“We hit the bull's eye”

Wunibald Muller © KNA

The Recollectio House at Munsterschwarzach Abbey © Timm Schamberger

Whether burnout or celibacy problem: the Recollectio House helps church employees in life crises. On the occasion of its 25th anniversary, founding father Wunibald Muller is now handing over the reins of leadership.

"I think I'd better leave it. I have overreached myself."Wunibald Muller remembers exactly what he said to his wife 25 years ago. The theologian and psychotherapist was about to open the Recollectio House in Munsterschwarzach and had doubts about whether such an institution could work.

It worked, he says today: "We hit the bull's eye." At 23. April the 65-year-old says goodbye to retirement. The "Reco", as many call it, he hands over to his successor Ruthard Ott in the jubilee year as an ordered house.

"Exploring life situation in peace"

The facility has always been fully booked, Muller says, not without pride. In numbers, that's about 1.600 visitors in the three-month or one-month courses, in which church employees are helped, for example, with burnout or doubts about their vocation. In addition, the Noch leader refers to 400 individual contacts. The house is supported by the abbey and now nine German dioceses, which is twice as many as at the start.

"Fear and uncertainty" had accompanied the first course, Muller knows. What if priests decide to leave in rows? Do those responsible then blame the Recollectio House? Yes, some course participants leave their order afterwards or give up the priestly profession. But the dioceses could classify it, says the therapist. They too knew that it was better for clergy to explore their life situation in peace and then leave in peace.

Concern for employees

The theologian estimates that they make up about five percent of the priests and religious among his guests. Of the lay people who have been able to attend courses in the same way for the past ten years, two to three percent have changed professions.

But many have also remained in their church, and have even made a career, Muller reports. The four-week course for employees facing new tasks is paid for 80 percent by the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. Whereas 25 years ago he sometimes had to "move those in charge to do something for their people," now they worry about their employees.

Many ask the question of meaning

The topics have also changed, according to Muller. In the beginning, celibacy and sexuality still played a big role. That is no longer the problem today. He had the feeling that many had come to terms with the situation: "From either/or to both/and."

Today, many course participants are no longer satisfied with the general church situation, he said. When it comes to the ever larger parish structures, for example, where actual pastoral care is becoming increasingly difficult. The dwindling reputation for priests also scratches at the self-confidence. "Is it still meaningful what I am doing?"is a frequent question.

"Identifying structural problems"

This is where the holistic Recollectio concept comes in. The participants live in the house, take care of meals, laundry and free time. In addition to psychotherapy, the abbey also offers activities for the body, such as working in the abbey's workshops, horseback riding, walking and aikido. The spiritual side is special because of the close ties to the monastery, as Muller emphasizes. After all, it is about spiritual people who can also draw resources from their vocation.

In general, the institution cannot be thought of without the Benedictines of Munsterschwarzach. It was a "stroke of luck" that Anselm Grun immediately took up his request formulated in a letter, Muller says. In the past quarter of a century he could be sure of the support and loyalty of the friars. Even when the Recollectio House director once again took a public stand on the subject of celibacy or homosexuality.

Our task is to name what we see as structural problems," says Muller. That this can become a political statement, he does not deny. However, he said, it is a matter of eliminating the need of the people. Especially with the topic of abuse, this was not always easy.

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