World's top Benedictine visits the Mount

Abbot Primate Notker Wolf shares thoughts on Benedictine life

By Sister Barbara Ann Mayer, OSB

Living out the gospel and living in community are the charisms of Benedictine life, according to Abbot Primate Notker Wolf, who visited Mount St. Scholastica on Feb. 10. Wolf is spiritual leader of about 6,800 men and 14,800 women throughout the world who follow the Rule of Benedict. He was elected Abbot Primate in 2000 and has been reelected twice. 

When asked about how Benedictines are observing the Year of Consecrated Life which began last November, he said each monastery has its own way of celebrating it. The Mass on the feast of St. Scholastica inviting the students from Maur Hill-Mount Academy and St. Benedict’s Grade School to join the sisters was one of the Mount’s Year of Consecrated Life observances. 

Abbot Notker believes Pope Francis is also calling on the laity to share in religious life through their prayer, obedience as married couples, and almsgiving. He is very proud of his own monastery, St. Ottilien, near Munich, Germany, that has recently voted to house 25 refugees from the Middle East. 

 “There was some anxiety over bringing in Muslims because of their practice of sharia and oppression of women,” he said. But there are many tolerant Muslims that are willing to adapt to our culture,” he said. 

When he was abbot of St. Ottilien in the 1980s, the monks provided a home for Kurdish refugees much to the chagrin of the Bavarian minister of the interior who feared problems. "He wanted to send them back to Turkey and I told him I have to follow my conscience and will be responsible for them. We housed a family of eight and provided for the six children’s schooling. It did not cost the government anything."

They also started a circus at their school with clowns, jugglers, acrobats and bands. They still hold the event every three years and thousands of people come to enjoy it. 

Abbot Primate Notker Wolf and Sister Barbara Ann MayerAfter graduating from St. Ottilien, some of the students formed a rock band and invited him to play in it. He is a concert flautist, but learned to play an electric bass with the group. He is a kind of spiritual father to the band and frequently performs weddings and baptisms for the families. When there is a crisis, he tries to be there to comfort and console. "I’m not trying to be a rock star," he said.

Being with people is what he enjoys most about his job. He speaks six languages and can greet people in several others. He receives many invitations to monasteries and tries to be available. He came to Atchison at the invitation of Sister Anne Shepard and Ruth Krusemark, the first endowed chair of Mother Evangelista Kremmeter at Benedictine College. He gave a lecture there on the Rule of St. Benedict globalizing and how that affects culture and Benedictine life. 

"The Rule of St. Benedict produced many ways of living the Benedictine charism," he said. "It is the most humane rule made for the strong and the weak. Benedictines today are looking back to their roots and founder. Every monastery tries to find its way in its own culture, but we are far more united than people might think. The Rule binds us together."

Abbot Wolf believes Benedictines need to listen to the culture as well as influence the culture they live in. "We are called to ongoing reform and ongoing enculturation," he said.