Eight female-identifying Catholics in their 20s and 30s, all of them students or recent graduates of programs in theology or divinity, gathered June 17-30 at Mount St. Benedict Monastery in Erie, Pennsylvania, for the inaugural Joan Chittister Institute for Contemporary Spirituality: A Feminist Benedictine Option.
The institute was a two-week intensive course on the work of author and lecturer Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, especially her writings on monasticism and women in the Catholic Church. This program was offered by Benetvision, a ministry of Sister Joan and the Benedictine Sisters of Erie that offers spirituality resources as part of an ongoing effort to support young female Catholic theologians, who are often shut out of the church and struggle to find ways to use their gifts and education.
For the past three summers, Benetvision has hosted summer interns, including the two of us, in an effort to bring together the rich legacy of Sister Joan and the Erie Benedictine community and the questions and ideas of young female Catholic theologians. We are now on staff with Benetvision, and we helped plan the institute, hoping that this would be a way to connect more young feminist seekers and scholars with each other and with the wisdom of Sister Joan and her community.
We were thrilled by the results: Eight young feminist theologians — master's students, campus ministers, a faith formation director, high school teachers, and a Benedictine Sister of Erie in initial formation — came from across the country and Australia to take part in the institute along with Benedictine Sr. Val Luckey, a 30-year-old sister in formation with the Erie Benedictines. They shared their wisdom and their dreams with us, with the other members of the institute staff, with Sister Joan, and with the prioress and subprioress of the Erie Benedictine community, Srs. Anne Wambach and Susan Doubet, who attended and participated in sessions every day.
The participants came with stories to tell and hopes to share, and they also came prepared to learn. The institute was designed to allow participants to academically and experientially explore Benedictine life through the lens of Sister Joan and her community.