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.
Adieu to 22
The ending of 2022 created a bit of a logjam of events for the community. The extremely cold weather kept many people wisely indoors. Only a small handful of six guests braved the elements to join us for midnight mass. We gathered in an open area of our infirmary (the sunroom) after the services to sip on eggnog and sample Christmas sweets and exchange greetings with one another. This is one of the nights of broken sleep that can make it more difficult to be alert and cheery on the following day. The morning mass at 10:30 was more fully attended by guests, neighbors, and friends and we were happy to share the celebration of the Christmas eucharist with them.
We were surprised by the death of Fr. Jonah (75) on the evening of December 27th. He had just returned from a retreat and celebrating Christmas liturgies with the sisters at Mississippi Abbey. Although not feeling well, he thought it was something a little rest would cure. We called the local paramedics from Epworth at 7:30 who responded very promptly and with the best of medical attention, but his heart had given out in spite of this care. To accommodate his relatives living in Des Moines, we postponed the funeral eucharist until 11:15 a.m. All of the sisters from Mississippi Abbey joined us, as well as another nearly 100 persons who overfilled the guest church. Several priests of the archdiocese concelebrated as well. He had had a very active ministry as confessor and spiritual counsellor in our guest house, as well as being the liason between the community and the Associates of the Iowa Contemplatives. Although a bit wet and muddy underfoot, the weather for the burial in our cemetery was beautiful and contributed to our reflective and affectionate commitment of Fr. Jonah to the earth.
Since the Guest House was still closed for the Christmas interim, we were unable to offer any hospitality to our guests. Since it was past dinnertime (12:30), guests were left to find sustenance on their own. We were able to invite the sisters to share a small dinner of pizza and salads with us before they returned to their Abbey.
In recent years, the Burke family had been hosting a Christmas party in our guest house dining room for both the monks and the nuns of Mississippi Abbey. This had been suspended in recent years because of COVID, but they generously offered to provide a dinner again this year. Originally scheduled for Friday, the Feast of the Holy Family, it was delayed a day because of Fr. Jonah’s funeral. It is a rare opportunity for everyone in our communities to meet each other and share in a festive gathering. We were able to say adieu to 2022 and welcome the New Year.