From September 26 to October 1, we were blessed by the presence of twenty-two Benedictine subprioresses, house coordinators, servant-leaders, and deans from monasteries throughout the US and Canada. These are different names for the wise, hard-working women who care for the needs of their Sisters and take part in the daily operation of the Monastery and in long-term planning. When the prioress is absent or unable to fulfill her responsibilities, the subprioress exercises authority in her place and provides continuity in leadership.
Subprioresses meet once a year in mutual support to encourage each other, share experiences, and expand their knowledge in order to further the Benedictine vision and values.
The leadership structure in Benedictine monasteries has evolved over the centuries. In the Sixth Century, St. Benedict apparently had problems with monks he had appointed as priors, who then became ‘puffed up with pride and considered themselves second abbots.’ He recommended instead that, “for the preservation of peace and love we have, therefore, judged it best for the abbot to make all decisions” (Rule of Benedict, Chapter 65: the Prior of the Monastery). Instead he appointed deans, with limited authority over only ten monastics.
“If the community is large, some Sisters chosen for their good repute and holy life should be made deans. They will take care of their groups of ten, managing all affairs according to the commandments of God and the orders of their prioress. The deans selected should be the kind of women with whom the prioress can confidently share the burdens of her office. They are to be chosen for virtuous living and wise teaching, not for their rank.” (Rule of Benedict, Chapter 21: The Deans of the Monastery)
On Sunday afternoon, despite it being cold, windy, and occasionally rainy, the Sisters went out on excursions, some to ride on the Vista Queen in the inner harbor and others to ride the gondola to the top of the ski resort at Lutsen’s Sawtooth Mountains.