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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Called to community

A Roman Catholic monastery in Wisconsin invites Protestant women to keep their tradition but join in community life

While U.S. ecumenism takes great strides at the denominational level, a much quieter movement is taking place.

From a monastery on a scenic hill outside of Madison, Wis., Roman Catholic sisters are asking Protestant women to join them. They don't request conversion. Instead, women are asked to maintain their Protestant faith while becoming full, lifetime members of the Sisters of St. Benedict.

Such an ecumenical sisterhood will break new ground. Sister Mary David Walgenbach says their move toward ecumenism began in the 1960s. The sisters converted the girls' college prep school they operated into an ecumenical retreat and conference center. "Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, the Dalai Lama and some Jewish groups used the center," she says. "Gradually we began to change from the inside. When you pray with people, that's the most subversive thing you can do."

In 1980 the sisters formed a Community of St. Benedict — separate from the monastery community — that's open to men and women, married and single. "We come together every two to three weeks for four hours to share a meal, pray together and share our spiritual journeys," Walgenbach explains.


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