The contribution of the many volunteers at Holy Wisdom Monastery on a daily basis helps make the Monastery function. There is so much life that goes beyond the work of the monastic community and co-workers. Volunteering at Holy Wisdom Monastery fits in well with the core Benedictine values that the sisters profess to live, especially building community. On a typical day this spring, you will find volunteers cleaning the new bamboo floors, conducting a prairie burn to help restore it to pre-settlement conditions and planting the vegetable garden. The volunteers are a vital part of everyday life at the monastery.
In 2001, the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses published a statement on monastic stewardship: “We use what we are and what we have for the transformation of culture because creation is the Lord’s and we are its keepers.” Their approach in care for the earth is as follows: “We must remember always that the earth is not so much inherited from our parents as borrowed from our children. We owe a debt to the next generation.”
The monastery has seen a surge of volunteers in the last couple years. In 2008, 228 volunteers contributed 2,432 hours of volunteer time, and in 2009, there were 378 volunteers who put in 2,934 hours. This does not include the additional 1,200+ hours that 15 participants in the Volunteer in Community program contributed during the summer of 2009. There are several new weekly volunteers this year who contribute to the work at the monastery. Jan Lottig, the development manager at the Benedictine Life Foundation who is in charge of coordinating volunteer activities, attributes this excitement to the new building and the recovering economy. “Civic engagement is important to this generation of college students,” says Jan. “Groups come out regularly from Edgewood College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help with projects on the grounds, such as removing invasive plants in the prairie.”
Paul Boutwell, our groundskeeper, has worked closely with Jan over the past few months to initiate a Horticulture Team at the monastery. This team offers new opportunities for leadership to help maintain the rooftop gardens, rain gardens, and memorial garden. Without knowing what to expect, they had over thirty responses in one week and received commitments from 14 volunteers. Initially, Paul will train these volunteers on the skills required to maintain some of the outdoor facets of the monastery, and then he will let these volunteers initiate and lead their own maintenance projects. This work by these dedicated volunteers will greatly free up Paul to take on other duties. Jan estimates that this program will triple the current staff capacity to keep up with over 100 acres of restored prairie at Holy Wisdom Monastery.
Volunteers not only perform a variety of tasks at the monastery, they also volunteer for a variety of reasons. Tim Jeffery, a member of the Benedictine Life Foundation’s board of directors and a long-time volunteer on the grounds, comes because he appreciates the environmental conservation efforts as well as the spiritual focus. “When I go out there, it’s a getaway. I’m always taken by the beauty of the area and what it represents,” he says. “There’s a spiritual piece here that is provided in a way that connects me to spiritual values that were a big part of my upbringing, especially caring for others.”
The volunteers that make up the fabric of daily life at the monastery are an important part of the culture. They come from different walks of life and are led here for different reasons. Perhaps most importantly, the sisters and co-workers recognize that there is more to the lives of the volunteers; there are stories to be shared about life, and opportunities for volunteers to take advantage of some quiet time in our library or to participate in daily prayer in the oratory. Volunteering at Holy Wisdom Monastery encompasses so much more than getting a job done. It is a two-way relationship where the life of the volunteer is cared for and nurtured. As Joan Chittister, OSB, writes in her book The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, “Work is not what defines the Benedictine. It is the single-minded search for God that defines Benedictine spirituality. . . The monastic does not exist for work. Creative and productive work are simply meant to enhance the Garden and sustain us while we grow into God” (134).