July Events

The community celebrated the 173rd anniversary of its founding and the 46th anniversary of the dedication of the Abbey Church on July 16th. Fr. Brendan was the presider at the liturgy and gave a homily which honored the role of this sacred space in forming our lives together as a dwelling for the Spirit of God. It had been our custom for the past number of years to invite the community of Our Lady of the Mississippi to join us for a festive picnic on this day. To make the picnic accessible to the more elderly in our communities, we had moved the location of the picnic from the outdoors to the porch and kitchen area of the infirmary. Due to the interference of COVID, we had to suspend this practice for the past two years. But this year, the communities were again able to share a meal and lively conversations which invigorate and strengthen our mutual ties.

On the following Monday, July 18th, we celebrated the funeral mass for Fr. Kenneth Tietjen. Although he had died on July 13th, we delayed the funeral so that some of his family members could attend. His twin sister was unable to travel from Ohio, but his niece and nephew and their children were able to participate in the liturgy. They had been very devoted to him and were happy to be able to say their final good-byes. The weather and sunshine contributed to a memorable scene as many of our neighbors and friends joined in our final prayers and the burial.

Fr. Brendan’s busy schedule has taken him to Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky to conduct their regular visitation. (After the closure of Melleray Abbey in France, New Melleray assumed the paternity of Gethsemani Abbey.) This visitation had been postponed for several days to allow them to emerge from a siege of COVID affecting a number in the community. Fr. Brendan left by car on Friday, the 22nd and hopes to return within a week or so.

June News

This has been a busy time for Fr. Brendan, our superior. In the middle of May, he traveled to our daughter house in England, Mount Saint Bernard. Dom Joseph, the abbot, had submitted his resignation which was accepted by the Abbot General and his council. Mount St. Bernard is facing a number of critical issues and the responsibilities were taxing Dom Joseph’s physical and emotional health. In addition to the problems of diminishing human resources in the community, the buildings of the monastery are in drastic need of repair. They no longer meet requirements of the local fire code. Electrical wiring is inadequate, the roof needs replacement, etc. The monastery was designed by Augustus Welby Pugin, a noted British architect (“God’s Architect”) and is listed on official registrars.

After consulting with the community, Fr. Brendan appointed Fr. Peter Claver (81) as the new superior. Fr. Brendan was invited to attend the Regional Meeting of the Isles which was held at the same time. He returned to be present for the scheduled meeting of the Commission for the Future of New Melleray Abbey, May 31st and June 1st.

The Commission for the Future is a group of five experienced persons, together with two monks of the local community, who are invited to assist the community to look realistically at its situation, not only from a human point of view, but especially from the point of view of faith. An experience of fragility should be accepted as an invitation of the Lord to choose life by entering into the Paschal mystery. (Statute on the Accompaniment of Fragile Communities) The members of this commission are: Dom Peter McCarthy, OCSO (our delegated Father Immediate); Dom Gerard D’Souza, OCSO, of Genesee Abbey, Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB (retired archbishop of Dubuque and currently residing at Conception Abbey, MO); Mother Rebecca Stramoski, OCSO, abbess of Our Lady of the Mississippi; Mr. David Schueller (a long-time financial advisor of the community); and Dom Brendan Freeman, superior of New Melleray and Fr. David Bock, representing the monks of the community.

The Commission met for two days in an attempt to assess the difficulties and realities the community is facing. It shared its observations and discernments with the community in a meeting at the end of the second day. All the members of the Commission were present for any questions or comments. The following day, Dom Peter met individually with all the monks who were free to give their personal responses and reactions. The whole discernment process led by Dom Peter was universally affirmed as constructive and realistic. The Commission will return again next year to reflect with us on our responses and developments.

The major thrust of the report was to direct the community’s thinking and planning to anticipate an even smaller community of ten monks in the near future. A serious issue is our capability of receiving and offering an integral monastic formation to new entries. Do we have the resources to provide leadership from within the community? We have already been adjusting our liturgy and the use of buildings and space to the decreased population in the community. The positive ground of hope for the future is the unity and mutual support that presently exists among us. Our challenge is to reimagine the ways we live together as a place of eminent, continuous formation so that our structures do not overburden us but serve the spirit which unites us in Christ.

Fr, Brendan again left on June 15th to attend the U.S. Regional meeting at Villa del Mar, California. This is a retreat house which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. He is due back home on the 24th. Our new Abbot General, Dom Bernardus, has been attending all the regional meetings in preparation for the General Chapter (Part II) from September 1st to 25th in Assisi, Italy. No doubt the choice of Villa del Mar as the venue for our regional meeting was intended to provide a consistent cultural ambience for the discussions. Bona sera.

Memorial Mass for Fr. Xavier

And God Pitched His Tent Among Us.

A huge tent had been erected in front of the monastery buildings to accommodate the numbers who would come to celebrate a memorial mass for Fr. Xavier Dieter on Saturday, May 8th. We were uncertain as to how many persons would attend this service, but prepared seating for 400 in a semi-circle around an altar on a raised platform. This proved to be a slight margin of excess for over 300 people who were able to be present.

After days of rain and gloom, the sun and mild weather provided a perfect climate to gather together in the open and liturgically celebrate the life and death of Fr. Xavier. A large contingent of his own family and relatives formed the core of the congregation which was expanded by friends and acquaintances from a broad spectrum of those touched by Fr. Xavier’s life and ministry. Music for the liturgy was provided by talented members of his family. Fr. Brendan presided and preached the homily which wove together humor, memory, and spirituality. Fr. Xavier’s niece, Rose, gave a eulogy at the end which answered the question, Who Is Fr. Xavier?

Following the eucharist, the whole congregation processed to the cemetery where more prayers and songs joined us at his burial site. Light refreshments and an opportunity for personal sharing concluded the day for most of us. Others continued their conversations.

We continue adjusting and tweaking our seating arrangements in our church. The re-positioning of the lectern at the front and center of the church made an immense improvement in our ability to hear and understand what was being read or said. But this then separated the lectern from the community gathered at the west end of the church. The current solution is to return the community to sitting at the east end of the choir stalls (where they had been before our initial shifting and moving of the altar). This seems to resolve the problem of the separation of the community and lectern. We have also decided to retain the practice (adopted because of COVID) of keeping an empty stall between members of the choir. It helps to give the sense of “occupying” the length of choir stalls, rather than being bunched together with large empty spaces. Stay tuned for the next change. Monks on the move.

End of April

Several items of news waited until the end of April to emerge into the spotlight. On Sunday, April 24th, Fr. Kenneth fell in his infirmary room and complained of severe pain in his right leg. He was taken by ambulance to the Emergency Room for tests and Xrays. They neglected to Xray the lower part of his right leg, and he was sent home. The pain persisted, so we brought him back to the Emergency Room on Monday. This time, they discovered two fractures in his ankle. The doctors decided to put a cast on the ankle, rather than performing any surgery. He was taken to Stonehill Care Center here in Dubuque. When he is able to put weight on his leg, he will be given a program of physical therapy. He seems very content with the care he is receiving and keeps in frequent contact with the abbey via visits and phone calls.

With the restrictions and distancing required by COVID now becoming less necessary, we have been reassessing the arrangements of liturgical furnishings in the church. We had added extra choir stalls, moved the altar to the base of our presbytery steps, and placed the lectern used for the eucharist and divine office at the center of the church. Unfortunately, this placement of the lectern greatly diminished the ability of half the church to hear what was being proclaimed. Considering the importance and centrality of the celebration of the Word in all our liturgical services, this problem needed attention.

Discussions on our House Council led to the following decisions. For one month (beginning May 1st), the small altar on the ground floor will be removed and we will resume celebrating the eucharist at the main altar. This allows us to return the lectern to the east end of the church. The whole speaking system had been designed for the lectern to be in this position. This has raised the level of aural comprehension to more than acceptable levels. Views of the altar and eucharist are no longer blocked by the lectern. The downside of these changes is that presiders and ministers with any physical infirmities will have difficulty in mounting the several steps to the altar. And the placement of the lectern at the east end of the choir area means a longer hike for those who must go to the lectern for readings.

After one month, we will experiment with an alternate placing of the altar and lectern, bringing both closer to the middle of the church and closer to the guest section. Some choir stalls will be removed with this option to draw all the participants into closer proximity. The monastic architecture of the church was designed to create a space which would lead one into an openness where God is met. But this sometimes is at odds with desire for space which binds us more humanly to one another.

Information has already been posted on the Memorial Mass for Fr. Xavier this Saturday, May 7th. We hope the weather will cooperate by providing comfortable and dry conditions for the celebration in a large tent in front of the monastery. The family will have an opportunity to share their memories at the end of the service.

Death of Fr. James O’Connor.

The senior monk of our community, Fr. James O’Connor, made his final flight into the home of his Heavenly Father on April 8th. At 97, he had been a monk for 73 years after serving in the Air Force during World War II ( he flew 35 combat missions) and studies at De Paul University in Chicago. He died from complications after a fall in his room in the infirmary on March 22nd. He had been a philosophy teacher for young monks and spent his later years on top of a grass mower. He had been the author of Monastery Seasons, a newsletter which was widely popular and sorely missed when he was no longer able to compose its crisp columns. His funeral was held on a bright and brisk Saturday morning, April 9th. His cousin and some members of his family were able to attend. A touching end to the service was the somber playing of military taps as his body lay at peace.

We are happy to announce the presence of a new observer, Charles Wuebner (age 42). Charles had previously spent some time with us and has now begun the process of closer discernment of his vocation. He was a practicing lawyer in the state of Texas (near Dallas). We ask you to join our prayers that he may respond whole-heartedly to what the Lord is asking of him.

In preparation for the next session of the General Chapter in September of this year, each community has been asked to prepare a house report which will be the subject of the Chapter’s reflections and decisions. The reports are meant to be concise and condensed, while giving a true picture of the concrete reality of each community. Four questions were presented: l) What would you like to share about the life of your community over the last 5 years? Can you share a positive initiative undertaken or an experience your community had in the last 5 years? 2) How do you live communion within your community and with the Order as a whole? 3) Does work, as an important value of our monastic life, help integration in the community and fraternal collaboration? Is it a source of life for each member of the community? 4) What is the impact of secularization and globalization on your common life? The community met one Thursday morning and made suggestions in response to each question. A summary report was drawn up and presented to the community on the next Thursday. With a few minor corrections, this report was accepted and forwarded to the Generalate in Rome well before the due date.

March Information

There has been a bit of a hiatus in the posting of new information. A new method of entering posts has been introduced and the poster (boy) needed some education and upgrading. The flood of events has itself delayed posting. Add to this a severe case of procrastination, and the result could have been predicted.

Moving backwards in time, we can begin with last Sunday’s joyful event of the reception of a new novice. Fittingly occurring on Laetare Sunday, Br. Charles Ross received the novice’s habit as a member of the community. Together with the habit, he chose to be henceforth called “Br. Philip.” The novice has the option of retaining his baptismal name or assuming a new name to signify the fundamental change that monastic life and conversatio will demand of his person. Br. Philip is 43 years old and most recently lived in Clinton, Iowa. He served in the U.S. Marines for four years and then worked as a mechanical engineer. He visited New Melleray a number of times before deciding to join the community. He is mature, deeply committed to following Christ and to placing his trust in God as he meets Him in our community life. We ask prayers that the grace and Spirit of Christ may be alive in his life.

On Tuesday, March 22nd, our senior monk Fr. James O’Connor (97) fell in his room. Although sometimes a little shaky in his movements, he walked unaided and freely explored first floor areas of the monastery. The severe pain he experienced demanded that he be brought to the hospital for X-rays, and a small fracture was discovered. This was repaired by an operation that evening, and he came through with flying colors. However, his hearing is severely impaired and he was unresponsive to therapy. Since we would be unable to provide the care he would need, he has been transferred to a local nursing home in Cascade. We will have to see if he can resume walking and sufficient independence to return with us.

Most will have seen the notice of Fr. Xavier’s death on March 3rd. He had been becoming weaker due to the spread of his cancer and was finally unable to stand by himself. He was bed-ridden for the final two weeks of his life. We called in Hospice to assist in caring for him. He died in the evening as the community was singing the office of Compline: Lord, now let your servant go in peace. Since the guest house and church were still closed because of the presence of COVID in the community, we celebrated a private funeral service and will have a memorial for him later in the spring. Because of a heavy rain, we had to delay the actual burial for an hour after mass was completed. The skies temporarily cleared and we were able to conclude our service. Knowing that the church was closed, he himself expressed the wish for a memorial mass to be celebrated when his family and friends could attend. He was widely known in the area and directed a number of AA and addiction groups.

Last year, the annual community retreat had to be cancelled because of the COVID virus. But this year, we were able to resume this practice from March 18th to the 23rd, under the direction of Dom Innocent Ugyeh, the superior of our Cistercian monastery of Calvaire, Canada. As his name may indicate, he is of Nigerian birth but has been a member of Calvaire for some years. He was very energetic and enthusiastic and offered conferences which focused on the ways in which the Holy Spirit works in the lives of Christians and monks.

After two years of escaping attacks of the COVID virus, six monks tested positive for the virus. Two were severely ill. We closed the guest house and church and curtailed our monastic schedule to limit personal contact and spreading the virus. We celebrated Lauds, the Eucharist, Dinner and Vespers in common. All the other hours were prayed in private. Several monks did gather at 3:30 a.m. in church for Vigils, but found their own ways to pray the office. We then reopened the church and guest house on March 21st, after our retreat had concluded.

Fr. Brendan was able to attend the General Chapter (Part I) at Assisi from the 2nd to the 23rd of February. The main business was the election of a new Abbot General, Dom Bernardus Peeters of Tilburg, Netherlands. New members of his council were also chosen. Part II of the Chapter will be held from September 1-29, 2022. Communities are being asked to prepare house reports which will be read and discussed at this Chapter. Those who participated in this Chapter seemed very enthusiastic about the spirit of cooperation and openness that pervaded the meetings.