Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, Illinois
December 2009
Benedictine Sisters monastery grounds at St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, Ill Steps
Discerning your path in life
st mary monastery, rock island, ill

Searching for Answers in a Benedictine Monastery

Benedictine Sister Teresa Ann and Anna  19-year-old Anna Sewell is nothing if not bold. Comfortable both onstage  (Anna is a theater and religion major at Cornell College), and off (she loves getting to know all kinds of people), she got the idea to immerse herself in a profoundly-countercultural and little-understood lifestyle last fall, to see for herself what it would be like. She asked her professor for approval*, received it, and wrote a letter to Prioress Sister Phyllis McMurray requesting consideration of her project.
Anna wanted to move into St. Mary Monastery.
The Sisters set aside a room at Benet House Retreat Center next to the monastery, where Anna could enjoy privacy and yet have complete access to community members, their prayer and their ministries. Anna arrived in September, parked her car and didn't leave again for nearly four weeks. We asked her to reflect on her experience. Here are her thoughts!
On First Impressions
I came here with very few expectations. I'm not Catholic but attended Catholic school. I love the Mass.
I expected to shut myself into my cell and learn from books and prayer. I didn't expect to be so embraced by the Sisters. What had they to gain but a pair of curious ears? But they were so warm and welcoming, happy to share what they knew with me. Happy to give their time.
When you think about it, that's what they do with new members too. The elder Sisters mentor the youngest members. I feel that's what young people are craving today. They are craving to be fed with wisdom. These women mentored me with their most precious gift, time. They did it despite knowing they might never see me again. I feel like they saw my value in God's eyes.
On Daily Monastic Life
A monastic's prayer life is big. Learning to stop work in order to pray is foreign to me, as an Evangelical Free Church member. I think most people see praying as something to try to fit in during the day. But here, they pray the Liturgy of the Hours three times a day, plus Mass and Lectio.
I loved doing Lectio with Sr. Mary Core (our formation director) every morning after Mass. She would always answer all my questions, in very respectful and meditative and responsive ways. Lectio taught me a lot. I'm approaching the Bible in a more embracive way now. It's become more of a friend than a rule book.
After morning prayers, I would sometimes go with a Sister to her ministry and other times maybe read or work on calligraphy. They have a wonderful art room here.
I had the luxury of time, here, to think about the big questions. I had time to ponder them, and not just be bulldozed by them.
On the Rule of Benedict
The Rule is a misnomer, I think. It's more of a guide. I learned a lot about it from Sr. Joan Chittister's book, Wisdom of the Daily. She showed me the Rule is not about making cookie-cutter people, but enlightening free people and helping them use their gifts.
People think that freedom means being able to spend money on clubs, parties and getting wasted. The Rule goes straight past that. It helps bring meaning and peace to lives.
On Silence
I learned the power of being quiet. As a theater major at school, I'm rarely quiet. It seems like everyone in the department is constantly moving, either watching movies or talking about someone or learning how to imitate someone. If they ever took a moment of silence, I feel like it would be terrifying for them.
In silence, you address what you're living for; what your life is about. A lot of people never question that.
On Oblates
I was fortunate to be here for Oblate Day. I was amazed that some laypeople have chosen to live under the Rule as Oblates. They have loving relationships with their spouses but still are monastic. I'm thinking about becoming an Oblate.
Final Thoughts
I came here to do a bit of soul searching. What I was looking for turned out not to be what I needed, though.
I was looking for answers, as one who values logic. And a lot of times the answers have defined my faith. But what I've come to understand better is that there are lots more questions than answers. I understand better that to be open to discovery and learning new things is what I need.
St. Mary Monastery Blessed Mother statue     

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