When Benedictine Sister Michaela Hedican heard her name read aloud announcing her as the new prioress of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph on Feb. 27, 2011, she was touched and more than a little surprised.
It felt like she had just barely unpacked her bags and settled in with the sisters in St. Joseph after her community of 28 sisters from St. Bede Monastery in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, transferred there in August 2010.
Just a few months later in November, seven sisters from Mount Benedict Monastery in Ogden, Utah, also transferred into the St. Joseph community.
“The community was just marvelous in preparing for our coming,” Sister Michaela recalled. “I knew we were moving into the discernment period for calling forth new leadership and I was very touched that I was asked to consider it and that the community felt comfortable enough to ask me to consider it.”
Many of the sisters knew Sister Michaela prior to the merger since she served for six years as the president of the Federation of St. Benedict, to which the sisters belong.
Her six-year term as prioress ends June 4, when Sister Susan Rudolph will be installed as the new prioress. Sister Susan was elected by the community Feb. 25. (To read more about Sister Susan, read The Visitor’s story about her election online at http://bit.ly/2rCEQ1h).
When Sister Michaela began her leadership as prioress, she said she listened carefully to the needs of the sisters and knew that it would be important to continue to build the relationship between the newly merged communities.
“It was three communities coming together, all of whom had our roots here. That was one of our primary missions for these six years — to bond as a community, and I think that has certainly taken place. It’s been a very graced experience. There is a wonderful united spirit in the community and that’s what we were all praying for when we came together. We are all one,” she said.
That’s not to say she didn’t face some challenges throughout her leadership but she hopes that “everyone had to give a little and hopefully got a little.” She is gratified by the model they use in times of transition, which walks them through the process of letting go, including celebrating the past and giving thanks for it and then moving ahead to where God is calling them in the present and future.
“It’s all God’s grace,”she said. “It’s even God’s grace that we can cooperate with God’s grace.”
Throughout her tenure as prioress, she was very moved by the traditions of the sisters, including the many professions and receptions of new members as well as the perpetual professions and jubilees which she said “celebrate the fidelity of the sisters.”
“I also saw a lot of sisters go home [to heaven] which is always such a touching experience,” she said.
In addition to her responsibilities at the monastery, Sister Michaela also served on the board of trustees for the College of St. Benedict and on the corporate board of the St. Cloud Hospital.
“It was all new and wonderful to see what the sisters have done in starting the college and the hospital against a lot of odds, both were built during the Depression,” she said. “There is so much wisdom and history. That is inspiring.”
During her term as prioress, the community also celebrated the 100th anniversary of the college in 2013 and the 100th anniversary of the monastery’s Sacred Heart Chapel in 2014.
“Those were glorious celebrations and again a wonderful reminder of all the sisters have done,” she said.
She also appreciates the liturgical seasons celebrated together and the Liturgy of the Hours, which the sisters pray throughout each day.
“It is a heartwarming experience being able to praise God together,” she said.
Sister Michaela will miss working with many of the people whose paths she crossed regularly, including the people of the diocese, the many area religious and clergy from all faiths and especially, Bishop Donald Kettler.
“Working with the bishop has been a privilege. His foresight in reaching out to our Muslim brothers and sisters will always be something I will treasure,” she said.
Most of all, she will miss her daily interactions with the sisters.
“I will miss the very particular relationship with each of the sisters whom I have gotten to know in a very particular way. Yes, that relationship will go on but in a different way,” she said.
She is especially grateful for Sister Susan’s ‘yes’ to serving as the next prioress.
“Her yes meant a lot and she is so eminently qualified, having worked at the college as the director of housing for 14 years and her 21 years in pastoral ministry at St. Benedict’s Center. She’s got a lot ahead of her and I know she is qualified to manage it and manage it well.”
As is tradition, the community will give Sister Michaela a one-year sabbatical which she will begin by making a retreat at King’s House in Buffalo. She then plans to spend time reconnecting with family and friends.
Though she said she’s pacing herself, she also will lead retreats and workshops in other communities. Her hope is also to complete her certification in spiritual direction.
“When I return to the monastery, I told Sister Susan, ‘Whatever you would like me to do … I will be open to it.’ I have a lot to look forward to and I will be praying for the sisters every day,” she said.
Above all, Sister Michaela hopes that the imprint her leadership leaves behind is stamped on the hearts of her beloved sisters.
“The most important thing is that each sister counts and each and every one was loved and is loved,” she said. “I take them with me.”