Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ Sister Nancy Miller, prioress of Annunciation Monastery, remembers the old days when people bought CDs. That is, some people _ because after becoming a nun she didn’t always have enough spending money.

“I got to the checkout lane and realized, I don’t have money for this,” she said. “That was a little embarrassing.”

Miller happened to be shopping at Target, where she had worked in the late 1980s, before entering the novitiate in 1990. Prior to making final monastic profession, Benedictine nuns divest themselves of all personal assets, from checking and savings accounts to personal property, such as cars. They then become fully dependent on the community to provide all needs, from clothing, transportation and food to education and health care, the Bismarck Tribune ( ) reported.

Living in a community and sharing resources are gifts unique to monasteries, said Miller, who oversees the Annunciation Monastery’s finances and describes herself as de facto CEO, as well as spiritual leader.

“The buck stops at my desk, as it would in any organization,” Miller said. “I came up with the CEO (analogy) because that’s a concept that people understand.”

The nuns receive a small monthly allowance for discretionary spending, but beyond that must request permission for additional expenses. Large expenses are approved by the prioress.

“It’s a challenge as well as a blessing that you have people from their late 20s to 100 years living together,” Miller said.

As prioress, she must ensure that needs are met for all age groups, varying from running shoes, computers and professional wardrobes for younger sisters to assisted living facilities for elderly members.

Miller holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Mary. Her work experience includes serving as area specialist at Target and as director of the University of Mary bookstore, where she worked for seven years.

She was exposed to retail early on: Her father owned Miller’s Clothing in Harvey, and on Christmas Day she and her seven siblings would conduct store inventory while her mother cooked.

“We counted all the jeans, and we counted all the boots, all the cowboy hats,” she said. “It was unfortunate that it was a men’s clothing store, because (my father) had six girls.”

Miller credits her upbringing with teaching the values of simplicity and not asking for more than is needed, qualities that translate well to monastic life. She oversees the budget and manages the administrative staff, which is made up of sisters and lay people, including a finance director and an accountant technician.

Ensuring that the monastery continues to exist is Miller’s primary business goal. While donations play an important role, the majority of the monastery’s budget is sustained by sisters’ wages from jobs outside the monastery. Miller negotiates salaries with employerson behalf of the sisters, a number of whom work for the University of Mary, St. Alexius Medical Center and Garrison Memorial Hospital, three institutions the sisters founded and continue to sponsor.

“We try to keep our sisters in active ministry for as long as we can, as long as it’s life-giving for that individual,” Miller said. “But we have far fewer sisters bringing in a salary than we have in years past.”

Women who join the monastery must go through an adjustment period while learning to rely on the community for provisions, sacrificing “wants” that are no longer “needs,” according to JoAnn Krebsbach, monastery subprioress.

“You definitely are giving something up to say `Let’s rely on the community,”’ Krebsbach said. “If you’re more used to having the latest things and being able to get them because you’ve been out in the world for a long time, there’s a greater adjustment to that.”

The sisters recognize the irony of relinquishing personal finances in a society where women have long struggled to gain financial independence.

“I think I was constantly in my head weighing, what am I giving up, and what am I gaining?” said Sister Hannah Vanorny, who worked at the North Dakota State Library before joining the monastery. “I’ve found that this life is actually really empowering for women, because we’re really encouraged to take leadership positions within what we do here and in the outside world.”

“As long as I have enough for Diet Coke, I’m good,” said Sister Melissa Cote, a pharmacist at St. Alexius Medical Center.

In addition to communal meals and a computer lab, the sisters share a pool of around 20 vehicles, which they check out according to need.

“Some of our road cars can take you far away, and some can make it to town if you’re lucky,” Krebsbach said.

Automotive troubles are not new for all of the sisters, easing the transition to monastery life.

“It was easy to give up my car, because that gave up on me first,” Miller said. “My car broke down and it never resurrected.”

Information from: Bismarck Tribune,