Frequently Asked Questions
I am interested in spiritual direction with one of the monks. Is this possible? If so, how do I make arrangements for an initial visit or inquiry?
ANSWER: Unfortunately, the Abbey has limited personal and time to offer spiritual direction. But you may call the Guesthouse Office at 563-588-2319, ext. 100 and inquire.
When do you hear confessions?
ANSWER: We offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation each Saturday afternoon at 2:00 pm. Enter the Guesthouse lobby and join others who have also come for confession.
Is there a Mass open to the public on Christmas Eve?
ANSWER: Our Christmas Midnight Mass is at midnight. The Mass and all of our Offices are open to the public. Please join us!
Are there hours when Eucharistic adoration is offered at the Abbey?
ANSWER: We have Eucharistic adoration each Sunday at 5:00 pm, followed by Vespers and Benediction at 5:30 pm. Please join us.
Do you have confessions open to the public and, if so, when are they offered?
ANSWER: We offer confessions for the public each Saturday beginning at 2:00 pm. On the second Saturday of the month, it begins at 3:00 pm.
Do you accept mass offerings at your Abbey?
ANSWER: We do accept offerings for masses to be said by our priests. The Dubuque Archdiocese has set these at $5.00 per mass. Please send your intentions to the attention of the Mass Secretary at the address below.
Do you have retreats for women at your Guesthouse?
ANSWER: We offer private retreats for both men and women throughout the year in our Guesthouse. There are also theme retreats available that may be of interest. You can find more information here.
Are visitors welcome to come to see the abbey and also visit the gift shop or is it just for those seeking to become part of the monastery?
ANSWER: Everyone is welcome at New Melleray Abbey. Our church and gift shop are open from 6:00 am until 8:00 pm daily. Our daily Mass is at 7:00 am and Sunday Mass is at 9:00 am. Please join us.
We have Eucharistic Adoration every Sunday at 5:00 PM, and once a month for Sunday afternoon. For the monks Eucharist Adoration by visits to the Blessed Sacrament in one of our three chapels is always available to them.
If you do not have Recreation. How do you get to know the other monks?
ANSWER: We get to know each other very well by working, praying, and having meals together. We can also sit down and talk, or go for long walks. When you live with someone twenty-four hours a day, you come to know them even without recreation.
How much time is available for Eucharistic adoration each day/week?
ANSWER: Several hours each day are available for each monk’s personal reading and prayer.
With Iowa winters being quite cold, I would assume going for a walk/hike is not possible? What do you do for exercise in the winter months?
ANSWER: We do not have common recreation. But we encourage everyone to spend some time in physical exercise every day. If it is too cold to go outside we have two exercise rooms with state-of-the-art equipment. Television is not available.
Are postulants assimilated into the community at a pace appropiate to their abilities upon entering?
ANSWER: Yes. Postulancy usually lasts six months to a year.
Do you use the Gelineau psalmody (and/or other methods of singing the psalms that use a meter) for all the psalms or just for those of Compline? I listened to your Compline recording on the trappists website. The reason I ask is I am interested in becoming a Trappist but I do not like the Gelineau method of singing the Psalms.
ANSWER: We use the Gelineau melodies some of the time. But at the Liturgy of the Hours all of the Psalms are chanted after the pattern of Gregorian chant.
Hello, I would like to know how much devotion Trappist Monks have to Virgin Mary, do you pray the Angelus or any other prayers to her? Can they pray the Rosary as part of their private prayer time? Another question, do Trappist monks have a medical insurance in case they get sick? Thank you
ANSWER: All of our Trappist and Trappistine communities are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We pray the Angelus together three times a day. Everyone is encouraged to pray the Rosary daily, and some pray all the mysteries of the Rosary every day. At New Melleray those who wish come together to pray the Rosary in one of our chapels at 6:30 every evening. We are self-insured in a union with our other communities to cover medical expenses, and those over 65 also have Medicare A & B.
Would a chronic medical condition be an impediment to becoming a monk?
ANSWER: A minor impediment like needing glasses would not be a problem, but a serious physical or mental impediment would be so.
Can you please tell me the charism of the Trappists monks? Also, their importance in the life of the church today and through the ages?
ANSWER: Our Order has its origin in the monastic tradition expressed in the Rule for Monasteries of Saint Benedict of Nursia. Our way of life is wholly ordered to contemplation, worshiping God in a hidden life of solitude and silence, in assiduous prayer and joyful penitence. The Cistercian way of life is cenobitic, lived in community, seeking God and following Christ under a rule and an abbot in a school of brotherly love. By bearing one another’s burdens we try to fulfill the law of Christ, participating in his sufferings in the hope of entering the kingdom of heaven.
Regarding the value of a life of prayer for the salvation of souls, Pope Pius the XI writes, “… they who assiduously fulfill the duty of prayer and penance contribute much more to the increase of the Church and the welfare of mankind than those who labor in tilling the Master’s field; for unless the former drew down from heaven a shower of divine graces to water the field that is being tilled, the evangelical laborers would reap from their toil a more scanty crop.” (Umbratilum #12)
If a monk or brother passes away how do you notify the family?
ANSWER: We notify his family as soon as possible by telephone. Unless his death is sudden and unexpected, we would already be in contact with his family, inviting them to come and be with him.
I heard something like, the people in religious orders talk about their own life as little as possible, and only after being asked. Is it true, at least among US Trappists and Trappistines? Is it also the case when you are an applicant, and talk to an Abbot/Abbess? I don’t want to look too talkative about my life but I also don’t want to look like I’m hiding something.
ANSWER: Before 1969 when most communication was done in sign language it was not easy to talk about one’s past. Monks and nuns did not even know another member’s last name or family history. With more verbal communication after 1969 that changed and it became easier to talk about one’s past. Some more and some less. A candidate is expected to be open and honest about his or her personal and family history.
Do all monasteries use a different form of the Liturgy of the Hours? If so do you have a recommendation for civilians? Perhaps the St. Joseph 4 volume set? Also, are there plans to revise the set? I would hope not if I were to invest in them, as they are somewhat expensive.
ANSWER: Not all the monasteries follow the same order of Psalms and readings for the Liturgy of the Hours. Some pray the entire Psalter every week, others every two weeks, and some use the four-volume set of the Roman Rite in which the Psalter is prayed every four weeks. The choice of readings also differs from abbey to abbey. The four-volume set of the Roman Rite is one of the few printed editions for any of the different rites used by monks in the United States. There is a one-volume, condensed edition of the Liturgy of the Hours available from Liturgical Press, Collegeville. It is far less expensive and includes most of what anyone needs to pray the Liturgy of the Hours well.
I’m 21 years old and about ready to finish an Associate of Arts degree, but I do not feel attending a 4-year college or just finding an ordinary job is right for me now, and wondering if I should pursue the monastic lifestyle. I’ve read several entries about becoming a monk, or an oblate in your community, but I just don’t know. I have been thinking about becoming a monk every day for about the last year and visited the guesthouse a couple of days in May. The way the life as set up in the monastery is balanced and even beautiful from my perspective. However I do not know if I want to become an official monk all of my life, so inside of me there is great conflict. I feel I could learn more then I ever could elsewhere by living and learning in the monastery, but I don’t know if I want to live my entire life there. Then again, I would love to achieve the sheer balance and peace that is in your lives. I really don’t know what to do.
ANSWER: Thank you for writing about your desires and anxieties. If God is calling you to the monastic way of life, (it could be for a limited time), that would be a wonderful grace for you and for others. May it be so.
Many aspirants come for a few months or a few years and then leave to seek God in other ways. That is okay. A final, permanent commitment is not made for at least six to ten years. One may leave before making a final commitment by solemn vows if God’s call draws one elsewhere.
There are three signs that may help you discern God’s will, the three A’s: attraction, aptitude, acceptance.
You already have the attraction. Do you have the aptitude, the ability to live the monastic way of life? There are certain minimum requirements: a baptized Catholic, single, free of debts, good health, free of other obligations, right motivation. These are easy to discern. For the other aptitudes, the best way to find out is by trying this way of life. The third sign is acceptance. If you apply and are accepted that is a very good indication that this is God’s will for you.
The process of discernment begins with a visit to the monastery for a few days or a couple weeks to see what this life is like. If all is favorable, the next step is a six week observership, living inside the cloister with the monks, just as they do. Then after the six weeks is completed, the aspirant returns home to reflect on the experience for a month. If he still wants to join, he writes to ask permission to come as a postulant, and if he is accepted that is the beginning of his membership in the community.
I always wonder if you ever play any sports for recreation or watch TV during critical world events or view EWTN. Do you go to funerals of your family members? I know all of these questions seem trite but I saw pictures of the junior professed monks mountain climbing at your house in Colorado? and I wondered.
ANSWER: In the past when most monasteries of our Order earned their living by farming that involved strenuous physical labor, they didn’t need additional physical exercise. That’s no longer true. Many monks and nuns need forms of recreation that refresh their minds and bodies, like hiking, jogging, bicycle riding, or working out in an exercise room on a treadmill, elliptical machine, or all purpose weight lifting unit. Other forms of exercise that involve companions are more rare: like playing volleyball or catch.
While many of our communities have a common room with a TV set, it is used infrequently. For example, Pope John Paul II’s funeral, and other important events. A few times a year New Melleray’s monks may watch an entertaining video on Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, etc. But daily TV, like EWTN, is not allowed except for an elderly infirm person who has a lot of time on his hands.
We do go home for the funerals of close relatives.
I have a question about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. How is the sacrament structured in the Abbey? Is there one confessor? Isn’t that stressful to be the one to whom all is confessed? Also, is it difficult to confess to a fellow brother and then live so closely with him? Second question: Chastity, in my experience, is not easy and takes a lot of practice. Is the community comfortable about this issue? I’ve spoken to vocational directors in the past about how monks live chastely, and the situation got TENSE. That felt unhealthy to me. Are there chastity resources and training? Thanks
ANSWER: All the priests at New Melleray have faculties to hear confessions. Confessing to priests within the community does not make it harder to live with them but easier. By exposing our weaknesses we no longer have anything to hide or cover up. We are known for what we really are, and that is very freeing, life-giving and joyful. You are right, chastity is not easy. St. John Vianney once said that anyone who has not had to struggle with being chaste doesn’t know what the spiritual life really is. There are classes and discussions during the period of formation, especially in the novitiate, about chastity. Being in the company of others who are striving to live chastely, who understand my battles, and encourage me, is one of the blessings of religious community life.
Is there a way to distinguish between a genuine attraction to the silence of a contemplative life and a simple dislike for noise and interruption? Obviously, there is more to a contemplative life than just silence, but that does seem to be a significant part of the Cistercian charism, and one which I personally appreciate quite a lot.
ANSWER: Henri Nouwen writes, “When we enter silence all outward noise is gone. No motors, no TV’s, no conversations. All is quiet. But that is when we start hearing the inner noise, the voices of jealousy, anger, resentment, lust, greed, feelings of rejection, loss, abuse. Their noise can become deafening. We may try to run from them, to find some entertainment to distract us. This is where the interior life begins. It is where we begin to confront our evil thoughts, to replace them with the softer gentler voices of goodness, peace, kindness, gentleness, joy, hope, forgiveness, love.” (Nouwen: Can You Drink the Cup? P. 95) So, what do you feed on when you enter into silence: evil thoughts or the Word of God? That is how you know when you are seeking silence for the sake of prayer.
I spent a wonderful four days recently on a personal retreat at the Abbey and so much appreciated your hospitality. I have heard of some monasteries and convents having oblates–people who live in the world but who are somehow connected with the monastery. Does New Melleray have anything like this? If so, what does the program consist of?
ANSWER: Yes, New Melleray has a program of associates who are connected with the monastery. Their formal name is Associates of Iowa Cistercians, i.e. of New Melleray Abbey and of Mississippi Abbey. We have information about the associates on our web site, www.newmelleray.org
How does one become an oblate in your community?
The process for becoming an oblate, one who lives as a monk inside the community but without making vows, is the same process and formation that is required to become a professed member. It begins with visits to the monastery for interviews, followed by a six-week observership within the monastery, and then postulancy and novitiate.
What are the drawbacks for a person entering a monastery in their early 20’s? Can one build character and humanity in a monastery, or is that something recommended to discover outside the monastery? On the other hand, what are the advantages for someone entering in at such an early age?
ANSWER: The monastery is a school of love, a place where we try to form the most important virtues of character and humanity: faith, hope and charity; temperance, prudence, justice and fortitude; humility, obedience, truthfulness, chastity, forgivness, honesty, patience, watchfulness, respect, silence, stability, conversion. These are the qualities needed to persevere as a Christian, as a spouse, as a friend. What better place to learn them than in a monastery?
It is a beautiful thing to give oneself to God from one’s youth. Final commitment comes later, after many years of formation and growth in Christian maturity.
What is the maximum age permitted to begin formation? Is this variable depending on evaluation of the candidate?
ANSWER: Our general norm is 55, but exceptions are made when there are compelling reasons. Here are a few reasons why a person over 55 might be accepted.
Someone who is already religious, who has professed the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and now desires to become a monk already is living three of our five vows. He would be acceptable.
A person who is in good health and always wanted to be a monk but was prevented by an obligation to care for parents or a family member, and is now free to pursue the monastic vocation would be acceptable.
Someone who is only a few years older than 55, and who is willing and able to take up the way of obedience to follow Christ who came not to do his own will but the will of his Father, and who wants a life wholly oriented to a prayer would also be acceptable.
The upper age limit of 55 is generally reliable. But many are under 45 who cannot be received as candidates because of health, debts, or other obligations. While it is more difficult to be formed in the monastic way of life at an older age because of past habits and the freedom to do as one desires, there have been exceptional candidates over 55 who adapted well to this life and persevered.
I’ve been considering the monastic life and have been in prayerful reflection of this vocation. My question is, I’ve seen many communities require no debt prior to entry, I assume this is monetary, how is this possible for someone with college loans?
ANSWER: Church law does not allow anyone to be admitted to the novitiate who has debts and cannot repay them. Some communities, like New Melleray, have benefactors who want to encourage vocations by helping candidates with their debts. During the time of formation the community pays the interest due on the debt until the new member makes final profession of vows. Then the debt is paid from the fund benefactors have provided for that purpose. If the candidate leaves before solemn vows, he takes the debt with him, but doesn’t have to repay the amount of interest by the Abbey. This protects the freedom of the candidate and the community from any sense of obligation arising from assistance with the debt. In some cases, there are associations willing to help candidates with their debts.
Some of the monks are Brothers and others Fathers. Are the titles due to educational backgrounds?
ANSWER: The title of “Father” is given to to a monk who is ordained to the priesthood. In chapter 63 of the Rule of St. Benedict, seniors are to call their juniors Brothers, and the juniors call their seniors Fathers, by which is conveyed the reverence due to a father. But in practice, only a monk who is a priest is called Father. In another sense, all of us are brothers, and some of us are fathers.
If one is currently not Catholic, and planning to become Catholic next year, how long after he becomes Catholic till he can be considered ready to join the community?
ANSWER: Generally, someone who is received into the Catholic Church will practice the Catholic faith for one to two years before being accepted into a monastic community.
Does it take time to become a Monk? How long? Do you expect to have more monks over time?
ANSWER: The formal period of formation in monastic life includes a six-month postulancy, two years as a novice, and three to nine years in temporary vows. So, from about six years to eleven years. Another way of looking at it is this: the monastery is a school of the Lord’s service. Members are always learning what it means to be a good monk. We really only graduate at the last moment of life, when we breathe our last and skip off to heaven!
We are receiving more vocations. Right now we have three novices, three postulants, and one observer.
How does one become a monk?
ANSWER: The first step is to contact the vocation director by letter, e-mail, or phone to begin a process of applying for entrance to the monastery. He will send materials about the monastic life to the candidate along with a vocation discernment questionnaire.
The next step is to visit the Abbey for a personal interview.
If there are signs of a vocation, the candidate will be offered a six-week observership, living in the cloister with the monks, to experience this way of life. At the end of six weeks, the candidate must leave for a month to reflect on the observership and decide whether or not he wants to return.
The next step is to ask for admittance. If accepted, the candidate may then come to the monastery to begin monastic life as a postulant. Postulancy lasts for at least six months.
The next step is the reception of the monastic habit which is the beginning of a two-year period as a novice.
At the end of two years, if accepted by the solemnly professed members of the community, the novice may make his first profession of temporary vows for three years to nine years.
The final step at the end of temporary vows is solemn profession, a life-long commitment to living monastic life.
Who assigns the monks to their jobs? For instance, if a former chef became a monk would he be put in the kitchen, or would he have to work his way up by doing other jobs first? In addition, what is the process for electing a new abbot?
ANSWER: During the initial years of formation monks are assigned to a variety of jobs, including cooking, as determined by the formation director. A monk will be able to make use of his abilities and skills in the community.
An abbot is elected for six years by the monks who are in solemn vows. Upon completion of six years, a monk may be reelected any number of times, until the required age for retirement, 75.
What would be the usual policy of a diocesan priest entering the order? Do your priests assist at any local parishes?
ANSWER: After a period of discernment with our vocation director, a diocesan priest would ask permission from his bishop to come to the Abbey. He would live in the monastery as a candidate or as a guest for several months. Then, after another period of discernment, he may ask to be accepted as a postulant and begin his formation in this way of life.
If thinking seriously of becoming a monk, what of the candidate who takes subscription medications? Are all medications allowed? How are they obtained within the monastic community?
How are they paid for?
ANSWER: Members of the community, including those in formation, receive whatever medications they require. These are paid for by the monastery. Candidates who are aspiring to enter this way of life need to begin with good health. Medications are a consideration in the process of discernment.
I’m wondering about exercise. Do you have any hiking trails on the property? Do you have exercise equipment, bicycles, x-country skis, etc.?
ANSWER: We have an excellent exercise room, or therapy room, conveniently accessible in the Abbey. There are four photographs of the exercise equipment on the Abbey News page for Jan. 23, 2007. Some of the monks use bicycles, but no one here is using cross-country skis. The Abbey farm and woods are spread over 3,000 acres, providing lots of trails for long walks, and hiking in several rugged areas and deep valleys.
I was wondering if someone that was an extrovert would fit in, in a monastery. Are all monks introverts and such? OR are there a variety of personalities? Would it be difficult to bear-the silence and limited interaction-for a person like the extrovert?
ANSWER: In chapter two of his Rule for Monks, St. Benedict writes, “Let [the abbot] understand what a difficult and arduous task he has undertaken: ruling souls and adapting himself to a variety of characters.” While introverts have a natural desire for silence and solitude in a life of prayer, extroverts have gifts that help them bear the responsibilities of abbot, novice director, procurator and other offices. Both types of personality have a place in contemplative monasteries. It is not necessary to be an extrovert to serve well in a position of leadership but it helps. It is not necessary to be an introvert to live in a monastery but it helps.
At one time in my life, I was a high school and college seminarian. Due to this, my education required certain philosophy classes and a college degree. I was wondering where monks who want to become priests receive their philosophical and theological training? Is this done online via the internet from your monastery or do you send your monks to a certain abbey that is close to a graduate school of theology?
ANSWER: Part of the philosophical and theological training is done in the monastery, and the rest is done at a graduate school of theology such as St. John’s Collegeville or other seminaries.
My question relates to reading, specifically what is your library like? Does it have fiction as well as traditional religious texts? Also, are monks allowed to visit a local library to read books that your library does not have?
ANSWER: Our library has about 28,000 books including a couple thousand works of the finest fiction, classical and current, about 75 periodicals and two daily newspapers, three Catholic weekly newspapers. We may go to the local public library for other books, or obtain them through inter-library loan. The community library is like the living room of the Abbey where monks read together in an atmosphere of silence and beauty.
What would be an acceptable reason that you might accept someone over 45? I would imagine the stability of a man’s vocation at that age would be a great gift to a community.
ANSWER: Here are a few compelling reasons why a person over 45 might be accepted. Someone who is already a religious, who has professed the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, and now desires to become a monk already is living three of our five vows. He would be acceptable. A person who is in good health and always wanted to be a monk but was prevented by an obligation to care for parents or a family member, and is now free to pursue the monastic vocation would be acceptable. Someone who is only a few years older than 45, and who is willing and able to take up the way of obedience to follow Christ who came not to do his own will but the will of his Father, and who wants a life wholly oriented to a prayer would also be acceptable.
The upper age limit of 45 is generally reliable. But many are under 45 who cannot be received as candidates because of health, debts, or other obligations. While it is more difficult to be formed in the monastic way of life at an older age because of past habits and the freedom to do as one desires, there have been exceptional candidates over 45 who adapted well to this life and persevered.
I love to read a variety of materials, not just pious or spiritual writing. As a monk would I be discouraged (or lack the time?) to read fiction and other non-religious books?
ANSWER: As a monk, you would have the time, and you would not be discouraged from reading fiction and other non-religious books. They provide many good insights into human nature, the universal struggle between good and evil, the primacy of conscience, the need for grace, and the history of our own and other cultures in which the search for God takes place.
Your question correctly implies that there are books of greater importance: the sacred scriptures, the sources of Christian Doctrine in the Councils and the Fathers of the Church, the Catholic Catechism, liturgy, theology and philosophy, Church history, lives of the saints, spirituality, the ways of prayer, monasticism, religious life, and the art of lectio divina.
During the first several years of formation as a monk these books of greater importance take precedence over other writing that may be more naturally appealing. Once good reading and study habits are formed, the monk’s interest in other writings will enhance rather than hinder his intimacy with Christ.
Do you have brothers, as well as priests, in your monastery? Also do you serve the community around you, or do you mostly keep to your monastery? One more question, what kind of an educational background must you have to be accepted into your loving order.
ANSWER: We do have brothers as well as priests. Or, to put it another way: we are all brothers, and some are ordained for ministry in the community.
Neighbors around the monastery frequently come to celebrate the Eucharist with us, and some attend the Liturgy of the Hours. Our ministry to the wider community is one of intercessory prayer and witness to a heavenly homeland. In order that our lives may be wholly orientated to prayer we do not share in the ministry of the archdiocese in parishes, hospitals or schools.
Candidates are expected to have completed high school but they are not required to have a college degree. After high school, an aspirant who hasn’t attended college is expected to have some work experience. All candidates need to be free of debts and other obligations.
How has the life of a Trappist monk changed since the book “The Sign of Jonas” was written (beyond general Vatican II changes in liturgy? Thanks for your attention to my question…and congratulations on a very impressive website.
ANSWER: Two major changes in our way of life that occured at the time of the General Chapter of Abbots in 1969 were 1) the introduction of private rooms for sleeping, reading, and praying, and 2) changes in our practice of silence. The use of private rooms increased the amount of solitude available for our life of prayer. The rule of silence, it was never a vow of silence, was changed to allow speaking in certain places and times, without using sign language. Another change came much later: extending Benedictine and Cistercian spirituality to associates. During the past thirty years our Order has made many foundations in Third World countries and some of our older communities have benefitied from help provided by these foundations. Many our our houses have engaged in building programs to replace aging structures. But the most important development is yet to come, namely a desire for the contemplative way of life among young adults.
After attending mass quite regularly at New Melleray, I notice “job” differences within the monastery. How are the decisions made pertaining to the brothers that will be in charge of singing etc.? How are brothers chosen to become priests within the order?
ANSWER: Some ministries in service of the community are rotated on a weekly basis, and others are permanent appointments. Lector, Reader in the Refectory, Leader for Liturgy of the Hours, Acolyte, etc, are appointed by the cantor each week. Cantor and Assistant Cantor, Novice Director, Prior and Sub-Prior, Accountant, Farm Manager, Trappist Caskets Manager, Guest Master, etc, are offices appointed by the Abbot for as long as he wills. The abilities of the person and the needs of the community determine the abbot’s choices for these various responsibilities. The call to priestly ministry within the community comes from the abbot. A monk may manifest a willingness for the service of priesthood, but it is the abbot’s decision in consultation with the individual, the council, and the community. Studies in preparation for ordination are done both within the monastery and at an accredited seminary.
Do the monks at New Melleray spend any time in solitude in their own cells, or rooms?
ANSWER: Yes. Our monastic cells are rooms where we may pray, read, study, and sleep in solitude. We have about five and a half hours a day to spend in personal prayer and reading which may be done alone in one’s cell, or in the Church, or in the library, or outside when weather permits. Part of this time may also be used for physical exercise.
At a doctor’s request could a monk be granted more sleep time due to a disability? Would the same decision apply to a monk who has been in the Abbey a long time versus someone who is thinking about entering the abbey?
ANSWER: A monk might need more sleep because of aging, sickness, or a disability than he needed when he joined the community. The abbot may give him permission without requiring a doctor’s request. But candidates are expected to be healthy enough to follow the regular schedule of this way of life.
At 47, I have considered a vocation to the monastic life for some time now. However, I still need to work, and take care of my debt situation. How does one become an “associate”?
ANSWER: There are two kinds of associates. First, the Associates of Iowa Cistercians who meet at New Melleray on the second Saturday of each month. Second, the Monastic Center Associates who come to the Abbey at irregular intervals on their own for a few days at a time, to share in our celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours with us in the choir, and to share in our manual labor. There is more information about both types of associates on our web site, under the heading for Become a Monk.
What is your affiliation, if any, to the Monastery at Gethsemani, KY?
ANSWER: New Melleray and Gethsemani belong to the same religious institute, Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. Gethsemani was founded in Kentucky in 1848 by Melleray Abbey, France. Melleray Abbey also founded Mount Melleray Abbey in Ireland in 1832. Mount Melleray founded New Melleray in Iowa in 1849. So, both Gethsemani and New Melleray trace their roots back to Melleray in France.
How do you support your older community members? Do they receive medications and help from outside sources, or do the other monks alone care for them?
ANSWER: Our infirm and older members are cared for within the monastery by two monks. We have assistance from a full-time employee as a caregiver in our newly renovated infirmary. And a registered nurse comes daily for six hours to provide professional care. The new infirmary is beautiful. We plan to post a photographic tour for all our friends and supporters to see on this website soon. It is a blessing to have the prayers and sacrifices of the infirm in our midst, and we are fortunate to have facilities to provide them with the care they need. Our infirmary has fourteen rooms.
Being that you are vegetarian are you allowed to eat real butter and drink milk? Also do you eat chicken and fish?
ANSWER: Although our diet is vegetarian, we do have real butter available, along with milk and fish. We do not have chicken at our community meals. We are vegetarian not by conviction but by vocation. Meat is allowed when we have meals while we are away from the monastery, or when we are eating with our guests in the Guest House dining room. In our way of life-giving up meat is a form of penance and simplicity of life, and a sharing in the poverty of so many in the world who do not have meat available in their diet. But we are not against eating meat. We are free to do so when circumstances prevent us from eating with the community in the monastery dining room.
What impact has New Melleray had on the Peosta and Dubuque communities?
ANSWER: New Melleray has always had a deep and favorable impact on the whole region and on just about every level–economic, spiritual, human, social. The opposite has also at time been true. New Melleray also has been impacted and shaped and enormously enriched by its surrounding neighbors and communities.
Is there a “monastic” personality type?
ANSWER: No. Not any more than there is a “Christian” personality type. There are certain human factors that are required (physical, psychological, emotional, moral and mental). A sound mind in a sound body, is required of every candidate whether they be naturally introspective or out-going.
What is the significance of the psalms? Why is there so much emphasis on them instead of other prayers and devotions like the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross?
ANSWER: The psalms are part of the Bible. They are the inspired Word of God. All the other books of the Bible are God’s words to us, but the psalms are God’s words addressed to God, teaching us how to pray. The psalter is unique in religious literature. It is the prayer book of Judaism and Christianity, and has been used down the centuries by people of different races, cultures and languages. Ancient Greece and Egypt had hymns of great beauty and power, but their faiths have passed away. Hinduism has a large core of religious poetry but it never became the religion of so many nationalities and races. Buddhism and Islam have a claim to universal adherence, but neither has produced such outstanding religious poetry. The book of psalms is unique in its universality and permanence.
The psalms are God’s own love songs, a resume of the Bible, the Bible in the form of prayer. They are beautiful, ardent and passionate. The are the Divine Word ravishing the heart of the Father, inspired hymns sung by the Holy Spirit. They repeat in lyrical form much of the teachings of the prophets and wisdom literature. The story of God’s saving acts is relived in the hearts of the psalmists.
Early Christians were converts from Judaism. They already knew, loved and prayed the psalms. It was necessary to write new historical literature about God’s saving acts in Christ, and new wisdom literature in the form of letters, and new apocalyptic literature about the fulfillment of salvation history in Christ, but they did not need to write a new book of prayer because the psalms were Christ’s own prayers. They are the prayer book used by Our Lady which she loved and taught to her Son, and prayed with Him and Joseph. Christ gave us one new prayer, the Our Father. Mary added another, the Magnificat. And the Church has added a third, the Hail Mary. The Rosary is a beautiful prayer which reached its full development during the Middle Ages. It does not replace the pslams, but joins them in a more recent development of the prayer life of Christianity. Only the psalms have been the prayers of St. Peter and St. John, St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Augustine, St. Benedict and St. Bernard, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux.
If you open your bible to the middle you come upon the books of psalms. They are at the heart of the Bible. Like a physical heart, the life giving blood of all other parts of the Bible flow back into the psalms where it is revitalized and pulses back to the whole body of Scripture. The psalms are the longest book of the Bible. Of the roughly 350 quotations of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament about 115 are from the psalms. Altogether there are about 450 allusions to the psalms in the New Testament.
The psalms are a love story between the creature and the Creator. They adore Him and praise Him. They express compunction for sin and petition for forgiveness and mercy. They grieve over the evils in this world and intercede for the good of others. They express confusion in the face of suffering and courage in bearing it. They anticipate the mystery of Christ’s suffering and rejoice in the certainty of His victory.
St. Benedict, who wrote the Rule for Monks which we profess to follow, urges monks to memorize the psalms so that they will be written in one’s heart and spring up like an ever-flowing fountain in continual prayer. Prisoners of war have memorized psalms during their captivity and been sustained by them in bearing the horrors of prison camps. The Russian Jewish dissident, Nathan Sharansky, who was imprisoned for nine years because of his work to promote emigration to Israel, clung to one possession through his ordeal: a small copy of the psalms. He risked his life several times by long fasts to defend his right to keep his book of psalms, and he succeeded. All of us will experience suffering, and walk some distance with Christ along the way of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross are a valuable way to pray that many monks include along with the psalms in their daily walking with God.
Why are you sometimes called Trappists?
ANSWER: The first monastery of Cistercians was started in 1098 in a place in France called Citeaux and it is from this that the name Cistercian is derived. Later on, a young nobleman named Armand de Rance restored monastic life in the Cistercian monastery of La Trappe in France, and those monks became known as the Trappists. The form of life known as Trappist represents an overly severe interpretation of Cistercian life with a heavy accent on penance, mortification and austerity. Most of the Trappist forms have been replaced since Vatican II by a more genuine interpretation of traditional Cistercian life. The name Cistercian is now universally preferred to the name Trappist (although Trappist still identifies Cistercians) as distinct from other Orders of monks.
Can monks read whatever they want or does it have to be approved? Who approves it?
ANSWER: Monks may read whatever they want after completing their years of formation. During the novitiate and period of temporary vows, however, their reading is approved by the Novice Director of the Junior Director.
What contact do you have with the “outside world”?
ANSWER: This is one of the changes of Vatican II. We do not have the same strict enclosure rules as we did before Vatican II. Now we have daily newspapers and news magazines (U.S. News and World Report). We have video movies three or four times a year. The reason for the changes was to give some exposure to the issues of the day as a means of keeping the monks informed in order to pray in a more meaningful way for the needs of the world.
What if a monk has a change of heart after vows and wants to leave? Is there a process for that?
ANSWER: Yes. There is a centuries-old wisdom and compassion in the Church that knows how to do what is best for the individual and for the whole community so that in all things there is the deepest respect for the human person. Most, if not all, of the monks who have been dispensed from their vows in order to return to life outside of the monastery, are still in good, happy, and loving relationships with New Melleray.
Are you strict vegetarians or do you ever get to eat meat?
ANSWER: Our usual diet is strictly vegetarian. In the monk’s dining room no meat is served. We have separate dining rooms for guests where meat is served. We may eat meat there during visits by our family. Also a monk’s doctor may recommend that meat be included in his diet.