from 1879 to 1887

by Brother Kieran Mullany

The events which occurred in our monastery during the eight remaining years of our narrative are not very important. Towards the end of 1879, the Rev. James Sweeney, Pastor of Sunnyside parish in Buchanan Co., Iowa, came here as a Postulant. After remaining a short time, he returned to Sunnyside in order to settle his affairs. This being done and as he was about returning, he got seriously sick and died July 23, 1880.

As this good priest had previously made his will and secured to our community all of his landed property, both in Buchanan Co. and in Houghton Co., Michigan as also all of his live stock horses and cattle, we must pray for him as one of our best benefactors.

Father Sweeney was a native of Roscrea Co., Tipperary, Ireland. He immigrated when young to this country. He studied for the Church and was ordained Priest towards the end of the year 1863 by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Baraga, first bishop of Marquette, State of Michigan. His missionary life was for the most part among the Chipewyan Indians. He acquired their language and could sing their songs very well. He remained with these children of the wild woods until the death of Bishop Baraga (in Jan. 1868), then moved on to Buchanan Co., Iowa. With this good priest came several Irish farmers from Michigan. He located all of them in Buchanan Co. and called the place Sunny Side. He had a small frame church put up for his congregation and had full faculties from Bishop Hennessy of Dubuque. It was in the fall of 1869 that Father Sweeney made his first visit to our monastery. He was so well pleased that he resolved to be one day a member of our community.

But this resolution he was never destined to accomplish. God accepted the will for the deed and rewarded him for his good intention. A short time before he died he earnestly requested to be laid to rest in our cemetery with the Fathers and Brothers for whom he had the greatest love and veneration; his request was granted.

We now come to the year 1881. Like the years 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, it passed without any member of our community dying. This was singular and certainly deserves notice. Not so the following year 1882. From the commencement of New Melleray this was by far the greatest mortality yet witnessed in our monastery. Seven Lay Brothers died here this year, namely, Br. Michael, Br. Athanatius, Br. Peter, Br. Anthony (Postulant), Br. M. Joseph, Br. James and Br. Philemon. It was very remarkable that Bro. Philemon who died here on the 25th of August, 1882 was the last survivor of the seventy- eight Trappists banished out of Melleray Abbey, France on the 28th of November, 1831 by Lewis Philip, King of the French. This good brother entered Melleray Abbey in 1826. So at the time of his death, he was over 56 years a member of our order. Previous to this entering his order, he was known as Michael Molloy, and a native of Roscrea County, Tipperary, Ireland.

With the year 1883 came great and good changes to our Monastery. There was the arrival of a new Superior, the Very Rev. Father Alberic and five companions, namely, Father Placid, Father Gregory, Brother Francis, Brother Patrick (these last two Bros. were since ordained Priests) and Brother Malachy. They left Mount Melleray Abbey on the 13th of September, and reached here on the 29th, feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. Truly their coming was in many respects like the visit of an angel to our Monastery, with its load of enormous debts, and crushed hopes for the future.

Directly, and in no way discouraged by the prospects before him, Father Alberic began in earnest with improvements of great importance, such as new buildings and planting evergreen trees. With no knowledge of the difficulties before him, Father Alberic went to work with an energy that was truly surprising. He placed all his confidence in God. This was recompensed by a wonderful reduction in our debts in a very short time. In these efforts for the welfare of the community he was ably assisted by the Prior, Rev. Father Alberic Madigan. This good Priest had an experience of thirty years in our Monastery, having joined our Order in 1856. He was exceedingly well liked by the whole community, and was Prior of our Abbey since the death of Father Bernard on March 3rd, 1883. Our good Prior was also housekeeper during thirteen years. They were sad years indeed, when so many people were calling for their money, and scarce a cent in the monastery to give them. His bad state of health was made much worse by the urgent demands of our numerous creditors. Our Superior sent Father Alberic to the Mercy Hospital, Dubuque on the 14th of March, 1888, where he would be better attended by Physicians, and especially the charitable care of the good Sisters of Mercy. Mother M. Agatha, being Superioress of that community, was all attention to dear Father Alberic, but to no good effect, as he died there on the 27th of March, 1888, in the 54th year of his age and the 32nd year of his religious life.

No way daunted by the death of his Prior and housekeeper, yes, and namesake also, our good Superior rather redoubled his exertions for the well-being of New Melleray. Now he brought into requisition the best expertise of his companions. Father Placid, as Subprior and Guest Master displayed his ability to the entire satisfaction of all. Moreover his diligence and industry when out in the field at manual labor with the Choir was very remarkable, so much so that he became the admiration of all the Brothers.

As for Father Placid’s preaching and the treatise he composed on the Spiritual life, these are beyond my ability to describe, and of course must leave them to more competent judges.

Father Gregory as Father Master of the Lay-brothers, Father Francis as first Chanter, and Father Patrick as Second Chanter, could not be surpassed by anybody in diligence and assiduity in the performance of their various duties. Moreover being young, vigorous, and active men, they were far more efficient in field labor than men advanced in years like Father Placid.

With such companions, and the aid received from those members of the community whose experience derived from long agricultural pursuits in America, our good Superior Father Alberic had every prospect of doing well. And we have evidence enough that he has done well. How could it be otherwise? When to instruction, he added example, invariably teaching the community the practice of virtue more by his actions than by his words, first in every exercise was an inducement that was irresistible.

He had procured a steam engine, and put up a neat house where it may be kept in safety when not in use. This engine was of invaluable service on the farm, with it we threshed our grains, cut up firewood and chiefly was of special benefit in making silo for our cattle. As this word silo is not found in any of our dictionaries, it is necessary to state its meaning. It is the cutting up of green cornstalks stems, leaves, cobs, and grain. These are all minced by machinery so that the cattle cannot reject any part, but must devour all, when well salted and fermented in an airtight bin.

But now the time arrives for Father Alberic to lay down the scepter, and retire from the office of Superior. This he has done on the 27th of September, 1889, having held the office from Sept 29th, 1883 just six years, all but one day. He was succeeded in office by the Very Rev. Father Lewis, who at once appointed Father Alberic as Prior.