June 11, 2021

Benedictine sisters celebrate installation of new prioress

Benedictine Sister Julie Sewell ritually receives a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict from Benedictine Sister Jeanne Weber during a June 5 Mass at the chapel of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove in which Sister Julie was installed as the ninth prioress of the monastic community. Sister Jeanne is president of the Federation of St. Gertrude, an organization of 12 women’s Benedictine communities in Canada and the United States. (Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Grace Monastery)

Benedictine Sister Julie Sewell ritually receives a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict from Benedictine Sister Jeanne Weber during a June 5 Mass at the chapel of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove in which Sister Julie was installed as the ninth prioress of the monastic community. Sister Jeanne is president of the Federation of St. Gertrude, an organization of 12 women’s Benedictine communities in Canada and the United States. (Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Grace Monastery)

By Sean Gallagher

BEECH GROVE—On March 6, Benedictine Sister Julie Sewell kept hearing her name called out as she sat in the chapel of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove with the 46 other members of the monastic community.

They had gathered to cast ballots for a new prioress for the monastery who would be its spiritual leader for the next six years.

And while a discernment process among the Benedictine sisters in the previous months had suggested that Sister Julie would be a good fit to lead the community forward, hearing her name read again and again from the ballots was startling.

“Your name is being read out. You keep hearing your name,” Sister Julie said in an interview with The Criterion. “It’s kind of an overwhelming feeling. Am I worthy of this position? Am I holy enough for this position? But it’s also sobering in that it’s also a time of great trust.”

The trust that led the Benedictine sisters of Our Lady of Grace to elect Sister Julie in March culminated in her installation as the ninth prioress during a Mass there on June 5 that was celebrated by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson. She succeeds Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild Horner.

In remarks at the end of the liturgy, Sister Julie noted a paradox in leading a Benedictine community.

She recalled, on the one hand, how Benedictines are rooted deeply in a 1,500-year-old spiritual tradition, saying that “these next six years will be much like the past six years in the most significant ways. We will continue to serve our Church and be a vibrant presence in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. We will continue with our deep life of prayer for our community, our Church and the world.”

At the same time, Sister Julie reflected on how, in Isaiah 43:19, God calls the Hebrew people as well as his people today in the Church to perceive how he is “doing something new.”

“This might seem like an odd verse selection for a Benedictine,” she said. “After all, we live a very structured life with clear customs and practices. Yes, these are always at the core of our life together. Yet, Benedictines in every age have asked themselves what God is asking of them in the unique time of religious life in which they lived. We have and will continue to do the same. We are a community always listening for God’s call, always discerning our way forward together.”

Discernment was at the heart of what led to her installation as prioress on June 5.

“The Holy Spirit has been with us throughout this process, and the sisters believe this was God’s will,” Sister Julie said in an interview before her installation. “So, I’m saying yes to what they believe is God’s will. … You’re relying on God’s grace heavily.”

The Benedictine sisters of Our Lady of Grace have relied on grace in many ways throughout the coronavirus pandemic, especially when they weren’t able to welcome guests to the monastery.

“As hospitality is a core Benedictine value, it has been difficult to be closed to the public during the pandemic,” Sister Julie said at the end of the Mass. “As we move through the pandemic, we will return to opening the monastery for guests. I am grateful for our dear guests present today.”

In his homily during the Mass, Archbishop Thompson reflected on the Scripture readings for the liturgy. He also addressed Sister Julie as she took on leadership of the monastic community.

“Like the prioresses before you, you do not go it alone,” Archbishop Thompson said. “You will draw wisdom, courage, strength and inspiration from those with whom you serve.

“May you never grow tired of looking to the likes of the prophet Jeremiah, St. Paul and the numerous great Benedictine saints on how best to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in carrying out the particular mission entrusted to this wonderful community by the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In her interview with The Criterion, Sister Julie remarked on the support she has received from other Benedictine leaders since her election.

“When I was elected, I got tons of e-mails and calls from other prioresses from other parts of the country telling me that if I have any questions that they’re there to call upon,” she said. “Not only do I have former prioresses in my own house who are still living, which is a blessing, I also have prioresses in the other monastic communities as well.”

Sister Jennifer Mechtild will be there as a support, too, although not initially. Like previous prioresses before her at Our Lady of Grace, Sister Jennifer will take a year-long sabbatical now that her term of office is complete. She knows, though, that the monastic community is in good hands.

“Sister Julie is a spiritual director and has a deep sense of discernment and reflection,” Sister Jennifer Mechtild said. “She has a great sense of humor. I think to lead, you need a great sense of humor. She takes life seriously, but she doesn’t take herself too seriously.”
 

(For more information about Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, visit www.benedictine.com.)

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!