The Center for Benedictine Life at the Monastery of St. Gertrude welcomed Sister Jeanne Weber, president of the Federation of St. Gertrude and a member of the Benedictines in Yankton, South Dakota, when she visited from May 4 to 9, 2023.
The visit was scheduled, first and foremost, Sister Jeanne said, to support the community at St. Gertrude’s after the death of prioress Sister Mary Forman. “It’s a significant event,” Sister Jeanne added. “In the Benedictine tradition, the prioress is a core and central leadership figure.”
The prioress isn’t just an administrative position, Sister Jeanne explained. There is a major spiritual component, as well. The death of a prioress while serving her term can cause quite a shake-up within a community.
While at St. Gertrude’s, Sister Jeanne focused on listening to the sisters, both individually and in groups. As part of a process to chart a path forward, it is necessary to figure out what the next steps will be, she noted.
In the sixth year of her term, her role as Federation president is more than just advisory. “It is my responsibility to make sure the community has leadership and the sisters are cared for,” Sister Jeanne said.
After her departure, Sister Jeanne will schedule a meeting with the Federation council – sisters elected from among the monasteries that are members of the Federation. These elected councilors have a wealth of experience, according to Sister Jeanne, with anywhere between 20 and 50 years of experience as vowed Benedictine religious. “They have a broad spectrum of knowledge,” Sister Jeanne stated. “Some have been prioresses in their own monasteries.”
Together, the Federation council will synthesize what Sister Jeanne heard in her discussions with the sisters at St. Gertrude’s, then make a determination about how the transition should continue.
That could happen in two ways, said Sister Jeanne. The process of electing a new prioress could be facilitated relatively soon, or an interim leader from among the sisters at St. Gertrude’s could be appointed to handle administrative duties while the discernment process to elect a prioress takes a more normal course of up to a year.
Overall, Sister Jeanne was impressed by her interaction with the sisters at St. Gertrude’s. As Sister Mary’s illness progressed, “Key people have pulled together to hold things together,” Sister Jeanne remarked. She looks forward to working with the community going forward, as well.