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What is emerging among Benedictine women's communities?

We are challenged “to stretch ourselves so that we can welcome and be hospitable to the future that is unfolding,” said Sister Patricia Crowley, OSB. She was speaking at the closing of the Conference of Benedictine Prioresses last month, a biennial gathering of Sisters who lead Benedictine women’s communities in the United States along with their foundations in other countries.

Sister Patricia Crowley, OSB just completed her term as President of the Conference, a role she has held since 2013. The Conference officially began in 1993, after several years of Prioresses meeting informally to mutually assist one another in their work. The organization will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year and Sister Patricia has been reflecting on how far Benedictine communities have come and what is emerging today.

At the time the group was founded, Sister Patricia recalls that “women religious had moved from discussion and action regarding the external realities of their common life, e.g. dress, types of ministry, horarium, etc. to more direct action for justice and in leadership positions in their institutions and organizations.” She remembers “some held key positions in the fields of education and in health care. Many were still involved in the corporate ministries of their particular monasteries (colleges, hospitals, schools, etc.).”

She notes that over the last decade or more, there has been another shift occurring within Benedictine and other women religious communities. She sees “a shift in which many are now able to recognize deeply the place they play in our increasingly secularized society.” She believes that many women religious are increasingly willing “to take the kind of risks on which their communities were founded,” and to speak out more boldly in public ways.

A glimpse of some of the Prioresses attending the Conference this year.

Additionally, Sister Patricia notices that many women religious now see how they can share life across communities and congregations in ways they hadn’t before. In the next 25 years, she imagines a greater “collaboration and networking across nations, races, languages, etc. to spread the good news of the gospel.” Additionally, she envisions “more public witness to the values of life lived in community with others, of prayer, and of silence….”

“I see the gift of Benedictine life today,” reflects Sister Patricia, “as the witness we are able to give to the possibility of people of different backgrounds living together, committing themselves to one another and to God, and being of service in our deeply polarized and wounded world.”

When asked what she sees as one of the greatest joys among Benedictine communities today, she speaks to “the amazing new ways in which our younger women are relating to each other and working in collaboration across federations and community lines.”

In her concluding remarks to the Conference of Benedictine Prioresses this past February, Sister Patricia encouraged the women leaders, “to stay strong and think expansively.” They seemed fitting words for these women leaders who remain rooted within their Benedictine tradition while changing in response to the signs of the times.

The Sisters pray at the Conference of Benedictine Prioresses

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