The Gift of the Abbey of Regina Laudis: An Interview with Antoinette Bosco, author of Mother Benedict: Foundress of the Abbey of Regina Laudis | Carl E. Olson | September 1, 2007
Antoinette Bosco (www.antoinettebosco.com) has been an award-winning journalist and writer for newspapers and magazines for over 25 years, including Woman's Day, Parade, Guideposts, Readers Digest and Ladies Home Journal. She has appeared on over twenty television shows and is the author of fourteen books, including America At War: World War I, and Choosing Mercy: A Mother of Murder Victims Pleads to End the Death Penalty.
She recently spoke with Ignatius Insight editor Carl E. Olson about her recently published book, Mother Benedict, the inspiring story of Mother Benedict Duss, O.S.B. (1910-2005), foundress of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, Bethlehem, Connecticut.
Ignatius Insight: This book was the result of many years of research and work. When did you first start writing it and how did it finally come to be published?
Antoinette Bosco: I had started visiting the Abbey and writing about the goodness I found there back in the early 1980's. It was in 1996 that Mother Benedict asked me to write her biography, not for "publicity," but to have as a further "history" of the founding of the Abbey. At this time, I had learned very personally what a gift the Abbey was, for I had two sons, tragically deceased, one by suicide after a long battle with mental illness, and another, murdered, with his wife, by an errant teenager with a nine mm semi automatic gun. Mother Benedict and so many of the Sisters gave me the love and support that so very much helped me and my other children to find some peace. It was an honor and a joy for me to be asked by Mother Benedict to listen to her story and put it in writing so it could be forever remembered.
Ignatius Insight: You write that your first visit to the Abbey of Regina Laudis, in July 1982, "will always be etched in my memory." What was so striking and memorable about that initial visit to the Abbey?
Antoinette Bosco: I had long known about the Abbey, first learning of it as a devout young Catholic girl in college--the College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y.--and then being impressed with seeing the movie "Come to the Stable" in the early 50's. I had always had a fantasy of one day visiting this place, almost long forgotten until I was offered a position, to in 1982 to become an editor of a new paper, The Litchfield County Times, based in Connecticut. I found out right away that the Abbey was located in Litchfield County! A few months later I went to the Abbey, and after meeting with Mother Placid, I knew I had found a place I could always call a spiritual home. I loved the rustic surroundings, and moreso, this joyful nun. I knew I would be back often to write many stories about the foundress, the community, and this most unusual place in the hills of Connecticut.
Ignatius Insight: The story of the life of Mother Benedict Duss, you note, "reads like a novel." What are a few of the events in her life that stand out to you?
Antoinette Bosco: Mother Benedict was American-born, but lived in France beginning in her childhood years. She found herself drawn to religious life as an adolescent, but continued her education, going to medical school and earning her M,D. degree. Over her mother's objections, she followed what she knew was her vocation and entered a Benedictine monastery in France. In World War II, when the Germans took over in France, they heard about this "American nun" who was a medical doctor caring for people in the village where her monastery was located, and she was put on their "hit list." How she managed to avoid capture and questioning is an amazing story. More amazing, though, was the impact made on her when she saw General Patton's U.S. Army liberate her town and monastery. That's when she believed she had to give a "gift" back to her country of America, and it would be to start a community of contemplative Benedictine nuns in America. How she achieved this is an incredible story.
Ignatius Insight: Vera Duss felt called to the religious life as a teenager, but didn't take her vows until she was twenty-six years old. What kept her from becoming a Benedictine nun earlier?
Antoinette Bosco: While Vera Duss had found herself attracted to religious life from a much younger age, she felt she had to help care for her difficult mother, who completely opposed the idea of her daughter becoming a nun. She decided to go to medical school because she felt this would at least allow her to do "humanitarian work" after graduation. But the call to the religious life, specifically the Benedictine life, was too strong to be ignored, so immediately after graduating from medical school, at age 26, she entered the monastery at Jouarre.
Ignatius Insight: How did it come about that Mother Benedict went from being an American doctor in France to becoming the foundress of a Benedictine abbey in the United States?
Antoinette Bosco: I tell this amazing story in a chapter titled "God Calls for a new monastery in America," because this is the truth I believed after hearing Mother Benedict's account of what took place in her town and her life on August 27, 1944. She had just gone through a terrifying and immensely difficult period as an American in German-held France in these years of World War II. Even her Abbess and sister nuns were frightened for their lives, speculating on what could happen to them if Mother Benedict, sought by the Germans because they had found out about the American doctor-nun, who had cared for the sick in her town, was discovered and captured.
On this day, ill with hepatitis, hidden away in the Abbey, she heard the good news, that the Americans were coming. She managed to climb hazardous stairs to get to the Abbey tower, with the Abbess and other nuns following her. When she saw that American soldiers, ragged, blood-stained and sweaty marching through her town, she had what could only be called a "revelation." It was that she had to give a gift back to her own country for freeing Jouarre and her Abbey. She made the determination that she would found a Benedictine Abbey in America, not having the foggiest notion at that moment of all the difficulties this would entail!
Ignatius Insight: Mother Benedict has some fascinating things to say about the challenge of being a religious and head of an abbey during and immediately following the Second Vatican Council. What were some of the difficulties that she faced, and how was she able to guide the Abbey through a time during which many communities fell apart?
Antoinette Bosco: Mother Benedict had been fortunately guided by two great churchmen who both became Popes, Pope John XXIII, and Pope Paul VI. They helped her follow her dream, believing she would understand changing times. She understood the importance of education if the nuns were to grasp what the contemporary world was all about, and find how to meet the new demands that the world would place on them. She particularly understood the importance of relationships, and that the old "God and me" spiritually was not any longer what religious life was about. She believed that the bottom line in the Gospel message is for someone to give their life for another and this could only be done in relationship.
It was a gigantic work ahead for her, but she proceeded, because, as she said, she had the right guide,the Rule of St. Benedict and she was ever faithful to having inherited, as she said, his Benedictine principles of being a Christ-lover, continuously engaged in living the Gospel and sharing it with all. Mother Benedict believed a contemplative nun is a woman thoroughly alive, connected to all of life and life-giving in her very being, in her relationships and in her work. No way could it be said that to cut people off is a form of holiness. With this kind of incredible guidance, the Abbey became ever-more vital and vibrant.
Ignatius Insight: Perhaps the most famous member of the community is the former Dolores Hart--now Mother Dolores--who had been a rising Hollywood star in the 1950s. She said that leaving Hollywood and entering a monastery was like "falling out of a forty-story building and landing on my head." How did she come to her decision, and how did she adjust in the first years? What is her current place in the community?
Antoinette Bosco: In the early sixties, a beautiful young actress, Dolores Hart, came from Hollywood to visit the Abbey. Dolores Hart was a convert to Catholicism, and now found herself on a different path than an acting career. She was drawn to the contemplative life, and the love, she found at the Abbey. Her choice to enter was an incredible decision, meaning she would not only be giving up her blooming acting career, but also marriage to a good man she was engaged to, and who, to this day, has never married and has remained a faithful friend. She paid a heavy emotional price at first, acknowledging the many tears she shed as she struggled with her decision. But she realized soon enough that she had sought a "new birth" that, agonizing that it might sometimes be, would bring her the Eternal love she long had been seeking.
Today, Mother Dolores is the Prioress at the Abbey, and has also become a national spokesperson for the Neuropathy Association, gaining medical help for persons, like herself, suffering from a painful condition called peripheral neuropathy. She is the only Catholic nun who is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Ignatius Insight: How many nuns are in the Abbey of Regina Laudis today, and how is the community doing?
Antoinette Bosco: Today there are 38 nuns at the Abbey, with two young women there who are not yet professed. The community is thriving, beloved in the community, known for its openness to all who come, with whatever their need. There is a charming store there, with books and art work that is mostly done by the nuns. They greet young people, some of whom work for a period on their farm and with the animals.
The nuns at Regina Laudis are accomplished professionals, including: Mother Maria, a lawyer who was a Connecticut State Respresentative; Mother Noella, a Fulbright scholar who holds a doctorate in microbiology, specifically researching the chemistry of cheese and is noted worldwide as "the Cheese Nun" for her achievements in this work; Mother Praxedes, known far and wide as a "monastic artist," who most recently received the 2006 Mother Teresa Award for her work "in the fields of sacred art and sculpture"; Mother Lucia, with a Ph. D. from Yale; Mother Dorcas, a medical doctor; Mother Placid, an accomplished artist; Mother David (now the Abbess), a social worker, and Mother Dolores, who continues to bring her theatre experience to the community , particularly in inspiring a yearly theater production put on by talented actors and singers, on the stage of the beautiful outdoor, open building, built on the Abbey grounds.
Ignatius Insight: What are some things that all Catholics--whether clergy, religious, or laity--can learn from the life of Mother Benedict?
Antoinette Bosco: I think her life is a witness to the mysterious ways God uses us to accomplish the work He wants carried out in this world; and that this doesn't come easily. It is a test of our faith, our endurance, our ability to keep on even when we can't understand why things that are so difficult continue to happen to us. I think her life teaches us that our job is to carry on what we are shown we must do, in spite of all obstacles and pain, if we truly trust our God.
Ignatius Insight: What is something you've learned about the monastery?
Antoinette Bosco: At Regina Laudis, anyone coming finds that the community here still lives by what St. Benedict put into his rule--"Let all guests be received like Christ." Everyone one who comes to the door--those who are troubled, lost, alone, confused, or searching for something deeper and more meaningful in their lives--all are received warmly, no questions asked. One can come here, and be welcomed, finding kindness and smiling faces. No one is asked about their accomplishments, simply greeted and helped. Visitors have said that at Regina Laudis, they have experienced a joy not often found in this world. I attest to that.
Ignatius Insight: You are a prolific author and have written on a wide range of topics. What are you currently working on?
Antoinette Bosco: I am preparing information for a Christopher News Note on Children, Divorce and Loss, due in a couple of months.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles, Excerpts, and Interviews:
The Life of Mother Benedict Duss | Preface to Mother Benedict: Foundress of the Abbey of Regina Laudis | Antoinette Bosco
The Abbey of Regina Laudis website
"God's Little Trojan Horse on Crutches" | An interview with Raymond Arroyo about Mother Angelica
The Transformation of Mother Teresa | Carl E. Olson
"This book is the fulfilment of my vow" | The preface to Franz Werfel's The Song of Bernadette
The Relevance of Holiness | Patricia A. McEachern on the life of St. Bernadette of Lourdes
Near Death, Nearer to Jesus | Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.
Forty-Four Hours in Lourdes | Stephen Sparrow
St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Patron Saint of Common Sense | Stephen Sparrow
The Story of a Nun and a Medal | Stephen Sparrow
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