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Leading in times of crisis

Leading in times of crisis - (31-03-2021)

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Prioress General Sister Dawn Annette Mills, OSB of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, has been leading the charge through a global pandemic. How does one prepare - and find sustainment - for such circumstances? 

COVID-19 created a unique crisis for businesses and organizations throughout the world. How did you instill confidence in your Sisters about living through such historic times?

Being part of an organization with a long history, we were able to look back at how our Sisters handled the Spanish flu a hundred years ago. Our lifestyle, with our practice of enclosure, taught us how to "shelter in place" and turn quarantine into the spiritual practice of being "here now." It meant a year of staying in the monastery with travel being restricted to emergencies. Technology kept us connected to family, friends and the needs and concerns of others but also allowed us to be here with and for each other with a greater focus on our prayers for the world. We deliberately looked for ways that we could be of service to others outside our monastery through our use of technology to share our prayer, through writing cards and letters, baking gifts to lift spirits, and adding those affected by COVID-19 to our prayer intentions daily.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for us in this year of pandemic is the changes we have had to make in our altar bread department. With so many churches being closed or so limited in attendance, our altar bread ministry was greatly diminished. It required a pretty drastic reorganization of the department. We are grateful for those who contributed their support during this difficult time.

Self-care is important for everyone, including leaders, so what steps did you take to take care of  YOU?

I made sure I took time for prayer and spiritual reading every day. I also made it a point to get enough sleep at night and keep to a regular schedule during the day. I relied on friends for support and recreation. I spent extra time doing things I enjoyed, such as cooking, crafting and reading for the fun of it.

Were there ways of doing things or habits of leadership you already had in place that made dealing with the pandemic easier for you as a community?

I tried to spend more time listening to my Sisters in community. I kept my candy jar filled for visitors to my office, and the coffee pot available. We had extra nights for community gatherings, projects, recreation and sharing. 

Were you able to lean on colleagues in other communities or organizations for ideas or support?

I belong to the Conference of Benedictine Prioresses, so I had peer support from other leaders dealing with the pandemic. We shared ideas, plans, protocols and problem-solving with each other on various social media. I also had Zoom meetings with Benedictine presidents to keep me grounded and sharing wisdom.

In addition, our own monastery lay staff have been a tremendous support for us. Their presence and willingness to work with all the precautions and protocols has been generous and caring. From picking up local prescriptions to dropping off library books, wearing masks, gloves and keeping social distance, they have gone above and beyond. We are grateful.

You and your Sisters have basically been homebound for almost a year. How do you keep up morale?

We have played together, found excuses for celebrations, focused our prayer and tried to think about and do things for others in and out of our own household. We also spent some time fixing up the house in places, so that we had progress and successes we could see and measure.

What could other businesses/organizations extrapolate from St. Benedict’s teachings in order to handle a crisis?

This year hasn't been about being "stuck at home" but about being where we are and making it a place we want to be. We are grateful for ways we could interact with others outside our monastery, but it was also important to take the opportunity to strengthen the bonds between us here. Hopefully we will come out of this with a little more patience, caring and love.