Günter Müller-Stewens
University of Saint-Gall, Switzerland

The University of Saint-Gall in Cooperation with the Benedictines

Günter Müller-Stewens is Professor of Business Economics at the University of Saint-Gall (Switzerland), specialising in the teaching of organisation. This is an extract from HSG FOCUS, the periodical of the University.

StGall‘Every beginning has something magical about it’, wrote Hermann Hesse. At the Benedictine university of Sant’Anselmo in September 2013 occurred a completely unprecedented ‘first’. Thirty-five abbots and abbesses, priors and prioresses, bursars, Benedictine monks and nuns from all the continents and more than twenty countries, came together in Rome on the Aventine to follow, under the direction of the University HSG of Saint- Gall, a two-week course on the running and organisation of a monastery. The initiative for this gathering came from the ‘Foundation Benedict’ at Lucerne. The foundations had been laid by George Holzherr, abbot emeritus of Einsiedeln, in collaboration with Abbot Primate Notker Wolf, Dom Markus Muff and Alois Just.

Under the direction of Luigi Goia of the University of Sant’Anselmo and of Günter Müller-Stewens of HSG, five modules had been created on the themes of Leadership, ‘Understanding and Running Organisations or Projects’ and ‘Entry into the Science of Management’. Each module was directed, in pairs, by a representative of the Benedictines and a representative of the University HSG of Saint-Gall. On the Benedictine side were Sr Gisela Happ, Sr Ulrike Soegtrop and Sr Mary-John Mananzan, Dom Ansgar Stüfe and Dom Stefan Bernhard. On the side of HSG were Messrs Thomas Eberle, Wolfgang Jenewein and Erwin Hettich. Secular knowledge of the science of management was thus enabled to join up with the Rule of St Benedict and the social teaching of the Church.

The biblical quotation overarching the seminar was ‘Every tree is known by its fruit’ (Luke 6.44). Dom Luigi formulated the purpose: ‘We must reflect on our behaviour and our practices, the way in which we define our own identity and what we want to accomplish. We need to plough new furrows to discover the specific way of running our monasteries in the way of St Benedict.’ It is no secret that there have been many contributions made by Benedictines, putting forward a key to utilizing the Rule of St Benedict according to modern management. These investigations, however, posed the question in the opposite sense, namely, how can the contemporary science of management contribute to the direction of a monastery? The pedagogy of this course was centred upon direct applications, issuing from the monastic milieu and brought by the participants. In addition, much group-work occurred in various workshops, the composition of the group changing each time.

The intention of each of the parties, Benedictine as well as university, was to undergo an experience. It would be a legitimate question to ask whether a faculty of theology is the right place to achieve this sort of formation. To go one step further, does collaboration with a Business School have any sense at all? The first difficulty begins at the level of the vocabulary used by the two parties, but in a different sense; it goes right down to the exercise of freedom in the spiritual dimension of a monastic existence in connection with the economic activities of a monastery. At the beginning we did not even know whether there was any interest on the part of monasteries in following such a course. We very rapidly found that in fact there were many more applications than places available.

The feedback we received showed that the co-operation at the heart of the community, exchanges of experience occurring in each community, the content of the formation and its applications, all had a great impact on the participants. They shared courageously, and full of good ideas, in continuing their work in their respective monasteries. It became evident that we must repeat the course; the experiment had succeeded. For their part, the participants from the University of Saint-Gall were enriched, not only by the acquisition of new knowledge of the monasteries which they were able to take away with them, but also by moving personal experiences in the working of a Christian community.