballot the person they wish to be considered for election. After the nominations are announced there will be a public evaluation of each candidate.
Following a break to allow rime for reflection, the balloting begins. For the first the ballots, a two-thirds majority of votes is needed to elect. If three more ballots are needed, an absolute majority (more than 50 percent) is required to elect. If after six such ballots, there is still no election, the presiding abbot president will appoint an administrator of the community who will lead the community until such time as the community feels it can resume the election process.
The term of an abbot is to the age of 65 years. If a monk approaching that age is elected, he may serve for a total of eight years.
Because of the clerical nature of Saint John’s Abbey and the requirements of the Code of Canon Law, the one elected abbot must be a priest.
When the election process has produced a final candidate, the candidate is asked if he will accept the office of abbot. If he does, the abbot president confirms the election and the new abbot assumes his role.
The liturgical blessing of the new abbot follows some weeks or months later.
How an abbot is elected
Submitted by Fr. Daniel Durken, OSB
September 23, 1992