The St. Benedict Center, a Benedictine ecumenical community serving Madison for the past 40 years, has ended its ties to the Roman Catholic Church.
Sister Mary David Walgenbach, 67, prioress, says the center will now function purely as an ecumenical community under its new name, Holy Wisdom Monastery.
She said the Sisters of St. Benedict petitioned the Vatican for dispensation from their vows as a Catholic religious order and that request was granted. The order will now be called the "Benedictine Women of Madison" and will continue to follow, generally, the monastic rule of St. Benedict.
Bishop Robert Morlino, of the Madison Catholic Diocese, approved the changes but requested the monastery no longer have Roman Catholic Mass celebrated at the center and that blessed Communion wafers no longer be "reserved" in the chapel.
"Such experimental endeavors can bear great fruit for the church, such as the monastery at Taize (France)," Morlino said in a letter to diocesan priests dated June 26. "But there are very few other success stories worldwide, and thus our prayers and good wishes are all the more important."
Sister Mary David said there are a number of reasons for the change, one of which is the order started accepting Protestant members several years ago.
"We didn’t want our non-Catholic sisters to have second-class status," she said. The Rev. Lynn Smith, a Presbyterian clergywoman, took her final vows to become a member of the order in 2004.
Morlino said Roman Catholic adults are free to participate in activities at the center, but added "participation in such activities would not be suitable for Catholic school religion classes, parish religious education classes for young people through the completion of high school and certainly not for catechumens and candidates in RCIA (religious study) programs."
Young people, Morlino warned, need to be indoctrinated in the basics of the Catholic faith before participating in ecumenical activities.
St. Benedict Center has, for 40 years, been virtually synonymous with ecumenical activities in the Madison area.
The local chapter of the Sisters of St. Benedict was organized in 1901 in Sioux City, Iowa. Sisters moved to Madison in 1953 to begin a Catholic girls’ school. When the school closed in 1966, the center became an ecumenical retreat.
"The response to our offer of hospitality has been overwhelmingly abundant," Sister Mary David said in a letter to fellow sisters. "While the 40 years have occasionally felt like desert experiences, far greater is the joy. Formerly, Christians of various churches praying together seemed innovative; this practice is common today. We continue to know ourselves as Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian and Presbyterian. While these labels sometimes separate us, we also know our unity as Christians who live, pray and work together in our world."
Looks to be a good thing that they are no longer affiliated with the Church since their affiliation didn’t appear to be all that deep in the first place. Any group of nuns willing to not have Mass available or a tabernacle to pray before our Lord in the Eucharist have truly lost their way on the path of false ecumenism.