Brother Kieran’s History of New Melleray

No matter how deep the past has been buried beneath, it has a way of coming to the fore, whether in the earth or in the mind. The past is always meaningful for us who live in the changing times. It may keep haunting us, especially for mistakes and failures. But we integrate it into our lives as part of our learning process. Santayana’s words continue to echo that he who does not take history into account is condemned to repeat it, especially its flaws. At the same time, looking back, we see the more challenging times of our forefathers, be they of civilization or of the faith, and how they lived and survived to hand down some precious legacies to us. We cannot but be inspired by them.

We are blessed to be able to find in the history of New Melleray Abbey this significant first-hand account of Brother Kieran Mullany. He was one of the early monks from Mt. Melleray in Ireland who braved and made it to the shores of our country, up the long Mississippi River and across the unwelcome terrain of Iowa. Others heeded the call to cross the oceans but did not survive. Br. Kieran is here to share the stories of faith, courage and dedication of the founders of New Melleray even to the point of offering their lives so that we could be duly enriched.

The history of this biographical account of the first forty years (1849-1887) as written down by our dear monk has undergone some dramatic turns. As it happens even in a growing family, there are things that could easily be taken for granted, such as its own history. From a simple wooden monastery, New Melleray has gone through a series of additional constructions, this time of more concrete materials. Br. Kieran’s account lay in a safe corner among other materials left behind by monks for their eternal destination. He passed away on June 16, 1894. The constant changes in lodging designs and the transfer of things could have kept it buried too. It surfaced only in 1944 as attested in a typewritten note by an unknown monk. Then we also find a three-page handwritten commentary on Br. Kieran and his group when they dared to reach Iowa. This was certified to have been written in 1969 again by an anonymous writer, perhaps a monk or a relative of Br. Kieran. At least, Sr. Martha O’Dwyer of Mt. St. Clare Convent in Clinton, Iowa, brought it back into the light, which from then on, continues to spread its pertinent message.

My impression is that prior to the death of Br. Kieran in 1894, he could have entrusted it to a monk who could have passed it on to his relative, particularly, Fr. Mullany, his nephew who was a Jesuit priest, handing it down to the Mullany family. The historical notes found their way into the Wallace family due to intermarriage. This is where Sr. Martha enters in restoring this treasure to the New Melleray family in 1969. Br. Timothy Westmeyer was a resourceful contact in this regard to have the account rest into a safe haven in the abbey.

With the creation of websites in this modern age of information technology, the first part of the history on the first decade (1849-1859) has been already downloaded. With a decreasing number of monks in the abbey and the increased amount of works to be done, the first part has remained a suspended portion, putting the enthusiastic readers in long suspense. There was even an invitation to any possible reader-volunteer who could help finish the project. 

The New Melleray Abbey community sincerely thanks Dennis and Trisha Day as founders of the AIC (Associates of Iowa Cistercians) group for their invaluable help on an excellent formatting of the first part of the history notes. He has gladly continued formatting the remaining parts now transcribed and on the website. We hope that in the near future, this work of Br. Kieran will also see a more formal publication for greater availability of our historical treasures to more people, the family and friends of the community members and to prospective members of New Melleray.

As we move onward in our life’s journey, the completion of this project becomes a part of our history. This time with a difference, namely, that of broadening our perspective of the past in the life of faith. We are grateful to the Lord of History and the forefathers of New Melleray for entrusting to us the next stage of the history-making process. 

Fr. Stephen Verbest, OCSO
January 26, 2006
Feast of the Founders of Citeaux

Some Notes About the Author

April 10, 1944

Brother Kieran Mullany, to whom we are indebted for this magnificent portrayal of the early events in New Melleray, died at the age of seventy-seven, June 16, 1894. His grave is in the new Cemetery no. 10 in Row “D.”

Brother Kieran (Patrick Mullany) was born in Co. Tipperary on Jan 15th, 1817. He became a novice at Mt. Melleray Abbey on Mar. 17th, 1842 and made his final vows on Mar 28th, 1843. He came to New Melleray Abbey on Nov 27, 1849. He died on June 16th, 1894, aged 77 yrs. He was one of a group of sixteen who left Ireland on Sept 19th, 1849. Composing this first contingent were Benedict McNevin, Fr. Patrick Mohan, Brothers Mary Bernard McMurphy and lay brothers Michael O’Shea, Francis Cuddihy, Peter Nolan, Stephen Murphy, Ignatius Mackey, Kieran Mullany, Mark Flynn, Philip Neri Quinn, Edmond Pagle, John Marnell, Victor Leonard, Patrick Seller and Athanasius McDonnell. The Prior Fr. Walsh accompanied them to Liverpool. Finally on Sept 18 they set sail along with 250 passengers. The vessel arrived in New Orleans on Nov 6th. They left next day on board the steamboat Constitution for St. Louis. Misfortune soon cast its shadow. Cholera struck the little band snuffing out six lives on the trip to St. Louis. On the morning of Nov 15th they landed there. A brief layover was required before another boat would be leaving for Dubuque. On Nov 18th the ten monks were again on their way. They arrived in Dubuque on Nov 27th, 1849. Brother Ambrose was awaiting there to greet the newcomers. The next day they set out for their new home. The trip to the Monastery took them to what were the wild open spaces. The country was very sparsely settled and the appearance of the snow capped hills on that chilly day brought home to them the realization that they were truly trail blazers. Their first winter at New Melleray was not an easy one. Two horses and a cow were the extent of their livestock. The Sisters of Charity at St. Joseph Convent baked bread, mended clothes and did many such things for the monks. The Convent was located at St. Joseph’s prairie a few miles from the monastery.


This account of Brother Kieran was sent me by Sr. Martha O’Dwyer of Mt. St. Clare Convent, Clinton, Iowa, in 1969. She states there was some relationship between Brother Kieran’s family and the Wallace family. Brother Kieran’s nephew, Fr. Mullany, called on her many times and was able to tell her, but it was lost then as she was over 80 years. Fr. Mullany was an S.J. They (Mullanys) intermarried with some of the Wallaces who emigrated, uncles of my last husband. So he had first cousins around Dubuque who were grand nieces and grand nephews of Brother Kieran.