The Order of Saint Benedict

Post-Communion Reflection
by Prioress Ephrem Hollermann OSB

At the Burial Liturgy of Abbot Primate Jerome Theisen


Abbot Timothy and my brother monks.

In my own name, in the name of my community in Saint Joseph, and on behalf of the other Benedictine women here present, I wish to extend our deepest sympathy and promise of abiding prayer. Although Benedict reminds us to expect death--"to keep death daily before [our] eyes"-- the death of any one of our members does, indeed, diminish us, and it remains for us to deal with the ache in our communal heart. The death of Abbot Primate Jerome brings a worldwide network of Benedictine men and women into your grieving, and we can only hope to bring to you some measure of comfort and hopeful assurance by our presence and prayer alongside you today.

To you, the family of Jerome, we offer our prayer that you may know the healing power of God's grace and peace. May you be comforted in the knowledge of how much we valued your loved one's life among us. And I join all of you here present today friends and associates of Abbot Primate Jerome in both grieving and honoring this outstanding man who graced our lives in a variety of ways.

This is a bittersweet moment for me. On the one hand, I stand before you with a heavy heart, having lost a monastic brother, a teacher, a mentor and a colleague in the field of theological and monastic studies. On the other hand, I've had some very joyful and grateful moments in remembering his close association with our community and the role he had in my own monastic and theological formation.

We first knew Abbot Primate Jerome as Father Reinold, when he served as assistant chaplain at Saint Benedict's from 1962 to 1965. Those were the years, you will recall, during which Vatican Council II was in session, a time when we were being challenged to update theologically and spiritually in accord with the dialogues going on in Rome. I was a newcomer to monastic life at that time, and I recall that he was part of our process of introducing English into the Divine Office and the Mass, of preparing to turn the altar around to have the priest face the assembly, and of beginning to allow other musical instruments such as the guitar to be used in liturgical worship. His stay among us was brief, however, and rumor had it that Bishop Bartholome thought he was too young and inexperienced to be ministering to a community of over 1,000 women! Affection for him runs deep in our community and we are grateful for his steadfast interest in us for over thirty years.

It seems as if Abbot Primate Jerome has been "standing in the wings" of my theological and monastic formation the whole of my adult life. He was my teacher of dogmatic theology when I was an undergraduate at the College of Saint Benedict and taught in the novitiate program when I was a novice. I shall never forget his enthusiasm for Vagaggini's work on the theological dimensions of the liturgy.

During the early 1970's, Abbot Primate Jerome was again influential in my theological formation when I was a graduate student in the School of Theology here. Shortly thereafter, we each became novice director in our respective communities, and found ourselves in sometimes intense dialogues about issues in initial formation.

Most recently, in a letter to me shortly after my election as prioress in March of this year, he addressed the mixed feelings he knew I would have about leaving the theology classroom. Having acknowledged that, he went on to say:

"... but on the other hand you will come face to face with life experiences that you have read and written about. You will find the challenges daunting but they will lead you to a richer view of your sisters and yourself. May the office bring you to the frontiers of wisdom, patience and understanding."
I am confident that in his new and glorious life he will mentor me still.

Many people, in a variety of ways during this past week, have highlighted the admirable qualities of this extraordinary, holy, and unassuming man. To these I wish to add only one more. In my experience, Abbot Primate Jerome was never known to discount in word or deed the experience of women in the Church and in monastic life. In his presence I consistently felt respected and valued as a woman, as a theologian, as an equal partner in the search for God in Benedictine monastic life. I believe it was this quality that generated his particular interest, as Abbot Primate, in promoting and furthering the networking and dialogue among Benedictine women the world over. His efforts resulted in some important breakthroughs at the 1993 International Symposium of Benedictine Women in Rome.

It would be presumptuous of me to speak on behalf of Benedictine women all over the world, but let it be known that we had, in the person of Abbot Primate Jerome, an advocate in Rome for whom we are deeply grateful. We will miss him greatly, but our faith assures us that we now have an even stronger advocate on behalf of all "things monastic" before the very face of God!

18 September 1995

S. Ephrem Hollermann OSB, is prioress of Saint Benedict's Monastery in Saint Joseph, MN, and a member of the faculty of the Department of Theology at Saint John's University, MN.

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