Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Random Acts of Culture

submitted by Delores Dufner, OSB

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the quantity of e-mails in my box, and I find myself wishing I were less connected via technology. But then I get a special message that makes all the other mail worthwhile. That happened a few days ago, when I viewed an extraordinary event at a mall in Philadelphia. The Opera Company of Philadelphia, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, had  engaged 600 choristers to mingle anonymously with shoppers at Macy’s. Precisely at noon, the 600 singers burst into Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, accompanied by the world’s largest pipe organ. The look on shoppers’ faces was one of amazement and delight at this Random Act of Culture, one of the thousand events being planned for the next three years across the country. I see on YouTube that over five million people have viewed this video-- maybe you are one. If not, take the time to enjoy it below.

If you enjoyed that one, how about these talented opera singers at a mall in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kaifeng Hotel

This year's exhibit at the Haehn Museum, "Mission to China and Taiwan," has opened up so many connections, including many special visitors to the exhibit.

But nothing as extraordinary and unexpected as the e-mails that began arriving about two months ago from Father Franco Mella in Kaifeng, China. Father Franco is a PIME missionary from Italy (comparable to the U.S. Maryknoll priests). He has served in China for 35 years and has been in Kaifeng for three years. While there, he has made a surprising discovery.

The first e-mail informed us that the Kaifeng diocese is in possession of some of our Sisters' books. What? We were amazed to learn that the Sisters' books were preserved and survived the Cultural Revolution after the Sisters fled Kaifeng during the communist takeover in 1948. The books eventually made their way to the Cathedral in Kaifeng, where they remain.

Then Fr. Franco began sending photos, including this modern photo (above) of the Kaifeng Hotel (called so approrpiately, the Kaifeng Hotel Guest House), formerly the Sisters' monastery. We were stunned to see the building, nearly the same as when the Sisters built it in 1940-41 (see photo below). There is a commemorative plaque identifying the building as the Sisters' monastery. The monastery was built under the direction of Sister Wibora Muhlenbein, who even oversaw the production of the bricks on site from raw materials. The Sisters moved in just before the attack on Pearl Harbor and spent their first year under house arrest there, before they were transferred to a concentration camp. They returned after the war to find it trashed and still occupied by soldiers, who S. Wibora ordered to move. After a few tense, uncertain years, they moved again, fleeing to Taiwan and leaving their belongings -- including their books -- behind. The building is owned by the Catholic church and leased to the hotel.

It is truly a gift to be reconnected to Kaifeng and to see the Sisters' presence there so vibrantly recorded and in fact, producing income for the Catholic church in China! We do not know yet where this relationship will lead, but we wanted to share it with you.

If you have not had a chance to see the exhibit, make your plans now! It closes on Thursday, December 23, although we know the story is still unfolding. For more on the exhibit, click here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


submittted by Kathryn Casper, OSB

I live (Oops! I almost wrote “I love with”) four other Sisters in the Welcome House of the monastery. Yes, I live with them but I also love with them! Sisters Lisa Rose, Luanne Lenz, Mary Schumer, Ruth Anne Schneider and I extend living and loving hospitality to women who come to visit the monastery to learn more about Benedictine monastic living.

Sister Lisa Rose, who is the newest addition to this group, brought a new custom into our house. At the end of the evening meal that we occasionally have together, each Sister expresses one thing for which she is grateful that day. We then close with a prayer. It is amazing how such a simple sacred pause can strengthen our commitment to one another. We learn more about one another as each one opens her heart in gratitude and lets each one of us into that intimate moment.

This small, new custom is an icon of the living with and loving with that mirrors the thankful hearts of the whole community. That beating heart of gratitude in the monastery has recently been expanded with the “homecoming” of the Sisters of Saint Bede Monastery, Eau Claire, Wis., and the Sisters of Mount Benedict Monastery of Ogden, Utah.  (See monastery home page.) On Saturday, November 20, we became one Benedictine community. From now on we live with and love with as one in a community of 294 strong and remarkable women.

Living and loving together is not always an easy task, is it? It’s fairly easy when everything goes smoothly, when we are at our best. It’s another thing when some of us are tired, are in poor health, have too much on our plate, or find ourselves out of sorts in one way or another. It’s then that we learn to be grateful for the small kindness we offer to one another: a listening heart, an offer to help in some way, the unexpected affirmation, or simply asking, “How are you?” and waiting to find out.

Louise Glück writes in The House on Marshland:

Do not think I am not grateful for your small
kindness to me.
I like small kindnesses….

On this day of Thanksgiving, shall we offer to one another those small and large kindnesses? Shall we express to one another those things for which we are grateful?

Shall we expand the heart of the world around us by living and loving well together?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays: family and friends connect around a festive meal; people take time to give thanks for blessings; homeless folks are fed as they deserve to be fed, and it’s the one holiday commercialism hasn’t found a way to spoil. The fact that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in the middle of the Civil War seems especially relevant at this time of war in Afghanistan and distressing unemployment at home.

Lincoln gave reasons for a day of gratitude which are still pertinent: “For bounties which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come . . . They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God. . . . . It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and voice by the whole American people. . . . I recommend that we also commend to God’s tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in this lamentable civil strife . . . and fervently implore the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of our nation and to restore it . . . to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union” (Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863).

At the monastery, we celebrate a Thanksgiving Eucharist in gratitude for countless blessings of faith, families, friends, Oblates, volunteers, benefactors, and so much more! A blessed Thanksgiving!

By Katherine Kraft, OSB

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The enthusiasm meter

You never know what wisdom might come your way at the monastery breakfast table. Today was just another example. I was commenting on the way the weather influences how people feel and one of the older Sisters didn’t miss a beat. She said, “You know for me, the weather outside rarely gets to me.” And laughingly she added, “Now the weather inside is another whole story.”

It immediately made me think of a comment I read in one of Anthony DeMello’s books, One Minute Wisdom. The entry was entitled "Enthusiasm.”

To the woman who complained that riches hadn’t made her happy
the Master said, “You speak as if luxury and comfort were ingredients of happiness;
whereas all you need to be really happy, my dear,
is something to be enthusiastic about.”

So I’m walking to my office mentally reviewing things that I get excited about. I find myself looking at how effortlessly the trees sway, how green the grass near the sidewalk still is and how much impishness there is in the eyes of a friend who just walked up to me. At least for this moment, my enthusiasm meter got a new battery on this cloud-covered day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pssst . . . can you keep a secret? I love electronic
toys: Ipads, cell phones, blackberrys, laptops,
digital cameras, etc. Yet I am utterly mystified by the way Google knows all things. Some time ago I signed up to receive a "Google alert" when something is written, broadcast, announced, etc. regarding interreligious dialogue. Every day I receive close to a dozen "alerts" regarding something that concerns interreligious dialogue anywhere in the world. I learned today
that the CEO of Facebook claims that in a short time his company will come up with a new e-mail system that some call the "g-mail killer". It will be able to prioritize your e-mails according to the sender's relationship to you. I do not claim to understand any of this. I do know this though: technology is simply going too fast for me.

I live with these questions: when will I no longer be able to keep up with the complexity of a technology which seems to change not every five years, or two years, but it seems more like every six months? How does a Benedictine sister on a very limited budget and conscious of being a good steward of the gifts we are given through the generosity of our benefactors keep up with all the changes and new electronic gadgets? More important than the first two questions is this question: how do I use the technology that is available to serve the people of God and at the same time not become a slave to it?

I will continue to live with these questions because there are no black and white answers but I have two examples of how using newer means of technology can help spread the Gospel: the first is a blog that S. Trish Dick posted on November 8 in which she writes about "Faith Texting" and how at her invitation a number of students are texting a faith based message to each other every day. One student is responsible for each day of the week. The other example is happening as I am writing this blog: today, November 16, is "Give to the Max" day in Minnesota and we are inviting people to donate to our newest program: the Benedictine Women's Service Corps. You can get information about the Benedictine Women's Service Corps on our web page, blog and facebook. If it is still November 16 when you read this and you don't want to be left out of "Give to the Max" day you can donate by going to our home page and there you will find the information you need in order to donate.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What Are You Reading?

Right now, I have an enormous stack of books by my favorite reading spot, in my office, and usually in my bag waiting for me. They are books handed to me by friends who thought I should read this book, or by recommendations that I have found myself. I am always interested in the next book to start my journey into another world. My friends know that I am a voracious reader always looking for the next fascinating read.

Of course, I have my favorite mystery authors, such as books by J.A. Jance (Queen of the Night), P.D. James (The Murder Room), Deborah Crombie (Water Like a Stone), M.C. Beaton (Death of a Gentle Lady), and J.D. Robb (Salvation in Death), besides the easy to read and relaxing romance books by a myriad of authors.

And yet there are many, many more books on my stacks for future reading. I am always reading in the hopes that I will find one worthy of having my students read. For example, when read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, I knew I had found a winner. This wonderful book tells the story of Paul Farmer. You might ask, who is he? On youtube.com, he is called "The doctor who would cure Haiti" and a choice of 100 items will show you that Dr. Paul Farmer has dedicated his life to working tirelessly for the poor. My students and I have been inspired by this one person who has given so much to the world.

At present my students and I are reading one of the long time best sellers by Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed. Not only does Ehrenreich's acerbic voice lay everything on the line about not getting by in America, but she makes us all examine where we are in these economically hard times.

And what about spiritual reading? Ah, yes, after Thanksgiving, my students and I will be reading the ancient book that Pope St. Gregory wrote about St. Benedict. Since we are on the campuses of two Benedictine sponsored schools, we want to read the story of Benedict through The Life and Times of St. Benedict. This tiny, yet ancient book is a delightful read about the great founder of Western Monasticism.

So, what have you been reading lately? Any recommendations to pass on?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Faith Texting

I have always been intrigued and fascinated with how college students use technology to communicate and build relationships. Thus, I set out to explore and embrace this world. I asked a team of students if they would help me pilot a faith text community.

I asked for six volunteers and myself to start the community. Thirteen students were interested, so I divided them into two groups. Each person was responsible for a day of the week that she/he would text their “God moment” and insight for the day. I checked in with the two groups during their weekly leadership meetings for snags and tweaking.

The groups continue to amaze me. Every day I get a text that is profound and insightful. It’s hard to understand and describe how community is forming that has organic energy while they’re using technology. The goal is that each member will collect six other people next semester and start their own faith texting community.

Here are a few texts I have received and publish with the authors’ permission:

“I was walking around today and I realized that every time that I was looking for God I saw Him almost everywhere. It’s so amazing how easy God makes it for us to find Him, yet God cares for us so much that we have free will and aren’t required to see God if we choose not to.”

“This morning I headed to catch the link for my 8:00 am class. There was a chill in the air. I was thankful I grabbed a coat and then thought about all those who don’t have coat and are cold this morning. May warmth of charity be in our heart today.”

I am grateful for the students who have let me intersect with their world. I simply am amazed at the faith of this generation. May we remember that every generation stretches the next generation. Yet the Spirit moves, works and engages the people of God even with a cell phone text. The Rule of Benedict says we are in the school of the Lord’s service. Whatever form it takes, may we have hearts that seek God.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Saints Above and Below

November has two major religious “feast days.” For those of us who celebrate them annually, All Saints (Nov. l) and All Souls (Nov. 2) are much beloved. Processions and Masses honor those saints already “on high” and those in the process—the deceased who are not canonized but whom we are sure are “heaven bound.”
I always look forward to the Litany of the Saints—which here at Saint Benedict’s Monastery we sing as the community processes to the cemetery on All Hallows Eve, and again as we process into chapel for Mass on All Saints Day. Familiar and not-so-familiar saints’ names roll off the tongue as we recall what diverse people have achieved sainthood.
The All Souls feast reminds us of our continued ties with those who have gone before us into a new life. (And, this week, we have two Sisters’ funerals to deepen that reminder.)
What a grand way to start November and to herald the coming to a close of another year.

Often we are reminded that we are “saints in the making.” We are also “poor souls” in need of one another’s prayers and help as we daily strive to live according to the Gospel. Saint Benedict tells us in the Rule that we can “run the way of perfection”—though some days it seems we more often plod along. If not yet there, we are potential saints and can aim to give one another due love, respect and care, mindful that we never travel alone.

photos by Karen Streveler, OSB

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Music at Saint Scholastica Convent

submitted by: Susan Sink, Communications Director

Yesterday, while I was visiting Saint Scholastica Convent, our retirement and assisted living facility, Sister Margaret Mandernach arranged for some Sisters to get together and play music after lunch.

This is a regular occurrence at Saint Scholastica. There have always been many Sisters who are musicians, but among the most fun is Sister Ellen Cotone. As a high school student in the Twin Cities, she and her brother played music in night clubs. She knows hundreds of songs, which would not be so unusual, except that Sister Ellen has suffered from memory loss for over three years. She does not remember very much at all-- including how many verses of a song she has played-- but she can play over 100 songs if you only ask. If she doesn't recognize them by name, all you have to do is hum a few bars.

Sister Johanna Becker likes to come out and listen to Ellen play, and she calls out requests-- two by Cole Porter while I was there.

Sister Ellen also does this trick of playing the piano behind her back. Below you'll find her doing her "trick," and also playing "Dizzy Fingers." Could someone comment and tell me the name of the first song?