By Michael Swearingen – [email protected]
Every six years, the St. Ben’s monastery holds an election to decide who will lead them into the next six years. On Feb. 25, Sister Susan Rudolph was chosen to become prioress by her colleagues.
Elections are taken very seriously at the Order of St. Benedict. There aren’t any campaigns or mudslinging. These elections are decided by deep theological discussion and a dedication to prayer. Each sister examines the characteristics it takes to lead a community of approximately 175 women with grace and the ability to preserve the core teachings of St. Benedict.
Rudolph says the sisters started preparing for the election two years ago. They even brought in an intermediary from another monastery to guide them through the process. To start, a special prayer was developed to help all involved “be open to the wisdom of God,” Rudolph said.
In addition to prayer, the sisters created what are called “direction statements” which are broad ideas that are meant to outline what the community would like to focus on in the coming years.
Once these statements are created, it is time to decide on a new prioress.
“We talk about who are the people in our community that have those qualities that might be able to lead us,” Rudolph said. “And so we surface some names.”
Once sisters are chosen, an election process elevates them to become candidates for prioress. The day after candidates have been decided, they make a presentation to the rest of their community and answer questions. Rudolph says that this time period caused her a plethora of positive emotions.
“When I was nominated, I had no idea that people were thinking so strongly that I might be the prioress so it was really a surprise,” Rudolph said. “But I must say that it’s been a process of deep peace. I just can not tell you how peaceful I really feel about the whole process that we had.”
To end this long and thoughtful process, all fully-professed sisters gather into a room to pray and cast a vote in an event that decides which among them will lead their community for the next six years. After the completed ballots are collected and counted, they are verified and the result is announced. The candidate who is chosen is then asked if she is willing to take on the prioress position.
“At first, I thought ‘I have to tell them that I’m not really capable of doing this,’” Rudolph said. “But as the process went on, I began to see things differently and listen to their voices.”
Afterward, the sisters hold a reception to meet with and congratulate the prioress-elect.
CSB and SJU have always had a close relationship to the monasteries that made it possible for their own existence.
CSB President Mary Hinton shared her reaction to the news of Rudolph’s succession.
“I am delighted to welcome Sister Susan home to St. Ben’s,” Hinton said via email. “I look forward to working closely with her to ensure CSB always embraces and reflects our Catholic and Benedictine heritage.”
Rudolph’s installation will occur on Sunday, June 4. For more information, visit www.sbm.osb.org.