Enriching and Challenging: Community

In this episode of Set Apart, Rocky shares her interview with Sister Belinda Monahan, OSB. Sr Belinda is a Benedictine Sister of Chicago, and she shares her experience of discernment, the call, education, her career and living in community. 

Transcript:
Rocky:
So, when you started this discernment, what were some of the challenges that you faced?

Sr Belinda:
Partly, the fact that I hadn't known any women religious. So I didn't have an idea of what they might do or how they might live. I remember saying to my spiritual director, “I don't want to be a teacher or a nurse.” And, she assured me that that sisters do other things now. But,  I still kind of had this image of the sisters from the 60s because that was my experience was. [My experience was] what was portrayed in the old movies. You know, not The Sound of Music, that I knew at least was gone. But, other movies. And so, I was completely lost in terms of what sisters might do and how they might live. The other challenge for me was the archaeology piece. I visited a lot of religious communities, and the question I would always ask was, “can I continue to do archaeology?” And, when I got a hard ‘no’ that made it very difficult to continue to discern with the community. And, oddly enough, when I got a ‘yes,’ an instant ‘yes,’ that also made it difficult to continue to discern with the community. And, it wasn't until years later that I figured out that, for me, community life is the primary pull for me to religious life. And, when people said automatically, “yes, you can to continue with whatever ministry you have now,” it meant that they weren't considering how it might affect my community life. And so, I had a hard time with that, although I didn’t know why. So, those were, for me, the two main difficulties.

Rocky:
So how does archaeology kind of affect you now?

Sr Belinda:
Well, I do less and less of it now. But, I think in terms of being a religious sister, it gives me a perspective on religious life that allows me to take a long look at the history of women religious in the United States, or In general. We often hear that religious life is ending. Well, Benedictines have been around for fifteen hundred years. I don't think they're going to end in my lifetime, and it looked very different in different periods of time. So. if you look at the past 150 years of Benedict women in the United States, even that's changed dramatically. And so, I'm less concerned with the smaller numbers and the different kinds of ministries that we may or may not have, because I can see how these things have changed. It's also true that when I do archaeology, I do primarily animal bones and I just finished writing a book on ceramics, but, the “people that I work with” have been dead for 4,000 years. So, if there's a community event, I can attend the community event because they can wait another week or two. These people aren't going anywhere. The bones of the animals that they eat aren't going anywhere anytime soon. There's no hurry in archaeology.

And, one of the great things that I've been able to do with archaeology, the first Benedictine women's monastery in the United States is in the process of being closed. And, I was asked to go out there and document what I could of their material culture. So, the prayer books that they used, and the rosary beads, and the photographs of some of the sisters, and just all kinds of things that they used in their daily life in the monastery. And, it was an amazing experience to be able to see how they lived in the past and see these lives that aren't really recorded in history books.

Rocky:
What a fantastic opportunity; that’s amazing!

Sr Belinda:Br /> Yes. Yeah, yeah. (laughs)

Rocky:
Very, very cool.

*break*

Rocky:
So, how did you find this community? And, how did you know that this was the right fit for you?

Sr Belinda:
Actually, in terms of finding the community, both my spiritual director and the then chaplain at Northwestern sent me to Benedictine communities. And, they both had very different reasons when I asked them later. So, I did look at other orders. But, I also looked specifically Benedict in communities. This community is only three miles down the road from where I lived at the time. And, to be honest, I’d never heard of them. Although, as it turns out, I have many friends who knew many of the sisters. But, I spoke to many Benedictine communities, and we’re a group of very strong-minded women. And, I find that admirable. [I find it admirable] that we're willing to try to live in community, even though we tend to be very independent thinkers; we're willing to try to give this a go, despite not being kind of naturally conforming women.

*break*

Sr Belinda:
The charism of our community, specifically, is that we’re Benedictine women, called to see God in prayer and community, serving where there's need. I think of our primary ministry is community. We live and model the unity of all people in God. And, to do that practically, most of us live together on the monastery campus. We prayed together up to four times a day. We eat meals together. We share our lives with each other, which for me, both challenges me and supports me as I try to be present to people in the rest of the world. And, that helps me kind of see where the need in the world is. And, helps me to serve where there is need.

I think the role of Contemporary Women Religious is to be present in the world, especially to people who are marginalized, who are on the edge, and to speak for people whose voices aren't necessarily heard. One of the great privileges of introducing myself as Sr Belinda is that people tend to give me respect that I didn't earn simply as Belinda. Whether it's deserved or not is another story entirely. But, it gives me a platform to be able to speak and for people to hear and recognize my voice in a way that they can't hear everyone else's voice. And, I think, particularly because community is such an important part of so many forms of religious life, that having all of our voices together kind of emphasizes that affect quite a lot.

The most enriching experience is simply day to day community life. If you ask the question about challenge, it's going to be the same answer. It's being able to share my life in a very real way with other people who are very different than I am in many ways, but who show me by example and by word how to become the person that God is calling me to be. Sometimes by challenge, by putting what I consider roadblocks up in my way, but they're not/they don’t mean to be a roadblock. [So, I must ask myself,] “Why is that?” “What is it about me that is finding this difficult, at the moment?” So, I think that's my greatest joy in religious life.

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About Set Apart

Set Apart is a series that talks about the things that set Catholic sisters apart, talking about the habit, the vows, ministry, and mission. The first season was produce by Lily Jacobson and is now produced by Rocky Pierson.