Ecological stewardship, breathed into the Benedictine values of humility, stability and frugality, is witnessed through the work of our hands. Attentiveness to all of creation lives through our intentional daily actions.
The monastery was recently contacted by a company that provides gas pipelines in the local area. The population of St. Joseph is growing and concern was expressed that the pipes presently used would not be sufficient for the increased housing in the area. The company felt it was necessary to add additional pipes of greater diameter. The shortest route to accomplish that was to go directly through the woods that are on St. Benedict Monastery’s property.
Of course, our immediate response was to say there must be further discussion. There are many reasons why the pipeline expansion is not a good idea. As a community, we pointed out, among many other things, that cutting through the middle of the woods is essentially destroying all the woods, both trees and the wildlife. Trees live as a community connected through their root system. We also pointed out that human needs no longer automatically take precedence over nature.
We contacted attorneys and learned about our rights and options. The attorneys heard our thoughts and concerns and asked us to put together a letter communicating the concerns and our conviction, stating that we do not want a pipeline through the woods. The attorneys communicated with the company involved and explained our insistence that we find a different route that does not destroy the land. The company was willing to listen and cooperate. A mutually agreed upon route was accepted with only a tiny portion of the outer border of our property effected.
It was the best possible scenario. Both groups involved had their needs met because there was mutual willingness to listen and respond. It is another example of how we could offer nature the same privilege that we as human persons assume. St. Benedict’s Rule, rooted in scripture, welcomes everyone into the daily response of nature’s invitation of stewardship.
Photo (top right):taken by Sister Carleen Schomer
Photo (bottom right):Sister Elaine Schroeder, taken by Sister Carleen Schomer
What is the difference between working for equality and working for equity both in our thinking and in our acting?
In some circumstances, people need to be treated differently in order to provide meaningful equality of opportunity. Chapter 34 of the Rule of Benedict is entitled “Distribution of Goods According to Needs.” St. Benedict says, “It is written: Distribution was made to each one as he had need (Acts 4:35). By this we do not imply that there should be favoritism but rather consideration for weaknesses. Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed, but whoever needs more should feel humble because of his weakness, not self-important because of the kindness shown. In this way all the members will be at peace” (RB 34:1–5).
Benedict is clear that some people have needs that must be met in order for all to have, in the real sense, equal opportunity. There are situations such as dietary law, intellectual and emotional challenges that need to be accommodated so opportunity is available. There are realities that create injustices that need to be remedied such as physical handicaps and systemic structures of racism, ageism and sexism. Equity is the effort to remedy unequal situations that do not allow people to realize their full dignity as human persons.
Think about a situation, institution, or structure in which there are gaps or disparities in opportunities and achievements—family, school, employment, housing, health care, public safety, political influence, etc. In concrete terms, how might equity help close the gaps you see? How could we do the work of equity, and what might the results be?
Healing and Reconciliation in White Earth
Saint Benedict’s Monastery, St. Joseph, Minn., stands on land which was the ancestral homeland of the Dakhóta and Anishinaabe peoples. The sisters acknowledge with reverence and respect the Indigenous Peoples who dwelt here.
In 2021, then-prioress Sister Susan Rudolph issued a formal apology to White Earth Nation on behalf of the community for our participation in the federal government’s Assimilation Policy. An excerpt from the apology says:
We acknowledge the injustice done through our community’s participation in the federal government Assimilation Policy to educate Native American youth at St. Benedict’s Mission boarding school on the White Earth Reservation (1878–1945), St. Mary’s Mission on the Red Lake Reservation (1888–1940s), and the Industrial Boarding School (1884–1896) on the monastery campus.
…the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict have been working in collaboration with the White Earth community and its Tribal Historical Preservation Office and the College of Saint Benedict to strengthen the bonds that continue to move toward healing, reconciliation, and peace with our Native American sisters and brothers.