Over the last several months, a number of people have asked me
how the election of an abbot occurs here at Saint Meinrad
Archabbey. Is there campaigning? Are there nominations? Are there
No. No. And no.
I have told people to consider the American presidential
election process as we experience it today - and then imagine
the complete opposite to have some idea of what
it's like to elect an abbot. More than anything, it is a prayerful
process of discernment and discussion. At least that's the way it
seemed to me (this was my first experience of an abbatial election
here at Saint Meinrad - or anywhere, for that matter).
Now that the monastic chapter (those monks who are solemnly
professed, with voting rights) have elected Fr. Kurt Stasiak, OSB,
as the 10th abbot of Saint Meinrad, I thought I would try to
briefly outline what the process here looks like.
Please understand that by oath, I cannot reveal the discussions
that took place behind the Chapter Room doors, the identity of the
main contenders, how many ballots took place, or what the final
vote count was. However, I can try to provide a general glimpse of
the process itself as it unfolded.
As I've written here before, the process actually began in
January, shortly after Archabbot Justin DuVall announced his
resignation. At that time, he appointed a Task Force of monks to
oversee all the details in preparation for the election. Meanwhile,
as abbot's secretary, I was charged with sending out official
summons to community members who are assigned away from the
monastery for purposes of various ministries or studies.
Each had to confirm that he had received notice of the election,
and also provide documentation if he had received approval from the
Abbot President of the Swiss-American Benedictine Congregation to
be absent on the day of election. If that was the case, those monks
had to supply further documentation regarding whether and how they
would vote by proxy or abstain (much of these, and other, election
regulations are stipulated either by canon law or by the
constitution and statutes of our congregation).
By and large, every capitular was expected to be here for the
election, no matter where in the world he was stationed (some were
overseas), unless he had a valid excuse approved by the Abbot
President. I can tell you that almost everyone was here. On the day
of the election, we had 75 capitulars present in person, by proxy,
or voting from the infirmary for our next abbot.
In the months leading up to the election, we had a series of
community meetings - not to nominate candidates or have them
debate, but to discuss who we are as a community of Benedictine
monks, and in what direction we would like to see ourselves going
in the near future.
These discussions involved a number of things, such as the
changing demographics of our community (in the next decade or two,
we expect to grow smaller, but younger), and how that may affect
our various ministries, our monastic charism, etc. We also
discussed things like the characteristics we would like to see in a
new abbot, what our strengths are as a community, and what some
challenges are that we are facing or expect to face.
So, as you see, the process had less to do with personalities
and more to do with ourselves as a community of Benedictine monks
living in the 21st century - and what kind of leader we
believed was needed given all those factors.
Also during this period, at our evening meals, we listened to
contemporary articles being read that addressed the present and
future states of monastic life, leadership qualities of an abbot,
And, of course, there was prayer - not only by each monk
privately, but communally in liturgy. During Lent, we had weekly
periods of Eucharistic adoration specifically designated for the
election process, and a prayer was added to the litany typically
sung each Saturday evening before the shrine of Our Lady of
Einsiedeln in the Archabbey Church.
This prayer, and also prayers added to the general intercessions
for Lauds and Vespers in the nine days leading up to the election,
addressed in various ways our discernment, the election process,
and the individual chosen as abbot.
Things began to heat up on Tuesday afternoon last week, when the
capitulars held the first part of what is called
a scrutinium. At this first meeting (held behind
closed doors of the Chapter Room), we voted by secret ballot
to suggest the names of certain monks we thought
should at least be considered as possible candidates. Up to six
names of the monks with the largest numbers of votes could be
presented for scrutiny, and each of those named had the right to
withdraw his name for consideration.
Naming these monks did not constitute
official nominations or a ballot. It was only to introduce certain
individuals for consideration.
On the day of election, each capitular was still free to vote
for any monk eligible to be elected as abbot
(any community member at least 35 years old, who is a priest, and
has been solemnly professed at least five years - though there are
rare circumstances under which a candidate can be postulated, such
as a non-ordained member of the community, who if elected and
confirmed would then be ordained).
On Wednesday morning, we held the second part of
the scrutinium. This was really the only point in the
whole process during which individual personalities were discussed
- in thoughtful, discrete, and charitable terms. This involved the
opportunity for everyone (again, behind closed doors, with each of
the monks named the day before excused from the room while he was
scrutinized) to offer observations - positive or negative - on each
of the potential candidates.
Then, on Wednesday afternoon, the canonical pre-election meeting
was held, with the Abbot President of the Swiss-American
Congregation presiding (Abbot Vincent Bataille, OSB, of Marmion
Abbey). For the most part, this involved explanation of all the
logistics for the actual election the following day. This meeting
also included the official appointment and swearing in of the
chapter secretary, reading the roll call of electors, the
assignment of proxies for absent members, and the appointment and
swearing in of three tellers.
I was one of the tellers, who on Thursday morning during the
actual election, helped to distribute and count ballots, also
inspecting them once the senior teller announced each vote that was
cast. During the election, I and another teller also took ballots
down to the monastery infirmary for those few monks who were too
infirm to come up to the Chapter Room; after they had marked their
ballots, we returned to the Chapter Room.
Each of these meetings began with an opening prayer, and on
Thursday the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit was
specifically sought by the community. This began with a 7:30 a.m.
Mass of the Holy Spirit in the Archabbey Church. Then the
capitulars convened (in seniority) at 9 a.m. in the Chapter Room
for the election. Again, this began with prayer, and then a
hymn, Veni, Creator Spiritus ("Come, Holy
Spirit, Creator Blest").
After the hymn and the roll call, Abbot President Vincent
addressed us as following:
My dear confreres, we stand before this sacred moment. I
urge you to fulfill your responsibility before God and this
community by voting for the person you consider most fit to lead
this community as abbot - a shepherd worthy to be placed over the
Lord's flock. So that this is clear to us, all will take an
Then, together, we took an oath declaring that we would do this,
with our right hands over our breasts, and the right hands of the
two senior electors (the abbot and prior) placed in our stead on
the Book of the Gospels.
It seemed to me that the election, in many (yet not all)
respects, was conducted very much like a papal conclave. The
capitulars were sequestered in the Chapter Room, with no phones or
electronic devices allowed. Everything was done with precision
regarding the roll call, distribution and collection of ballots,
After the ballots had been counted to ensure that the number
collected corresponded with the number of electors present
(conflicting counts would have made the ballot null and void),
everyone hung on the words of the teller as he called out the name
of each monk for whom a vote had been cast, with the secretary
recording each vote.
To be elected abbot, a monk had to receive at least two-thirds
majority on one of up to three ballots, and a simple majority on
any ballot after that. If no one obtained the necessary majority on
a particular ballot, the whole procedure had to be repeated.
(Sorry, I cannot provide further details than that.)
When the necessary majority was obtained, the senior teller
announced the result of the balloting based on the votes counted by
the secretary. Then the Abbot President affirmed to the Chapter the
lawful results of the election, and asked the newly elected -
Father Kurt - whether or not he accepted the office. He did. So,
the Abbot President then confirmed him as the lawful abbot of Saint
Meinrad, and asked the newly elected to make the Profession of
Faith and the Oath of Fidelity. After this, the new abbot was
invested with the cuculla and the Einsiedeln pectoral cross.
Unlike a papal election, there is no "Room of Tears" to which
the newly elected could retreat momentarily to absorb what had just
happened, get his bearings, and ask for God's assistance before
being introduced publically. Instead, Abbot Kurt had to do this is
the presence of his confreres as the ceremony began migrating into
While all the above was happening (once the Abbot President had
confirmed the election), word was sent to the junior monks and
novices (they don't have chapter voting rights yet) to start
ringing all six bells in the church (no white smoke). Word also was
sent to our communications office to make the official announcement
through social media so that news of the election would be from an
official source and not a rumor. I can say that this began at
approximately 10:15 a.m.
The community then processed from the Chapter Room into the
church and lined up on either side of the main (west) doors.
Meanwhile, the new abbot, the Abbot President, the cross bearer and
candle bearers (I was one of them) went outside and came through
the main doors of the church.
Once inside, we sang antiphons in honor of Our Lady of
Einsiedeln and St. Meinrad. Then, after Abbot Kurt was seated in
the presider's chair, we all knelt individually before him
(including former Abbot Justin, now Fr. Justin and sans pectoral
cross) to promise our obedience and receive the sign of peace.
After singing the Te Deum together and
receiving the new abbot's blessing, the entire community processed
out of the church. A group photo and lunch followed.
As the abbot's secretary, the rest of my day was full. I had to
send out a flurry of emails to notify the monks who had been
absent, monasteries around the country, bishops in the immediate
region, etc. There were papers to be signed (many of them). And
Abbot Kurt and I had to coordinate on many logistical items. In the
next few days and weeks, he will have a lot to take care of -
including the appointment of a new prior (since that was the
position he had been holding).
So, that is how the abbot was elected. I think it's safe to say
that we all slept well Thursday evening. The day had been full of a
lot more excitement, ceremony, and frenetic activity than is
typical around here. The past week or so, especially these last few
days, was a little tense, simply because of the uncertainty of it
all. Now that we know, it's back to ora et labora-
though there are sure to be adjustments for both Abbot Kurt and
each one of us.
Please keep Abbot Kurt and our community in your prayers as we
begin this new chapter in the history of Saint Meinrad