Vatican approves Benedictine Sisters' transition to public juridic person sponsorship

March 15, 2023

On July 1, the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery will transition sponsorship of their ministries from a sponsor council model to a ministerial public juridic person model. The new body will be called Duluth Benedictine Ministries and will be based at St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota.

The Vatican approved the sponsorship change Dec. 8. Sr. Beverly Raway, OSB, said in a Jan. 31 press announcement that the member monastery — the community does not refer to itself as a congregation — is adopting the new model to allow for laity to participate more fully in sponsorship governance.

There is a declining number of sisters available to oversee the monastery's sponsored ministries and facilities. She said the transition "will ensure our ministries that serve thousands of people each year will adhere to Catholic identity and Benedictine charisms well into the future." Sr. Raway is prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery, which currently has 45 sisters and two sisters from overseas who are living at the monastery as they study at the College of St. Scholastica, which the sisters sponsor.

Staying power, adaptation
The monastery traces its Benedictine tradition back more than 1,500 years, and its U.S. works back more than 170 years. Three Bavarian Benedictine Sisters emigrated to the U.S. in the 1800s and began growing the order and establishing ministries in Pennsylvania and then Minnesota. In 1892, 32 Benedictine Sisters established the monastery in Duluth. In the ensuing 131 years, they've built up a ministry that includes the Duluth-based Benedictine eldercare system; Duluth's College of St. Scholastica; the Catholic facilities of the Essentia Health system; Shakopee, Minnesota-based St. Francis Regional Medical Center; and Cottonwood, Idaho-based St. Mary's Health.

In 2010, the Benedictine Sisters began discussions on how best to ensure their ministries could continue to grow and thrive once sufficient numbers of sisters were no longer available to provide leadership and direction under the traditional sponsor model that exclusively had sisters in sponsorship roles, Sr. Raway explained in the announcement.

In 2014, the Benedictine Sisters' governing body, which is called the monastic council, approved a sponsorship form for their sponsored works that was a variation on the traditional model. That sponsor council model, which went into effect in 2017, included both lay and sister voting members as well as ex-officio, nonvoting members from the leadership of the Benedictine Sisters' sponsored ministries. The monastic council approved members who served on that sponsor council.

The sponsor council has been an advisory group but it also has had some reserved power functions. Consisting of five sisters and four lay members, it was responsible for communicating with the leadership of the sisters' sponsored ministries.

The monastery decided in 2018 to pursue a shift to the ministerial public juridic person model of sponsorship for its health care and educational works.

Sr. Raway said the sponsor council "did the major work of developing the MPJP model with canonical and legal consultation, and commissioning and approving the work of developing a formation program" for sponsors and ministry executives. She acknowledged with gratitude the support of Bishop Daniel Felton of the Diocese of Duluth.

The MPJP formally establishes the structured relationship through which laity can join vowed religious in governing, directing and influencing a ministry of the Catholic Church, according to information from the Benedictine Sisters.

Sr. Raway said with the July change to the MPJP, the role of the canonical stewards is expanding. Duluth Benedictine Ministries will become "the official canonical sponsor and will be accountable to the Vatican. (Sponsors) will take on the major responsibility for maintaining Catholicity of the sponsored ministries, formation of leadership in the Benedictine charism and governance oversight. Reserved power requests will be directed to this body."

The five sisters and four laity who are voting sponsor council members are the inaugural members of Duluth Benedictine Ministries.

The MPJP's statutes allow for between five and 15 people to be members of the sponsor body, with the majority being Benedictine Sisters. Lay members must be practicing Catholics. Each member can serve up to three successive three-year terms. Term expirations will be staggered. As Catholic Health World went to press, the MPJP chair and officers were to be selected at a March meeting.

The monastery plans to hire an executive director, a director of mission integration and formation and an executive administrative assistant to support the MPJP.

Plans call for an MPJP member or a representative selected by that sponsor body to hold at least one seat on each of the five boards governing Duluth Benedictine Ministries sponsored education and health care organizations.


The Duluth Benedictine Ministries' mission

According to information from the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery, the new sponsoring body, which is called Duluth Benedictine Ministries will:

  • Continue to develop and enhance the mission and values of the Benedictine Sisters.
  • Sponsor the institutions that are part of the sisters' ministries, in accordance with the charism of the sisters and teachings of the Catholic Church.
  • Advance Catholic education and health care through the sponsored institutions.



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