Part the Second
from July 1859 to
the same Month 1869
by Brother Kieran Mullany
Giving the Names of our three Superiors and the Works they accomplished during this decade, also the buildings erected with other improvements made at this period.
As the last term ended, so this decade begins with Father Bernard McCaffery our Superior. He was a good man, yet many would say he was too simple for the age he lived in. He was a Native of County Fermanagh and embraced our Order when quite young. A better controversialist than Fr. Bernard was not in New Melleray Monastery. When any of the Boston or New England preachers came this way, they met their match in him. “Hold on there,” he would say to the rambling ranters, “until I tell you what I believe and why I believe it.” Then he would set them fairly mad with his clear and lucid arguments. No doubt whatever, but he was extraordinarily talented. Place a Latin or French book of any author in his hands and he would translate and read it as rapidly as if it was printed in English. He was famous in many other respects. “Be Humble and Obedient” was his constant advice. While Father Master and even Superior, his Sunday Catechism was invariably reading for us the revelations of Catherine Emerick. He used to take them to the secular Church, sit in a choir on the altar and keep reading them until the congregation were invariably tired. These are but a few of his peculiarities. He had others among which may be mentioned, “Mining,” seeking for lead in every place, all round Dubuque, on our farms and wherever he fancied it might be found.
In this operation, he was imposed on by a Dutch tailor who came here as a postulant. This man persuaded him by mixing some chemicals in a small bottle and would keep swinging it until he would notice it vibrating, there was the lead. If this hoax was not attended with a loss of a large amount of money, it would be harmless but nobody living knows what his loss was.
Had Fr. Bernard’s “Plans” been limited to the loss of lead only, it would be a blessing, but no, as chief organizer of the “Jobbing” and land-speculating business, or as they made the Abbot of Mount Melleray call it both in his letters and visitation card, “The traffic,” fatal traffic that ended so disastrously to our poor community, better pass it, and its sad results by in silence. Yet to assert no money was made by it would not be true. Thousands of dollars were made especially during the war when prices of farm products were high in the extreme, but for one thousand made then, ten thousand was lost before the “Traffic” ended.
Father Bernard continued in office without doing anything very remarkable excepting this buying and selling of pigs and cattle, until the arrival of the Abbot and companions on the 2nd of October, 1860. With the Abbot came Father Ignatius Foley as our new Titular Prior. So Father Bernard’s first term of office ended, having run on from May 2nd, 1859 to Oct. 2nd, 1860, just one year and five months. Then Father Bernard began once more as Subprior, and Pastor of the Secular Church, which office he held until his death. Our New Superior brought with him as Auxiliaries â€“ Father Emmanuel (French), Brother Patrick, choir monk and first Chanter, and one lay brother, Br. Michael.
Father Ignatius as Superior was certainly a pious, sensible good man. Were it not for the advisors who came here with him, he would never desert us as he did. A severe winter set in soon after their arrival. Such a one as none of them ever witnessed before, it so discouraged them that one and all resolved not to be caught another winter in Iowa. Along with this there was another cause for Fr. Ignatius’ departure – it was the noise and perpetual bustle even on Sundays of those bought pigs and cattle, with Br. Mary Bernard or better known as Br. Murphy shouting louder than any of all his bought stock together, then to see so many of the Brothers going at all hours both of day and night scouring the country far and near for Br. Murphy’s purchase.
These were some of the reasons but not all why Fr. Ignatius went away with his companions so soon from New Melleray. Indeed he found fault with the country and everything in it. He often said the flowers have no smell and the birds no music, even the grass that grew was hardly green in his estimation. But his disgust was brought to climax when towards the end of May and the first week in June the thermometer rose to ninety (or more) degrees in the shade, no man in his senses would stay in such a place. So about the middle of June one morning, we were all surprised to see the three pack up their effects and put out for Mount Melleray.
Very soon after the departure of Father Ignatius and Br. Patrick, Br. Michael set out also. He went to Bishop Smyth in Dubuque and told him he wanted a first class passage from Dubuque to Queenstown. He evidently made a mistake this time for the Bishop gave him a cool reception. The Abbot remained here only a month or so on his third visit to America; very likely the winter in Iowa satisfied him. Father Ignatius ostensibly left here as if going to the General Chapter, but it was evident when his companions left here with him that he would not return.
And now we are once more with Fr. Bernard, our Superior, from the 15th of June, 1860 to the 25th of Feb., 1862. But he was not here all that time, and so Father Alberic had to take his place while absent. Yes, absent by a positive command of the Abbot of Mt. Melleray which reached here towards the end of Oct., 1862. Father Bernard at once obeyed and left here the 2nd of Nov. He was away from here three months and 23 days, What the charges preferred against him, and by whom they were made, are affairs that don’t come within the scope of this sketch.
At all events Fr. Bernard returned here the 25th of Feb., 1862 having with him another new Titular Prior. This was the Rev. Father Ephrem McDonnell a native of Westport Co. Mayo, Ireland. He joined our order a short time before the death of Father Vincent in 1845.
So far we have had many Superiors but now one has come to stay 21 years, 6 months and some days, many in the community (if not all) regret that he ever came. Though a more pious man was not and could not be found in the whole order, yet he suffered himself to be duped by the designing man in his “Traffic” business, to such an extent as to ruin almost irretrievably our community.
This “Traffic” was now carried on with greater activity than ever. It ran ahead of everything, the farm was well nigh looked upon as useless â€“ compared with it, and so it continued until the death of Br. M. Bernard Feb. 18th, 1880. He died in Burk’s hotel at Madison Street, Chicago. Long before he died, Bishop Smyth of Dubuque said, “I regret very much having anything to do in raising that monastery to the dignity of an abbey, because the Abbot instead of making it a religious community has made it a company of pig-driving jobbers.” The good Bishop said the above words on Friday, May 5th, 1865.
So with the Bishop’s definition of the “Traffic” let it pass, but alas its results will not do so for many long years (if ever).
Father Ephrem very soon after his arrival saw the necessity for a good stable and barn, and at once sent some seculars with Brothers to work in the quarry, and also had lumber hauled from town for the building. Our neighborhood generously assisted in doing the work. Br. Joseph was the architect. The building was 232 feet in length, 50 feet wide, and from basement to top of roof 36 feet. This barn was put up in 1863. A year or two previous to this date there were other improvements, such as building the Secular Church. For this purpose five acres were purchased of Mr. Patrick Walsh, both for the Church and burying ground. Subsequently the piece of land lying South of the burying ground and North of the road, fifteen acres, half a mile in length, was bought of Mr. Walsh. This purchase gave ample extent to our farm on the South side of our New Monastery as by it we came into possession of the North half of the South-East quarter of Section 35.
This year too (1863) was purchased the “Litton” farm of about 600 acres. Only a quarter section of this purchase was bought of Mr. Litton; the larger part was bought of Mr. Huntington, a New York land speculator.
There was another purchase made this year. It was 147 acres of timberland known as “Langton’s Wood.” The civil war being raging, Mr. Langton anxious to escape the draft sold this land very cheap to Br. M. Bernard. The price paid for it was but $3 per acre. Very many people in this country sold their farms and put out for parts unknown (Canada and the like) sooner than be drafted into the Army.
Our Superior paid $500 to the U.S. government to get exemption from the draft. All those of the community over the age of 21 years and under 45 years, this draft was all over the Union especially towards the close of the war, either by paying a sum of money or getting a substitute who was to go and maintain the Union of the States. It suddenly ended by the surrender of General Lee April 9th, 1865.
Up to this period in 1864, New Melleray was known as “the Monastery”, but this year saw it raised to the dignity of an Abbey. Father Ephrem McDonnell having been elected Abbot was consecrated in Saint Raphael’s Cathedral, Dubuque in the month of August, 1864. The General Chapter of 1863 through the influence of Bishop Smyth of Dubuque brought this new grandeur to our old frame building. Most likely this was the first instance in the Cistercian Order where a house made of pine boards was raised to the dignity of an Abbey.
Would it were possible for us to appreciate this new dignity as a benefit to the community instead of fault finding which is a real ugly thing. But figures tell what our numbers were when Father Ephrem came here in 1862, and again in 1883 when he left us. Counting only the professed members of the community, he found here on his arrival forty-eight, nine in the choir, namely Fathers Bernard, Paladius, John Baptist, Patrick and Alberic, Brothers Jules, Ligouri, M. Bernard, and Augustine. There was another choir Brother, but let him be passed over, (Br. Benedict), he was sent off to the insane hospital in 1862. With these nine were thirty-nine lay brothers, in all, 48.
Now after a lapse of 21 years and 6 months, what were the numbers of the professed in our New Abbey? Choir four, lay Brothers thirty-two, a falling off of twelve. This certainly did not resemble the Cistercian Monasteries of the early age, a sad falling away of numbers; there must be a cause for it.
While he (Fr. Ephrem) was here, thirty-five professed members and two postulants died. It must be admitted however that many of these were old men, and what was very remarkable was that the first year after his arrival here (1863), no less than five (5) professed members died, while in 1882 seven of the Bros. died, just the year before he left us. So his first and last years in office made a reduction in our ranks of twelve members.
These events, to say the least of them, were inauspicious, yet they did occur and may be recorded. There were other improvements made about this time such as putting up corn cribs, and the building of the rock-house or granary.
Long before this period, even as far back as 1855 and before preparations were made to commence the building of a New Monastery, a fine heap of stones for that purpose was hauled from the quarry and piled right where the building is now erected. Our late Br. Mark had splendid cut-stone window sill dressed and ready for use when the building would be begun.
But seeing that it was delayed for want of means the pile of stones gradually disappeared. Most of them were used in the rock-house built in the yard between the old monastery and the barn. More went to building the basement of stable and barn.
It did not fare so well with Br. Joseph’s share for the new monastery; his large frame window sashes made some 32 years ago are yet cast about from post to pillar. There being no use for them but are still an eye-sore totting by the frame, it would be well had they been made into kindling wood of many years ago.
No event of importance worth recording occurred until the death of the Right Rev. Clement Smyth, second Bishop of Dubuque. He died on Sept. 23rd, 1865, he was at the time of his death eight years, four months and 20 days as Bishop of Dubuque, and about fifty-seven years of age; he was twenty years and some months a member of our Order.
As Bishop and his former connection with the Cistercian Order, he might have done something more than he did for this community. He had a good example set him by his Predecessor, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Loras. What is here written of Bishop Smyth is applicable to Bishop O’Gorman, the difference being that the latter had a new Diocese to form and was as poor as poverty itself could make it. Most likely, each of them had plenty to do in their new mode of life without thinking of bestowing benefits on our community, yet both of them were ordained Priests in our Order, Fr. Clement in 1841, and Fr. James celebrated his first Mass at the high altar of Mt. Melleray Abbey on Jan. 1st, 1844.
At this period of our sketches (1866) our Abbot began his “drives”. For this purpose the housekeeper bought for the Abbot’s exclusive use a grand buggy. This was used by him only in summer and fall; for his winter drives was purchased a splendid sleigh-cutter glittering in sunshine with its brilliant varnish. Hose and harness were well mated to these vehicles. The horse invariably was the best pacer in our stables. To complete the turn-out a beautiful string of musical sleigh-bells had to be added; with these — cushings and buffalo-coverings — the rig was perfect.
Now all this was meant for the benefit of the Abbot’s health of course. At first these drives were confined to our own fields, after that to a mile or two on the public roads; then they stretched to 8 or 10 miles, from the Monastery, they soon extended to the vicinity of Cascade and Farly, each city over 12 miles distant from here. In the Dubuque direction taking the north road he would drive to Flint-hill, soon beyond that point and finally drove to within the city limits on Grand View avenue.
At all events it is well known the Abbot’s health was very delicate, and most likely he needed this exercise. Indeed it is well known, too, he was suffering from serious infirmities, and so kept on his drives until within a few months of his departure to Mount Melleray Abbey on the 29th of Aug., 1883.
With Fr. Bernard as Prior, counselor and advisor, in all and every emergency, the Abbot was sure to come out all right, no matter from what quarter the assault came. Regular visitors or other’s had little to hope for while Fr. Bernard so strenuously defended the Abbot. Visitations were made at regular intervals from the years 1858 to the present, but it is well known to the community what their results were, while Fr. Bernard lived.
The Venerable Abbot Eutropius, first Superior of Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky, was here as Visitor in 1858. So was Abbot Benedict of the same Monastery twice, and Abbot Dominick of Little Clairvaux Monastery so was once here, but to be forgotten because no sooner out of sight, then out of mind.
No wonder, every effort was made to keep Fr. Bernard living. No persuasion whatever would make the Abbot believe that Fr. Bernard was dying even when in his agony, “he is not going to die”, “he is getting better”, “he will soon be over this” were the Abbot’s often repeated words, but he did die. His death was something more than need be mentioned in this place. He celebrated his first Mass at the high altar of Mount Melleray on Christmas day, 1839; and he said his last Mass on the 5th of Nov., 1882, and died on March 3rd, 1883.
No event of importance occurred here until the spring of 1867. There was then a large amount of money in our monastery. So it was thought well to make a beginning of our long deferred new monastery. Many preliminaries had to be gone through ere the building was begun. Permission had to be obtained of the General Chapter, also the plans, specifications and details of the structure, with the supposed amount of the cost had all to be submitted to inspection. Then the designs or drawings of the building had to be sent on to the Abbey of La Trappe (France) for approval. All this was done and the Architect John Mullany of Dubuque, having submitted as above requested, set at once the preparations for going on with the building.
The Architect was a man competent to accomplish what he had begun, having spent three years in the employment of the great English Architect Mr. Welby Pugin who drew the plan of Mount St. Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire, England. So in the fall of 1867 quarrymen, stonecutters, and carpenters went to work, but as our own quarry could not furnish the material for window sills, mullions and corbels also caps for the buttresses at each angle of the building, these had to be procured at the Stone-quarries of Anamosa, Jones Co. Iowa, about fifty miles distant from here. They were carried by rail road to Peosta station, five miles from our building.
The style of architecture was that of the 13th century pointed Gothic, such as the ancient Cistercian Abbeys of Ireland, Mellifont in the Co. South, being selected by the Architect as the Model for our new Monastery. As it was not intended to erect at once the quadrangle or four sides of the edifice, the two selected were the North and East wings known as the dormitory and Chapter parts of the building.
The site being selected, during winter of 1867 to 1868, the excavations were made and foundation dug to the depth of ten feet, Mr. Patrick O’Connor having the contract as builder began the work on the 8th of March 1868. First the largest and roughest of the rock were laid down five feet, four inches wide and four feet high, the crevices being well jammed with small stones and then grouted with a rough liquid mortar. On this solid basement the masonry began in neater form, being 3Â½ feet wide and 6 ft. high, this foundation was on a level with the surface.
The dimensions of the north wing or dormitory part (outside measurement) is 212 feet in length by 36 feet in width and from basement floor to ridge board of the building, it is 52 feet in height. The east wing or Chapter portion of the monastery will be of the same length, width and height when the transepts or cross part of the Church is built.
To these two wings of our new Monastery was added, or rather was erected with them, a range of building 112 feet in length by 28 feet wide and some 38 or 40 feet high which is known as the kitchen wing. To this addition was made a tower, 50 feet in height, on which is placed the wind-mill to pump all the water requisite for the community. The well is 60 feet deep. So from the bottom of the well to top of the fan on the wind-mill, it is exactly 130 feet. The supply of water is abundant, yes and more than is wanted. A wooden tank in the tower holds over 2,000 gallons of water which is conveyed by iron pipes to all parts of the monastery. All of our new monastery is built in the broken ashlar style, and consequently it is not rough-casted or plastered with mortar like Mount Melleray Abbey.
Our Monastery has another advantage over the Mother house. There is a well- ventilated basement or cellar under the other half of the building when it will be erected. In the basement is our refectory, the community kitchen, the infirmary kitchen, the dairy with spacious rooms for the storing away of vegetables. There too is the steam engine for heating all the building.
We had one very sad accident, the killing of a man named Timothy O’Connor. A stone-mason by trade, he was employed building the tower but got somewhat timid. As the work went up high, he came down, lit his pipe and stood between the men who were employed at the windmill. In moving the scaffolding on top of the tower, one of the timbers knocked off a stone. It fell on the poor man’s head instantly killing him. This happened on the 15th of July, 1870. This sad affair should by right belong to the third part of my history, but as it occurred while the building was going on, it is inserted here. So ends the second ten years.