The testimonies that follow were delivered by myself and a friend to Holy Wisdom Monastery and Sister Simone Campbell in connection with their Feb 13, 2013 Ash Wednesday service there (click to read the story of that). You can also download the DOC file that we delivered printed copies of, especially if you would like to distribute copies to people you know.
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 name is Elizabeth Durack; my own comments are at the end. My email is (please use my contact form, that sends to my email)
Served on the Board shortly before they “went non-canonical”
It is with great dismay and sorrow that I continue to be denied the privilege of worshiping at Holy Wisdom, once a Benedictine Catholic monastery, due to their seeking a non-canonical status. I am deeply indebted to the Benedictines beginning with my education at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. My wife Mary Kay is also a graduate from Mount St. Scholastica College now merged with Benedictine College.
I once served on the Board participating with the Sisters and others in articulating a strategic plan for the monastery. Had I known at the time that eventually the Sisters would move away from the Catholic Church, I would have never consented. I feel like the monastery no longer belongs to faithful Catholics. Disaffected Catholics have their issues with the Church and generally express their views publicly and privately. I have listened to them respectfully, but I have never been able to separate myself from the Sacraments of the Catholic Church which are crucial to my understanding of who I am as a Catholic Christian. I pray that the Benedictine Monastery will one day return to the embrace of the Catholic Church where it belongs. Fifteen hundred years of faithful Benedictine observance should not be overturned by a few individuals who seek to go their own way. I hope that before I die I will once again be able to receive the Sacraments from the Benedictine monastery in my own area. –Bob Bright, Blessed Sacrament Parish
St Benedict’s Academy alumni were shocked by woman presider at reunion “Mass”
I attended St. Raphael school from grades 1 through 8 and then Edgewood High School under the wonderful, caring instruction of the Dominican sisters. The years span from 1957 through 1969. Never once in these vulnerable, learning years did I hear anything resembling dissension with the teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. It was always an atmosphere of unity and communion with priests, the bishop of the diocese of Madison, and The Holy Father. If we could restore the obedience, faith, and trust that we once had, we would not be dealing with the evil that is rampant today. I pray that Holy Wisdom and others who advocate and promote falsehoods and liberal teachings will realize the damage being done and the souls being lost by continuing this path.
I have spoken with former classmates of mine from Edgewood who, prior to coming to Edgewood, were students at St. Benedict’s Academy, an all-girls school [which was run by the Benedictine Sisters on the property that is now Holy Wisdom Monastery]. They attended services at Holy Wisdom as part of a St. Benedict’s class reunion, unaware that their former school had been turned into a liberal, new-age institution. They were quite shocked and confused to find the Mass celebrated by women and felt trapped, unsure of what to do when the “consecrated bread” was passed to them. Catholics need to know that this is NOT CATHOLIC TEACHING and must support our Shepherd, Bishop Morlino. You cannot call yourself Catholic unless you support Catholic teaching in all matters. –Bette Weisshar
Went to summer camp at St Benedict Center in the ’60s; it’s sad they went awry
My experience is a little unusual in that I’m one of the last woolly mammoths who actually remembers what Holy Wisdom Monastery was like when it was still the ST. BENEDICT CENTER. Shortly after the Center ceased operation as a Catholic girls’ high school, in the middle 1960s, it became for a short time a well-regarded summer camp. I was blessed to be a camper for 2 years, 1967-68, and even came back after I had “aged out”, to volunteer. I loved the simple reverence of the place, and the kindness of the Benedictine sisters who were still very much in charge of things. I believe it was actually a district “motherhouse” at the time. There was a very elderly sister there, wheelchair bound, still in full Benedictine habit, which she’d worn continually for, like, 60 years. Her name was “Sister Concepta”. More about Sister Concepta later.
St. Ben’s had a lovely small chapel on a hill, overlooking the surrounding farmland, Lake Mendota & Bishop O’Connor’s nearby estate. Campers were regularly taken over to visit with the bishop. He obviously loved children, and had the twinkliest brown eyes. I still have the Miraculous Medal he gave me. The chapel was all glass and sunlight, like many post-war, pre-Vatican II churches. It had a for-real “black Madonna” statue, an ebony Our Lady of Czestochowa. I’d never seen one like it before; it fascinated me. Camper girls gathered in the chapel for noon Mass each day. We were given a list of supplies to bring to camp, which included (truly!), “skirts and chapel veils,” for Sunday Mass. Each day concluded with sung Vespers and a reading from the Bible. I’d not yet acquired the habit of daily Scripture readings. It was not the custom for lay Catholics in those days immediately following the Council. We thought that was only for priests and Religious.
Regally presiding over all of this from her wheelchair, I got the feeling Sister Concepta approved. I had all the usual summer camp experiences, games, crafts, swimming, horseback riding, and general little girl hijinks. But looking back, almost 50 years later, I remember my time at “Camp Saint Ben’s” as a profoundly spiritual experience. In all honesty, I can’t discount the prayerful example set by those holy, consecrated women. They lived the Rule of Benedict, and it had a real trickle down effect, on me, anyway. Fast forward to 2011. A dear friend died, and her “memorial service” was held at HWM. (She and her husband, a disaffected former priest, regularly attended, um, “events” there. It was kinda-sorta Catholic, but not so much as to remind him of what he’d left behind in his former life.) The little chapel full of light was gone. A new, larger “worship space” had been constructed in its place. HWM literature explains, with some pride, that the new structure is a totally “green building.” The beautiful black Madonna I loved so well was nowhere in evidence. There was a bubbling “holy water” font, but I hesitated to dip my fingers in it. After the service, I took a walk-about to see what remained of my old day camp. I discovered a tiny cemetery, small and rough-hewn. One headstone simply read, “Sister Mary Concepta.” I wondered what the saintly Sister Concepta thought of HWM now, from her Heavenly vantage point. The grave marker was a sad commentary.
The point I’m trying to make here, is that the best of intentions–which those former (small b) benedictine women at HWM no doubt had in Sister Concepta’s day and still HAVE–can go sadly awry, without supernatural outlook. As a seminarian I used to know would always say to me, “the devil’s greatest trick is getting us to fight the wrong battles.” That’s what I feel has happened with them, and it applies to ALL people of faith, the ones clinging to orthodoxy, as well as those slip-slidin’ down the slippery slope. We mustn’t demonize certain female Religious. So while we should be rightly concerned about “bus hijackings,” and spiritual rabbit holes, we must proceed with exquisite charity. Like my friend the seminarian said, all of us, through the pride that comes stamped upon our fallen natures, can be tempted to fight the wrong battles. I hope we can recognize these sisters in Christ, appreciate the tremendous sacrifices they have made for the Catholic Church, during a tumultuous era, and ever so gently get them back on the path once more.
I’m acquainted with a lot of Catholics around the diocese, with varying shades of orthodoxy. None of them seems to take Holy Wisdom Monastery very seriously.
I DO worry a great deal about “legitimate” Catholic institutions (meaning, those like the Edgewood schools that profess to be in union with the Church, “in the Sinsinawa Dominican tradition”) sponsoring activities that are totally contrary to authentic Catholic teaching. Wolves posing as Catholic “sheep.” It goes beyond trying to shout down a handful of aging, misguided women, as I think about it. The real demon here, IMHO, is the trend toward “Catholic Lite” in our culture, the notion that ideas don’t have consequences & that religion is irrelevant. –Gail Geib, Cathedral Parish
Gail also delighted me by singing the “Camp Saint Ben’s” camp song for me, in person, this is how she transcribed it:
WE’RE from Camp Saint Benedict,
AND we’re very proud of it!
LISTEN as we sing about our
THROUGH the wind & weather,
WE have fun together.
GOING horseback riding, jumping
Campers learn to grow and
MAKE new friends.
WE will not FORGET our days at
CAMP SAINT BEN’S!!!!!”
There are many more testimonies past the break, click “More” below to read them.
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