On May 7 at 1:00 PM we will have a Memorial Mass in memory of Fr. Xavier Dieter. He died on March 3 and requested a private funeral and burial. Having counseled many men and women over the years, and having worked with our neighbors even longer, providing replacement black angus cattle for their herds, we expect a large number of friends to come for the celebration of Father’s life. A large tent will be provided for an outdoor Mass in front of our Guest House, with food afterwards. All are invited to join us for this remembrance and prayers for Fr. Xavier.
After being closed to the public for several months, our Church, Guest House and Gift Shop are once again open to visitors, retreatants and friends of the monastery.
Fr. Xavier died yesterday evening, Thursday, at 7:45 P.M. He requested a private funeral Mass and burial, with a Memorial Service later on. The Mass and burial will be on Saturday, March 5, just for the monks.
It is 8:20 Wednesday morning. Yesterday the community gathered for the Anointing of the Sick for our brother, Fr. Xavier. He was alert and grateful for the Sacrament. This morning Fr. Xavier has slipped into a coma. The community will gather together again around his bedside to pray for the dying at 9:30. We ask you to join in praying for him wherever you are.
Four more monks have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week. Fr. Brendan has decided to close the Guesthouse, Church and Gift Shop to the public until at least the end of February, for the protection of both our monks and our guests.
The monthly information forum was held on Thursday, January 28th. This meeting is scheduled for the fourth Thursday each month, although Thanksgiving Day and Christmas took precedence and caused its cancelation in both November and December. Nonetheless, there wasn’t a big backlog of information to share. The meeting is an opportunity for all in the community to learn what is happening in the various departments and to ask relevant questions. It is helpful for everyone to know what and why changes have been initiated or to hear how departments have been functioning. It is too easy to lose sight of what others are doing to contribute to the services of the monastery.
Most departments reported normal functioning. With the guest house closed, the opportunity for thorough cleaning and painting continues to be open. A big project is the replacement of all lighting with LED. While installation is expensive, it is energy efficient and more economical in the long-run. We were all reminded to put plastics in the recycle bin. These small steps help to remind us of the larger environmental concerns threatening our globe. This past fall, several culverts carrying water from the building were dug up and replaced. Another culvert draining the north wings of the monastery and buried under the front road will have to be repaired once the spring thaws the ground. That is the best we can do for earthshaking news.
In spite of the fact that this Forum had been canceled in November and December in deference to Thanksgiving Day and Christmas, there was not a backlog of news to share. With the guest house closed because of the virus, thorough cleaning and painting continues there. The monastery itself is beneficiary of extra time and labor for cleaning. Some areas of neglect (e.g., shelves in the library) are being surprised by vigorous attention. A pile of discarded and unneeded clothes was donated to the local St. Vincent DePaul Society. Lighting fixtures are being replaced by LED outlets and lights. This is an expensive initial investment of time and money, but it is energy efficient and more economical in the long-run.
Fr. Stephen reports that he has been getting a few more vocational inquiries. We have been able to host several men seriously discerning a vocation. We do have them quarantined for ten days in the otherwise empty guest house. They eat dinner and supper with the community at separate tables in the refectory. We want to offer them as much of an experience of the monastic life as we can to aid them in their discernment. A Benedictine monk from Subiaco, Arkansas, is with us as a guest for six months as he discerns a possible Cistercian vocation.
With the warmer days of Spring wafting over the monastery’s organic garden, it’s time to plant vegetables. Br. M. Juan Diego posted a list of what is being planted this year:
Beets, 80 feet
Turnips, 80 feet
Green Onions, 300 sets
Large Onions, 250 plants
Potatoes, (Kennebec, Yukon God, Pontiac Red), 4 x 125 feet
Sugar Snap Peas, 100 feet
Broccoli, 17 plants
Kale, 8 plants
Lettuce, Spenach, Swiss Chard, Cilantro, small patches
Rhubarb, 325 feet.
“There is no mistaking what is going on ; it is a regular exodus. It is without head, tail, or leadership. It’s greatest factor is momentum, and this is increasing despite amazing efforts on the part of white southerners to stop it. People are leaving their homes and everything about them, under cover of night, as though they were going on a day’s journey – leaving forever.” So reported the Cleveland Advocate on April 28, 1917. “The Great Migration” of black citizens, about six million people between 1915 and 1970, fleeing the “Jim Crow” south to make new lives in the north and western states. Isabel Wilkerson in the Pulitzer Prize winning “The Warmth of Other suns”, is educating the monks concerning the gritty details of life in the south for blacks prior to the civil rights movement. This is a tough read and some graphic descriptions of violence were not read in the monastic refectory. But we have heard enough to have formed a completely new appreciation of the courage, imagination, and faith of millions of migrants stirred by the most elemental call to give expression to their God-given dignity, as well as a desire to develop their talents. Isabel Wilkerson is the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism.
“The monks of New Melleray recently celebrated the entrance into eternity of our brother Tobias Shanahan. Brother Tobias, born in Toledo Ohio, entered the monastery in 1958.] He was subsequently trained as an accountant and served the community for years as a book keeper. For a period of time, he offered assistance to the monks of Assumption Abbey in Ava Missouri, a foundation of New Melleray. He made good friends there with monks whom he would correspond with for years afterward. In recent years, Brother Tobias worked in the front office at Trappist Caskets. He assisted with book keeping but mainly served on the phone, welcoming and assisting grieving families who were delighted to find themselves talking to a monk about funeral arrangements for their loved one. These phone conversations are often conducted with people in tears and can take thirty minutes to complete. Brother Tobias will be remembered for the exquisite gentleness and patience he brought to these encounters. The monks thank you for your prayers for our brother who has finished the race, that he enjoy the vision of God’s face promised by Jesus to those who persevere to the end.
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.