Browsing The Northern Cross

‘Affirming and challenging’ report draws joy at Duluth monastery

By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

When the Vatican released its report on a visitation of communities of women religious in the United States Dec. 16, among those watching around the world were sisters at St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth.

Benedictine Sister Edith Bogue of St. Scholastica Monastery said she is a follower of church news among the sisters and planned to get up to watch the Vatican news conference live.

At first she thought it would air at 6:30 a.m. local time. “But it turned out it was 4:30 in the morning,” she said.

Still, she put up a little sign inviting anyone who wanted to come and pulled a monitor from the college into a lounge near her, thinking she might be the only one.

When she got up there was already a light on and a sister praying.

“By the time the press conference began in Rome, there were five or six of us that were actually gathered there,” she said.

That weekend, there was another gathering, not to watch the whole 90-minute press conference but to watch a series of video clips, about five minutes each, that the Vatican had posted.

“All told we’re up to about a third of the active community having been involved,” Sister Edith said.

The response? “A lot of joy,” she said.

“And it is related to the fact that when the visitation began there was a lot of fear.”

Sister Edith characterized the report as challenging, but in a way that faces the challenges with the communities rather than casting blame, and she said it left the sisters feeling like they’d been heard.

She said some of the initial information surrounding an investigation into the quality of religious life sounded negative, and those being visited didn’t know what would be asked. Even as the process unfolded, Sister Edith said, it wasn’t clear the direction it would take.

Some communities of religious women didn’t participate, but St. Scholastica did. “The visitators who came were incredibly warm and just wonderful,” Sister Edith said.

But waiting for the outcome proved “interminable,” an agenda item on numerous meetings since the visitation itself concluded in 2012.

The report was affirming, as well as challenging, she said, and begins with a section outlining all the good things women religious in the United States are doing.

“All of them could have been taken from the minutes of our chapter meetings.”

The challenges include many aging and shrinking communities as well as the challenge of carrying on Catholic ministries that have grown.

But she said the report encourages communities to talk and pray about it and notes they are already thinking and working on the issues.

“It was much more an examination of conscience than it was a requirement,” she said.