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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Benedictine nun’s successful online community – giving access to a monastic spirituality

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Joan Chittister is a prolific writer, an American Benedictine nun, theologian, author and speaker. She has served as a Benedictine prioress and Benedictine federation president, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women. She will be 87 next month and shows no signs of slowing down.

I have just finished her book (writes Debbie Thrower) Joan Chittister: Her Journey from certainty to faith (Orbis Books, 2015). In it she tells, for the first time, of her abusive stepfather, Dutch, and the impact he had on her life.

Her love and admiration for her mother, who also suffered at his hands, shines through. Yet she also shows compassion for Dutch, whose surname she took, despite being responsible for making so much of her childhood fearful. She describes him as a fundamentally ‘good man’ despite the alcohol-fuelled episodes which frequently made home a place one might need to escape from in a hurry. She recalls her mother’s detailed instructions from the age of eight: how to leave, and where to go… should she have to, hidden beneath a carpet.

Sister Joan’s work ethic is incredible. The overarching story of her professional life is her campaigning work for decades on behalf of women. The leadership she has shown in the church is inspiring. Pope Francis is quoted extensively by her, for instance:

‘It is the work of the church… to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those on the outskirts of life.’ – Pope Francis, Joan Chittister, p. 234.

If you become a member of the online community Monasteries of the Heart led by Joan Chittister, the website says you receive free weekly practices ‘that can help you develop a monastic spirituality – prayer, Lectio (reflective reading), good works, study and community. You also receive free inspirational words each week from three monastic blogs, including one by Sister Joan. And you join a worldwide community whose members discuss meaningful issues and are intent on impacting the times.’

It was the title of Chittister’s book The Gift of Years: Growing older gracefully (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2011) which gave BRF an initial name, back in 2015, for the work to develop Anna Chaplaincy and commission complementary resources, such as Bible Reflections for Older People.

Chittister’s The Gift of Years has 40 short chapters covering many topics key to ageing ‘gracefully’: transformation, letting go, forgiveness and appreciation, are just a few examples.

The importance of story – ‘tale-telling’ – our own and those who came before us, is another big theme emphasised throughout:

‘Being tale-bearer is of the essence of growing old. The tale-bearers are proof of the authenticity of the past. They determine what truth will be for all of us. Their stories will carry us all into the days to come… When any of us fail to listen to the stories being handed down to us, we lose the opportunity to hear the life lessons and must then learn the hard way ourselves… We fail the harvest of our own life and the ploughing days of theirs. The blessing that comes with tale-telling is the awareness that we have now done our duty to life. We have distilled our experiences to the point that they can become useful to someone younger.’ – Joan Chittister The Gift of Years, p. 87–88.



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