“Risky Hospitality” – Comments at the 70th Anniversary of Benedictine Women of Madison

Holy Wisdom Monastery 70th Anniversary 1 Comment

By: Al Heggen

I’d like to begin by sharing a quote from Henri Nouwen. 

“One of the most challenging tasks of the Christian is to create the space where people can meet each other without fear, share the human pains and joys which transcend their differences and discover each other as belonging to the same human family.” 

I first read these words in a brochure from St. Benedict Center in 1978.  I’ve had them hanging on the wall of my office ever since. They capture for me the meaning of Benedictine hospitality that I’ve experienced over the last 45 years here at Holy Wisdom Monastery and at St. Benedict Center. This hospitality has been at the heart of the small, but amazing community of Benedictine women whose love and courage and vision created the space where people of all denominations, faiths, races, gender, nationality, or economic status have been welcome.  This is indeed a place, a community, that has opened its heart and where the hymn “All Are Welcome” is a living reality. 

In her book To Pause at the Threshold Esther de Wall writes:

“Rowan Williams tells us to take the risk of hospitality.  When we turn to the Rule of St. Benedict, we are shown the fullness of what hospitality can mean.  It is not merely the open door or the open gate that offers warmth, food, and drink, but also the open heart offering acceptance and love, and not least the open mind ready and willing to listen and to receive and exchange.  St. Benedict tells us to give a welcome to all who come because we see in them the figure of Christ himself.” 

The sisters have taken “the risks of hospitality” over the years to make this a place that welcomes all people, regardless of their faith, denomination, race, gender, ethnicity or political persuasion.  The sisters have been bold and courageous in their decisions to make this a truly ecumenical community where all are welcome.  They have made many changes over these 70 years in order to be faithful to their call to Benedictine hospitality that fits this time in history.  Father Ken Smits called what was happening at St. Benedict Center “grassroots ecumenism.” Grassroots hospitality led to grassroots ecumenism…responding to the changing needs of the time. 

Sr. Joanne, Sr. Mary David, Sr. Lynne, Sister Everline – thank you for your work, your vision, your risky hospitality…and YES your courage!  We are grateful…we are blessed to share this day of celebration with you.  Our lives have been changed and enriched by the gift your presence. And we look forward to the challenges that await us in the unknown future. 

Comments 1

  1. Holy Wisdom Monastery is a wonderful place!!! I remember when it was the St. Benedict Center and still had ties to the Catholic Church (I believe). I spent some time working in the Prairie with Paul Boutwell and thought perhaps I had a vocation to become a Spiritual Director, but God had other plans for me. I’m now an Ignatian Associate living independently in Milwaukee. I truly hope to return to the Monastery for a retreat sometime. Congratulations 🎉🎊🎈🍾 on 70 years! That is quite an accomplishment!!!

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