For the last couple of weeks I have been collecting testimonies from local Catholic friends of mine, regarding why Catholics should not support Holy Wisdom Monastery, once a Catholic Benedictine religious community but not anymore, and now a very religiously irregular place. Included are testimonies from someone who was a board member there shortly before they “went non canonical”, someone who heard from friends who were alumni of the former St Benedict’s Academy girls’ school (which was run by the Benedictine Sisters on that property decades ago) about their discomfort when there was a woman “saying Mass” at their reunion, someone who went to summer camp there in the 60’s, and many more, including of course many from Catholics who have never been there but feel strongly based on the facts of the matter. The introduction to the “testimonies” document reads:
A few months ago, I noticed and became concerned about various men and women members of religious orders lending support to a place that no local parish Catholic I personally know thinks Catholics should support–the formerly Catholic Benedictine monastery where the Sisters left their vows and gave up the Catholic status of their group, now renamed Holy Wisdom Monastery–before I heard about a high profile Sister, Simone Campbell, going to give a reflection at one of their services and do a joint fundraiser with Holy Wisdom. From the perspective of a local Catholic, that’s outrageous! But there are many Catholics who haven’t heard how problematic Holy Wisdom Monastery is, so I thought of doing an educational project. I contacted local Catholic friends and asked them to explain why they felt Catholics shouldn’t support Holy Wisdom Monastery, which they did. There was no specific organization nor online community involved in this, and we claim no expertise on the Holy Wisdom situation. These testimonies were collected in February 2013, purely as a grassroots lay initiative. The Catholic Diocese of Madison has information about the status of Holy Wisdom Monastery on its website madisondiocese.org, essential for understanding the matter. This project is not aimed at attacking anyone nor debating politics, and we’ve joined to it much prayer for everyone’s good.
My friend who had also been with me to the Janesville “Nuns on the Bus” stop to bring a religious freedom and pro-life message to Sister Simone Campbell and her fellow bus Sisters, took these testimonies to Holy Wisdom today, where none other than Sister Simone Campbell was present to give a reflection at their Ash Wednesday service (see WI State Journal article announcing this). So I’m going to tell you in this post what happened.
I described in a recent blog post the problem with “Holy Wisdom”, and followed up on that with details about “Womenpriests” activity there (and more recently learned of an actual Women’s Ordination Conference board meeting and a fundraising event for that organization, that were held there). The Diocese of Madison’s information on Holy Wisdom is the really essential reading, though, and you can find that here.
My friend “J” dropped me off and then went back to the driveway on the edge of the public road where she stood peacefully and legally distributing the testimonies to some of the people in vehicles who were either coming or going. When I arrived, to my surprise right away one of the two Catholic Benedictine Women (they also have a protestant Sister, Lynn Smith, whom I did not speak with. I was meeting them for the first time so it does not stick in my head well which one first recognized me–I think it was Sr Mary David Walgenbach but I could be wrong) approached me and asked if I was the one with the blog–and had obviously read the article The Problem With Holy Wisdom Monastery! I said yes I do have a blog. The other Sister was there and she told her “she’s the one with the blog,” until she realized what that meant.
“Was it accurate?” I asked.
“It depends on your point of view!”
“Well, some of it is a matter of facts.” But they did not seem to want to get into it.
Sister said I was welcome, which I appreciated and thanked them sincerely. I gave them each a copy of the testimonies in a manila envelope without explanation, and Sr Joanne took Sr Mary David’s in hand. I think it was Sr Joanne Kollasch who asked if I went to St Paul’s, I said I used to but I belong to the Cathedral Parish now. I asked where they go to Mass.
“Here.” (I think this was Sr Joanne)
“There’s no Mass here,” I said (Bishop Morlino has forbidden it. They have a lay led “eucharist” service they call “Sunday Assembly”). She looked uncomfortable and I added something about being in full Communion is good and said “The Holy Father was [he still is, but I said was] all about Communion.” I let them know we pray for them, and they said they pray for the people in Madison too.
I wandered around, looked at brochures and displays. There was a cabinet of nametags of the congregation’s regulars, with many many of them having pieces of rainbow ribbon affixed. There was a table full of 2013 Lenten reflection booklets you could buy for $2, by Green Bay Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Mourneau, who I happen to know is beloved by dissenters on “women’s ordination” for his support of that belief among other things. There were all kinds of brochures on activities at Holy Wisdom. There was, of course, a display relating to the local pro-union group that Holy Wisdom and Sister Simone’s NETWORK Lobby are doing joint fundraisers with tonight and tomorrow.
Then someone I knew approached me! This is Jim, who I first met when he was one of those manning a HW-affiliated “Pax Christi” booth at the Farmer’s Market on Capitol Square last spring. They were collecting petitions for the “Nun Justice Project”, an initiative of a coalition of dissent groups (Call to Action etc etc) to support dissenting LCWR Sisters against the Church which hopes to win them back to Catholic fidelity. The idea was to collect signatures “in support of nuns” and then send it to the Nuncio etc. Everyone likes nuns and wants to support them. People signing had no idea the people collecting the signatures were associated with a former-LCWR community of Sisters that actually left their vows and gave up the Catholic status of their group and now have a lay-led “eucharist” and host an assortment of groups (Call to Action, Women’s Ordination Conference, the pro-homosexuality group Dignity) focused on dissent within the Catholic Church. Jim and I had a long conversation that day. The picture above is not from that day at the Farmer’s Market nor from today, but rather was taken when I met him at the Nuns on the Bus stop in Janesville!! Though, today he was wearing exactly the same shirt bearing the name of an organization important to many at Holy Wisdom, so it is a fitting picture of him. I’ve thought of Jim from time to time and prayed for him, and let him know that. I asked him if he’s involved with the Women’s Ordination Conference. He said no, but when I said I saw a Jim (last name omitted) posting about some event of theirs at Holy Wisdom he acknowledged he’d helped advertise things for them. I gave him the testimonies too (he’s mentioned in mine, though not by name). He is a friendly guy.
When I went into the I went into the chapel, and glancing around I saw the person who I mentioned in a previous post is a staff person at a local parish, sitting with their spouse who had on a nametag as a member of the HW congregation. I gave them a copy of the testimonies (and after the service this person approached and gave me a business card and asked if we can talk about it which I agreed). They’re in the photo above, but not recognizable. Please pray.
I was sitting next to a nice Catholic woman from India, first initial R. I quite liked her, she was unhappy with the Church for a particular reason but her Faith is important to her and she loves the Blessed Mother, she also said she twice hosted Brother Roger of Taize in her own home when he went to India to see Mother Teresa, we had a warm and enjoyable conversation. I gave her the testimonies too. She asked me to pray for her.
It was Sister Mary David Walgenbach, in white chasuble, who was the presider of the service. Maybe they only have one chasuble? Happily, there was no altar table: it would not be a communion service. The opening hymn was one I never heard before, “Slowly Turning, Ever Turning” by Delores Dufner, OSB. The lyrics are neither heretical nor specifically Christian. They indeed say “in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier”. There was a first reading, responsorial psalm, and second reading (shown above). Then Sister Simone got up and read the Gospel, shown below (a lot of people don’t realize that although the Church says Sisters should have some kind of specific habit, they seem to have a lot of leeway about what that is, and for some of them their habit is a particular medal. That’s what that is, a Sisters of Social Service medallion):
At this point someone asked me not to take pictures during the service, and I was obedient. I didn’t go there to be disruptive or do anything wrong. The Gospel was Luke 4:14-21, which I strongly suspect had less to do with Lent than it was just what they most wanted to hear Sister Simone read. Then she gave her reflection. She started off saying, significantly, that she’d arrived in Middleton this morning and to get there they’d gone through JANESVILLE. And a big cheer went up! That was apparently the best attended and most energetic of the Nuns on the Bus stops (see Jim’s picture above for photo proof that the HW folks were there). I didn’t cheer but I could have, I was there too! There was not that much to the rest of her reflection, there was something about “we are being given gifts, that sometimes I would rather give back unopened” which made me think of the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR, and reflected (“bless me, brothers and Sisters, I have sinned”) that she has “defined” a few people in a negative way but “the list probably doesn’t include me” (insofar as she was saying it is necessary to examine ourselves, wholeheartedly agreed, one of the most important preparations my friend and I made was we both went to confession soon before going to this), the second half of her brief reflection my mind was wandering.
The ashes were distributed. I was simply observing this service, and I already went to Mass this morning and still had smudges on my head. After that, there were some intercessions, and they prayed “the Prayer of Jesus” which is a genderless and simplified revision of the Our Father: “Holy One, our only Home, blessed be your name…”. Then they sang a perfectly good Catholic Lenten hymn, “Again We Keep This Solemn Fast” and the service was over. As noted above, then a certain person came up to me and wanted to meet with me at a later time.
Sister Simone was standing in the sanctuary chatting with people, and I approached her with a manila envelope of the testimonies, on which I’d written “Sister Simone”. I shook her hand and said it was from some people in Madison who love her, which is very much how I feel, and she smiled and thanked me. That’s all, even as indisputably wrong as it was, from a Catholic perspective, for her to support Holy Wisdom Monastery, I didn’t come to condemn anyone nor get into any debate, and saying that we love Sister Simone and leaving it at that, felt entirely right.
I went out and found my courageous and faithful and treasured friend continuing to hand out testimonies to departing drivers. As we drove off, we thanked God together that we were able to do a little to try to inform people and do for some the charity of fraternal correction, and asked for His mercy on all of us.