Book Review:

McGinnis, Mark W. The Wisdom of the Benedictine Elders: Thirty of America's Oldest Monks and Nuns Share Their Lives' Greatest Lessons. New York, NY: BlueBridge, 2005. xv, 285 pp. Foreword by Joan Chittister.


The author's introduction he tells how this volume arose from a different project. In 1995 he was working on a project Elders of the Faiths "in which I met, and then painted, fifteen elders of various religious backgrounds who live in my home region." Indeed, I was teaching in South Dakota at the time, and regularly visited Blue Cloud Abbey about 100 miles away. Some of these painting were displayed in the basement hallway outside of the community dining room. Thanks to his interview with one of the nuns at Sacred Heart Monastery in Yankton, and his familiarity with Blue Cloud Abbey, he conceived this project. Indeed, the first "elder" in the book of Father Stan Maudlin of Blue Cloud Abbey. The elder from Mount Angel Abbey is Father Bernard Sander, while the elder from Queen of Angels Monastery is Sister Joeine Darrington.


The format for all 30 entries is the same: the first page gives his painting of the elder, though unfortunately in monochrome rather than color. The second page is Mark McGinnis' own comments on his meeting with and interviewing the elder. The subsequent pages give in the first person the recollections of the elder, captured from that interview. These run from the shortest of three pages through an average of seven or eight up to the longest of 10. Of the 30, 14 are monks, all but one of them priests, and 16 are nuns. Their backgrounds and thoughts vary widely, showing the wide range of people attracted to the Benedictine monastic life.
Since each elder represents at most 11 pages of text, this book is ideal for circumstances in which you don't have large amounts of time to devote to reading it, though I myself did pretty much read it straight through. As might be expected, you may find that you disagree with some of the elders; they still deserve a respectful reading. I thoroughly recommend this book.


Some additional information: Brother Benet Tvedten is the Oblate Director for Blue Cloud Abbey, where Mark McGinnis is an oblate. I wrote to him, asking if he had any background information to share on this book. He wrote back, saying that some of the paintings were exhibited there while the project was in progress. He also wrote the following:
Paulist Press was going to publish the book, but an editor from there left and took the book with him for the press he started. I wish the portraits as they appear in the book were larger and in color. I suppose close to ten years has elapsed since Mark started painting and interviewing the OSBs.
[electronic mail of Jul 9, 2005 8:37 AM CDT]
In his "Acknowledgements", Mark thanks Brother Benet and Sister Kathleen