Annual Community Retreat with Abba Anthony

Sisters Judith Sutera and Stephanie Schmidt

Sister Judith Sutera, left, led this year's annual retreat at Mount St. Benedict Monastery. Sister Judy's topic was, "Through the Desert with Abba Anthony" and she pulled from her extensive knowledge of monastic history and spirituality as she connected the life of this 5th century desert hermit to the journey of the sisters and oblates gathered for the week of retreat.

This was the first in-person retreat at the monastery since 2019 and prioress Sister Stephanie Schmidt, pictured with Sister Judy, was pleased to welcome oblates back for the retreat.

Sister Judy began the week by introducing Abba Anthony, the first hermit. "I came to appreciate his story as the seed of our understanding of monastic spirituality," she said. "He is the archetype for monastics." Each of the following nine conferences throughout the retreat focused on monastic values and practices that are as pertinent for monastic life today as they were for Anthony. Those values include the call to monastic life, discipline, temptation, community, and stability.

Of course the living of them may look different today, but the kernel of truth they hold has not changed--because people everywhere in all times ask the same questions--Why are we here? What's it all about? Is this all there is? And it's those like Anthony, who wrestle with the questions and try and live into the answers, who become our heroes, those whose quest mirrors the inner quest of ordinary people. 

In her closing remarks, Sister Stephanie thanked Sister Judy for reminding us the journey is for those who want to be transformed--the hero's journey is our call to sanctity. Holiness only comes with desire, discipline and practice. "Thank you, Judy, for reminding us that being present in community is our foremost ministry as Benedictines. We are called to be one in our God," she said.

Sister Judy is a member of Mount Saint Scholastica in Atchison, KS, and has just published the first inclusive language English version of the Rule of St. Benedict with an inclusive commentary. She is editor of Magistra, an academic journal of women's spirituality in history, and of The American Monastic Newsletter. She is the author of several spirituality books and numerous articles, and is a speaker and retreat leader for religious communities, academic conferences, non-Catholic theology schools, initial formation groups and lay retreat centers. She is a director for lay oblates, and also teaches novitiate courses in monastic spirituality and works with the Sophia Retreat Center in Atchison. Sister Judith holds masters' degrees in counseling and monastic theology.