COVID ATTACK

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.

Beginning the New Year

The month of January has reintroduced us to the hard realities of severe winter weather:  plenty of snow and frigid temperatures.  The weather has made traveling hazardous, and one of the monks can personally vouch for its dangers.  While returning to the monastery from  celebrating the eucharist  for our sisters at Mississippi Abbey, Fr. Jonah had the misfortune of sliding into a snow plow.  He was on the monastery road and within sight of the monastery itself when he attempted to pass the plow.  He skidded into the back of the plow and severely dented the door on the passenger side of the car.  Fortunately, he was not hurt and the driver of the plow didn’t even realize contact had been made.  The door has since been repaired and the car is back in service.

We began the month with our annual corporation meeting for Trappist Caskets on January seventh.  We are incorporated as a 501(d) group for the purposes of paying our dues and taxes to the Internal Revenue Service.  This is a tax category which can apply to communal groups (e.g., Hutterites, Amish) who share an industry’s profits, without the individuals having personal access to these funds.  It does require that we meet at least once a year, elect officers, and review business minutes.   Enough monks were present to insure that we had a quorum for the meeting.  It was chaired by Davin Curtiss, one of the attorneys of the firm of O’Connor and Thomas who have represented us for many years.  The weather and precautions due to COVID prevented the presence of some of our advisors, so the discussions were brief and decisions were swift.

COVID did finally gain entrance into our cloister.  Fr. Brendan, our superior, seems to have contracted the virus  and tested positive after evidencing some symptoms.  The unconfirmed source might well have been contact with our sisters at Mississippi.  Four of the nuns there tested positive and the community went into quarantine.  Fr.  Brendan himself has kept in quarantine in the house and is waiting for a negative test before reappearing in the community.  This has slowed down efforts at community and council meetings.  The regular information meeting was not convened again this month.   

During the cold weather, some interior areas of the monastery are being repainted and old and stained  carpeting is being removed.  Most of the carpeting was installed in the 1970’s and has absorbed the wear and accidents of the years.

Closing of the Year

The final days of December lead us into the celebration of the Nativity of Christ and the manifestation of God’s gift of love to all people.  He abides with us as the constant offer of peace, harmony and love  among all peoples and with the creation he renews to sustain us.  We wish the blessings of this season to all and pray that the New Year will be a time of peace and good will.

Fr. Brendan has returned from Ireland and officially became our superior ad nutum. He was appointed by Dom Peter McCarthy, our Father Immediate, after consultation with the community.  Fr. Brendan assumed office on December 1st, several days after his return.  He has appointed Fr. Ephrem as prior and Br. Paul Andres as sub-prior.  These will be members of the superior’s council.  Also appointed to the council were Fr. Stephen and Fr. David. Br. Joseph was chosen by the community to be its elected representative.  The Constitutions of the Order  (Cst 38) say The abbot’s council is composed of  at least three brothers of whom at least one is elected by the community. While larger than than some previous councils, it will give a broader level of experience to help in the decisions that will have to be made in the imminent future.

Unfortunately, Fr. Brendan was in contact with someone who was diagnosed with Covid.  He is now in quarantine in the community and will not be able to share in our Christmas celebrations.  Fr. Ephrem, the prior, will have to stand in for him at midnight mass.  The closing of the guest house for the Christmas holidays (from December 20 to January 3rd) now serves a double purpose in limiting contact during this time of increased Covid infections.  Although we will open again on January 3rd, we are limiting the guest house to half occupancy (14) and request use of masks and that retreatants be vaccinated.  The monks have received booster shots this December. The annual Christmas party that is held for our employees was cancelled again this year because of Covid.  It had been a good opportunity for the community to meet and thank our employees for their generous service.

The reconstruction work on the south side of the monastery building has been successfully completed.  Deteriorating cement was replaced and rubberized covering installed to prevent leaking into basement areas.  The work was somewhat delayed because of a saw which had to be replaced.  Fortunately, good weather prevailed for most of the work time and the job was completed before hard frosts began.  A ramp which had descended rather steeply into the basement area was leveled so that an entry can be made on even ground from the outer area.  We welcomed the end to the sounds of drilling and jackhammering.  Some damage was inflicted on trees surrounding the abbey during some severe wind storms in late fall.  The damage was cleaned up, and several dead trees were removed to make room for new plantings.  The cedar fence demarcating the enclosure in front of the guest house was also completed while the weather remained mild.

New Superior for New Melleray

Ever since the termination of Dom Mark Scott’s term as abbot, the monastery has been operating without a local superior, in what is called sede vacante.  The pandemic had prevented the return of Dom Peter McCarthy, our designated Father Immediate, to proceed with the selection of a superior.  In the meantime, Fr. Stephen had been delegated by Dom Peter to act locally in his place as superior of the house.

Dom Peter, accompanied by Dom Gerard D’Souza of Genesee Abbey, was able to return for a Pastoral Visit on Monday, October 4th.  Since Dom Peter is canonically the local superior, he cannot “visit himself” in the context of a Regular Visitation.  Hence, it was a “Pastoral Visit” although it served as a Regular Visitation of the community.  For two days, Dom Gerard and Dom Peter met personally with each member of the community, focusing on the question of the suitability of an election at this time and who would be the person most capable of meeting the particular needs of the community at this time as its superior.

There was strong agreement that an election would not be appropriate at this time, and the consultation concerning the person who should be appointed superior led to the selection of Dom Brendan Freeman.  He has been appointed superior by Dom Peter after the consultation of all the brothers.  He generously consented to assume this responsibility. Since he is still superior of Mellifont Abbey in Ireland, he will have to return there to close that relationship.  The appointment will this be effective only on December 1, 2021.  As many will remember, Dom Brendan served as our abbot from 1984-2003 when he retired having reached the canonical age limit of 75. We ask prayers for him and for the community as we move into the future God is preparing for us.

September Information

The “September Information Forum” was convened on the last day of the month, allowing the community to exchange items of mutual interest occurring in the monastery.  We are preparing for the pastoral visit of Dom Peter McCarthy of Guadalupe Abbey who will celebrate the mass of the Holy Spirit with us on Tuesday, October 5th.  He will be accompanied by Dom Gerard D’Souza who knows the community from a past visitations and a retreat he directed with us.  Dom Brendan Freeman is also visiting with us while he is in the country and will be here for the sessions which will be important in moving us into the future.

Fr. David gave a brief report on Br. Robert Simon who is presently in a local nursing home.  Br. Robert is suffering from a form of dementia which affects his ability to make good decisions about his movements and has fallen a number of times.  He has been receiving some physical  therapy and we hope to welcome him back to the community when the care we can provide will be adequate to his needs.  He seems quite content with the service and attention he has been receiving at the nursing home.

The Guest House is still planning to re-open on October 15th.  There had been some question about reconsidering this in view of the recent resurgence of COVID cases.  We hope that our guests will be considerate of others in taking all necessary precautions against spreading this virus.  Until December, we are limiting occupancy to twelve guests.  All the rooms are booked until December when there are a few openings.  The Guest House will be closed for the Christmas holidays from December 20th until January 3rd. All the rooms will now be fitted with new locks and keys.  In the past, doors could only be locked when a guest was in the room.  There were frequent emergencies of guests having inadvertently locked themselves out of a room.  Now, each guest will receive a key upon registration.  WE BEG AND BESEECH THEM TO RETURN THE KEY upon leaving.  Cursing psalms may be invoked for offenders.

Br. Cyprian is the current guest master, although Ms Carol Freiberger has taken the new position of “Guest Service Manager.”  In addition to arranging for reservations, she will supervise all the Guest House personnel in the kitchen, cleaning, etc.

Construction work on the veranda on the south side of the monastery is nearly completed.  There have been several weeks of serious jackhammering and sandblasting to reconstruct areas where the structure had deteriorated.  A rubber matting is being installed to prevent leaks into the guest house kitchen area.  The walls are being painted and limestone facing will be put over the pillars to raise the whole project to aesthetic heights.

The power washing of the limestone exterior of the monastery buildings has been completed, and the crosses in the cemetery were also cleansed from years of accumulated dirt, moss, and lichen.  Not lichen good.  The various storm sewers around the buildings will also be cleaned and flushed out.  Dirt and debris accumulate over the years and can provide comfortable and affordable housing for wandering groundhogs.  The new cedar fence between the monastery and farm entrance is nearing completion and makes neat boundary between the guest area and monastic enclosure.  It is, however,  not high enough to be a challenge for vaulting deer who exercise rights of eminent domain.

The former McAndrew house which we had been renting to a neighbor (now deceased) was not considered to be worth an effort at renovation.  We offered it to the local fire department to use as practice for their operations.  They accepted this offer, and will have a controlled fire this coming month.  This is a win-win situation, since burning the house will save us a considerable amount in demolition and hauling.

August Information

Although the monthly information meeting has been canceled, there are a few items which might be of interest.  Fr. Stephen will be attending the U.S. Regional meeting of our monasteries at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. It is scheduled to begin on August 25th and end on September 2nd. He will be driving down on the 25th with Mother Rebecca, abbess of OLM.

There is a full agenda of important items which concern all our houses.  Each region of the Order submits topics to be treated at the next General Chapter, to be held in Assisi (Italy) in September of 2022.  The last General Chapter had been postponed because of the pandemic.  The Central Commission, composed of delegates from the regions and the Abbot General Council, organizes the agenda for the Chapter itself.

 ( CST  8l   The communities of the Order are grouped in Regions approved by the General Chapter.  These regional conferences foster communion and fraternal cooperation within each geographical area and in the Order as a whole. )               

One of the most significant items will be the election of a new abbot general.  Dom Eamon’s mandate had expired when he reached the age of 75, but the pandemic has prevented gathering in Chapter for this vote.  The superiors will appreciate the opportunity to discuss potential candidates for this significant office.  The closure of some monasteries or the numerical weakening of others has created an anomalous situation in the Order.  Historically, each house has been founded by a motherhouse with the responsibility of support and care for its foundations.  Even after a monastery is well established, this concern is continued through the regular visitation made by the father immediate of the motherhouse.

(CST 73   In accordance with the Charter of Charity, Cistercian communities are united by the bond of filiation.  Traditionally filiation has its juridical form in the function of the Father Immediate.  Fraternity and filiation are expressed through mutual assistance and support.)

At the present time, the natural lines of filiation have been broken for some communities.  Their founding house is no longer able to supply assistance and support and another house has been asked to take over this role.  In some cases, this change has been permanent while others are functioning in a temporary and provisional arrangement.  The bonds of filiation have a traditional and integral role in the communion of our communities and there is a need to more deeply examine the effects these changes have in the life of our communities.

A related but unspecified agenda item is the “situation of superiors.”  This may refer to some particular cases calling for an extension of a superior’s mandate,  or the availability of leadership potential within a community, or the effects of the pandemic on a community.  These are just speculations.  It is true, however, that the protocols for dealing with the pandemic and its impact on each community will be discussed.

A number of agenda items concern the U.S. Region itself:  questions concerning the safeguarding of the elderly and adults from forms of abuse; the usefulness of the regional health plan; the constitution of a Monastic Business Association, with a particular concern for the protection of Trappist Trademarks; the creation of a common fund in the region to assist monasteries in financial need; the functioning of our Regional Website.   A daunting agenda, but no match for the wisdom and capabilities of our superiors.

On the local front.  Work has begun on the enclosure fence extending from the stone wall northward toward the entrance to the farmyard.  The red cedar wood creates an attractive and rustic demarcation of the enclosure and allows some lovely views of the area near the cemetery.  A number of dead trees have been gradually laid to rest and yielded their space to newer plantings.  A lesson for us all.  We are keeping a wary eye on the upsurge of  Covid cases and hope this will be under better control for our reopening in October.

August Information

Although the monthly information meeting has been canceled, there are a few items which might be of interest.  Fr. Stephen will be attending the U.S. Regional meeting of our monasteries at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. It is scheduled to begin on August 25th and end on September 2nd. He will be driving down on the 25th with Mother Rebecca, abbess of OLM.

There is a full agenda of important items which concern all our houses.  Each region of the Order submits topics to be treated at the next General Chapter, to be held in Assisi (Italy) in September of 2022.  The last General Chapter had been postponed because of the pandemic.  The Central Commission, composed of delegates from the regions and the Abbot General’ Council, organizes the agenda for the Chapter itself.

( CST  8l   The communities of the Order are grouped in Regions approved by the General Chapter.  These regional conferences       foster communion and fraternal cooperation within each geographical  area and in the Order as a whole. )               

One of the most significant items will be the election of  a new abbot general.  Dom Eamon’s mandate had expired when he reached the age of 75, but the pandemic has prevented gathering in Chapter for this vote.  The superiors will appreciate the opportunity to discuss potential candidates for this significant office.  The closure of some monasteries or the numerical weakening of others has created an anomalous  situation in the Order.  Historically, each house has been founded by a motherhouse with the responsibility of support and care for its foundations.  Even after a monastery is well established, this concern is continued through the regular visitation made by the father immediate of the motherhouse.

(CST 73   In accordance with the Charter of Charity, Cistercian communities are united by the bond of filiation.  Traditionally filiation has its juridical form in the function of the Father Immediate.  Fraternity and filiation are expressed through mutual assistance and support.)

At the present time, the natural lines of filiation have been broken for some communities.  Their founding house is no longer able to supply  assistance and support and another house has been asked to take over this role.  In some cases, this change has been permanent while others are functioning in a temporary and provisional arrangement.  The bonds of filiation have a traditional and integral role in the communion of our communities and there is a need to more deeply examine the effects these changes have in the life of our communities.

A related but unspecified agenda item is the “situation of superiors.”  This may refer to some particular cases calling for extension of a superior’s mandate,  or the availability of leadership potential within a community, or the effects of the pandemic on a community.  These are just speculations.  It is true, however, that the protocols for dealing with the pandemic and its impact on each community will be discussed.

A number of agenda items concern the U.S. Region itself:  questions concerning the safeguarding of the elderly and adults from forms of abuse; the usefulness of the regional health plan; the constitution of a Monastic Business Association, with a particular concern for the protection of Trappist Trade marks; the creation of a common fund in the region to assist monasteries in financial need; the functioning of our Regional Website.   A daunting agenda, but no match for the wisdom and capabilities of our superiors.

On the local front.  Work has begun on the enclosure fence extending from the stone wall northward toward the entrance to the farm yard.  The red cedar wood creates an attractive and rustic demarcation of the enclosure and allows some lovely views of the area near the cemetery.  A number of dead trees have been gradually laid to rest and yielded their space to newer plantings.  A lesson for us all.  We are keeping a wary eye on the upsurge of  Covid cases and hope this will be under better control for our reopening in October.

 

July Information

In the early hours of Thursday morning (2 a.m.), July 29th, the heavens orchestrated a dramatic thunder and lightning wake-up call.  Coupled with the noise and illumination was a welcome  two-and-a-half  inch rain.  Temperatures had been in the 90’s for some days, and the rain also brought a drop from those heights.  It made our monthly information meeting a little more bearable.

As noted before, the guest house will reopen on October 15th and we will limit occupancy to twelve rooms until the beginning of Advent. Unlike past years, the guest house will be closed on Thanksgiving.  The annual Christmas closing will be from the 20th of December until January 3rd.  The door to the guest master’s office is being altered to a “half door” — the bottom half can be closed while the top is opened.  This is meant to provide reasonable security for the porter and allow for a more orderly reception of guests.  Some visitors had  seen the chairs in the room as an invitation to prolonged conversations with the porter.

Some major construction will need to be done on the south side of the building where there is an unused veranda.  Water coming from the roof penetrates this flat area and leaks into the basement and underpass area.  Roofing and tuckpointing work is called for.  Some of the front of the monastery has been cleaned from years of dirt and grime by a power water spray.  Large sections of the wooden fence separating the monastic enclosure from the front of the guest house have been rotting.  They will be replaced by a cedar wood fence, rooted in gravel to prolong its life.

The garden is producing a wide variety of vegetables which are a welcome addition to our diet.  We had the first round of corn-on-the-cob last week, a sure sign that summer is well-advanced.  Some arable land which had not been very productive will be turned into woodland and forestry. Br. Nicholas, who spearheads our  contribution committee, will be meeting today with members of the Archdiocese’s Catholic Charities.  We have been making substantial contributions to their Prison and Jail Ministry and he will discuss developments in this program.

We were warned about the population surge in the Dubuque area expected in the days leading up to and following the coming of Major League Baseball to eastern Iowa.  It may be best to schedule appointments to avoid these days.  The Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees are scheduled to play a regular season game on August 12 in Dyersville,  Iowa.  This is the site of “The Field of Dreams”, a popular film made several years ago with the memorable quotations If you build it, they will come and Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.  The area has been cultivated as a tourist attraction and now a stadium accommodating 8,000 person has been specially built.  The potential influx of persons connected with this event is already stretching local resources and might made it advisable to keep women and children off the streets.

Mark Scott returns

For the past year, Fr. Mark Scott has been dividing his time between serving as chaplain to the Trappestine sisters of Santa Rita in Arizona and his former community at New Clairvaux Abbey in California.  During the time that he was our superior and abbot, he automatically assumed stability as a member of New Melleray.  For a Benedictine and Cistercian monk, stability is more than merely a canonical and legal status in a community.  It is an integral expression of the trusting commitment a monk makes to God through a localized community.  From the day of his profession, he is counted as one of the community (RB, Chapter 58).  Stability in a community is the embodiment of a desire for stability of heart.  Our Constitutions state:

By the vow of stability within his community a brother obliges himself to make constant use of the means of the spiritual craft there, trusting          in  the providence of God who has called him to this place and to this group of brothers.  (Const.#9).

The Constitutions provide for the situation of a monk who has served as abbot of a community and has come to the end of his term of office.            The monk who left the community of his profession to exercise the abbatial ministry in another community of the Order can, within a year of  resigning from office or completing his mandate, resume his first stability (St. 40.C).  After this year of reflection and discernment, Fr. Mark has decided to resume his stability at New Clairvaux Abbey and therefore will not return to New Melleray.  We respect his decision and are extremely grateful to him for his years of service as our superior and abbot.  We have been enriched by his presence and many gifts and are sorry that he will not be returning.  We offer him our prayerful and affectionate best wishes and will remain united with him in the bonds of the Cistercian family.

Back in 1989, the community purchased a small farm of 160 acres which was situated across the road from the monastery to the immediate south.  Our primary concern was to preserve a natural seclusion around the monastery and prevent a possible development of some sort on the site.  Although a truck stop or a casino was unlikely, we preferred to keep the land in agricultural use.  There was a farm house which at one time had been the homestead of the McAndrew family.  They have long been supportive friends and neighbors of the monastery.  In the days when we still did not receive women visitors in the guest house, the McAndrews would offer over-night hospitality to the female members of monks’ families.  The farm house was occupied by a Mrs. Giesman at the time of the purchase, and she desired to continue living there.  The monastery continued to provide maintenance and repairs while she resided there.

The recent death of Mrs. Giesman has forced  a decision about the future of the house.  Some would have liked to see the house renovated and made available to someone with a low income.  But a thorough examination of the house indicates that it would be less expensive to build something new than to satisfactorily rebuild it.  So the decision has been made to demolish the house, rather than let it deteriorate and become subject to vandalism or other liabilities.  We will maintain a water supply there so that cattle can pasture on the land and provide a bucolic bulwark against the stealthy incursions of urbanization.

Information Forum

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.