“Listen, my daughter… with the ear of your heart…”
These opening words of the Rule of St. Benedict set the tone and context for discerning one’s vocation. Our call is embedded within us and can only be heard in our heart.
Responding to a call to religious life is not all that different from the vocations to the married or single life: all vocations demand our lived expression in the call gifted to us, wherein we will find God with his most gracious grace.
Carefully listening for God’s voice within us is really more about God than us.
Hearing, responding and living what God has planted in us and tends with such gracious grace, create the foundation for a fulfilling, happy life.
The call to religious or consecrated life is more rare than the call to married or single life, but if God speaks a call within us, it is well worth the pursuit of it. Just as marriage partners matter greatly in the choosing of a spouse, so does the choice of the religious community.
Religious Orders for both men and women vary greatly along a continuum from very monastic to very active apostolic. Even monastic Orders vary from very contemplative to more active in such apostolates as education, healthcare and pastoral care. But for all who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, however, prayer, community and work will be core elements that remain central.
The Rule of St. Benedict is both ancient (fifth century) and ever new in its embodied expression in the lives of men and women who have followed it for centuries.
The Rule concludes in chapter 73. 8-9: “Are you hastening toward your heavenly home? Then with Christ’s help, keep this little rule that we have written for beginners. After that you can set out for the loftier summits of the teaching and virtues we mention above, and under God’s protection you will reach them. Amen.”
The Rule has both endured and spread because it is livable, a sure guide with challenge but with nothing of what St. Benedict would call “harsh or burdensome.” Because of its endurable nature, it is used by a variety of communities (Benedictines and Trappists, as well as “new monasticism” non-Catholic groups, families, etc.).
The main motive that is tested when someone comes to enter a monastery is whether or not they truly seek God. Monasteries may appear as peaceful havens away from the world but they are, in fact, what St. Benedict calls a “school for the Lord’s service.” One becomes a monastic through many years of living that way.
As Benedictine monastics we profess three vows: stability, fidelity to the monastic way of life and obedience. In promising stability we commit ourselves to this particular community, this group of people who are in it now and who are to come after us.
We promise to give who we are and what we have in service of this community and receive what we need from it. It is a posture of putting the community first.
In promising fidelity to the monastic way of life, we commit ourselves to live as monastics: praying the Divine Office several times a day, participating in Eucharist, living simply and chastely,and making time for personal prayer and lectio divina, but also giving ourselves to work and recreation in community.
The type of work will vary in both the job and location at various times in our lives, but what is done is on behalf of the community and as an obedient response to what is assigned to us. We live by our motto “Ora et labora,” prayer and work.
We vow obedience to the Rule and the prioress but also to the customs and the way life is lived in this particular community. It is only by immersing ourselves in the life of a particular community that we are truly formed in the Lord’s service.
A Particular Vocation to a Specific Monastery
Every Benedictine community lives by the essentials named above, but each is distinct. One may feel the call to become a Benedictine monastic, but the where in particular is the key. That can only be discerned in time spent in particular monasteries and listening with the ear of one’s heart.
Our Benedictine Community at Sacred Heart Monastery
As Benedictine monastic women, we belong to this monastery, follow the Rule of St. Benedict, and serve under a prioress according to the tradition of our history and charism. In our more than a century as a community our lives have greatly changed, in response to both our gifts and needs as well as the development of opportunities to build the Kingdom of God in North Dakota.
We were founded in Elbowoods in 1910 to work among the Native American people on the Fort Berthold Reservation and we are still serving there today. As we grew in numbers and outgrew our convent, we moved our motherhouse to Garrison and expanded our teaching and healthcare missions.
When we outgrew that motherhouse, we built one in Minot, serving a larger population and establishing our own Sacred Heart Academy even as many of the Sisters taught in both public and Catholic schools, as well as staffed a hospital and nursing home. In other words, we were Benedictine monastics but the apostolate was also emphasized. We served the needs of the people as we worked to support ourselves on meager salaries.
In the early 1960s the Second Vatican Council provided us with a major shift in our thinking and renewal in our living. It called us to get in greater touch with “the spirit of our founder.” In the course of our renewal we found new ministries. Sisters were released from the basic education and healthcare apostolates to study Sacred Scripture, monastic studies, spirituality, etc., training to become chaplains, teachers in higher education and monastic formation.
While still in the renewal generated by Vatican II, we moved from our convent in Minot to rural Richardton on land given us by the monks of Assumption Abbey with whom we had worked since our very beginnings in North Dakota. For the first time we had a monastery that was not tied to any institution or ministry. Simply put, we had the perfect opportunity to be more monastic in our living.
Today we still have a few Sisters serving away from the monastery (“on mission”) serving as parish worker, chaplain, resident manager for an apartment complex for the elderly, and social worker. Several of our Sisters continue their mission of prayer as residents in nearby nursing homes.
Most of us live here at the Monastery providing monastic formation, hospitality to guests, maintaining our Sacred Heart Benedictine Foundation, and simply doing what needs to be done in a Monastery (cooking, cleaning, business office, etc.). Our brother monks at Assumption Abbey in Richardton are our chaplains, friends, fellow teachers in our joint formation classes and coworkers in various areas.
Becoming a Sister of Sacred Heart Monastery
It takes several years to become a finally professed member of any monastery because of the various periods of preparation. Our stages are as follows:
Affiliation (1-3 years)
It takes extended visits to discern whether or not you are called to this community. We ask for a visit of one to two weeks so that we can get to know you and you to know us. The coming-staying-leaving then getting back in touch is an important process in getting acquainted. Discernment happens most clearly when it is done in a familiar, comfortable, everyday context. This mutual dialogue between you and us lets us know if and when you may be called to this community.
Postulancy (6 months to a year)
The first stage in community is postulancy. In this time you continue to discern your call with the guidance of a Formation Director and Formation Team while living here at the Monastery with the home community. It is a time of initial formation and discerning if you can live as we live.
Novitiate (1-2 years)
The novitiate is a canonical requirement but also a blessing. This is a sacred time with deeper immersion in monastic spirituality and communal life with limited outside interaction. It is the most contemplative year of the process as it requires deep, guided discernment. Formal formation classes are held in conjunction with those in formation at the Abbey and some classes are particular to our community.
Temporary Profession (3-5 years)
If you request profession and are accepted by the community, you make monastic profession of stability, fidelity to the monastic way of life and obedience for three years. Formation classes continue throughout the years of temporary profession and there is continued guidance by the Formation Director and Team. This is a time also for further preparation in your monastic ministry with ongoing education or training.
If after these years of discernment you still feel called to this community, you request perpetual profession. At this time you make a life commitment to God and to us, and we commit to you; you become a full member in this community with all its rights and responsibilities. The sign of your final profession is the wearing of the profession ring and reception of the cuculla, the official choir cloak of a Benedictine monastic.
Contact the Vocations Director by phone to 701-974-2121 or send an email.