The History of the West Suburban Benedictines Study Group
There was once a group of Benedictine Oblates of St. Paul’s Monastery who asked a basic question when starting a study group on the Rule of St. Benedict. What should we use as our study guide? After discussing the many great books that have been written about the Rule, we made our selection. If we were going to study the Rule of St. Benedict, we would use the Rule of St. Benedict as our study guide.
So began the journey in February 2012 of the West Suburban Benedictines Study Group. The group was the idea and inspiration of Sister Eleanor Wartman, with the assistance of Oblate Mary Kealy-Falk. Sister Eleanor saw the need to have a study group for Oblates of St. Paul’s Monastery who lived in the western suburban areas of the Twin Cities to have a place for them to meet and study together. She sent an invitation to all the Oblates living in that area to an introductory dinner and discussion about participating in a study group on the Rule of St. Benedict. There were many questions about how and what would be studied, but the conversation boiled down to the same simple answer. We wanted to study the Rule of St. Benedict itself so that we could develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of the Rule and gain personal insights and direct instruction from the teachings of the Rule.
Our first goal was a simple one—to read and study the Rule of St. Benedict chapter by chapter from start to finish within our first year. We soon realized what novices we were in knowledge and understanding of the actual text of the Rule but were deeply satisfied with the familiarity we were gaining from carefully studying the original text.
After making it through all 73 chapters, we were quite amazed with the volume of scripture sources that were referred to throughout the Rule. So we devoted 19 months, from May 2013 to December 2014, studying the 132 Old Testament and 189 New Testament scripture passages in the Rule. We reflected on why we thought St. Benedict chose certain Scripture references and how they laid down the foundation of his teachings.
We noted that there were several “key” sections to the Rule, and in 2015, we chose to spend the year entirely reflecting and gaining understanding of the Prologue of the Rule using “The Road to Eternal Life” by Michael Casey as a supplemental guide. Making a thorough study of that one aspect of the Rule was rewarding and helped us in our understanding of the spirituality of St. Benedict and our discernment of the entire Rule.
The next year, we studied Chapter 7 on Humility exclusively throughout the year. Again, going through this signature part of the Rule as thoroughly as we did gave us a new appreciation for Benedictine Spirituality and how humility is such a core principle to Benedictine life.
In April 2017, we spent time studying Chapters 9-20 of the Liturgical Code and went into the organization of all the prayer cycles that St. Benedict included in the daily, yearly, seasonal and celebratory times for prayer. The rest of the year was devoted to the roles of Leadership that Benedict laid out in the Rule.
After six years of studying the Rule, we felt that it was time for some review of what we had covered in the previous years. So, we decided to go back to the beginning and spent the year 2018 going over the entire Rule again from start to finish. We wanted to see how our previous study had developed in us a deeper understanding of the Rule over the years.
In 2019 we embarked on a dramatic shift in our mission and decided that we would explore the writings and teachings of what Benedict based his Rule on—The Rule of the Master. We read and studied that entire Rule—all 95 chapters. By the end of the year, we all agreed how grateful we were that our chosen Rule was St. Benedict’s with his down-to-earth, practical, yet holy and spiritual philosophy of “prefer nothing whatever to Christ,” “when you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts” and “listen with the ear of your heart.”
The year 2020 brought some unique challenges to the group as it did to the world, and we had to move our meetings to an online format. However, the switch went very smoothly; we were still able to continue with our study, which last year included the Ten Hallmarks of Benedictine life. Reflecting on these hallmarks of love of Christ and neighbor, prayer, stability, conversation, obedience, discipline, humility, stewardship, hospitality and community included a lot of personal reflection on how we try to live these hallmarks in our own lives.
At our last meeting in January of 2021, we all agreed that we had covered everything we felt we could study of the Rule of St. Benedict. We had met monthly and studied together for a total of nine years. There were several Oblates who were with us throughout those years at certain times including: Harriet Smith, Pat Nelson, Julie Schedler, Lorraine Schwarzrock, and Paula Hurley. And there were the members who were together through the entire nine years of our active study group: Sister Eleanor, Jeanne Ferrian, Linda Klatt, Janet Kopp and myself.
A lot happened to all of us in those years including health issues, personal losses, and retirement, but our commitment to our study of the Rule never wavered. We became what I like to call “prayer sisters” in the process. It is an experience that we will never forget, and it has tied us closer to each other and to our commitments as Oblates, followers of the Rule of St. Benedict, and pupils in the school for the Lord’s service.
by Mary Kealy-Falk, OblSB