Finding Our Roots

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Finding Our Roots

There has been a great upsurge for reviewing past events and people in our family histories today.  TV shows have capitalized on this fact through various offerings, especially one headed by Louis Gates who assists famous, and not so famous people find their roots.  Considering the length of time the program has been running, it must be a popular topic for many people.  Is this simply nostalgia for the past or sentimentality that propels us toward our roots?  It is one thing to discover interesting and colorful events in one’s family history; it is quite another to search out the operative spirit which keeps that family alive and vibrant today.

As a result, I have been curious to seek out the roots of my family too.  As a Benedictine I have been especially curious to search for my Religious family which celebrated its Sesquimillennial “birthday” in 1980.  Not many of us would be inclined to label Benedictines “radical,” from which the word root derives.  Yet it is interesting to note this comment made by Aldous Huxley, an English writer of the first part of the twentieth century:

. . . the Benedictine Order owed its existence to the apparent folly of a young man who,
instead of doing the proper, sensible thing, which was to go through the Roman schools
and become an administrator under the Gothic emperors, went away and, for three
years, lived alone in a hole in the mountain.  When he had become a man of much vision,
he emerged. . . .  In the succeeding centuries, the Order civilized the northwestern Europe,
introduced or re-established the best agricultural practice of the time, provided the only
educational facilities then available, and preserved and disseminated the treasures of
ancient literature. . . .   Europe owes an incalculable debt to the young man who, because
he was more interested in knowing God than in getting on, or even “doing good” in the
world, left Rome for that burrow in the hillside above Subiaco.

It is exciting to know that I have some “Benedictine DNA” in my blood.  This is quite possibly true of all Benedictines as well as our Oblates and others who associate themselves with us, hoping to absorb as much of Benedict’s teaching and living according to his Rule as much as they can.  What about you?  Do you think you might have some of this DNA too?

—Sister Mary E. Penrose, OSB


Sister Mary E. Penrose, OSB

Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years.


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“Our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to others.”
–Henri Nouwen