Prioress seeks balance, partnership

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Sister Barbara Lynn Schmitz, prioress-elect for the Sisters of St. Benedict, right, hugged Sister Anita Lowe as they parted ways after lunch with Sr. Anita’s sister, Teresa, of New Albany, left, who was visiting at Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand on Thursday. Sr. Barbara Lynn was elected the 13th prioress June 8 and will be installed in a ceremony at the monastery July 13.

 

By ALEXANDRA SONDEEN
Herald Staff Writer

FERDINAND — Sister Barbara Lynn Schmitz’s daily prayers have changed.

“I pray a lot more for guidance,” she said. “I’ve never been more aware of God guiding me than I have been lately.”

Sr. Barbara Lynn, 58, was elected the 13th prioress of the Sisters of St. Benedict earlier this month. She succeeds Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau, who has served 10 years as prioress, and will be installed during a ceremony at Monastery Immaculate Conception on July 13.

The sisters began a prayerful discernment process the evening of June 4. Sr. Barbara Lynn was elected four days later through canonical election that traditionally results in a nearly unanimous election.

“It is so affirming to know that the community is behind you, that the sisters are together and united in supporting you,” Sr. Barbara Lynn said. “It’s a very empowering experience, and I felt that very deeply.”

The prioress-elect said the sisters are at a turning point in the community’s history because of a rapidly changing world.

“For the past 100 years, life changed rather slowly,” Sr. Barbara Lynn said. “But in the past 30 years, life has changed even faster. And the last 10 years, it’s been faster yet. How can we move forward and embrace that change? And do we want to make those changes or go down this road or that road?”

She believes she is capable of asking the big questions and helping the community find a way to move forward while keeping the constantly evolving future in mind.

“We need to look carefully at what we have and make wise decisions for how we can best serve,” she said. “We are always adapting our ministries, so how can we best use our resources to help others? God has blessed us, and we want to share those blessings.”

She wants to find more ways for sisters to partner with the community at large in their vocations, ministries, volunteering and other outreach efforts.

“We’re finding that people all over the country are interested in the Benedictine way of life and how can we bring balance into our lives,” Sr. Barbara Lynn said. “How can we live according to the Gospel and how can we find balance in the changing environment we have now?”

The sisters also realize their community of 158 women will become smaller.

“We imagine that in 15 years, we will probably be a community of 100,” Sr. Barbara said. "We want to very intentionally create a community that will be viable at 100 members.”

To reflect the fast-paced lifestyle of current times, the new prioress will be the first to serve a single six-year term. She may serve another term, but not consecutively. Previously, a sister was allowed to serve two five-year terms consecutively.

“We decided 10 years was a little bit too long, now,” Sr. Barbara Lynn said. “Six years allows enough time to get things done and we can move on in leadership with someone with different skills and talents. It kind of keeps the energy going.”

She said she has experienced a new level of connectedness to each of her sisters since her election.

“To be present to all of the sisters is a little different for me,” she said. “I’m in a relationship with everybody all at once. It’s a kind of broadening, if you will.”

Sr. Barbara Lynn noted that Sr. Kristine Anne was particularly adept at managing those relationships.

“Everyone has felt valued and supported by her and her leadership,” she said. “You always want to be present to others and listen to the community to say here’s where we are and here’s where we’re going. She had a wonderful way of doing that. I hope I can be half as present as she is.”

Sr. Kristine Anne said her successor will have no trouble stepping into the monastery’s leading role.

“She’s a very experienced and intelligent and personable woman,” Sr. Kristine Anne said. “She’ll be very good with the sisters, but also with all those who are our friends and family. She’ll represent us very well, I have no doubt.”

Sr. Kristine Anne will take a one-year sabbatical, staying away from the monastery to allow the new prioress to get settled.

“It gives the new prioress time to find her way without the outgoing prioress kind of hanging in the shadows,” Sr. Kristine Anne said. “It will allow her to change whatever she might want to change without having to think of what I think of it. And it allows me to get rejuvenated and rested.”

As outgoing prioress, Sr. Kristine Anne said she most appreciates the deeper bonds she now shares with each of the sisters as the result of holding the office.

“It’s been a real blessing to get to know each sister in a deeper way and be in a closer relationship with each of them. That’s been a real gift,” she said. “We don’t always get along or agree, but as a community, we all love each other. That’s been a blessing to be able to share in that as prioress.”

In the meantime, Sr. Barbara Lynn said she is excited to take her turn leading the community and is humbled by and grateful for the outpouring of support she’s received from the sisters and from those outside the monastery.

“I think we have lots of things facing us, but we also know God is right here with us,” she said.

Contact Alexandra Sondeen at asondeen@dcherald.com.




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