By Jeff Dols, OblSB
Over the next several e-Newsletters we will look back and look forward honoring the 40-year history of the Benedictine Center. Excerpts from the archives and personal experiences and perspectives provided by several voices of the past, as well as my own, will open up the rich history and evolving future of the Benedictine Center.
From the Archives: The Beginning
The Benedictine Center was officially established on August 15, 1983, with Sister Veronica Novotny as director. She and her staff (Sisters Virginia Matter and Mary White) along with an Advisory Board ministered under the following mission statement…
Nurtured by the Gospel in the spirit of St. Benedict, the Staff of Benedictine Center and Sisters of St. Paul’s Monastery invite persons to a time away in a monastic environment to discover the presence of God in themselves, in other persons, and in the world around them. Each person is encouraged to seek personal harmony through prayer in solitude, inner healing, openness to God in nature and worship with the community in daily Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours.
They offered hospitality, spiritual direction, psychotherapy, individual and group retreats. Programs were introduced expanding services related to women, family life, single parenting, and other aspects of spiritual growth.
Sister Veronica Novotny served as director until 1988. During the following five 5 years, several directors, John Howard, Sister Mary White, and Sister Rose Alice Althoff furthered the mission statement and its objectives.
To get a sense of Sister Veronica’s prophetic call to begin this retreat center ministry, we draw upon this excerpt from a February 1980 letter she wrote to the Monastic Council…
called to continue working in the field of spiritual direction and retreats, but under more Benedictine auspices. I am writing to propose that St. Paul’s Priory explore the possibility of developing a spirituality center that would share the spirit of our monastic community. Through the centuries, people have recognized Benedictines for their relevance during each era of history because of their deep rootedness in God and Christian ideals.
I believe that, nurtured by the Gospel and the spirit of St. Benedict, the Sisters of St. Paul’s Priory could invite persons to spend time in the monastic environment where they would discover the presence of God in themselves, in other persons, and the world around them.
In 1978, I wrote to the Council encouraging the Sisters to seek out spiritual direction and to be trained themselves as spiritual directors because I believe that spiritual renewal is important for monastics and non-monastics alike. My work as a teacher, a director of religious education, and a spiritual director has convinced me that people need to experience what is core to our monastic life: prayer, reflective reading, and discerning apostolic work. Opening the monastic environment to guests would be a service to our Church and a strong testimony to Benedict’s instruction: “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.”
I realized we need to listen carefully to all persons involved – the individual Sisters, the whole community, the needs of the people, and my own personal needs and call. Already, I have a list of Sisters who are interested in offering services for a spirituality center, and that suggests there is openness in the community to this possibility.
I propose that the Monastic Council ask the Chapter to commission a feasibility committee. Between now and 1983, that committee would begin studying the idea, slowly experimenting with pilot programs and welcoming guests. The resulting recommendation would be submitted to the Chapter for approval.
Thank you for your consideration and may God bless our discernment.
Sister Veronica Novotny, OSB