Holy Wisdom Monastery

Bob Dinndorf points out the trails and connections at the Holy Wisdom Monastery land.

With the mortgage paid on the 10-year-old LEED certified Holy Wisdom Monastery building, the Sisters and others are looking ahead to new possibilities there.

Bob Dinndorf of Holy Wisdom talked about the past and future of the facility during the Nov. 21 Waunakee Rotary Club meeting.

Recently, a gift from Pleasant Rowland allowed the Sisters of Saint Benedict to pay off the nearly $4 million mortgage.

Dinndorf talked about how this came about. Earlier this year, after he retired, Sister Mary David Walgenbach asked him to work at Holy Wisdom, and one of his first tasks would be raising money to pay off the mortgage.

“I said that’s really the hardest money to raise,” Dinndorf said.

Sister Mary David noted that Pleasant Rowland lived across the street from the Holy Wisdom and had seen the growth and development. She went over and met with Rowland, who asked what was needed.

“She [Rowland] said, we can do that,” Dinndorf said.

Returning to Holy Wisdom, Mary David was extra careful crossing busy Hwy. M.

She told Dinndorf, “I didn’t want to get hit and killed before I got back to the monastery.”

Holy Wisdom began initially in 1952 when Bishop O’Connor of the Madison Diocese invited four Sisters from Sioux City, Iowa, to come to Madison and establish a girls’ school, St. Benedict’s Academy. They purchased 43 acres of land along Hwy. M. The school was open from 1959-1966.

“During the same period of time, a variety of pastors of all denominations in Madison started to approach the monastery to see if there was a way they could help them with a retreat center to start some dialog, interfaith kind of activities,” Dinndorf said.

They asked the Bishop if it would be possible to establish an ecumenical center at Holy Wisdom, then called Saint Benedict Center.

The Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopalian and Jewish faith leaders appreciated learning about the Catholic retreat process.

“They engaged in that very deeply and were very appreciative of it,” he said.

Also at the time, it was difficult to recruit students to the school.

In 1980, the 1,500th anniversary of Benedict and Monasticism led the Sisters to reflect more on what they should be doing with their community.

In 1986, they celebrated 20 years as a retreat and guest facility and began exploring the possibilities for an ecumenical community.

Lynn Smith, an ordained pastor who worked in Iowa, came to the center in 2000.

They had been planning a new building for a number of years and finally construction began around 2007. For two years, the Waunakee Village Center became the site for the Sunday liturgies while construction was underway.

The new building led to a great deal of growth. Attendance at Sunday Assembly grew from 150 in 2009 to 387 in 2018. The number of retreats also increased, and the monastic community doubled in size, Bob said.

Also, a Wisdom Prairie Friends group has grown, and the number of volunteers has doubled. Thousands of students from Middleton schools come to collect seeds from the prairie there each spring.

Dinndorf described Holy Wisdom as a community for restoration, refuge and renewal. It also hosts weddings, gatherings and memorials, and the public can walk the 4.5 miles of trails.

Holy Wisdom’s mission is weaving prayer, hospitality, justice and care for the Earth into a shared way of life, he said.

“When 2020 rolls around, we’ll be contemplating our future. Pleasant Rowland’s gift will give us a chance to think about the future in a different way than it is trying to raise money to clear a debt,” Dinndorf added.

The monastery will host visioning sessions in February and March, allowing the public to help envision what that future might hold.

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