When we tell our employers, family, and friends of our upcoming gathering to elect a new leader, there is one question we almost always hear. “Will you be running for prioress?” In our Benedictine tradition, a sister doesn’t ‘run’ for Prioress, she is prayed into office by the community listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “The authority of the prioress is derived from the Holy Spirit and the Rule of Benedict through the ministry of the Church. The monastic chapter in its collegial act of election vests that authority in the sister whom it calls forth to be prioress. By accepting the election, the prioress becomes a sign of the sisters’ unity in Christ” (Federation of St. Gertrude, General Norms 76).
Prayer is the framework and emphasis that guides our whole Chapter of Election. As all the sisters gather, we will continue our monastic schedule in praying the Liturgy of the Hours to start every morning, pause at noon, and close every evening. This recitation, chanting, and reflecting on Scripture will ground our time of election together. “Through the Psalms we hear the voice of God in human words. They teach us that God can be found in every experience of our lives. We who are privileged to pray them daily find that the Psalms soak into our very bones…The Psalms keep before us the whole believing community and, indeed, the whole world. In praying the Psalms, we claim our own responsibility for the well-being of all” (With a Listening Heart, 1996).
This discernment based in prayer is required by our Federation’s General and Specific Norms of election: “A monastery prepares for the election of prioress in a spirit of prayer and discernment in accord with the Rule of Benedict and The Specific Norms” (Federation of St. Gertrude, General Norms 80). “The Election-for-Prioress committee prepares and supervises the period of prayerful discernment and the entire balloting procedure” (Monastery Norms 80). As the Chapter of Election continues, our days will be broken into smaller periods of discussion, reflection, and personal prayer. Then we return to discussion guided by the inspiration of the Spirit from that reflection and prayer. This communal discernment in electing a prioress helps us listen more closely for the will of God. “As we come together in the monastic chapter…we come as discerning women in tough with our own lived experience, our piece of the wisdom, and open to the God of the gathering, the wisdom of our sisters…Humility and obedience are especially important when the whole community is together as a body, each member providing the wisdom of her opinion for the leader’s pondering, reflecting, and deciding” (With a Listening Heart, 1996).
The Rule of Benedict also calls the sisters to listen to the whole community in choosing a new prioress. “In the constituting of an Abbess let this plan always be followed, that the office be conferred on the one who is chosen either by the whole community unanimously in the fear of God or else by a part of the community, however small, if its counsel is more wholesome. Merit of life and wisdom of doctrine should determine the choice of the one to be constituted, even if she be the last of the order of the community” (RB 64).
You might be wondering who is technically ‘in the running’…“A sister to be eligible for election as prioress must: be perpetually professed in a monastery of the Federation for at least five years and have the qualifications for the office of prioress described in the Rule of Benedict, especially in Chapters 2 and 64” (Federation of St. Gertrude, General Norms). We have 83 sisters who have been perpetually professed for at least five years. Our communal discernment and discussion will seek out the qualifications for the office from the Rule of Benedict. It is the search for those qualities that become part of the discussion.
The Chapter of Election begins with a discussion or review of the monastery’s goals, direction statements, and needs of the monastery. After determining the needs of our monastic family, we then turn to the qualities of our family members, discerning who may have the gifts and talents that are needed. This list of many is slowly narrowed over our days of Chapter as we alternate between discussion and prayer, listening for the voice of the Spirit. “The practice of discernment as a way of life envisioned in the Rule indicates the subtle interplay of the monastic values of humility, obedience, wisdom, peace, good zeal, and love within the framework of seeking God in the Opus Dei, Lectio Divina, the daily calls to listening and conversation in a stability unto death in the monastery” (With a Listening Heart, 1996). When the list of many is narrowed down to a few, we begin balloting to name our prioress.
During the Chapter of Election, all our sisters will be gathered home at the monastery
and our Divine Office and Celebration of the Eucharist will be private.
Private Prayer: Thursday, March 16 – Saturday, March 18
Sunday Celebration of the Eucharist, March 19 will be open to the public.
We ask for your prayerful support even though you cannot join us in prayer during this time.
Prayer For Election of Prioress
God of all Faithfulness,
we ask you to enlighten the minds and hearts
of all the Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery
as they prepare to elect the next prioress.
May they select a member of the community
who is best able to lead the monastery into the future
in the Benedictine way of life according to Your will.
This we ask in Christ’s name
and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Return to “One Heart and One Soul”