photo by Nick Wilkes Photography
Sisters – the heart of the Holy Wisdom community
The Benedictine sisters who form the heart of this community come from a variety of Christian traditions. The OSB (Order of Saint Benedict) that follows our names stands for our commitment to live as Benedictine monastic women, following the Gospel and the Rule of Benedict. Holy Wisdom Monastery is our home and our Benedictine tradition touches every aspect of community life here, providing hospitality and welcome to all. While community life is essential to Benedictine spirituality, it also recognizes the uniqueness of the individual. Each sister has a story to tell about her journey to becoming a sister in this community.
After you meet the sisters by reading their stories, you may be interested in learn more about:
We welcome diversity among members, changing traditional boundaries to include Christian women of any denomination as full members. Within the community we live a practical ecumenism grounded in hospitality, listening, and service to one another, following the Rule of Benedict as a contemporary way of living the Gospel.
Sister Mary David Walgenbach, OSB
“Our ecumenical community is a daily reminder that in Christ we are one.”
Sister Mary David Walgenbach joined the Sisters of Saint Benedict following a call to religious life that grew steadily after high school graduation. Early on she took an active part in the community life and ecumenical ministries. She co-founded the Community of Benedict and the monastery’s oblate community, setting a path toward the dream of an ecumenical sisters’ community that became reality in 2006 as Benedictine Women of Madison. Sister Mary David has a lifetime involvement in interreligious gatherings, including the Bossey Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland and the World Council of Churches “Ecumenical Decade of the Churches’ Solidarity with Women” in Harare, Zimbabwe. She is currently prioress, guided daily by the desire to make the monastery an inclusive place for people of all faith traditions.
Sister Mary David shares her story:
“My friends didn’t think I’d last.”
After graduating from high school, I considered a call to become a sister. A year later, in nurse’s training, it became clearer to me that I needed to try this way of life. My friends didn’t think I’d last. My parents wanted me to wait until I graduated from nursing school. Amidst all the concern for my well-being, I took the train from Sioux City, Iowa, to Madison, Wisconsin, to join the community. Despite initial concerns, they soon realized it was the right place for me.
Faith is my response to God’s love in my life. It has changed over the years from my initial call to religious life. I rely more on God leading and supporting me than on doing it all my way. God takes me to the depths of my being and to the heights of my joy. Letting go and trusting God is the challenge for me on this roller coaster called life. Some days I do it well, and some days, I don’t.
Community life is my crucible: the place where I come to know myself and others. Together, we come to the awareness that we weave a common vision and a sense of belonging into a vibrant community. Here I discover the gifts I have received and the joy of sharing them. I learn, too, that my needs provide other community members the opportunity to share their gifts with me.
I am grateful that my family and friends continue their love and support.
Contact Mary David Walgenbach, OSB, at email@example.com, 608-831-9300.
Sister Joanne Kollasch, OSB
“I love life in a monastic community and share it with whomever I can.”
Over sixty years ago, Sister Joanne Kollasch put down roots for a community of Benedictine Sisters in a beautiful place overlooking Lake Mendota and the city of Madison. A strong call to spiritual life led her to join an order as a young woman and work with other sisters to form Saint Benedict Center (now Holy Wisdom Monastery). Her life-giving relationship with the community continued to evolve as she served for over a decade as prioress. A lifelong goal to provide a home for spiritual seekers of all kinds led Sister Joanne to co-found the ecumenical communities Benedictine Women of Madison, the Oblates of Holy Wisdom Monastery and the Community of Benedict. She now serves as a spiritual guide for guests who visit the monastery and serves the community as co-director of formation. Joanne helps to maintain a home that welcomes people from around the world for spiritual and personal growth, promotes caring for the land and preserves space for people to reflect on God’s presence in their lives.
Sister Joanne shares her story:
“Being a Benedictine sister suits me well.”
In my family, becoming a sister was not surprising. Aunts, cousins and siblings had followed their own calls to become priests and sisters.
I believed nursing was my vocation, only I was feeling a strong call to teach. Even stronger, I felt a pull toward entering an order. And so, I came to our community with a strong conviction of God’s call to this way of life. At the same time, I thought the sisters could use my help. Now, more than 60 years later, it’s clear to me that the sisters thought I could use their help!
The community and I need each other. Together we form a life-giving, life-long relationship that nurtures and sustains us and sends us out of ourselves in love and service to God’s people. Neither the community nor I imagined that one day we would create an ecumenical community. This was beyond our Catholic imagination. But we have done it.
As Benedictine Women of Madison, we are a Christ-centered community of women from different church affiliations. Who would have imagined that we would share among us the 1,500-year-old Benedictine life of prayer, hospitality, justice and care for the earth?! We are eager for other women to join us.
Contact Joanne Kollasch, OSB, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-831-9302.
Sister Lynne Smith, OSB
“My favorite community activity is cooking Sunday night dinner together.”
Sister Lynne Smith was called to spiritual life as a young girl, telling her mother that she wanted to become a nun when she grew up. While her mother told her that only Catholic women could become nuns, Sister Lynne continued to feel a call to give her life in service to God and others. Lynne became a Presbyterian pastor and led parishes in Kansas and Iowa for over 15 years before discovering Benedictine Women of Madison. She visited Holy Wisdom Monastery and soon began to attend retreats with the sisters and explore the different resources for spiritual development at the monastery. Sister Lynne felt that she had found her heart’s home in the sisters’ community and decided to start the journey of becoming a community member. In 2000, she made her profession to the community as the first Protestant member. She is active at the monastery and at events around the country. Sister Lynne currently serves the community as co-director of formation.
Sister Lynne shares her story:
“Life in community calls me to go deeper.”
By the time I saw the third ad for Benedictine Women of Madison that read “We welcome women of any Christian denomination,” I told myself I had to look into it because it could mean me.
At the time, I was a Presbyterian minister serving a church in Iowa. My spiritual life had taken a turn toward the contemplative life as a result of a retreat I made some years before. I contacted the community and began to come periodically for retreats.
After a process of discernment with the sisters, I moved here in June 1998. Common prayer (especially singing the Psalms), the community’s vision and a desire to lead a balanced life drew me here. Ecumenism and care for the earth are also dear to my heart. Living here gives me an opportunity to offer my gifts both to the community and to the many people who come here. Life in the community calls me to go deeper into myself and into God and to develop new parts of myself.
As a life-long Presbyterian, I find many connections between my faith tradition and the Rule of Benedict. The priority of scripture and collaborative decision-making are just two places where these traditions are complementary.
In addition to raising awareness about our community, I like to work in the garden, ice skate, cross country ski, and work with clay.
Contact Lynne Smith, OSB, at email@example.com, 608-831-9305.
Sister Rosy Kandathil, OSB
“I did not know what God was calling me toward. I only knew that I wanted to follow—even if it meant going out into the unknown prairies of Wisconsin.”
Rosy Kandathil first came to the community as a Benedictine Sojourner in the fall of 2013, trading the life of New York City for the “unknown prairies of Wisconsin.” She has thrived on the prairie and in community, becoming a novice in September, 2014, and making her first profession in September, 2015. In New York City Rosy worked as a public defender with the Legal Aid Society for seven years and then as a pastor of contemplative arts with New Life Fellowship Church. She is fond of chocolate, coconut and cheese. Rosy completed her Master’s degree in scriptural studies at St John’s School of Theology in Collegeville, MN in May, 2017.
Rosy shares her story:
“I told myself it is only for a year.”
Coming to Holy Wisdom as a Sojourner in 2013, I told myself it is only for a year. I was curious about life in a monastery, but I was also happy living in New York City. I was working for a vibrant urban church as their pastor of contemplative art. In many ways, it was an ideal fit for me. I knew, however, that I wanted more depth and training in my spiritual life, and that I couldn’t get much further on my own: I needed a community.
In recent years, I had discovered monastic authors like Bernard of Clairvaux and Hildegard of Bingen as well as Thomas Merton and Joan Chittister. The timeless quality of monastic wisdom and insight stunned me: what was it about monasteries that produced such consistently penetrating prophetic voices down through the ages? The value of monastic life and community, dedicated to the “one thing necessary,” attracted me powerfully. Could I be called to follow Christ in their footsteps? As a life-long Protestant in my mid-30s, I thought I could only wonder. Most monasteries were Catholic (and I did not desire conversion), while the long, arduous process of formation made me consider my age. My spiritual director once said half-in-jest: “You could be a PhD twice over before becoming a sister!”
Yet, the desire did not leave me. I scoured the internet, vaguely searching, unsure even of what I was looking for, yet feeling compelled to continue. On a whim one day I typed in “Protestant monastery” and followed a thread to Holy Wisdom Monastery. Landing on their website, I learned that in 2006, Holy Wisdom became the first Benedictine monastery to open its doors to any single Christian women, no matter her denomination. A mixture of emotions flooded me: relief, amazement, wonder, disbelief, and then, joy. Could this be what I have been searching for all along? I held that question gently as I came out for a visit, and then another and another, before finally coming for an extended stay as a Benedictine Sojourner.
My journey is by no means complete. As a newly professed sister, I am learning to trust the road ahead and the companions who walk beside me. My formation deepens in the context of my Benedictine promises to obedience, stability and fidelity to the monastic way of life. Discernment doesn’t end with a monastic profession. It continues as I listen for and obey God’s voice which calls me to my daily work and prayer within the circle of my commitment to the community of Holy Wisdom Monastery.
Contact Rosy Kandathil at firstname.lastname@example.org.