This month’s Information Forum provided a lively exchange of news and events that have been shaping our lives together. The first item of widest interest is our decision to delay the opening of our guest house until October 15th. Our visitation has been scheduled to begin on October 3rd, and it will be valuable for the community to have private time and space during the sessions and meetings. Some divergent strains of the virus have been active recently, and not everyone has agreed to be vaccinated. To use an already much-used phrase, we prefer to use an abundance of caution in protecting an elderly and vulnerable population of monks. When we do open our doors again, we will initially limit the number of retreatants to twelve (half of our capacity). If all goes well, we can then resume full occupancy at the beginning of Advent.
During this interim period, some changes have been made in the staffing of the guest house. Proceeding more slowly in reopening will facilitate the adjustments that need to be made. We will greatly miss Ann Kennedy Busch who has retired after long years of service in the guest house dining area. She managed to have all the bases covered and take the panic out of inevitable emergencies. We are afraid that we might discover she was as indispensable as she said she was.
The July calendar is already filling up. The liturgical highpoints will the the feast of St. Benedict on July 11th and the anniversary of the founding of New Melleray on July 16th. Competing with these for our attention is an invitation made by our sisters at Mississippi Abbey. All able and willing monks are welcome to join them in a festive picnic on July 5th to celebrate the independence of our country. Our local prayer and meal schedule will have to be modified according to the number of those who accept this compelling offer.
We had been experiencing drought-like conditions until two inches of rain fell on June 20th. The storm included a tornado which touched down in the nearby town of Bernard, Iowa. There was only property damage and no personal injuries. Some of the corn did not germinate well, in part because of hard and compact soil. Minimum- and no-till procedures are used to minimize erosion problems, but they can create other problems. Members of the County Conservation Board have been here to plan practices which will reduce erosion around the creeks and waterways that pass through our property. Some dead trees have been removed from the area on front of the guest house. Garden produce is slowly coming in to the kitchen, delayed somewhat by the heat and dry weather. There was a bumper crop of rhubarb which appeared in a variety of forms in our menus. Foremost was a highly popular home-made jam which can compete with any on the market. Spencer, beware!
To supplement the monthly listing of the contributions we make to various causes, Br. Nicholas reported on the substantial support we give to a prison ministry through the Archdiocesan Catholic Charities. This gave our community an even closer connection to the killings of a nurse and correctional officer last March at Anamosa Prison which is literally just down the road (Hwy 151) from us.
An oil cap on the engine of one of our cars came loose and fell off, spewing oil all over the engine of the car before it was discovered by one of the more inquisitive monks who thought that a puddle under a car might mean something. Fortunately, his curiosity prevented serious damage to the engine and a car stalled in the middle of nowhere. We can supplement the good maintenance given our vehicles by Br. Denis with a bit of attentiveness when we use the cars. These meetings are part of our “on-going formation.”
During the spring and summer, we have been hosting several young men in the process of discerning their vocations and with an interest in monastic life. They reside in the guest house, but pray, eat, and work with the monks. This exposure will give them more experience to incorporate into their discernment and will hopefully be valuable in itself.