Voices From the Cloister – New Melleray’s Recent History

In preparation for the 170th Anniversary of the founding of New Melleray Abbey on July 16, the community is reading about our history as recorded in various sources.   Our present refectory book is a thesis written by Benedict Julian Hussmann of the University of Iowa in 1989.  The author sets out to study the major facets of the recent history of New Melleray as related to him by monks at that time.  Hussmann is particularly interested in the changes in the monastic culture which came about under the influence of evolution in both church and secular culture following Vatican II.  The very substantial growth in the population of the monastery from the late 40’s and through the 50’s was a blessing with long term effects as the community undertook a major building project to accommodate the newcomers.  Among on-going challenges which followed in the years of the “big influx”, was how to bring monks to agreement on how the vow of poverty should be lived individually and communally.  Concerning the departure of so many monks following Vatican II, Hussmann engages a complex reality.  Some monks left monastic life because they wanted to avail themselves of opportunities for personal development which the culture at that time greatly encouraged.  Others left because they regretted the mitigation of the rigorous ascetical practices of Trappist life prior to Vatican II.  This life represented to them the real possibility of giving one’s whole self to God.  Life in the monastery after the reforms were introduced seemed not to give expression to their own highest aspirations as they understood them.  This reviewing of the long and complex history of our abbey is thought-provoking.  It also awakens prayer to God in thanksgiving for the mystery of this place and for the witness provided the church and the world by so many men who lived here.