October Information Forum

The community met on Thursday, October 26th, for our monthly Information Forum to exchange current news and events. We had hosted three sisters from Mississippi Abbey from October 4th through the 10th. They shared in our community exercises and prayer for those days. The purpose was to allow them to view and suggest ways we might improve some of our practices to foster a greater sense of shared community living. They brought a different perspective to our habitual patterns and forms of life. Mother Rebecca, the abbess, has been appointed “Mother Immediate” of our community, and this afforded her the opportunity to know the community on a more immediate and close level.

They addressed the community at the end of their visit and shared some general observations. They were especially impressed with our liturgy and the prayerful and orderly atmosphere in the monastery. Their suggestions emphasized communal engagement in the monastic practices, e.g., common lectio and common work. We need to make explicit the support and common sharing that tends to remain implicit and unspoken. One implementation of their advice is a common lectio and mediation period in church after the office of Vigils, beginning Monday the 30th. The community will remain in church for twenty minutes and share the time and space in personal meditation and prayerful reading.

On the vocation front, four men will be coming this weekend (October 27-30) for a Come and See Program. This is an opportunity for men discerning a religious vocation to share more closely in the life of the community with personal discussions about the monastic life. We haven’t offered such a weekend program since the Covid pandemic. Br. Joseph joined two of the Mississippi sisters in addressing the local Serra Vocation Club. They made presentations on the monastic life and their personal vocation stories. The Serra Club is a lay organization which supports vocational work in the archdiocese.

Speaking of the archdiocese, Fr. Brendan represented the community at the installation of our new archbishop, Thomas Zinkula, on October 18th. A man with local roots, he had been bishop of Davenport, Iowa. Following the call of Pope Francis and of our own Abbot General, the community will observe a day of prayer, penance, and fasting on Friday, the 27th, for an end to the horrific violence between Israel and Gaza. We will celebrate a Mass for Peace and Justice with special readings and sparse fare for meals. The annual Memorial Mass of the Dead will be celebrated on November 7th for all those buried in Trappist Caskets or Urns during the past year.

Several maintenance projects are still in process. New speakers are being prepared for our refectory. The solid stone walls present an acoustic challenge for clear listening. The pipes of the heating system in the church need to be realigned at a slant to prevent the banging sound that trapped water causes. Some security locks and systems will be installed in our guest house kitchen area to provide greater safety for our employees. The room being prepared for our informal meetings after mass twice a week is still far from ready. We have been using a visiting area in the infirmary in the meanwhile. These gatherings have been very successful opportunities for casual exchanges and sharing before we head off to work assignments.

The garden was very productive this year and we were able to exchange what we had in abundance with the sisters at Mississippi Abbey, who reciprocated with produce they had. It is a question of balancing what happens to be your surplus now against their present need, and one day they may have something to spare that will supply your own need (2 Corinthians 8: 14). We had some generous help in harvesting the apples, and now have a good supply for the coming months. The local farmers have been reporting very good yields in spite of close to drought-like conditions this summer. The earth is the Lord’s and its fullness.

Easter Sunday Mass

Mass will be at 10:00 am on Easter Sunday

Schedule Changes

The monastic day receives its structure from the hours of prayer which express and support our search for the Living God. These communal celebrations of our joining together in Christ’s pray to the Father define and regulate our experience of time and are sometimes called the sanctification of time.

Changes in our schedule or hororium are very significant in the community’s life. That is why we make changes with caution and care. But we have initiated a serious change in keeping with recommendations from the Committee of the Future which met last fall with the community. Given the reduced numbers in the community and the aging of our population, they suggested that we look for ways to simplify and accommodate to reality the ways we live together. We have been making efforts to do this in the liturgy and in our work. A further step has been to make some alterations in the daily schedule. We have begun to move the rising time in the morning from 3:15 a.m. to 4:15 a.m., with Vigils beginning at 4:30 a.m. The liturgical schedule for the weekday is:

Vigils 4:30 a.m.

Lauds 7:30

Eucharist 8:00 a.m.

Tierce in private

Sext and dinner and the rest of the day as normal.

On Sunday, Lauds will be celebrated at 7:00 a.m. and Eucharist at 9:00 a.m.

An unfortunate consequence in changing the time of daily Eucharist from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. is that some of our neighbors who come to celebrate the eucharist before going to work will no longer be able to do so. We will review this change after three months to evaluate its effects.

On the local scene, the shortage of pilots has caused American Airlines to suspend all flights between Dubuque and Chicago. The nearest airport for flights is now Clinton, IA. Even Greyhound buses are no longer scheduled directly from Dubuque to Chicago. They are routed through Madison and Milwaukee or through Davenport.

News of August

The travels of our superior, Fr. Brendan, continue to consume much of his time and energy. After completing the visitation of Gethsemani Abbey in July, he performed the same service for our sisters at Mississippi Abbey from the 7th to the 13th of August. With not much down-time to catch his breath and do his laundry, he left again on August 23rd to briefly visit three of our communities in Ireland before continuing on to Assisi, Italy for the next session of the General Chapter. Several of the Irish communities have agreed to combine their energies by having one superior, one house of formation, and one house to care for the infirm. This new arrangement is meant to respond to the decreasing resources available in each community by pooling and concentrating efforts to continue monastic life in each community. This has meant that a Father Immediate from outside these communities would be needed to pastorally oversee how this new configuration is functioning. Fr. Brendan had been superior of one of the communities (Mellifont) and has some familiarity with the situation in Ireland. He has been appointed as Father Immediate and made an introductory visit to each house before the Chapter. We can only pray and hope that this innovative arrangement will benefit these monks.

The community met with John Schroeder, the man who has been hired as Forester for our property. Our forests are a complicated ecological system which requires professional expertise that we no longer have in the community. John describe himself as an “ecologist” and wise and intelligent stewardship is imperative in these days of ecological crisis. John gave a thorough, educational, and persuasive presentation of a proposal to create a 300 foot buffer surrounding the three creeks that are on our property. These areas would create wetlands which would function as a “kidney”, purifying water from chemicals and pollutants that enter these creeks. Trees could be planted to help deter erosion and raise the water temperature. The downside of this proposal is the removal of significant acreage from its present tillage. This would mean a considerable loss of income and would hardly be welcomed by those who rent the farm land. The community was generally favorable. It’s the right thing to do. But details and implications will have to be examined.

For the first time in recorded history, the community plans to initiate the practice of taking a COMMUNITY HERMIT DAY. In the past, monks were free to arrange for personal “hermit days” when they would be free from all obligations to the Office and work. A couple of primitive, one-room hermitages in the woods were available, or they might use a retreat facility at Mississippi Abbey. But with lessening numbers in the community, most have been reluctant to absent themselves from community exercises and put a greater burden on others. However, this practice of a community Hermit Day is common in other houses, particularly those of the sisters.

The day that we will inaugurate this practice is on Monday, September 5th (Labor Day). The present idea is to repeat the Hermit Day on the first Monday of each month. The only scheduled community exercise will be the eucharist, at 7:00 a.m. There will be no other offices or common prayer in church on that day. Meals will be available at the regular times, but monks are free to come and select their food at anytime it is out. Obviously, this means that the cook is not totally off the hook and some other tasks (scullery dishes, etc.) will still need attention. If the earth seems to wobble on its axis a bit that day, you will know the cause.

Sharing in Our Life

There are various ways to share in our way of life. One may come as a retreatant, or a visitor; or as an associate in the Monastic Center, and now as a Long Term Guest living in the community for one to twelve months, or as a Monastic Brother for indefinite periods of time. For a fuller description of these four ways click on the link at the top menu for “Visit Us”.

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.

Fr. Kenneth

On July 13, 2022, at 3:30 in the morning Fr. Kenneth Tietjen died at Stonehill Wellness Center in Dubuque. Fr. Kenneth had been at Stonehill for a few weeks after suffering a broken ankle in a fall. He also contracted COVID. Fr. Kenneth was 93 years old. The funeral liturgy will be celebrated at New Melleray on Monday morning at 9:00, July 18.

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.

Memorial Mass for Fr. Xavier

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.