Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Conyers Monastery Elects New Abbot

By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published May 27, 2004

Dom Francis Michael Stiteler, OCSO, was elected the seventh abbot of the Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit on May 20, in a vote by the community there.

Last year, he was appointed the superior ad nutum of the monastery for a term of one year by Father Immediate Dom Damien Thompson, abbot of Gethsemani Abbey, Ky. At that time, the community wanted more time to discern who should be elected abbot but also wanted a superior who was eligible to accept the abbatial post.

A native of Philadelphia, Dom Francis Michael entered the monastery on July 1, 1974, professed solemn vows on February 2, 1980, and was ordained on April 9, 1983. He earned a master’s degree in pastoral counseling from Loyola University in Baltimore.

The new abbot has served the community in a number of areas: novice master, prior, subprior, junior master and director for monastic studies. He has also worked in the bonsai department at the monastery and is considered a master in growing these natural works of art.

As abbot, he will serve for a term of six years.

Dom Francis Michael noted, “Technically, being abbot is not much different from being superior … Now that I’m elected, it’s more like having ‘tenure.’”

Having an abbot for the monastery provides stability, he said. “It will be good for the community to have an elected abbot.”

The new abbot said that he was willing to “give it the best try. I am at peace.”

Dom Francis Michael noted that he is the next to the youngest monk at the monastery, “Like Benjamin in the Psalms, the youngest is leading…”

Earlier in May, Dom Damien, along with Mother Marion Rissetto, abbess of Our Lady of the Holy Angels in Crozet, Va., met with the community to determine its readiness for an abbatial election. After the community clearly indicated that it was in favor of selecting an abbot by vote, as Father Immediate, Dom Damien then presided over the election, which was held following the Mass of the Ascension of the Lord.

The form of voting for a new abbot was designed 1,500 years ago by St. Benedict. Only solemnly professed monks vote at an abbatial election, and voting is done systematically with three scrutators (vote counters) and two witnesses.

Once a monk is chosen as the new abbot, the Father Immediate asks him if he accepts. When the abbot-elect affirms his readiness to fulfill the responsibilities of the abbatial ministry, the Father Immediate notifies the Abbot General of the order, who confirms the new abbot.

The election of Dom Francis Michael was confirmed by Dom Bernardo Olivera, Abbot General of the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance, from the generalate in Rome, Italy.

Prior to vespers on the solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension on May 20, Dom Francis Michael was installed as the monastery’s new abbot. Dom Damien declared Dom Francis Michael the canonically elected abbot of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery. Dom Francis Michael then publicly pronounced his profession of faith and oath of fidelity, according to the norms of the Holy See.

After his own profession of faith and oath of fidelity, Dom Francis Michael received each of the professed monks, who renewed their promise of obedience according to the Rule of St. Benedict. Kneeling before the abbot, if possible, the monk placed his joined hands in the hands of the abbot while promising his holy obedience to the abbot.

Archbishop John F. Donoghue will bestow an abbatial blessing on Dom Francis Michael in a liturgy on July 11.