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 Schreider, 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.

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

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.

Now open.

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’s death

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.

Fr. Xavier Dieter

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.