On January 10, 2019, we welcomed the Rev. Nancy Enderle and the Rev. Jerry Buss, the co-directors of the Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal to the coworkers at the monastery. Joanne remarked to me: “This begins another chapter.”
Her comment set me thinking about the chapters in our community’s story. The sisters’ community has authored many chapters in its life. They are a testimony to the sisters hearing and responding to the needs around them. If I were to write a summary of the chapters, it might go like this.
Chapter 1 – Hospital
When the Sisters of Saint Benedict first arrived in Sioux City, IA in 1897 they saw a need for health care and food among the working poor of the city. The sisters began a hospital and a nursing school to provide nurses to staff it. Long lines of working men came to the back door of the kitchen where they received sandwiches for their daily meal.
Chapter 2 – School
When the new bishop of Madison saw the need for a girls’ Catholic preparatory high school in Madison, he invited the Benedictine sisters in Sioux City to come to the diocese to start one. The sisters came in 1953 and opened the school in 1959.
Chapter 3 – St. Benedict Center, an Ecumenical Retreat & Conference Center
The documents of Vatican Council II inspired the sisters to invite the Interfaith Dialogue of Madison to hold their monthly meetings at the monastery. After a time, the Dialogue group asked the sisters to open an ecumenical retreat and conference center at the monastery: St. Benedict Center began (1966).
Chapter 4 – Community for the 80’s: new forms of community
The sisters’ mission took a new turn in 1980 after hearing Professor Giles Constable’s historical presentation at our International Symposium Commemorating the Birth of Benedict (480-1980). After hearing this presentation, the sisters were inspired to start new ecumenical communities flowing from their mission: Community of Benedict, Sunday Assembly, Oblates of Holy Wisdom Monastery, etc.
Chapter 5 – Benedictine Women of Madison
By 1992 the sisters had shared their life for 25 years with all who came to the monastery. A visioning and planning group asked the question: are the sisters being called to open their membership to women of any Christian denomination? In 2006, with the blessing of our Federation of Saint Gertrude, they answered the question: we believe we are called.
Chapter 6 – Green Building
As an expression of Benedictine Stewardship, the sisters had cared for the land on which the monastery was situated ever since coming to Madison. They planted hundreds of trees, created grass waterways, restored acres of prairie, dredged Lost Lake. Responding to the deepening urgency to care for our fragile earth, the sisters embodied their care for the earth ministry by building a green monastery, certified at the platinum level of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).
Chapter 7 – Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal
This chapter began in the spring of 2018 when Sister Mary David called together a group at the monastery to write a grant to the Lilly Foundation to establish the Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal. This chapter in the life of the community will bring clergy to the monastery twice a year for immersion in Benedictine spirituality and renewal for their continued ministry. We are excited to see what this new chapter will bring.