A New Prioress, A New Experience

I tried to listen to my sisters as carefully as possible as they told me their memories of previous prioress installations. It was the first time for me, and my curiosity was running high.

One told me about an old practice; the newly-elected prioress assumed the position immediately after the election—how daunting!

Another told me that the community used to go up and kiss her ring, just like the pope!

On Saturday Sister Stephanie Schmidt became our prioress during a late-afternoon ceremony. It really was quite moving. She had been elected back in July, not only minutes before like the “old days.” And we didn’t kiss her ring, but she did give each of us a photograph she had taken with the words “With God all things are possible” overlaid on the image.
Sister Anne, our outgoing prioress, asked Stephanie if she accepted the community’s call, and after she said that she did, there was a line in which the community said together, “Sister Stephanie, our prioress,” and it hit me. There was a new prioress. If you hadn’t been paying too much attention to the words, you might not have even realized it happened. It was just a simple verbal consent that changed everything.
But, of course, we know that that is how it goes with words. So mundane, so powerful.
Joan Chittister’s commentary on the Rule of Benedict regarding the prioress offers these words, among other reflections:
At the end of an entire series of injunctions and prescriptions, Benedict suddenly reintroduces a description of the kind of abbot or prioress whom he believes should guide a Benedictine community. He is, in other words, giving us a theology of authority or parenting or leadership. The Talmud reads, “Happy is the time where the great listen to the small, for in such a generation the small will listen to the great.” In the Rule of Benedict the prioress and abbot are told to display the good like a blazing fire but always to “let mercy triumph over judgment” and to “strive to be loved rather than feared.” Authority in Benedictine spirituality is not an end in itself nor is it an excuse to oppress the people from whom all law is made. Law is simply a candle on the path of life to lead us to the good we seek.

Let us be grateful for Sisters Stephanie and Anne, as well as all Benedictine leaders, as they guide us with humility and love toward goodness and fullness of life.
Let us walk in the holy presence.
P.S. Here is some of my photo journal from the day.
I decided to make homemade sticky buns for the community to enjoy at breakfast time! Try to figure out which one received an early taste test from me!

We, in initial monastic formation, decorated the community room. I enjoyed helping with flowers—gladioli on the divider (still coming into full bloom now!) and Black-eyed Susans for the dining room tables.

And from our celebratory drive-by greeting with oblates and friends…(Read about it here.)
Waiting for everyone to arrive!
Getting ready to take photos.
Having a little fun with some outdoor toys.
We miss you all!