by Dennis Dalman
Sister Karen Rose was chosen in a canonical election by her peers Feb. 26 to become the 18th prioress of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph. She will be officially welcomed as prioress at a Sunday, June 4 ceremony in Sacred Heart Chapel.
The woman who became Sister Karen Rose was raised in England. In 2005, she first visited the monastery here and was impressed with its spiritual mission. After trips back to England and lots of soul-searching during which she deeply missed being at the monastery, she was accepted as a member years later, in May of 2012. Sister Karen currently serves as the director of mission advancement at the monastery; as the new prioress, she will succeed Sister Susan Rudolph, who has served as prioress since 2017.
A monastery prioress is elected every six years as the spiritual leader of the Benedictine community, currently comprised of 157 ordained sisters. In addition, a prioress also serves as chief executive officer of the corporation and represents the monastery on the corporate board of the College of St. Benedict, as well as on the corporate board of St. Cloud Hospital. Those two institutions were founded many decades ago by the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict.
That Order is a monastic community of women who seek God in their daily lives according to the Gospel and the Rule of Benedict. Through their ministry of prayer, work and community living, they listen and respond to the needs of the church and the world.
During much of the past two decades, S. Karen struggled between her duties in her native country, England, and the deep and persistent attraction to St. Benedict’s Monastery and its spiritual traditions.
She finally made a “leap off a cliff” and God caught her.
In an article published in the “Benedictine Sisters and Friends” magazine in 2012, writer Colleen Hollinger Petters described what led S. Karen to take the “Leap” that led to her being a monastery member.
Originally from Manchester, England, she was a professor of acute-care nursing at central England’s Staffordshire University. As part of her work on an extensive health-care review, she attended several retreats at Douai Abbey, a men’s Benedictine Abbey in Woolhampton where she was moved by Benedictine spirituality.
Later, she had a chance to spend two weeks doing more studying and writing at the Benedictine monastery and campus in St. Joseph. There she contemplated deeply while discovering a new clarity that convinced her she wanted to change her way of life, to simplify her way of living and to find a new path.
Hollinger Petters quotes S. Karen: “I definitely was not looking for a religious community to enter,” she said.
“Will God catch me?”
Back in England, she visited a monk at Douai Abbey and told him about her new, clarified vision – that she needed more time for God and prayer and that she was thinking about leaving her job.
“I told him,” she said, “(that) I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff and leaping into the dark. I was worried whether God would catch me if I made the leap.”
The monk said to her: “I think God will catch you, but if God doesn’t, there’s always the floor.”
She resigned her job in England and several months later returned to St. Joseph, to the monastery. She stayed for three months, reasoning with herself about why “she couldn’t and shouldn’t possibly consider a religious vocation.”
She then had a talk with S. Mary Catherine Holicky, who was then director of vocations at the monastery, who advised her to go back to England to consider her future from that perspective.
She returned to Manchester and found several jobs, allowing her to support herself while pondering the direction of her future. All the while, she kept feeling the monastery in faraway Minnesota beckoning, beckoning.
The return, the decision
In 2006, she returned to St. Joseph, back once again to the monastery.
She told herself this: “I knew if I heard a “No’ from within myself, it would be quite simple and I would leave (go back to England). I got here (monastery), and within three to four days I didn’t ever want to leave.”
She did, however, go back to England – for Christmas – at which time she shared her long-term decision with friends and family. That August, in 2006, she returned to the monastery for good.
“When I first felt I was called here, it was like walking on air,” S. Karen told Hollinger Petters. “The longer I am here, the more I realize how important perseverance is, to know that when the emotional bubble is over, I’m looking at this as my decision to follow God. Really, I wasn’t looking for anything, but I found it.”
Karen’s final acceptance into the monastery was approved with a final vote on May 8, 2012, with a Feast of St. Benedict Eucharist on July 11 in the Scared Heart Chapel.
At that time, she was working in the monastery’s Development and Communications Office. Later she was named director of the missions advancement. And now, she is the prioress. God had, indeed, “caught her.”