Reflections on 2019 Joan Chittister Institute

If it is true that learning is not so much about obtaining new facts as it is discovering new ways of thinking about them, then it can be safely said that no one has consistently impacted learning both within and outside our church more than Sister Joan Chittister. Her books, speeches, and events such as the Joan Chittister Institute for Contemporary Spirituality held at the Benedictine Monastery in Erie, Pennsylvania from July 12 - 19, 2019, bear witness to her extraordinary gift as teacher, learner, prophet, and living prayer.

In an age where we are flooded with information but parched for wisdom and respectful dialogue, Sister Joan's week-long institute is a welcomed and much needed gift to our wounded world. Sister Joan, a teacher par excellence, encourages and consecrates the art of thoughtful conversation with unbridled energy, wonder and curiosity. Participants in the Institute gathered at the table with Sister Joan several hours a day to discuss her books and their application to daily life. These forums of discussion took place in the heart of the Benedictine Monastery, where all guests were invited to enter into the life of prayer that infuses the Benedictine community. We joined the sisters for worship in the monastery’s breathtakingly beautiful chapel twice a day, where we were introduced to the inclusive language prayer books authored by the members of the Benedictine community in Erie. "Sister Joan and the Benedictine sisters have created an ethos of trust, safety, welcoming and love. Through meaningful dialogue, deep reading, lectio divina and silence, the seeker in each of us has been encouraged to find and nurture the center of our souls -a lasting gift that we can continue to cultivate for the rest of our lives,” said Tracy Finnegan, M.A., M.A.T, Assistant Director for Education and At-Risk Youth at Williams College.

Kathy Nolan, R.S.M. came from Long Island to attend the Institute, which she described as both challenging and inspiring. "The group discussions, individual conversations, story sharing, and this time with Joan have been powerful. I am also in awe of the ways in which some participants have altered their lives in order to respond to the suffering in our world."

Carolyn Johnson, Ed.D., from New Jersey commented that "I have been learning from Joan Chittister for nearly thirty years. Her unique perspective and model of tremendous strength and courage have shaped my education and formation, my work in Catholic and secular education, and my efforts to cultivate agency and voice in young adults, especially women. Spending time with Joan and her Benedictine community is such a gift. I am most grateful to be immersed in their monastic rhythms, the "holy leisure" and comraderie shared with strong women of faith from all over the country."

When we take leave of what has been our spiritual home this week, a sanctuary shared so generously by the Benedictines, we will have nurtured the seeds of self-knowledge that will sustain our spiritual growth far past the walls of this holy place. Our task now is to delve more deeply into Benedictine spirituality and create within ourselves a monastery of the heart.

Pat McDonough, Long Island, N.Y., was one of 26 women from across the country who attended the recent week-long Joan Chittister Institute for Contemporary Spirituality at Mount Saint Benedict, Erie, PA.