If you are a member of a religious organization, you might have to do things you didn’t think you’d ever do.

Yankton’s Benedictine Sacred Heart Monastery Prioress Sister Penny Bingham has been doing that for almost six years now.

In June, Bingham will formally complete her term as Sacred Heart’s prioress and turn over the responsibilities to the newly-elected prioress. The election process will take place in March. The following months will be spent with Bingham showing the new prioress the responsibilities that come with the leadership role.

Bingham, who has been a member of Sacred Heart since 1975, previously served as assistant prioress before being elected prioress in 2011.

As prioress, it has been Bingham’s responsibility to act as a spiritual and corporate leader of the monastery community.

The rule of Benedict, which all the sisters at the monastery follow, reminds the prioress that she holds the place of Christ in the monastery community. This is similar to how the Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church, albeit at a much smaller scale.

“Christ is our leader and I’ve been the surrogate leader for six years,” Bingham said.

Her responsibilities to the 85 members of the monastery involve seeing that their needs are being tended to – spiritually, physically and emotionally.

“I am in this role as a servant leader, which has grace in office, so God’s grace makes up for a lot of my own inadequacies,” she said. “Often, that happens through other people assisting.”

If there’s a need of any kind in the monastery that she is unable to do herself, there is somebody else who can, she said.

“There’s a whole community of women assisting me in many ways,” Bingham said.

Becoming prioress was something Bingham had never envisioned for herself.

“I’ve never seen myself as a leader,” she said. “I’m more comfortable in the background or the sidelines.”

She didn’t let that deter her from being considered a candidate for the prioress role. Since then, she has found herself being “stretched” in situations she otherwise wouldn’t have found herself, which strengthened her confidence and her appreciation of prayer.

“We build our days around prayer-time,” she said. “I have come to realize how essential it is for our community and me as a person.”

Her role as prioress has enabled her to learn about the community in a way she hasn’t before.

“You get to know the sisters’ needs, like if they’re going through a joyful or hard time in their lives,” she said. “That’s a very tender role to have and it’s a very precious part of the journey to share with other sisters.”

The uncertainty of not knowing what could happen on a daily basis kept things interesting, as well as challenging, Bingham added.

“We have a number of sisters in our care center and infirmary who are wonderfully cared for, but you never know the day you’ll be invited to sit with a dying sister,” she said.

She also attends public and church events as a representative of the monastery community. She is also on the Mount Marty College Board of Trustees.

“The college tries to embody the values we live out,” Bingham said, adding that other sisters also sit on the board.

“We try to be good role models and influence those values.”

Bingham is also responsible for appointing people to certain job positions in the monastery, like assistant prioress and business manager. Any fully-professed sisters can be elected for these roles.

She will be appointed to a different role in the monastery community once the new prioress takes over.

“I don’t think I’m going to miss being prioress in the sense that, I felt good about being able to serve in my community, and this role, for six years,” she said. “I’ve grown to be very aware of God’s grace pouring through prayer and other people. I’ve become more grateful for all the goodness.”