Challenge in change: Benedictine Sisters look to renew, strengthen

July 2015 Posted in News
Benedictine Sisters of Mount Angel
Founded in 1882, members of the order teach
in schools and parishes; work as counselors,
chaplains, and pastoral associates; they are
also artisans, cooks and gardeners.

The Benedictine Sisters sponsor two ministries:
Shalom Prayer Center and St. Joseph Shelter and
its ministries Mission Benedict, Casa Adele,
and the Bernard Migrant Men’s program.

Information: Benedictine Sister’s and
Shalom Prayer Center at
St. Joseph’s Shelter at

By Kristine Thomas

Sr. Donna Marie Chartraw, OSB, understands people will talk.

Unfortunately, she said, there’s not a lot she can do about it. Her focus is planning for the future of the Benedictine Sisters at the Queen of Angels Monastery in Mount Angel.

She’s well aware some people have questions about what has taken place since April with the resignation of several St. Joseph Shelter board members; the last-minute cancellation of the St. Joseph the Shelter Dinner and the changes in personnel at St. Joseph’s Shelter/Mission Benedict.

“Our ministry has a right to make changes and if people don’t like it, that’s their problem,” she said in a telephone interview, adding there are confidential matters she cannot discuss. “We sent out a letter that made it pretty clear what we are doing.”

In the letter dated May 11, Sr. Donna Marie, now former prioress/president of the Benedictine Sisters, wrote to the friends and donors of the St. Joseph Shelter and Mission Benedict apologizing for the cancellation of the dinner and the lack of information.

“You are all stakeholders in this most important apostolate of the Sisters: to proved for the needs of those needing housing (whether families or migrant workers) as well as food and clothed. We want to make it clear that the Benedictine Sisters of Queen of Angels Monastery are committed to this apostolate and we want to thrive going forward,” she wrote.

The St. Joseph Shelter is a separately incorporated ministry sponsored by the Benedictine Sisters of Mount Angel, she explained. The sisters’ board of directors is the member of St. Joseph Shelter Corp., with sole and approved reserved powers. It has the sole power to appoint and remove board members.

What Sr. Donna Marie knows to be true is she and others made difficult and painful changes in order to plan for the future of the Benedictine Sisters of the Queen of Angels Monastery.

“Beginning last November, at the urging of leaders in our wider Federation of St. Gertrude the Great, we have undertaken an ongoing evaluation of our community’s life, work and future plans,” Sr. Donna Maria wrote.

“Needed changes in some areas of our life and work are being made. I asked several professionals to give me an evaluation of St. Joseph Shelter and Mission Benedict. A program audit was performed and recommendations were made.”

After receiving those recommendations reorganization and reassignments began.

Sr. Terry Hall, OSB, was moved out of a leadership position in the shelter ministry, focusing her attentions on other areas of service, and Sr. Marcella Parrish, SSMO, continued serving as executive director until June 30.

In an email, Sr. Terry said she and Sr. Marcella have retired.

Sr. Donna Marie said a new executive director will be hired and already a new operations manager and director of volunteers have been hired for St. Joseph Shelter and its ministries.

Sr. Donna Marie wrote in her letter, “Sr. Terry Hall OSB (was asked) to make a change in her life at this time and she has done this. She will no longer be working in the Shelter ministry. On behalf of the community, I am most grateful for her generous and dedicated work since the inception of the Mission Benedict and St. Joseph Shelter.”

Shelter board members were disappointed in the transitions, and there were several resignations.

Several people who spoke off-the-record said the conflict was over whether the shelter should be governed by its board or by the sisters. Some board members were disappointed Sr. Terry was asked to leave without first consulting or informing the board.

“We are looking at the by-laws to see where the power lies,” said Barbara George, a lay woman who is the COO or chief operating officer for the monastery. “We are working with legal counsel.”

Mike Klein is one of the board members who resigned on April 23 along with Jim Burns, Jo Recht, Terry Vache and Teresa Byam. Klein was the board president.

“Basically, we resigned because we didn’t know the direction the shelter was heading,” Klein said, adding board members were disappointed about the removal of Hall and the announcement Parrish would retire on June 30.

“We didn’t like the ways things were going. We had all worked hard to support fundraisers and turn things around,” Klein said.

“None of us wanted to resign. We brought a lot of people to donate to the shelter. When you put your name on something, you want to know what’s happening and be involved in the decisions.

“We felt like we had no power because we told we had no power,” he added.

Sr. Donna Marie said she could not comment on what former board members have said.

“The board of St. Joseph Shelter, except for Sr. Rocio Moreno Soto, OSB, and myself, made the decision to resign.” Sr. Donna Marie wrote. “I am sorry about this but I understand their reasons. I am very grateful for their generous service, some for many years and wish them well.”

Sr. Donna Marie said the changes at the shelter are the result of the performance audit and the list of recommendations on what needed to be done for the shelter to run more effectively and efficiently.

George said what has happened is a “very natural transition. It is not uncommon for boards to change.”

She added what has happened offers a “time to renew, to refresh and to strengthen” the work already being done by the Benedictine Sisters.  “It was a wellness check to see how things are going,” George said.

Sr. Donna Marie looks forward to the hiring a new executive director at the shelter. She said she is disappointed she has to discuss what’s happening at the shelter rather than talking about the work the shelter does to benefit people.

For her, the key issue is the future of the “most apostolate of the Benedictine Sisters: St. Joseph Shelter, Casa Adele and Mission Benedict.

“These works, done for others, not ourselves, need to go forward and strive to meet the needs of so many in our community less fortunate… ,” she wrote.

For Mission Benedict, the food and clothing bank, the Benedictine Sisters are partners with Mount Angel Abbey and with St. Mary Parish, a relationship that goes back over 30 years.

Sr. Donna Marie said the process of rebuilding the board of St. Joseph Shelter/Mission Benedict has begun. She said she is thankful to Father Philip Waibel, OSB, who has agreed to be on the board and serve as president for this coming year.

It is her hope the St. Joseph the Shelter Dinner and Auction will be rescheduled for later this year.

Meanwhile, Sr. Donna Marie has completed her terms (2007-2015) as prioress of the Queen of Angels Monastery. An election was not held for a new prioress. Instead, Order of St. Benedict (OSB) Sr. Sandra Meek became the administrator of the Queen of Angels Monastery in late June.

Rather than focusing on the changes that have taken place, Sr. Donna Marie said she would like to stress the need to take care of the people who are served by St. Joseph Shelter and its ministries Mission Benedict, Casa Adele and the Bernard Migrant Men’s Program.

“Our primary concern now is to ensure that programs continue and flourish without interruption and that those who come are well served and provided with life’s necessities and the help they need,” she wrote to the shelter’s donors and patrons. “With your continued support, we trust that St. Joseph Shelter and Mission Benedict will be open for many years to come.”

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