by Frank Lee
A Sauk Rapids native who graduated from the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph was elected prioress of the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict on Feb. 25 by the nuns of St. Joseph.
Sister Susan Rudolph will succeed Sister Michaela Hedican as the spiritual leader of the monastic community in St. Joseph. Rudolph’s installation as prioress will take place on June 4.
“It’s been an amazing grace-filled journey,” Rudolph said of the election process and results, which surprised her. “It has surpassed my wildest dreams ever.”
Sister Karen Rose is the director of mission advancement for St. Benedict’s Monastery. The Sisters of St. Benedict, which includes the nuns at St. Scholastica Convent in St. Cloud, those on missions and at the St. Joseph monastery, number more than 200 women in all.
“The election is the fruit of a process which lasts many months, where the sisters read, pray and listen to one another,” Rose said. “It is commonly known as ‘election of prioress,’ but we think of it more in terms of being called forth to a leadership role as prioress.”
Rudolph graduated from Cathedral High School in St. Cloud and has 12 siblings; she is the third oldest in her family and the first one to go on to college to pursue higher education.
“I think my strength in leadership is more of one of leading by example,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph’s ministry experience includes teaching elementary and junior high schools associated with parishes such as Sacred Heart in Sauk Rapids, St. Augustine in St. Cloud and St. Boniface in Cold Spring.
She majored in elementary education at the College of St. Benedict and holds master’s degrees in theology, education and gerontology, in addition to being a board-certified chaplain.
“Each degree has prepared me for the work that I went on to do,” Rudolph said of her three master’s degrees and her undergraduate education at St. Benedict’s.
Rudolph was the housing director and staff resident at the College of St. Benedict for 14 years, and she completed 21 years as director of pastoral care at St. Benedict’s Senior Community in St. Cloud in 2016.
“I knew deep in my heart I wanted to join the community,” Rudolph recalled of her first year at college. “And I had known that for a long time . . . that I was really drawn to a spiritual life and especially to liturgy, to prayer, and they were important to my family, too.”
At the monastery, Rudolph served as formation director, guiding women discerning their vocation to monastic life. During the past year, since leaving the Senior Community, she has assisted at the monastery’s Spirituality Center and was responsible for workplace safety.
“I don’t know if I would contrast too much of our styles,” Rudolph said of her predecessor Hedican, the 16th prioress of the monastic community. “I just see great continuity, and I love our community and I love Michaela; she has been a great leader and mentor for me.”
At its peak in the 1950s, the monastery had 1,278 fully professed nuns, who were ministering in more than 83 schools and health-care organizations, as well as numerous other ministries, according to the history of St. Benedict’s Monastery.
The monastery sent out nuns to establish Benedictine foundations in Eau Claire, Wis.; St. Paul, Minn.; Lacey, Wash.; Bismarck, N.D.; Duluth; Sapporo, Japan; Taipei, Taiwan; Nassau, Bahamas; Ogden, Utah; and Humacao, Puerto Rico.
“We had a four-day period assigned for this last weekend of discernment,” Rose said of the prioress election. “However, the community reached consensus quite quickly, so Sister Susan was elected on Saturday (the second day).”
Hedican was named as one of the “Catholics of the Year 2016” by OSV Newsweekly. She shares the year-end recognition by Our Sunday Visitor, the world’s largest English-language Catholic publisher and provider of services, with St. Cloud Diocesan Bishop Donald J. Kettler.
“She’s a very outgoing, sensitive person with a very high-energy level,” said Rudolph, who is 78 years old. “I don’t think I will ever measure up to that; my personality is very different from hers. I’m (a) much more quiet and more reserved person.”
The nuns of the monastery were guided in the election process in person by two trained nuns from other Benedictine communities in September, November, January and February.
‘The whole process is very prayerful,” Rose said. “Sisters commented on how peaceful it felt throughout the process. The whole idea is things should not become contentious, that we listen to one another respectfully and move gradually toward a consensus.”
The election process includes writing a direction statement which states what the nuns feel they would like to achieve in broad terms during the next six years – the term of office of a prioress.
“Based on this, we identify the qualities and skills of the person needed to help carry the direction statement through,” Rose said.
The nuns are devoted to seeking God through prayer, guided by the Rule of St. Benedict, much like the previous nuns who came to Minnesota about 150 years ago to found what is now the largest Benedictine community in the United States.
“When we have arrived at a two-thirds or more consensus of who we think is the person called forth as next prioress, the formal election takes place in Sacred Heart Chapel. It is known as the Canonical Election,” Rose said. “By this time, we are pretty close to being of one mind.”