Tautra Mariakloster was founded from Our Lady of Mississippi Abbey in March 1999 with five sisters from Mississippi, one from Laval and one from Wrentham. Of the original seven foundresses, one has returned to Mississippi permanently and one is absent for studies. To supply personnel during the past year, we have received helpers in the form of sisters from Mississippi as well as from abbeys in France and Belgium, and also religious and lay women. Another sister from Mississippi has replaced the one who returned and we have a sister from Soleilmont for an indefinite time. By the end of 2002 we had a stable community of eight. Our median age is 54. We are grateful to Roscrea for our chaplain.
The foundation is on the island of Tautra in the Trondheim Fjord; it is the site of the ruins of a Cistercian monastery which was founded in 1207 and lasted until the Reformation. Catholics are only 1% of the mostly Lutheran population, but the community hope to develop their hospitality and retreat facilities once the construction of a permanent monastery is finished.
The one guestroom has already accommodated Queen Sonja of Norway. The beauty of our location is a constant source of joy for us and our reception by the people of Norway is an on-going blessing.
The physical setting of the two farm houses in which we currently live means we are less isolated from seculars than a ‘normal' monastery. Yet our situation on a small property near the Arctic Circle means that we are more isolated from the rest of the Order. In this e-mail age, we find that details are instantly communicated, but this is no substitute for the depth of personal presence. We would appreciate Cistercians coming to visit us, especially to give us good classes as part of our ongoing formation.
Within the last four years, three religious communities have made foundations in our diocese, bringing the total number of sisters up to sixteen. Part of our mission in Lutheran Norway is to be a Catholic, monastic presence and we welcome ecumenical encounters. We have a support group which helped us get here, and who continue to help us, and these good people are members of all faiths.
Our biggest challenge in the last three years has been forming community, when the sisters come from three different houses and we are trying to adapt to a new country as well.
In 2001, 30% of the community changed every three months. We have sung the Liturgy of the Hours in Norwegian since our beginning; we have language classes twice a week and hope to be able soon to use Norwegian as our everyday language among ourselves. We are also working at inculturation in the Norwegian monetary and metric systems and Norwegian food.
About 20,000 visitors a year come to see the ruins of the original Tautrakloster, the 552nd house of the Order, and many of them now also come to see us. Our exposure to tourists, their intrusion into our space, and our inability to find physical solitude sometimes leads to feeling confined. Some find it difficult to live monastically in this setting, and it is an ongoing challenge to practice the discipline of a spiritual life in buildings which were private homes. The smallness of our community, of our houses, of our chapel and of our refectory are a great challenge, but we have been forced by living elbow-to-elbow to work on our relationships and live gospel values, especially reconciliation and preferring the other.
In July 2001 we were able to complete an addition to one of our houses that gave us three more cells and an enlarged work area for soap production. While we are still dependent on Mississippi Abbey, our soap industry was able to pay for half our living expenses last year. From the beginning, we have made decisions by a process of dialogue and consensus.
Our 2002 Visitation was a great grace for our community, even though it was very difficult for some. During the Visitation we were able to demonstrate a deeper trust among ourselves during a dialogue, requested by Mother Rosemary, on communication between the sisters and the superior, and the role and duties of the superior, particularly regarding corrections and subsidiarity. We are left with an ongoing process of learning to communicate clearly and honestly, and of learning about each other, how each sister processes interpersonal exchanges and exterior challenges. We are in a hope-filled stage of our journey as a foundation. We look forward to the completion of our permanent monastery as the outward embodiment of the fragile yet courageous human community that we trust God is building for his glory, and we have a Norwegian applicant ready to enter as soon as we can open our noviciate