Annual Fellin Lecture to Feature Judith Valente, Author of Atchison Blue

  • Monday, September 09, 2013

The annual Fellin Lecture at Benedictine College will feature award-winning PBS religion journalist and celebrated poet Judith Valente.  This year’s lecture recognizes the 150th anniversary of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery and is part of the Mary L. Fellin Lecture Series presented by the Benedictine Sisters of the Mount.  Valente wrote the recently-released book, Atchison Blue, as part of the sesquicentennial celebration.  She will offer insights from the book during her lecture, set for Sunday, Sept. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in O’Malley-McAllister Auditorium.  The event is free and open to the public.


When Valente first arrived at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery several years ago, she came prepared to lead a workshop on poetry and the soul, but she faced a dilemma.

“I wondered how I was going to speak to a retreat group about nourishing the soul when I hadn’t fed my own soul a decent meal in weeks,” she said.

Valente was in a rough patch, both professionally and personally, when she began visiting “the Mount.” Her otherwise successful career was complicated by a difficult professional relationship. In her personal life, she confronted the complex terrain of forging a blended family. On top these challenges, she was increasingly haunted by a fear of dying with regrets.

Valente soon found herself the student at the Mount, taking lessons from the Benedictine sisters in the healing nature of silence, the habits of mindful living, and the freeing realization that failure is just as much a part of the spiritual journey as success.

Atchison Blue maps her unlikely way forward: she went backward. By spending time with women often thought to be living in the past, Valente encountered a portal to the future and a healing balm for her soul in the present.

The way of life Valente encountered at the Mount was in stark contrast to her professional environment, where, as a journalist, she has a front-row seat to the tragedies, violence, and political rancor that plague American discourse. Valente’s sojourns with the sisters transformed her personal and professional lives and in studying Benedictine monasticism, Valente realized that this sixth-century way of life speaks directly to the problems facing twenty-first century people as they dash about with their smart phones. At the monastery, she entered a world that stresses:


• Community over competition

• Simplicity over consumption

• Humility over self-aggrandizement

• Silence over constant chatter


After her first visit to the Mount, Valente realized that something had shifted inside her: “It wasn’t as if the sisters had suddenly presented me with a neatly-wrapped gift box of answers. Rather, they seemed to draw out the inner questions I had silenced.”

Among women whose Christian witness has recently come under Vatican scrutiny, Valente was challenged to look beyond the obvious. She uncovered much-needed guidance for today’s world and a revitalized personal vision—a vision she imparts to readers facing similar challenges.


“This is a generous book about an exceptionally generous community of women. Valente allows the reader to feel the warmth of Benedictine hospitality. It is a powerful thing to be accepted as we are, with all our faults and troubles, by people who are willing to listen. Valente is a good storyteller, and fortunately for us these women are willing to share their stories and insights from their daily encounters with scripture, pruning grape vines, human rights issues, the aging process and death, and the trials and joys of communal living,” said Kathleen Norris, author of The Cloister Walk.


The Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery present the Fellin Lecture each year with the sponsorship of the Fellin Endowment Fund in order to support the liberal arts orientation of Benedictine College.  Past lectures in the series have included Responsibility of the Artist in View of 9/11 by Sister Diane Couture, SSJ, Benedict, Francis and Thomas: Contributions to Environmental Ethics from a Catholic, Christian Perspective by James Schaefer, Dialogue of Hope: The Future of Catholic Relations with Muslims by Sandra Keating, and Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible by Mary Irene Nowell, OSB.

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas.  The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide.  It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging.  It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.