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Monastic Formators' Program 2024

The Monastic Formators’ group has spent several weeks at Sant’Anselmo and have proven themselves to be delightful guests. The story below was written by the two directors of the program, Fr. Brendan Thomas OSB, of Belmont Abbey, and Fr. Javier Aparicio OSB, of St. Ottilien Archabbey.

2024 dates : 11 March – 1 June

At the Benedictine Abbots’ Congress of 1996, there was an appeal to Sant’Anselmo to set up a practical program to support formation in monasteries: something to guide and encourage novice directors in the important work of receiving newcomers into the community. So it was that the Monastic Formators’ Program came to be in 2002, and, since then, hundreds of men and women have participated. It now takes place every two years.

In the past, the novice director was often thrown into their new job with little preparation other than their own monastic experience and distant memories of their own novitiate. Today we are more and more aware of the delicacy of this task. It is not merely learning the monastic customs: It means giving close attention to the human, spiritual and psychological growth of each person entering the community. The initial period of formation is an important preparation for a lifelong process of growth and learning.

Over the years, the course has been helped by the presence of some of the best monastic teachers. The 2024 program included teachers such as Fr. Michael Casey on the Monastic Tradition, Sr. Manuela Scheiba and Sr. Carmel Posa on the Rule of St. Benedict, Abbot Primate Gregory Polan on the Psalms and Lectio Divina, Br. Colmán O’Clabaigh on Monastic History, Br. John Mark Falkenhain on celibacy, and Fr. Luke Dysinger and Abbess Anna Brennan on human and spiritual formation. The program is directed by Fr. Brendan Thomas of Belmont Abbey and Fr. Javier Aparicio of St. Ottilien Archabbey.

The participants create a small community in which they share their own experience of living the monastic tradition. In 2024, there were 22 participants, men and women from all over the world, Benedictine and Cistercian, from Peru to Australia, the United States to India, and from Zambia and Nigeria to Britain. It is wonderful to see how the Rule of St. Benedict finds expression in so many different contexts and situations. It makes for a fascinating exchange and a challenge to get to the heart of what it means to live the Rule today. It also allows men and women to have an extended period of reflection together, something not always possible in the context of all-male or all-female communities.

One task of the novice director is to communicate their own love of the monastic tradition as a way of being a disciple of Christ, and to offer the possibility that the newcomer can find their own “path of life”, to use St. Benedict’s phrase, in their monastic community. An element of personal renewal is important for this program – we share best what we love – so there is an element of rekindling that love – of Christ and his Church, of Benedict and the monastic tradition. Many in the program have described it as a “second novitiate” as they rekindle the joy of what brought them to monastic life.

The program takes place in Rome at Sant’Anselmo and in Assisi. Each place adds something extra to the experience. Rome, and the international community of Sant’Anselmo, roots us in the experience of being a universal Church and seeing monasticism not as our own private possession but as a gift for the Church. Rome’s Christian history roots us in this wider tradition. But it is also the city from which St. Benedict went off to start his monastic adventure in the quiet valley of Subiaco and finally at Monte Cassino. To visit such places can be worth a week’s lectures. Assisi might seem a curious place for Benedictines to gather, but it is the perfect place for quiet spiritual reflection and to gather the threads at the end of our course. In fact, the whole of Umbria has been a center of monastic renewal over the centuries and associated not only with Francis, but Benedict too, who was born in Norcia.

A visiting abbot president, talking to the participants, said that the program had brought about a significant improvement to the standard of formation in their congregation’s monasteries over the years. If you, or members of your community are interested in participating in future years, then we would be delighted to hear from you.

Fr. Brendan Thomas OSB, Belmont Abbey

Fr. Javier Aparicio OSB, St. Ottilien Archabbey

Directors of the Monastic Formators’ Program

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