When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in April, his choice of name touched off special pride for a faith community in Schuyler County.
“Oh, yeah. We thought that was absolutely great,” said Verna Shrout, who has belonged to St. Benedict’s in Odessa since the mid-1950s when it was just becoming established. Her church is the only one in the Diocese of Rochester named for St. Benedict, whose feast day falls on July 11.
About 25 miles south of Odessa lies Mount Saviour Monastery in Pine City, near Elmira. The monastery was established in 1951, about the same time as St. Benedict’s. Mount Saviour is populated by priests and brothers in the Order of St. Benedict — so, quite naturally, the new pope’s name drew their attention as well.
“The first reaction was that we were very pleased,” said Father Martin Boler, who has resided at Mount Saviour for 50 years and has served as its prior, or head, since 1969.
After that initial reaction, Father Boler said, his community wanted know the new pope’s reasoning for choosing his name. The answer was provided by Benedict XVI during his first general audience on April 27, when he said he wished “to create a spiritual bond with Benedict XV” who oversaw the Catholic Church from 1914 to 1922. Benedict XV was renowned for promoting peace during World War I and also worked toward settling divisions between traditionalists and modernists in the church. Following in this spirit, the new pope said he wishes “to place my ministry at the service of reconciliation and harmony between persons and peoples.”
Father Boler described Benedict XV as “a really outstanding person. He was a man really looking for reconciliation within the church; he went all out for peace.” Father Boler added that Benedict XVI is hoping to send a similar message of peace “in our present situation, with wars everywhere.”
Benedict XVI also stated on April 27 his reverence toward St. Benedict of Nursia, who founded the Benedictine order in the sixth century and is regarded as the chief pioneering force for Western monasticism. Father Boler noted that Bavaria, Germany — the pope’s homeland — “is chock full of Benedictine monasteries of all kinds. So we knew he had a lot of Benedictine influence in his life.”
The Rule of Benedictsets numerous guidelines for monastic living, among them “basic monastic virtues of humility, silence, and obedience as well as directives for daily living,” according to information provided on Mount Saviour’s Web site (www.msaviour.org). The rule also “prescribes times for common prayer, meditative reading, and manual work; it legislates for the details of common living such as clothing, sleeping arrangements, food and drink, care of the sick, reception of guests, recruitment of new members, journeys away from the monastery, etc.”
Mount Saviour’s three priests and nine brothers in residence lead a life of prayer, study, work and hospitality. The work mostly involves sheep farming. Several retreats are offered to the public at Mount Saviour, and a gift shop is available as well.
Back in Odessa, St. Benedict’s Church is the worship site for approximately 100 families. It became clustered in 1989 with St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Watkins Glen; the two churches are now known as Schuyler Catholic Community.
The parish’s humble beginnings can be traced back to 1948, when religious-education classes were held in a cleaned-out chicken coop. Masses in the early years took place at Horton Funeral Home in Odessa. St. Benedict’s Chapel was opened in 1955, with Father Benedict Ehmann, pastor of St. Mary of the Lake, celebrating the first Mass.
Glenn Larison, a charter parishioner of St. Benedict’s along with his wife, Pat, said he believes the parish’s name was directly linked to the popular Father Ehmann.
“I never heard anybody say it, but I always believed it,” Larison said. “They all adored Father Ehmann.”
Shrout concurred, saying, “We dearly loved Father Ehmann, and he was instrumental in helping us get going there.”
Mass continued in the basement for several years until an upper church was opened and dedicated in the mid-1960s. Shrout holds particularly fond memories of the parish’s first Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program in 1986.
“We had 10 people, and one of the people who went through RCIA was my husband, who was 60 years old,” she said, referring to her late husband, Norman.
St. Benedict’s — which currently holds one weekend Mass on Saturdays at 5 p.m. — remains a proud community, according to Shrout. “We’re a family,” she said. “When painting needed to be done, we all got together. Everything needing to be done, was done by the people.”
Because of its modest size and aging parish membership, Shrout said she has had concern about St. Benedict’s long-term future. But with the new pope being a Benedict, “we kind of looked at that as a good omen,” she remarked.
Father Boler also foresees good things from the name Benedict being thrust into the spotlight. Predicting greater lay interest in St. Benedict and possible new vocations into the Benedictine order, Father Boler said of the pope’s name selection, “I’m sure it will have an influence — a positive one.”