Sister Judith Ann Heble, OSB
In writing this article, I am indebted to Sister Ruth Fox, OSB (1), for recording the early details in the history of the development of the Commission of Nuns and Sisters in the special Symposium, A Report for the Third International Symposium of Benedictine Women, September 9-12, 1998. After 1997, the information provided is from my experience on the Commission and the CIB.
Happy Anniversary, AIM!
It was 1961. AIM was born. Over the past fifty years, AIM would become a major source of funding for Benedictine communities in developing nations. AIM has been greatly supported by the commitment of many Benedictine communities of women and men, some of whom have developed local AIM offices to assist in the collection of funds for the support of nuns and monks throughout the world.
The Challenge of Vatican II
AIM began shortly before the opening of Vatican Council II, 1962-1965. On October 28, 1965, Pope Paul VI proclaimed the Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, Perfectae Caritatis (2). Through their respective general chapters, Benedictine women’s communities throughout the world would be engaged in the renewal of their communities according to the spirit and charism of their founder, St. Benedict. The re-editing of constitutions, directories, customaries, liturgical prayer books and ceremonials would require significant time and energy on the part of Benedictine women across the globe.
In paragraph 23 of the Decree, Perfectae Caritatis (3), it was expressly stated that conferences and councils of major superiors were being encouraged to achieve more effective collaboration among them, the sharing of experiences and potential and, in some cases, even bringing smaller communities out of isolation and into relationship with other communities.
For some seventy years,(4) this kind of collaboration had been happening among the male Benedictine superiors through the holding of the Congress of Abbots on a regular basis. The Benedictine Confederation had been created to consolidate international contact between and among Benedictine monasteries of men with a view to furthering the tradition of western monasticism.(5) Benedictine women’s communities had had little or no opportunity to meet together to develop relationships among themselves. The larger world of Benedictine women’s communities was practically an unknown outside each community’s own geographical region.
With all that was going on in the Church, and in religious life in particular, following Vatican II, a question was emerging: Was there a possibility of developing some kind of solidarity among Benedictine women from around the globe?
Efforts to Recognize Benedictine Women, 1966-1976
In 1966, Abbot Primate Benno Gut took the initiative. He hoped to establish an ‘International Secretariat in the Confederation, which would deal exclusively with the welfare of Nuns and Sisters. Apparently no action was taken in organizing a secretariat at this time.’(6)
After being elected Abbot Primate in 1967, Rembert Weakland, continued the initiative of his predecessor concerning the monastic women. In 1968, the Synod of Abbot Presidents, under his leadership, voted that the Abbot Primate should form two Commissions, one for nuns and one for sisters, with an equal representation in each commission, both under the same secretary.(7) ‘He attempted to create just one commission with both nuns and sisters, but was forced by the Congregation for Religious to form two separate groups.’(8) During the next several years, these two commissions would meet separately with the Abbot Primate to share their concerns and dreams. As they met, there were those present who dreamed of a time when the nuns and sisters could sit round the table with one another.
In 1972, the Synod of Presidents invited the Commission of Nuns and several Prioresses General of Sisters to attend the Congress of Abbots as observers. These monastic women would have the occasion to meet one another in this setting. It would serve as an impetus to what would later become an ongoing reality. Abbot Primate Weakland, in his opening address at the Congress of Abbots, September 19, 1973, welcomed Benedictine women to the Congress for the first time in history. ‘Since the women who follow the Rule of Benedict have been so important in the history of monasticism, it is imperative that their monastic experience be shared by all. Inviting them to the Congress of Abbots was one way in which such sharing could take place.’ They were invited to speak only on the topic which directly involved the women – affiliation to the Confederation.
An Historic Decade, 1977-1987
The women were invited again as observers to the 1977 Congress of Abbots. ‘They met with the newly elected Abbot Primate, Victor Dammertz, who affirmed the ongoing importance of the two commissions. At this meeting a suggestion was made for an international congress of Benedictine women or a joint conference of men and women. The response given was
1. There were no facilities large enough,
2. The women would not be able to negotiate the city, and
3. The nuns would not be permitted to attend.’(10)
In 1980, Benedictine women throughout the world embraced the opportunity to find cause for celebration, the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict in 480. Many of them joined with other Benedictine communities of women and men in their own geographical area for this celebration in gratitude for the charism each had received. The Confederation also held a sesquimillenial celebration in Rome. ‘Of the 600 some abbesses and prioresses in the world, only 55 were invited to join the 400 Benedictine, Cistercian and Trappist Abbots in Rome, September 17-21. It was the first time in history that the Benedictine family met together. The purpose of the assembly was to consider the role of the Rule and monastery in contemporary society. The International Commission which planned the event included ten men and the following women: Sr. Joan Chittister (United States), M. Bénigne Moreau (France), M. Judith Frei (Germany).’
The women on the International Commission were invited as observers for the Congress of Abbots that followed the sesquimillenial assembly. ‘As at previous meetings, the abbots discussed how Benedictine women might be aggregated to the Confederation, and how this relationship would be expressed in their Lex Propria. The Commission of Nuns and the Commission of Sisters had also been discussing the implications of aggregation, as well as the structure of their own organization. Although already ten years old, their purpose, composition, organization, and function were still evolving.’
‘Three years later, 1983, Abbot Primate Dammertz, at the request of the Commission of Nuns and the Commission of Sisters, convened a meeting, the first time outside of the Congress of Abbots for the Commission of Sisters. He wished to dialogue with each group about the new statutes concerning the association of Benedictine women with the Confederation.’
‘M. Edeltrud Weist recalls four points from this momentous meeting of the Sisters which planted seeds for the first symposium:
1. The regret that Benedictine women were not accepted as full members of the Benedictine Confederation;
2. The fact that Benedictine women were divided into two groups while the monks were not;
3. A desire for a common meeting with the Commission of Nuns; and
4. A desire for a symposium of nuns and sisters on an international level.’ (14)
In 1984, after first meeting separately, the Commission of Nuns and the Commission of Sisters met together in Rome for the first time in order to discuss the possibility of conducting a joint meeting in 1987 between the nuns and sisters, moniales and sorores. Abbot Primate Victor Dammertz named five nuns and sisters to a preparatory committee for a joint meeting: M. Edeltrud Weist, (Tutzing/Rome); M. Benigne Moreau (France); M. Ildegarde Sutto (Italy); M. Amparo Moro Suarez (Spain); and Sr Joan Chittister (USA). There were still strong feelings among many of the nuns, who, living strict enclosure, felt that it would be impossible for them to invite the sisters to their meetings, without incurring displeasure from the Vatican. And it happened. ‘The excitement and enthusiasm for this first international joint conference for nuns and sisters in 1987 was considerably dampened when the Sacred Congregation for Religious refused permission for the nuns to meet with the sisters.’ (15)
The First International Symposium of Benedictine Women
What would it take to get around this seemingly impossible situation that was blocking what was emerging from among them? In 1987, the sisters invited sixteen nuns to Rome for a symposium on the theme, ‘Implications of the Benedictine Rule for the Life of Benedictine Women.’ Forty sisters were present. This gathering was hosted by M. Edeltrud Weist, Prioress General of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing, at the Casa Santo Spiritu, Generalate of the Congregation in Rome. Things would not be quite the same after this gathering. Benedictine women, both nuns and sisters, began to look for ways to work together, realizing that such bonding would enrich both expressions of Benedictine life and the lives of Benedictine women everywhere. There were courageous women from among both the nuns and the sisters who would not let the idea die. Abbot Primate Victor
Dammertz, and the subsequent Abbot Primates, also recognized the need for the women to come together and supported their efforts to collaborate with one another. ‘According to reports of the participants, all the papers were excellent, but much of the real dialogue took place on a more informal level, at meals and around the coffee bar.’ (16)
Nuns and Sisters come together, 1988-1996
In 1988, Abbot Primate Victor Dammertz merged the Commission of Nuns and the Commission of Sisters into what he called the Abbot Primate’s Commission of Nuns and Sisters. Membership would represent eighteen regions (later nineteen regions) throughout the world, including the Prioress General of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing and a representative of AIM. The Abbot Primate also organized an Executive Committee (later called the Administrative Council) and entrusted them with the task of organizing the next symposium for both nuns and sisters to take place in 1993 and drafting the first Statutes of the Abbot Primate’s Commission of Nuns and Sisters. In these first Statutes, the purpose of the Commission was defined as being primarily an advisory body to the Abbot Primate, not a means for international communication between Benedictine women. At this time, it was not considered that there might be regular meetings.
During this same year, a simultaneous event occurred outside this structure that would prove beneficial in deepening understanding between the nuns and the sisters. The American Prioresses organized a pilgrimage to a number of the European monasteries of women, many of whom were enclosed communities of nuns. This informal gathering deepened relationships between them as they viewed one another from a different perspective and in a more casual setting. As the sisters experienced the hospitality of the nuns and shared in their prayer and broke bread together, fears began to be dispelled and friendships emerged.
The Second International Symposium of Benedictine Women
September 14-23, 1993, the Second International Symposium, ‘Monastic Profession Inculturated,’ took place at Sant’Anselmo in Rome for forty nuns and forty sisters. The planners were careful to include both the nuns and the sisters, as well as representatives of the various cultures, to make the presentations of papers for reflection and discussion. This interchange of ideas and perspectives broadened the understanding, not only of the topic, but that of the participants for one another. They began to realize that each one was committed to living her monastic profession, and that Benedictine feminine monasticism was indeed being inculturated in all parts of the world. Informal groups were also forming as nuns and sisters sought out one another during breaks and mealtimes and shared with one another how their lives differed and yet were very much the same. One participant remembers that one of the Italian abbesses took it upon herself to go to the proper consistory at the Vatican to express her concern about the distinctions made between nuns and sisters and to support their equality and need for collaboration with each other. ‘As the papers, the dialogue, the informal chats continued, any old, historical barriers between nuns and sisters came tumbling to the ground, as one abbess proclaimed: “We are one,” and the entire assembly responded with applause. Two decisions manifested this unity:
1. The formation of a petition to the Vatican that a Benedictine woman (to represent both nuns and sisters) be invited as observer to the forthcoming Synod on Consecrated Life17 and
2. That international symposia be held every 4-6 years. Amid the great diversity of language, clothing, and culture, the unity of the Benedictine spirit pervaded, and the women returned home celebrating a new international bond.’(18)
Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen called a three-day meeting of the Abbot Primate’s Commission of Nuns and Sisters in Rome for May 22-25, 1995. ‘The perennial topic of the relationship of Benedictine women to the Confederation was again discussed, as well as the meaning of monastic enclosure versus papal enclosure, and monastic renewal programs for women. Also proposed again, but not acted on, was the establishment of a permanent Secretariat as a natural and necessary outgrowth of these experiences of Benedictine women working and sharing together.’ (19)
Given the untimely death of Abbot Primate Theisen, the Executive Committee of the Commission of Nuns and Sisters realized that they had no one to summon a meeting and no structure for making decisions to clarify how they should proceed. This would lead to further changes in the draft Statutes, suggesting the election of a leader who also had the authority to summon a meeting of the Executive Committee, rather than be dependent on the initiative of the Abbot Primate. (20)
Following the death of Abbot Primate Theisen, Abbot Pro-Primate Francis Rossister invited the members of the Abbot Primate’s Commission of Nuns and Sisters as guests to the Congress of Abbots, 1996. He ‘carried out his predecessor’s desire that the women, for the first time, be invited to make presentations at the congress. M. Ildegarde Sutto, M. Máire Hickey, and S. Edeltrud Weist spoke to the abbots on the concerns of Benedictine women. The speakers noted again the lack of official status of women in the Confederation. They questioned again the rationale for the different church disciplines applied to Benedictine men and women as evidenced in the distinctions made between nuns and sisters – the basis of which has changed since Vatican II and the new Code of Canon Law:
1. Strict papal enclosure,
2. Solemn vows, and
3. The full Opus Dei in Latin, sung in Gregorian chant.’ (21)
Co-operation and emerging mutual support, 1997-2000
June 16-17, 1997, the Delegates of the Abbot Primate’s Commission of Nuns and Sisters were called to Rome by Abbot Primate Marcel Rooney to discuss their questions with him and to make some determination as to how they might continue to embrace the differences among them and solidify their relationships. ‘The possibility of a women’s secretariat was again discussed, with the consensus to allow the structure to evolve naturally.’ (22) In addition to establishing the dates for the next symposium, the nuns and sisters also approved new Statutes which now gave some structure to their dream of coming together as one. Though the Delegates had been previously appointed by the Abbot Primate, for the first time, they were able to hold an election for a Moderator and a substitute from among the appointed members of the Executive Committee.(23) They chose M. Máire Hickey of Abtei St. Scholastika, Dinklage, Germany, as Moderator for a four-year term.
Third International Symposium of Benedictine Women
The following year, 1998, one hundred twenty participants came to Rome for the Third International Symposium, ‘The Experience of God and the Benedictine Approach to Prayer.’ Again the rich sharing that took place deepened, not only their understanding of a Benedictine approach to prayer, but also the bonds between the nuns and the sisters. Though their prayer was reflective of each one’s culture and monastic tradition, they found that the core of their Benedictine prayer life was the same for all. Regardless of the language being used, the Liturgy of the Hours was not only recognizable, but a prayerful experience and a source of unity among the participants.
It was after this symposium that the Delegates met and determined to meet every year. Prior to this time, all meetings of the Delegates had been held in Rome. Through the creative leadership of M. Máire Hickey, she recommended that the first annual meeting of the Delegates in 1999 should take place outside of Rome. After much discussion, and even hesitancy on the part of some to travel great distances from their cloisters, her suggestion was accepted and this arrangement has occurred every alternate year. The choice was to meet in one of the monasteries of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in St. Louis, Missouri. Both nuns and sisters made the journey to St. Louis in the heat of July to hold their meeting. But not all was business. The Delegates had the opportunity to meet with American sisters in three other communities located in proximity to St. Louis. The gatherings proved to be an overwhelming experience not only of the hospitality of the American Sisters, but also of the authentic Benedictine spirit and impressive prayer life that was exhibited in the communities that were visited. Being together in a more informal way outside of meetings, not only in the monasteries they visited, but riding together in vans to their destinations, enhanced the relationships that were developing among them. It did not seem to harm anyone’s monastic life that they also had the opportunity to experience an Independence Day celebration in the USA!
Was there now a perfect relationship between the nuns and sisters? Absolutely not! Two issues needed to be dealt with:
1. The relationship of the Benedictine women to the Confederation and
2. Enclosure – which seemed to be a source of great difficulty, misinterpretation and fear among them.
Special Meeting: A Colloquium
In the year, 2000, the Executive Committee planned a colloquium for fifty nuns and sisters representative of all the Regions, prior to the meeting of the Congress of Abbots. It was to deal with these questions. M. Máire Hickey, the Moderator of the Abbot Primate’s Commission of Nuns and Sisters greeted the participants, stating that ‘this meeting is a Colloquium – not a Congress or a Symposium with long presentations and lectures. We are here to communicate with each other, to share our monastic experience with each other, and to encourage each other in our common search for authentic ways of living the vocation to Benedictine monastic spirituality for women in the 21st century.’ (24) The nuns and sisters were welcomed to Sant’Anselmo by Abbot Primate Marcel Rooney. He hoped that this Colloquium would lead to deeper understanding about the differences between each Benedictine house. One of the special marks of the Benedictine Order is the autonomy of each house. It leads to different ways of living the Rule and makes it possible that these differences can stand side by side as an enrichment to one another. What counts most are the structures of our hearts, leading to love of God and our neighbor. (25)
Canonist Abbot Richard Yeo met with the colloquium participants to explain what had been developing over the years regarding the relationship of Benedictine women with the Confederation, noting that ‘the legislation for Benedictine women in the Lex Propria of 1985 is now out of date and will need adjustment.’ (26) Abbot Richard explained the meaning of consociatio as the most appropriate word to use at this time for the developing relationship of the Benedictine women to the Confederation, a word indicating a collaborative relationship between equals. (27) The nuns and sisters favored moving in this direction, stressing ‘that much care must be taken to be sure that all monasteries feel included in this evolution, the contemplative communities, moniales with papal enclosure and moniales with constitutional enclosure, as much as sorores with active ministries. Therefore much dialogue will have to take place in the coming years.’ (28)
At the Colloquium, the nuns and sisters also spent considerable time together processing the topic and elements of ‘enclosure.’ No formal presentations were made. All was incorporated in a process of sharing – which women are naturally quite adept at doing! The participants emerged from the experience recognizing the common values they held about enclosure, despite the differences in the ways they lived it. They came to understand the words of M. Máire Hickey in her opening address: ‘The way in which a monk, a sister or a nun lives his or her kind of enclosure, keeping loving and sensitive watch over the space into which God has called her and that therefore belongs only to Him, is of the essence of the monastic heart.’ (29)
Following the Colloquium, the Delegates of the Commission were invited as guests of the Congress of Abbots. M. Máire Hickey presented the development of the relationship of the Benedictine women to the Confederation, urging the abbots to update the Lex Propria to reflect more accurately the reality of the identity of the Commission now and the direction in which it was moving. For two years prior to this meeting of the Congress of Abbots, ‘some of the prioresses of the African communities were informing the American prioresses in attendance at international gatherings of the women Benedictines that there were sexual improprieties taking place between priests and some of the sisters in their communities, both in Africa and also in Rome where some of their sisters are studying.’ (30) Abbot Primate Marcel Rooney was most willing to give the women time on the agenda of the Congress to make the issue known to the abbots. Sr Esther Fangman, OSB, (31) a Doctor of Psychology, and an experienced therapist and counselor, was asked to make the presentation to the abbots. Her presentation named publicly the truth of ‘What Is Happening’ to some of our Benedictine sisters, not only in Africa, but also in other parts of the world; ‘How It Happens’; a ‘Possible Psychological Explanation;’ and the ‘Damage to the Person Who Is Abused.’ (32)
On September 7, 2000, Abbot Notker Wolf was elected as the Abbot Primate. That evening he met with the Executive Committee of the Commission offering his support and urging the women to continue to build up an association of solidarity with each other and the Benedictine Confederation. At the November 2000 meeting with the Executive Committee, he encouraged the women to move forward with the evolution of the Benedictine Women’s Commission in becoming autonomous in its activity. He also favored dropping the words ‘a Commission of the Abbot Primate.’ (33)
Forging an Identity, 2001-2003
During the 2000 Colloquium, it became clearer that the nuns and sisters were moving toward creating a common identity for themselves. They seemed to be saying, “Let us name who we are at this time.” And so it was. In preparation for the meeting of the Commission in 2001, M. Máire Hickey as Moderator and Abbot Primate Notker Wolf both wrote a letter which was sent out to every monastery of Benedictine women in the world asking for suggestions for a name to designate the Benedictine Women worldwide. On the basis of the responses, the Delegates then had the task of making a decision for a name. When the Delegates of the nineteen Regions met again at Sacred Heart Priory in Nairobi, Kenya in 2001, they voted on November 6th to accept the name Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum – “CIB” – to identify who they were as Benedictine women from around the world. So it is that this year, 2011, marks the tenth anniversary of the CIB! Congratulations! The Benedictine women had made a long journey together!
The Delegates further discussed the relationship of Benedictine women to the Confederation. The work done at this meeting was followed up with the joint efforts of M. Joanna Jamieson and Abbot Richard Yeo to present suggestions for the revision of some passages in the Ius Proprium (Normae de Consociatione) and to prepare the application process for an express recognition of the CIB in the Lex Propria of the Confoederatio Benedictina to the Congress of Abbots in 2004. The CIB hoped “to be recognized as the non-juridical body of Benedictine nuns and sisters in ‘consocietas’ with the Confederation, capable of dialoguing with their brothers and working with them on common projects.” (34)
The Fourth International Symposium of Benedictine Women
In 2002 the CIB organized its first major gathering, the Fourth International Symposium, ‘Chapter 72 of the Rule of St. Benedict: Good Zeal.’ M. Máire Hickey, elected Moderator since 1997, chaired the meeting. Abbot Primate Notker Wolf welcomed the participants to Sant’Anselmo and encouraged the nuns and sisters to continue to find creative ways to support each other. Again, papers were prepared by both nuns and sisters and representatives of the diverse cultures. One of the unique aspects of this gathering was that nineteen young sisters, under the age of fifty and perpetually professed five years or less, were also included in the assembly – one representing each of the Regions. The young sisters brought with them their energy and enthusiasm. It was gratifying to hear their thoughts and ideas about ‘good zeal’ and for them to hear the abbesses and prioresses discuss the challenges that are entailed in living the monastic life. These young women are, in fact, the future of our communities. They became bonded with each other and many have discovered ways to stay in communication, and thereby to support one another. Regions were able to come together and offer creative expressions (song, dance, readings, etc.) that were expressive of monastic life in their cultures. Such activities brought a broader expression to the symposium event above and beyond formal presentations.
It was at the meeting of the Delegates that followed this symposium, that, for the first time, elections were held not only for the Moderator, but also for the Assistant Moderator and two additional Administrative Council Members. Up to this time, the Administrative Council members as well as Delegates from the various Regions were all appointed by the Abbot Primate. The revised Statutes, voted on by the Delegates and ratified by the Abbot Primate, contained a new understanding of the identity of the structure now coming into being, putting in first place as the purpose of the CIB ‘To promote mutual support and exchange of ideas and experience among Benedictine women on an international level and to foster the development of women’s monasticism.’ (35) The 2002 version of the Statutes also called for the nuns and sisters to hold their own elections for Delegates in their Regions. At this meeting M. Máire Hickey was re-elected as Moderator of the CIB.
Recognition of the CIB, 2004-2011
At their meeting in Assisi, Italy, September 16-20, 2004, the Delegates of the CIB Conference were apprised of the developments that had taken place in understanding the relationship of Benedictine women to the Confederation. M. Máire Hickey was careful to assert that ‘the CIB is not a structure that organizes jurisdiction or power. Each monastery, congregation, federation continues in the canonical structures it has hitherto had. We are rather a spirit-inspired communications network for the women’s monasteries consociated with the Confoederatio Benedictina, with broad aims of bringing women’s monasticism, lived according to the Rule of St. Benedict, into the 21st century.’ (36) As the Delegates journeyed to Rome after their meeting in Assisi, they were anxious, and yet, hopeful that their request to be consociated with the Benedictine Confederation would be realized. At this time, the Secretariat of the CIB was established in Assisi at Monastero S. Giuseppe, at the gracious offer of M. Giacinta Soverino. (37)
An Occasion To Remember
Abbot Primate Notker Wolf welcomed the Delegates of the CIB Conference to the 2004 Congress of Abbots at Sant’Anselmo in Rome. He assured the abbots that the CIB was not ‘aiming to become a juridical entity within the canonical structures of consecrated life,’ but rather, they ‘are aiming more to promote women’s monastic life at a spiritual and fraternal level.’ (38) M. Máire Hickey addressed the Abbots explaining the developments in the CIB over the years and requesting ‘the Congress to update the references in the Lex Propria to the relations between the women’s communities and the Confederation, bringing that document into line with the changes that had taken place since the Lex Propria appeared in 1983.’ (39) Abbot Richard Yeo and M. Joanna Jamieson had worked out a text proposing the changes to the Lex Propria that would be submitted to the Congress of Abbots for their consideration. Abbot Richard introduced the suggested text very helpfully and clearly, and there was time for the abbots to ask questions. ‘The Confederation will be providing an umbrella under which the CIB can exist in the eyes of the Church,’ Abbot Richard had said in his exposition.” (40)
On September 27, 2004, the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum was recognized and its relationship to the Benedictine Confederation overwhelmingly approved in the updating of the 1985 text of the Normae de Consociatione cum Confoederatione (Norms of the Lex Propria). The CIB now officially represents a single body of Benedictine women’s communities consociated with the Benedictine Confederation – those listed in the Catalogus Monasteriorum, OSB, (Edition One, 2000; Edition Two, 2006), whether Nuns or Sisters. (41) ‘The outcome is a crowning of the work of the CIB Conference done so far and was greeted by men and women alike with great joy.’ (42)
What Is The CIB?
Just what is the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum? The CIB, ‘respecting the autonomy of each monastery, congregation and federation, brings together in a sisterly bond all women’s communities consociated with the Benedictine Confederation, and functions under the aegis of the Ius Proprium of the Confederation. The purpose of the CIB is:
1. To promote mutual support and exchange of ideas and experience among Benedictine women on an international level and to foster the development of women’s monasticism.
2. To continue to develop the consociatio between the women’s communities and the Benedictine Confederation.
3. To bring significant concerns of Benedictine women to the attention of the Confederation, the Synod of Presidents and the Congress of Abbots.
4. To advise the Abbot Primate and submit proposals and suggestions to him with regard to matters which affect Benedictine women.’ (43)
The CIB represents nineteen Regions in the world. The Delegates from these Regions make up the Conference of the CIB. The Conference, twenty-four Delegates and an observer from AIM, meets annually. There is an Administrative Council consisting of the Moderator, Assistant Moderator, and four others, two of whom are elected and two that may be appointed. The Administrative Council meets twice a year. The task of the Delegate is to ensure that the Region is represented at the meetings of the CIB Conference and, in turn, the Delegate is responsible for disseminating information from the CIB Conference to the communities in her Region.
Over the years, the CIB Conference has set goals to direct its activity over four-year periods of time. For this four-year cycle of goals, the CIB Administrative Council has planned that the CIB Conference will explore the option of a joint action in solidarity with the Benedictine women of the country hosting the meeting.
The Fifth International Symposium of Benedictine Women
Every four years, symposia for some one hundred Benedictine women representing the nineteen Regions have been held at Sant’Anselmo. September 7-14, 2006, the Fifth International Symposium was entitled, ‘Leadership: So that the strong are nourished and the weak have nothing to run from.’ (RB 64.19) Participants had the opportunity to hear respected scholars as well as leaders of monastic communities, who shared their love for their communities and modeled for the participants how to engage in this ministry of leadership. This was the second time that newer members, one from each Region, were able to participate in the symposium and experience, as well as contribute to the sharing and collaboration between nuns and sisters; monastic women from ancient abbeys and newer foundations; large communities and small ones; different languages and varied cultures. As they looked around the room at one another, truly, the participants could ‘see the whole world in a single ray of light.’
A very rich opportunity was experienced in a pilgrimage to Norcia. Amidst the ruins of the Church of St. Scholastica, one hundred Benedictine nuns and sisters stood together in solidarity to renew their monastic profession in different language groups. They committed themselves once again to seeking God in their respective communities, while remaining in solidarity with their sisters from around the world At the end of this symposium, when the CIB Conference held their meeting, they elected Sr Judith Ann Heble as Moderator of the CIB, M. Máire Hickey having completed nine years in that position.
In 2008 the CIB Conference Delegates were invited to Sant’Anselmo for the meeting of the Congress of Abbots. The women were included as participants in the breakout sessions that were part of the Congress. At this Congress, Sr Judith Ann Heble, Moderator of the CIB, made a presentation to the abbots on the development and activities of the CIB since the last Congress in 2004.
The Sixth International Symposium of Benedictine Women
From one symposium to the next, the bond that has been created among the participants from around the world is becoming quite noticeable, and even more so during the Sixth International Symposium entitled, ‘Benedictine Women: Witnesses of Hope,’ September 8-15, 2010, at Sant’Anselmo in Rome. The Taizé antiphon, Bonum est confidere in Domino, bonum sperare in Dominum, summed up the symposium experience. “All of the pieces of the symposium were carefully fitted together in one united reflection on and plea for hope.’ 45 A planning team of six was organized two years in advance of the symposium, to prepare the details of coordination, liturgies, and facilitation, so that the various activities ran smoothly, creating an atmosphere conducive to prayer, reflection and the sharing of hopes and dreams, concerns and challenges. The presenters were full of passion and hope for the future of Benedictine life. Newer members from each Region were also present at this symposium. The rich diversity of the one hundred participants from all parts of the world could be seen and heard as they engaged one another in examining the meaning of hope for monastic life today and tomorrow. New seeds of hope were planted among them. All could resonate with St. Benedict’s desire for communio, ‘… and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.’ (46)
As the CIB evolved over the past ten years, it became increasingly clear that the structures, as they were outlined in the earlier version of the Statutes had not actually kept up with what was developing among the women. On September 4, 2009, new Statutes, more accurately defining what the CIB is at this time, were unanimously approved by the Conference of the CIB and ratified by Abbot Primate Notker Wolf. (47)
Conclusion: United In Solidarity
Much has changed since my first international experience in 1997. Over the years, I have witnessed the connections among us growing and deepening as friendships formed across the continents. The decision to hold the meeting of the Delegates in a different Region in alternate years proved to have the greatest impact on bringing the nuns and sisters together in a sisterly way. (48) ‘The CIB is more than a three-day business meeting once a year. That could easily be done by e-mail. We have found the experience of visiting one another’s Region to be a wonderful exchange on the life and development of Benedictines in different parts of the world. The more we know of each other, the better we are able to understand and appreciate the gifts each brings to the world of Benedictine women. It has been most enriching to be introduced to the peoples of the area and to acquire an appreciation for the surrounding culture.’ (49) These international gatherings have taught us that there is more to the world of Benedictine women than what one meets in one’s own Region. The different expressions of monastic life are integral to the beauty of how the charism has been faithfully lived in many different lands and cultures, some newly formed, some centuries old. Though there are noticeable differences among us, we are all really speaking the same Benedictine language. Our ‘sisterhood’ is ancient, yet ever new, embracing all of us – every race and tongue – in the Benedictine family.
Not only did meeting in various Regions inform the Delegates, but the hosting Region benefitted as well. In many cases, the Delegate from the Region made plans for the other communities of Benedictine women of the Region to come together and engage with the visiting Delegates. The Delegates of the CIB Conference have already visited seven Regions: USA (Region 9), Kenya (Region 16), Australia (Region 15), Poland (Region 7), Philippines (Region 14); Italy (Region 1), Croatia (Region 8). On occasion, the Administrative Council also tries to meet in different Regions where only a smaller group can be accommodated. At the invitation of M. Henriette Wendbala Kalmogo, OSB, of Burkina Faso, the CIB Conference will meet in West Africa in September, 2011. The CIB Administrative Council will meet at Notre-Dame de Koubri and the CIB Conference will conduct its meetings and experience the life of the Benedictine women and men in Togo, Benin and Ghana. In January, 2012, the CIB Administrative Council plans to hold its meeting with the Benedictine women in Israel.
We have made great efforts to foster the development of women’s monasticism. Each experience of another’s land and story has enriched and stretched all of us and sharpened our vision of monastic life, urging us to be more inclusive. It is my hope that this kind of exchange among us will continue to bring us ‘together in a sisterly bond.’ (50) Our oneness in the spirit of St. Benedict is a visible sign to all that monastic life is a gift to the Church and the world, a way of life centered wholly on seeking God.
This year AIM celebrates fifty years. Realizing that there were some fortyfive years of birthing pangs to bring the CIB to reality, the CIB joyfully celebrates ten years in 2011. The CIB is grateful for the support of AIM, making it possible for many of the nuns and sisters from poorer nations to participate in CIB meetings and symposia.
For more information, see the CIB Website: www.benedictines-cib.org
Sister Judith Ann Heble, OSB, is currently the Moderator of the CIB, having been elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2010. She has been involved in the evolution of the CIB since 1997. Sister Judith is a member of Sacred Heart Monastery, Lisle, IL, USA.
(1) Sister Ruth Fox is a member of Sacred Heart Monastery, Richardton, North Dakota, USA. She was Prioress of her community from 1973-1981 and 2005-2011. She also served as President of the Federation of St. Gertrude from 1990-1999 and as a member of the Abbot Primate’s Commission of Nuns and Sisters from 1996-1998.
(2) Pope Paul VI, Perfectae Caritatis, Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, October 28, 1965, The Holy See Archives – Documents of the II Vatican Council, Decrees.
(3) Ibid., #23.
(4) Between 1886 and 1893 Pope Leo XIII began the establishment of the Benedictine Confederation.
(5) CIB Handbook, 2nd edition, 2010, p. 2.
(6) Fox, Sr Ruth, Symposium Special, A Report Prepared for the Third International Symposium of Benedictine Women, September 9-12, 1998, p.1.
(7) Weakland, Rembert, OSB, Circular letter to Benedictine women, October 28, 1968.
(8) Fox, Letter from Archbishop Rembert Weakland to Sister Ruth Fox, March 12, 1998.
(9) Ibid. Fox, pg 2.
(10) Ibid., Letter from Sister Pascaline Coff, OSB to Sister Ruth Fox, February 14, 1998.
(11) Ibid., Fox, p.2, quoting from The Conference Call, December, 1978.
(12) Ibid., Fox, Symposium Special, p.2.
(13) Ibid., p.3.
(14) Ibid., p. 3, quoting from M. Edeltrud Weist, OSB, an unpublished paper delivered at the Congress of Abbots. September, 1996.
(15) Ibid., Fox, p.3.
(17) Ibid., p.4. The petition was granted and M. Edeltrud Weist represented Benedictine women at the Synod.
(18) Ibid., p.4.
(19) Ibid., p.4. Information taken from The Conference Call, Winter, 1996.
(20) Hickey, M. Máire, OSB, From a paper written to the German abbesses, 1998.
(21) Fox, p. 4. From papers delivered at the Congress of Abbots, September, 1997.
(22) Ibid., p. 5. From 1996 on, there has been a permanent secretary for the Commission and the CIB.
(23) Draft Statutes, 1997, 12a & b.
(24) Commission of Benedictine Women, A Commission of the Abbot Primate, Newsletter Nr.2 – September, 2000, Greeting from the Moderator, Mother Máire Hickey, p.1.
(25) Ibid., Greeting from Abbot Primate Marcel Rooney, p.1.
(26) Ibid., p.5.
(27) CIB Handbook, 2nd Edition, p. 2. The Latin word consociatio is a combination of two words, socius, meaning “ally” or “colleague,” and cum, meaning “with.” It indicates a collaborative relationship between equals. (R. Yeo).
(28) Op. Cit., Commission Newsletter, Nr.2, p. 5.
(29) Ibid., p.2.
(30) Conference Call, ‘Naming the Truth’, A Report by Esther Fangman, Vol. 22, No.2, Winter, 2001, p.10-11.
(31) Sister Esther Fangman, OSB, is a member of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, Kansas, USA. She served as President of the Federation of St. Scholastica from 1998-2010 and a Delegate to the Commission and CIB from 1999-2007.
(32) Op.Cit., Conference Call.
(33) Op. Cit., Conference Call, Executive Committee Meeting, p. 12 and the Abbot Primate’s letter to the Abbesses and Prioresses, February, 2001.
(34) Minutes of Commission of Benedictine Women, November 5-7, 2001, p.4.
(35) Statutes of the CIB, 2002.
(36) Moderator’s Report to the CIB Conference, Assisi, CIB-Newsletter, September, 2004, Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 4.
(37) In 2010 the Secretariat was moved to Sant’Antonio Abate, Rome, through the kindness of M. Michela Porcellato.
(38) Report of the Moderator to the Congress of Abbots, CIB-Newsletter, September, 2004, Vol. 1, No. 2, p.11.
(39) Ibid., p.10.
(40) CIB-Newsletter, September, 2004, Vol. 1, No.2, p.1.
(41) Op. Cit., CIB Handbook, p.6.
(42) Op. Cit., CIB-Newsletter, 2004, p. 1. Editorial comment by Sister Monica Lewis, OSB, Secretary of the CIB.
(43) Op. cit., CIB Handbook, p. 10-11. Ius Proprium, n. 14,15; Normae de consociatione cum Confoederatione, praesertim n. 7-9. The Catalogus Monasteriorum O.S.B. Sororum et Monialium lists all communities belonging to (conscociated with) the Confederation.
(44) Pope St. Gregory the Great, Life and Miracles of St. Benedict, Book Two of the Dialogues,
(34), (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press), p. 70.
(45) Heble, Sister Judith Ann, OSB, ‘From the CIB Moderator’, Newsletter, #6, September, 2010., p.2.
(46) The Rule of St. Benedict in English, Chapter 72:12, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1980).
(47) Op. Cit, CIB Handbook, pp. 10-18.
(48) In the alternate years, the Delegates meet in Rome as guests of the Congress of Abbots or for their own Symposium, both held every four years.
(49) Heble, Judith Ann, OSB, CIB Moderator’s Report, September 8, 2010.
(50) Op. Cit., CIB Handbook, p. 10.