top of page

126

Report

Monastic life today

125

Report

“All of Life as Liturgy”

124

Report

The Cistercian General Chapters
(OCSO and OCist, September and October 2022)

123

Report

Monastic Life and Synodality

122

Report

Dwelling in the ‘common House’

Monastic life today

AIM Bulletin No. 126, 2024

Summary

Editorial

 Dom J.-P. Longeat, OSB,

 President of AIM


 Lectio divina

 “Go, sell what you have…” (Mt 19, 21ff)

Dom J.-P. Longeat, OSB


 Perspectives

 • Monastic life today, answers to the AIM questionnaire

 • Summary of the responses to the questionnaire

 AIM International Team


 News

 Travel to Canada and the United States

 Dom J.-P. Longeat, OSB


 Reflection

A short essay on the vision visual

 Dom Jeremy Driscoll, OSB


 Witness

 Living a multicultural monastic community

 Dom Paul Mark Schwan, OCSO


 Art and liturgy

 The saga of Santa Maria de Ovila’s Chapter House

 Dom Thomas X. Davis, OCSO


 Great figures of monastic life

 Sister Judith Ann Heble, second moderator of the CIB

 Mother Mayor Hickey, OSB


 In memory

 Mother Lazare de Seilhac (1928-2023)

 Benedictine Sisters of Saint-Thierry


 Reviews

 Dom J.-P. Longeat, OSB, President of the AIM

Sommaire

Editorial

Following the publication of “A Mirror of Monastic Life Today” and “The Monastic Dream”, the AIM International Team decided to launch a major consultation with a number of monastic leaders to find out the most pressing present-day concerns, their priorities, the help they would like from AIM and some significant examples of recent achievements.

Some of those consulted were surprised by AIM’s questionnaire. The Alliance for International Monasticism is often perceived simply as a source of funding for projects referred to it by young communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania and Eastern Europe. But it should be remembered that the Alliance for International Monasticism, according to its statutes approved by the Congress of Benedictine Abbots in 2004, also has the mission of reflecting on the meaning of monastic life and highlighting its uniqueness in different cultures (art. 6). AIM is always anxious to promote awareness of the value of monasticism within in the communities themselves, in the Church and in society (art. 7).

In this sense, it has sometimes been said that AIM is like an observatory of the development of monastic life in the world, and can help to identify the questions and the main issues it is facing. It should also be emphasised that AIM is, along with DIM-MID (Monastic Interreligious Dialogue), the only place where the three Orders that follow the Rule of Saint Benedict, both for communities of men and women, work together. AIM also works closely with monastic associations throughout the world: this gives it a valuable understanding of what is happening in these regions and highlights the different ways of approaching the realities of monastic life today.

For all these reasons, AIM is increasingly entrusted with a prophetic mission which, far from competing with the role proper to each Order and Congregation, seeks, in a complementary way, to help them to respond better to Christ’s call in the monastic life.

In addition to the answers to the questionnaire, this newsletter includes an account of a visit to monasteries on the West Coast of the United States, a testimony on the shared vision of governance and the challenge of interculturality in a monastic community. There is an article about the artwork connected with the church at the Abbey of Vina (New Clairvaux, California), and an article about the personality and mission of Sister Judith-Ann Hebble, second Moderator of the International Communion of Benedictine Women. The Bulletin also includes a few words about Sister Lazare de Seilhac, a Benedictine nun of Saint-Thierry (France, Congregation of Sainte-Bathilde), who contributed so faithfully to the life of AIM and, above all, to forming several generations of monks and nuns in their understanding of the Rule of Saint Benedict. A more detailed article on this fine figure of monastic life today will follow. This volume closes with a review of the two books by Father Denis Huerre (La Pierre-Qui-Vire), which contain the commentaries on the Rule of Saint Benedict that he gave to his own community.

The Bulletin opens with a guided lectio on the text of the rich man in the Gospels, text which was the source of the vocation of Saint Anthony, father of monks.


Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB

President of AIM

Items

“Go, sell what you have,…” (Mt 19:21ss)

1

Lectio divina

Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB

President of AIM


“Go, sell what you have,

And give the money to the poor;

then come, follow me”

(Mt 19:21 ff)

 


The dialogue between Jesus and the young man in the Gospel, in Matthew 19:16-26, never fails to move us, so closely does it resonate with our deepest aspirations. We recognise ourselves in this faithful member of the Jewish religion, and are deeply moved by Jesus’ answers, which give us a key to understanding how to lead a life of discipleship as monks and nuns. Let us be captivated by this text, let us be led by the Spirit to hear this powerful word that can help us in our spiritual progress.

The young man’s question is about what we have to do to inherit eternal life: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?” (Mt 19:16).

To begin with, Jesus’ answer cites several of the commandments that form the basis of the believer’s religious duties. But after, at his interlocutor’s insistence, his answer is very different. Let’s take a moment to examine these two answers from Jesus and, by considering the young man’s position, see where we stand ourselves.

The first answer: Jesus quotes some of the commandments which summarise the religious duties of the believer. He simply recalls the last commandments of the Decalogue, not in the order in which they are given in the Bible (in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5). He omits the last one from the list of the Decalogue and adds a prescription from Leviticus (19:18) by way of summary: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. All these commandments concern moral behaviour: “You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness”. Like the rich young man, many of us could reply to Jesus: “All of these I have kept”. Our approach to religion is somewhat coloured by such admirable moral principles. Many are content with this, and their lives are highly praiseworthy.

But others have the impression that there must be something more to human life, and that our future is not linked solely to good moral behaviour, however virtuous that may be.

So the young man insists: “What more do I need to do?” It is at this point that the term “young man” appears in our text. By asking this crucial question, the man is truly presenting himself as someone who wants something new. The expression “young man” literally means “new” man, like a new-born baby. He allows the deep desire within him to come to the surface. Jesus, through his words and behaviour, encourages this process in others; for him, nothing in life is more important than this: the deepest aspects of our being are invited to come to light and to be constantly renewed by the action of the Holy Spirit.

This is how Jesus answers. He reveals what he is really thinking: he talks about fulfilment and not simply about obligations to be fulfilled. This is the point of the story: “Go and sell everything you have in your hands (literally) and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me”.

In saying this, Jesus agrees with the first part of the Decalogue, which we constantly forget: “You shall have no other gods, you shall make no idols for yourself, you shall not take the name of God in vain, observe the Sabbath day”. The point here is not to get caught up with earthly possessions. An idol is something we hold in our hands and keep for ourselves, stopping life flowing freely between created beings and the God of all freedom. Consequently, “Go and sell your idols and give the proceeds to the poor to show that you are saying goodbye to all this and freeing yourself to receive heavenly treasures.”

This is where all of us find it difficult to respond to God’s personal call. If we don’t leave behind, if we don’t renounce all our idols, all that we hold so tightly in our hands –idols that can become the driving force of our life, things that may even dictate our actions and our thoughts - then we miss the essential encounter to which God invites us. Our life settles on a course where sadness often has the last word, since all that our idols promise us is never realised.

When the young man heard what Jesus said, he “went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.” The young man saw his possessions as mere possessions; Jesus saw things quite differently, he was talking about something else altogether: a very deep reality that permeates our consciousness and that we consider to be our goal in this world, to the point of sacrificing everything for it.

Of course, I hear you protest. It is just not possible! Especially as Jesus insists: “How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”. And yet: “For men it is impossible, but for God all things are possible”. Jesus’ comparison is not intended to be taken literally, but simply to awaken people’s consciences. Rather than remaining at the level of human behaviour based on idolatrous ideas and possessions, we need to renounce all self-absorption and all that we believe we possess, in order truly to live the freedom, joy and beauty of the commandment of love: that is the only treasure of Heaven. Yes, for human beings this is impossible, but for God everything is possible.

If we examine this young man’s story, we see that at the beginning of the passage he is referred to simply as “someone”: “And behold, someone came to Jesus”. This someone presents himself as being self-sufficient; in the expression “someone”, there is the word “one”. He wants to know what he can do to gain eternal life. Jesus points him to the One alone who is God, the One alone who is good. “Only One is good.” So it is through our relationship with God that our lives find fulfilment, and not through undertaking acts of perfection that merely serve to meet our religious obligations. When the man allows his deepest desires to surface, he is called “young man”. He is on the threshold of rebirth. This rebirth from on high, which is so close at hand, is particularly touching in this young man. When he finally left, he was greatly saddened. On the contrary, joy characterises those who decide that they really want to walk with Jesus.

All that remains is for us to make this text our own today.

We too, long for life. We seek for what is missing, because mere religious observance does not energise us sufficiently. Jesus invites us to detach ourselves from everything we cling to. Jesus said: “No servant can serve two masters; either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will cling to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Lk 16:13). He also shows the importance of renouncing ourselves, or more precisely, the illusion we have of ourselves, since often our attachment to external things prevents us from being truly ourselves. Renouncing ourselves touches our whole lives, to the point that we can be born from above. It is not possible to experience this without letting go of our idols.

Let us think carefully, then, about the idols that prevent us from having a free relationship with God, so that we can truly bear witness to the Paschal joy that lifts us out of the ruts we get ourselves into.

Yes, selling everything in order to have treasure in heaven and to be able to share it lovingly with God’s poor brings us great joy. What is the point of holding back, if this is exactly where God promises us the total fulfilment of our lives? This is the witness we are called to bear to God’s salvation. If God has created us, it is so that we can taste his own life at the very heart of the earthly journey to which we are committed: let us waste no more time. The Kingdom of God is here, let us enter into the joy that God gives us and let us be ministers of that joy so that the greatest number of people can find fulfilment. This is our vocation, and it is an immense joy to respond to it.


Answers to the AIM questionnaire

2

Perspectives

International Team of AIM


 Monastic Life Today,

Replies to the AIM questionnaire

 

Here are the replies to the AIM questionnaire on Monastic Life Today, followed by a short summary.

 

  • Mother Marie-Thérèse Dupagne, President of the Congrégation of the Resurrection

 

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

One of our principal concerns is to contribute to a better understanding of living together in Europe by taking care of each other, supporting each other, shaping certain aspects of our lives together and learning from one another. We want to understand how history has shaped each of our communities in their respective countries, what particularly inspires them, what they are committed to. In this way, our own horizons will be broadend towards a greater unity.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

Our priority is to live the monastic ideal in today’s world and so bear witness of our hope to all people.

We want to do this

- As women of today

- In the Church of today, with a synodal approach

- In our communities as they are now: small communities

- In the world of today: a new and rapidly changing reality (from political and societal points of view; growing insecurity with the war in Europe, and so on), facing the migrant crisis and the climate crisis

- With the call for solidarity.

How can AIM give you practical help?

Maybe support for certain projects would be possible, also for formation (for example: we know that there is a good formation course on leadership in Rome, but it’s more managerial formation.) From our own point of view, we need support for superiors of our communities: we live in another context from that of Africa, Asia etc. The superiors have to deal with small communities, most of the time with many elderly sisters. They also need to look for new ways of generating income. Some indicate the need for meetings about monastic formation, for theological studies but also to equip people with the professional competences necessary to organize or support this formation. Some mention the need for formation in communication skills, and for skills in building community and relationships in a context that is different from the past.

AIM could also organise a forum for sharing the ways we welcome migrants into our guesthouses.

In this world where migrants are not welcome, the new meaning of the A of AIM (Alliance and not Aid, although of course aid remains one of the in the goals of AIM) is very pertinent. Perhaps one role of AIM might be to create bridges between communities from the North and the South…. Would it be good idea to organise opportunities for dialogue between communities? We are already beginning to experience how beneficial it is when one or other sister of our communities spends a few months or even one or two years sharing the life of another community in the Congregation. Would it be a good idea to open such community exchanges beyond Europe? For example, we see a large number of Philippinos working in our countries. Would it be helpful that they find Philippino sisters in our communities?

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

The experience of getting to know one another has brought us together. Similarly, the experience of writing our Constitutions together has been very fruitful in the building up of our Congregation; we kept them as broad as possible in order to respect the specificity of each community. We really believe that creativity comes from our diversity, and that to try to arrive at uniformity would have been life-destroying.

 

  • Mother Maoro Sye, Prioress General of the Missionary

    Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing

Jinja, Uganda.

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

- The shift of centres of vitality of our Congregation from Europe / North America to Asia and Africa: support is needed to fill the gap in the movement from international missionaries to local leadership. Good formation for formators, bursars and leader

- Aging communities in Europe, America, this is also beginning in Asia; very young communities in Africa

- Lack of key resource persons.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

- Intercultural living in the different and diverse contexts in the Congregation, living as Benedictines and missionaries, renewal of our charism, sense of one Congregation

- Encouraging inter-priory sharing, sharing of resource persons among our own priories and the experience of another country even for the young professed.

- International meetings and encounters (Prioresses’ meeting, International Weeks of Encounter, International Bursars’ Meeting, International Formators’ Meeting, International Juniors’ Program, Mission Renewal Program in the country where we sent out first missionaries)

- Workshops during visitations

- Supporting fragile communities in the different Generalate regions

- Frequent visits of the members of the Generalate and online accompaniment

- Make efforts to send long and short-term missionaries

- Share spiritual materials (Ex. Monthly Statio conference).

How can AIM give you practical help?

- Continue publishing material for formation and community living

- Continue the funding of regional meetings (BEAO, CIMBRA, RB Seminar in Tagaytay, Philippines)

- Sponsoring studies of individual sisters in order to develop them as resource persons in the future

- Sponsoring international meetings and ongoing formation.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

· Ongoing international Juniors’ Program in Rome (Juniors from the different priories are invited to participate in a one-year program of living, working, praying and studying together for intercultural formation)

· Prioresses’ Meeting, Formators’ meeting, workshops which took place during Canonical visitations, all in a synodal manner: spiritual conversation united us in our diversity as we experienced the movement of the Holy Spirit.

 

  • Sister Asha Thayyil, President of the Congregation

    of St. Lioba (Bhopal, India)


What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

We, the Benedictine sisters of St. Lioba, understand ourselves as a congregation of consecrated women, rooted in the divine Christ and committed to the well-being of humanity, especially the poor, downtrodden and the marginalized of society.

The major concerns of our congregation are to make the best use of our capacities and to equip ourselves to meet the various challenges of our mission. The future of our congregation depends on Synodality which includes first of all our members, our collaborators and then reaches out to all in society. We should be prepared to read and understand the signs of the times and with courage make the necessary changes in our personal, communitarian and apostolic life. In the true spirit of Synodality let us put aside our prejudices, preferences or personal interests, if any, and walk together seeking unity in diversity. Following the example of St. Benedict let us “listen” to the voice of God and plan not just for a short period but make a long-term plan so that there is longevity in terms of continuity and effectiveness in what we plan and do.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

- Practise daily contemplation intrinsic to the call to consecrated life and focus on the various apostolates.

- Improve knowledge and skills through reading books and exposure to people and places.

- Give maximum attention to developing the human resources among the members through various formation programmes within the congregation and outside.

- Make the educational institutions centres of social change by training the young people to be visionary leaders with an ethical approach and sensitivity to society.

- Equip those who are in health ministries and social apostolates with up-to-date training. Train more members for these ministries.

- Take the initiative to build collaboration with other groups involved in the various ministries with mutual respect and partnership.

- Make the best use of our human resources in accordance with the aptitude and qualifications of each individual. Equip sisters with the best education possible and develop knowledge, skills and a positive attitude in them.

- Since we have invested maximum resources in the ministry of education, our maximum focus will be on quality education and the building the character of our students. Our priority will be to the service of building the nation rather than to economic gain.

- All policies we formulate will be aimed at the best interest of every member of the congregation and of the apostolate as well.

- In the initial stage we will be focusing on acquiring firsthand knowledge about the life and mission of our communities, learning about the interpersonal relationships among the members and preparing a support system to create better links between the members.

- For the effective running of the institution, institutional heads should have ample time to establish genuine relationships with the local people. Continuity of members in the community is a determining factor in strengthening the institution. A minimum of transfers of sisters will be the policy. However, a system of regular evaluation, transparency and participation of all members will be made mandatory. Educational, social and medical institutions should be trendsetters in every aspect.

- It is important not to accept the offers of travel and accommodation made by publishers who wish to give publicity to our establishments. Whenever we have to attend meetings or seminars in distant places, we meet the expenses of the respective institutions ourselves and uphold our dignity and honour.

- Our religious houses and institutions have to be centres of dialogue and sharing. Therefore they must be open places where people have access to the sisters for guidance and support. Our infrastructures must be at the service of humanity.

- It is imperative to study the canonical and civil status of every one of our institutions. Example: Registration of societies in different states, trusts, contracts with the diocese and other religious congregations, property disputes etc.

- Chapter is a policy making body and the Council is the executive body. Therefore the Councillors will be empowered with more executive capacity. They will make an action plan in a prescribed format for one year and as per the plan, a budget will be approved for each apostolate assigned to them.

- There will be a team headed by a respective councillor for each ministry, to ensure its smooth running and the effectiveness of the apostolate.

- I propose a yearly evaluation of the ministries of all our institutions. I also propose a free and frank evaluation by the members of the congregation of the working of the Prioress and her team, to assess their performance. Constructive criticism is necessary for our growth.

- The evaluation must be taken in the right spirit and based on the Vision, Goals and Policies. There should be no place for negative criticism and gossip. This process would allow the sisters to analyse the situation and muster courage and confidence to contribute their mite through suggestions, opinions and challenges.

- Expansion of mission will not be the current priority. Our focus would be for strengthening the existing ones.

- We should not be carried away with the illusion of starting missions overseas in order to be self-sufficient. If human resources are utilized properly in our own institutions, their salaries would support us sufficiently. It will improve the quality of service and positive image of our institutions.

- Our elderly sisters are great assets to the congregation. We will make use of their expertise and experience to enrich the younger generation of the congregation. They will learn from one another and the young will grow through exposure to the original spirit of the congregation.

- Conflicts and differences are inevitable in community life and apostolate. These will be resolved among the community members instead of asking the leadership team to solve them. It would be a healthy practice to form a team who have the innate and acquired skills required for resolving such situations and sort out the grievances when such situation occurs at any time.

How can AIM give you practical help?

We have three urgent needs to be met. Here with I am prioritizing.

- Scholarships for two nuns to take part in ongoing formation in Rome.

- Donations in the form of Mass stipends.

- A house for the sisters who live in a remote area.

Please do whatever you can. Your response will mean more than you can imagine for our monastic families in India.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

Gratitude and recognition are at the core of every strong relationship. It is the same for relations with AIM. We are ever grateful to you for the Mass stipends and the timely help whenever we have approached you. May God bless all your good endeavours.

 

  • Mother Cecile A. Lañas, President of the Benedictine Sisters

    of Eucharistic King (BSEK)

New novice Sisters in Indonesia.

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

- Formation of young sisters and on-going formation of perpetually professed Sisters

- Care of the sick and elderly sisters

- Vocations’ promotion through social media

- Repairs of buildings.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

All of the above are our priorities.

For FORMATION, we tried our best to avail of the free webinars and other free online seminars and conferences. Some of our young sisters were sent for studies online but we also applied for scholarship programs. Some were granted, some not.

For the care of the of the sick, we use the small amount of funding which comes from pensions of the Social Security System but this is very meagre; our sisters assigned abroad also give a subsidy but sad to say, one of our missions (Jakobsberg) has closed.

For vocations’ promotion, just like any other Congregation, we are also hard up. We have tried to make use of social media but we are not able to sustain this.

For building repairs, we ask for help from outside sources because we really cannot count on our own resources. Some of our sisters who are still able are sent on mission in the parishes, schools and dioceses but they receive very low financial compensation. We always rely on the God’s providence.

How can AIM give you practical help?

AIM can help us financially especially in our formation and also vocations’ promotion. Our buildings need repairs. For our sick and elderly sisters, we renovated part of the novitiate building for the infirmary.

We are also grateful for the books sent to us from AIM and other support we received.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

When the CoVid 19 pandemic was at its height, we tried to gather as a community by means of the social media. We used the Zoom platform in order to see, evaluate, share our monastic life and mission in the different houses and areas of assignment. We have big communities here in the Philippines. We have communities in Israel, Germany and also a formation house in Nangahure, Indonesia. Each community shared their life’s experiences, blessings and challenges through video presentations. Through this gathering, although it was online, each one felt the need for renewal and fraternity. We also felt the need to campaign for more vocations. It was a very enriching yet unique experience.

 

  • Sister Jeanne Weber, President of the Congregation

    of St. Gertrude (USA)


Council of the Congregation.

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

That our membership is becoming much older and smaller. We are attracting very few vocations, and these are typically older women.

The leadership pool for both the Monasteries and the Monastic Congregation is shrinking quickly.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

- Encouraging the membership toward continual growth in the monastic way of life in the face of the challenges mentioned above. By supporting prioresses in the pastoral leadership of their monastic communities.

- Helping the sisters to process and integrate the grief that they are experiencing from so many losses. In some cases, we have encouraged the communities to work with mental health therapists for this work.

- We have made the decision that it is too hard on the sisters for their monasteries to be dissolved and the members to transfer when they no longer have leadership. This would involve splitting up the community in many cases, and a move of hundreds to thousands of miles for the sisters. Also we don’t have enough monasteries with young members to take all of these sisters. So we are restructuring the civil and canonical governance of these monastic communities and developing structures for the care of the members until the last sister dies. This enables them to continue to live together in, or at least near, their traditional monastery home.

- Dealing with the leadership crisis. As monasteries no longer have their own leadership we will no longer be able to appoint full time residential administrators. Instead a sister will do this on a part time basis, from her own monastery, or one sister will be assigned several monasteries. We are encouraging monasteries to plan for this future by making decisions that will simplify the leadership burden. At the level of the Monastic Congregation--we need to address this issue.

How can AIM give you practical help?

I’m not sure.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

One of our monastic communities recently petitioned the President and Council of the Monastic Congregation to suspend its regular monastic governance and to appoint a commissary. These sisters lost their prioress to sudden death in 2020 and had no one else who could be elected. Before and since that time, they have courageously faced the situation they were in. They have worked with a canonical administrator appointed by the Monastic Congregation to sell their remaining property, close their ministries, and make provisions for their long-term care. They continue to live the monastic life in one section of their monastery, while the local diocese, who purchased their buildings and land, uses the rest of for their diocesan offices and retreat center. I admire these sisters tremendously for the way in which they have embraced the challenges and changes facing them.

 

  • Sister Patty Fawkner, Emeritus President of the Congregation

    of Good Samaritan (Australia)

 

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

Our congregation, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict, was the first congregation founded in Australia in 1857 by the first bishop of Australia, the English Benedictine John Bede Polding. We now have communities in Australia, Japan, the Philippines and Kiribati. Our younger sisters come from the Philippines and especially Kiribati. Our Australian sisters are increasing in age and decreasing in number. The leadership of our congregation into the future is a huge issue for us.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

How to remain mission-focused as our human resources shrink. This is a focus of this year’s chapter. We are currently looking at the Signs of the Times in our World and how we, given our resources, can realistically respond.

Leadership and Governance issues. Again, we are engaging in discussions as part of our pre-Chapter discussions. We have employed qualified and dedicated lay staff to share most of the responsibility for practical administration. We have always been committed to ongoing formation.

How can AIM give you practical help?

It is always helpful to network especially when we share many of the same issues, e.g. how to remain mission-focussed given the limitations of our human and financial experiences.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

We have a long tradition of education from pre-school to tertiary. We also have a long tradition of spiritual direction and accompaniment. We have always had as a priority the flourishing of women.

As our sisters age, the greater majority can no longer be engaged as class-room teachers. We have developed the Good Samaritan Study and Mentoring (SAM) Program by which we give a financial contribution to mature lay women who wish to study theology or religious education. There is also a spiritual direction and mentoring component to the program. Our SAM program is now in its third year and has proven to be most successful. We have approached male religious congregations to offer a financial contribution to this program and they have been very generous.

 

  • Dom Jeremias Schroeder, President of St. Ottilien Congregation



What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

- 4 Fragile communities

- Weak leadership in several monasteries

- An atmosphere of frustration and tiredness in some European houses

- self-centredness of some communities.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

- maintaining unity and cohesion: developing new ways of communication and exchange, making the congregation a palpable reality in all communities

- strengthening a sense of Mission: encouraging the appointment of local mission officers. Privileging projects that are an expression of Mission.

How can AIM give you practical help?

AIM can help us by reminding our congregation that we are part of a larger and wider network: the confederation and the Benedictine/Cistercian monastic family.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

I have enjoyed my recent interactions with the two Abbot Generals, and with the Moderator of the CIB. I see a real opportunity for global collaboration.

 

  • Dom Johannes Perkmann, President of the Austrian Congregation

 

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

- Collaboration in formation

- Improvement of the College St. Benedict

- Projects to implement Laudato Si’

- Preparation for the jubilee of the congregation.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

- To transmit our values and spiritual habits to the next generation

- Publications, seminars, hospitality.

How can AIM give you practical help?

International exchange and meetings.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

Process of implementation of Laudato Si’.

 

  • Dom Franziskus Berzdorf, President of Beuronese Congregation

 

Beuron Abbey.

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

The biggest concern is the lack of young people in our monasteries. This applies to both the male and female monasteries (we are a mixed congregation). The novices of all monasteries take part in the formation weeks organised by the Association of Benedictine Sisters of Germany. The sister who is responsible for this is from one of our monasteries. The experience is positive.

Most of the communities are currently considering how part of their buildings, which they no longer need, can be put to good use otherwise. The main question is the same question as that of a young Christian person in the world: How do I find a partner with whom I can live well and who shares my worldview as much as possible?

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

The priorities of the individual monasteries often lie in coping with the little aspects of the daily routine; they lack the energy for larger undertakings. The organs of the Congregation help the monasteries that wish to do so or where it seems sensible or necessary to the Abbot President and his Council.

For example: The monasteries have to provide certain figures to the economic council of the Congregation every year. Based on the way the situation is developing, the council can draw attention to economic dangers relatively quickly.

How can AIM give you practical help?

The monasteries of the Beuronese Congregation are not rich by European standards, but they (mostly) have a balanced budget. Some convents receive aid from the respective diocese. In the case of extraordinary expenditure, such as the renovation of listed buildings, they receive state subsidies.

There are sufficient opportunities for the education of the next generation, for the further education of the monks and nuns as well. I therefore see no need for AIM to help at present.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

The cooperation between the men’s and women’s convents of the Congregation has become even more intensive in recent years: Participation of nuns in the Council of the Abbot President and in commissions, sisters as the secondary visitators in men’s communities, etc. There are now only a few obstacles to complete equality. All the remaining obstacles are expressly desired by Rome despite several attempts on our part to remove them.

 

  • Dom Alessandro Barban, Emeritus General Prior of Camaldoli Congregation

 


Camaldoli Abby (Italy).

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

With regards to the most important concerns which our Camaldolese Congregation questions, our attention turns to the future of Christianity and how the monastic presence can remain a fruitful leaven in the Church and in the world. We fear that monasticism will lose the flavor of its salt, lose the light of its charisma, no longer be significant in the present and in the future. And our future in the coming decades will revolve around three questions: the quality of our fraternal and human relationships within our monastic communities: the quality of our lectio divina and community liturgy; the quality of our hospitality in our guesthouses. We are trying to give quality to our monasticism, but this impetus demands an intense, profound and meaningful spiritual life. It no longer suffices to observe the Rule but to rediscover the Benedictine meaning that it gives to Christian life, lived out it in concrete spiritual experience within our communities. Maybe we will have to close some houses, or perhaps we will have fewer vocations, but these are not our real problems. The question lies in the evangelical reality of our life.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

A new approach to formation is required. Today’s young people do not understand and no longer accept our relational and mental hierarchies. And they do not understand our theological-spiritual language that belongs to the last two centuries. Monastic formation must be renewed; in the church it is necessary to provide a new curriculum of studies for theology. In the monastery, before worrying about transmitting content as if they were notions to be learned conceptually, it is a priority to share the way of life we have chosen. Therefore, it is necessary to concretely present the monastic lifestyle starting from the first days when a young man enters the postulancy and novitiate. Today our communities face the anthropological question of the young people of our time.

Another issue concerns the economy, and consequently the importance of work in our communities. We will certainly not be able to guarantee and have the current bourgeois standard.

How can AIM give you practical help?

AIM will have to help finance innovative monastic formation projects, both in Europe and in other continents, especially the poorest ones. Poverty today is not only material, but above all cultural. The monks and nuns must receive adequate human and theological formation, otherwise we will no longer understand the future path of the world. We will lose our links with today’s increasingly scientific and technical culture. In my opinion, AIM has to concentrate its aid especially on formation. Our communities are also beginning to find it difficult to send their young people to theological schools in their own country. Costs then increase considerably when study is abroad.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

I can’t say. The significant experiences are different. As far as we are concerned, they all focus on the studies to be proposed after the novitiate. For example, our young Tanzanians want not only to study theology, but also to study agriculture, how to cultivate plants and trees. In Tanzania we have begun to plant a forest with thousands of trees to protect against desertification, preserving the sources of water. In India in our Ashram in Shantivanam, the prayer typical of the ashram is accompanied by new work activities that need new technology.

I want to thank AIM for everything it is doing in support of the monastic communities most in need of help (not only economic). Your fraternity and sensitivity in listening and discernment of the aid necessary are a great gift.

 

  • Dom Benito Rodríguez Vergara, President of the ConoSur Congregation

 

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

In our Congregation, I would highlight the following aspects, which seem to me to be the most significant today because they affect all our communities:

- The tension between the received tradition (identity) and renewal.

- The decrease in vocations.

- The increasing age of community members and their care needs.

- Concern for the ageing parents of monks and nuns, who need their children to help them.

- The exercise of authority by the abbot.

- Ongoing formation.

- The correct use of social networks in the monastery. The appropriate and balanced use of the information that arrives through these media.

- The dialogue between monastic culture and the culture of the world that enters the monastery by various means. Correctly determining the “boundaries” of our enclosure, including the virtual domain - the internet.

- Climate change has been strongly felt in some regions of the countries where we are situated, seriously affecting the economic life of some of our communities due to lack of rainfall and excessive temperature rises.

- A complex ecclesial, political and social context.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

In our Benedictine life, we run the risk of paying a lot of attention to the material order of things, ensuring that the members in formation “function” well in this domain. I think that, without neglecting this aspect, we need to give priority to ensuring that the community and its members are founded on the Rock that is Christ, by being faithful to taking the Gospel as our guide. This can never be taken for granted; we must constantly make it a lived priority. We try to do this, although still very imperfectly, with the weekly spiritual conferences given by the different members of the community, with a monthly community retreat day, through the readings in the refectory, by ensuring a certain level of conversation during recreation [...] In a nutshell, through living the distinctive values of our Benedictine life as aunderlined by the Rule of Saint Benedict.

In the values that prevail in our society today, we perceive an absence of God and, consequently, a certain decadence of morals. Our priority is also to evangelise the world that comes to the monastery through our guests and people who are linked to us in various ways. I think that the beauty of our Benedictine life is the main element that we can bring to this new evangelisation needed by today’s world. The beauty of a life that simply tries to take the Gospel as its guide in our relationships with one another, lived within a framework of both the austerity and the balance taught by the Rule of Saint Benedict, which is greatly appreciated and valued by those who come to us.

Those who wish to enter monastic life bring with them their own life baggage which requires of us the capacity to accept and accompany them in a way which we are sometimes not capable of offering. We need to help the newcomer to make a journey in self-knowledge, healing and reconciliation. Introducing the newcomer to the path of belonging to a family, when this dimension in their own life is broken or damaged, is a great challenge for the formator, because sometimes the formator has not yet resolved this issue for themselves. At the end of the day, this is a question needing humility and faith, especially on the part of the formator, even when valuable therapeutic help from professionals is available. Helping to discern the authenticity of the person’s search for God, above and beyond their precarious human situation, is a major requirement today, both for the formator and for the person in formation.

Exercising leadership in the spirit of RB is also a major challenge in our communities. It is important to clarify the abbot’s role in a monastic community, his mission, and what the Lord has entrusted to him. When the abbot is too dominant, although he is able to maintain strong cohesion in the community, which can be valuable, the members might not develop individually; the creative and joyful exercise of their own gifts diminishes, which is detrimental not only to the individual but also to the community as a whole. When the abbot is too self-effacing, totally delegating responsibilities, each monk develops individually, but we experience a certain atomisation, disintegration; the monastery functions well materially, but communion suffers. The priority is for the abbot to be a servant of the communion of the brothers, allowing each one to use their own gifts, but putting them at the service of the whole.

In some of our very small communities, made up of three monks, the question arises of how to exercise leadership when none of them is really capable of doing so. Perhaps the answer is that in these cases, a form of more consensual synodal leadership is more appropriate.

How can AIM give you practical help?

AIM can help us become more aware of how monastic life is lived in the rest of the world, that is, beyond the geographical framework of our Congregation in the Southern Cone, (southern South America) with its difficulties and also with its values. I believe that AIM can above all help us to be more in solidarity with the needs of other communities in other parts of the world who are perhaps living in even more difficult circumstances than our own.

I also believe that AIM can help financially in the area of formation, through the various SURCO initiatives (meetings, courses, retreats), in the publication of the magazine Cuadernos Monásticos, and in the organisation of and participation in the EMLA meeting.



What recent significant experience can you share with us?

I think the most significant recent experience we had as a Congregation was the last General Chapter held in May 2023. We sensed a very strong spirit of communion among the participants. We realised that today, the decreasing size of our communities makes us appreciate all the more being members of a body that makes us all feel part of something bigger, something that transcends us and supports us too. In our Congregation, communion is built in the complementarity of our diverse communities, and we also perceive it in the rich and fraternal relationship that exists between the monks and the nuns. I consider this to be the most significant thing we have experienced recently.

The solidarity shown by our smaller and more fragile communities towards the material and spiritual needs of the neighbourhoods in which they live is touching, and several examples could be mentioned here.

The creativity, effectiveness and efforts of communities to manage their own economic life in very complex national contexts are also worth mentioning.

 

  • Dom Markus Eller, President of the Bavarian Congregation

 

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

The greatest concern of our Congregation is the lack of young people. We are also concerned about the effects of the Coronavirus crisis. The guest house and its services have suffered. One of the consequences of this crisis is a shortage of staff, so that these and other sectors are often unable to operate at full capacity.

A relatively acute problem is the sharp rise in energy costs. This is hitting us very hard with our large buildings, which are also expensive to maintain because of our obligation to conserve historic monuments.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

Looking for opportunities to meet young people and allow them to live with us in a simple way for a period of time. Perhaps looking for ways of addressing ecological problems might also offer an opportunity to reach out to young people: ecological agriculture, new sources of energy, local products.

The Rule of Saint Benedict certainly offers a number of approaches to a simple, alternative lifestyle.

How can AIM give you practical help?

AIM could perhaps establish contacts between regions where there are similar problems or challenges. Solutions will probably only be found locally at a regional level.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

Seeing problems as challenges that also offer opportunities, looking for something new, having the strength to let go and say goodbye to certain practices.

 

  • Dom Giuseppe Casetta, Abbot General of the Vallombrosian Congregation

 

What are the main concerns of your congregation at this present moment?

- To overcome the vocations’ crisis in our congregation.

- To resolve the financial instability of the monasteries.

- To develop monastic fraternity.

What all things do you consider to be your priorities ? How are you dealing with them?

My primary concern and priority is to develop monastic communion among my monasteries and monks, so that the monks can help other communities who are short of monastic vocations and who are economically unstable. My frequent visits and exhortations help the monks be of one mind and heart.

How can AIM give you practical help?

If AIM could sustain an economic aid to our communities who are financially unstable, that could help us a lot.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

The great fraternal help that we have exchanged when certain brothers have been seriously ill.

 

  • Dom Guillermo Arboleda Tamayo, President of the Congregation of Subiaco-Monte Cassino

Subiaco Abbey.

What are the main concerns of your congregation at this present moment?

The need to adapt our legislation to the current situation and the reality of our communities. The current legislation responds to a time of expansion, now we are living in a time of diminution.

The “leadership crisis”: it is difficult to find superiors for our communities.

The formation of “young” communities, by which I mean above all the communities in Vietnam, which have many members.

What all things do you consider to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

The priorities are the same as those listed above. We are now in the process of reviewing the legislation in order to present the proposal for its reform to the next General Chapter.

- Dealing with the leadership crisis: whatever happens, there is always someone to take responsibility for the communities. This requires visits, a humble trust, both in those called by the communities to lead them, and in the communities themselves to support them.

- Formation: We offer certain members of our communities the opportunity to deepen their formation, particularly in French monasteries or at Sant’Anselmo, so that they can then contribute to formation in their own communities. We encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities for theological formation that already exist in the countries where they live. But we also insist on the better organisation of the monastic day, so that lectio divina and study take priority.

How can AIM give you practical help?

Continue to support regional formation programmes. Planning something specific for Vietnam would be a great help.

Also continue to support some monks with scholarships.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

Perhaps the most recent: during the visit to Vietnam in October, in addition to facing a specific difficulty due to the resignation of the Visitor, we were able to hold an “assembly” of all the superiors of the monasteries, including the dependent houses, with delegates from the communities. It was a particularly fruitful day, with good results, thanks to the appointment, after common discernment, of a Visitor, and above all thanks to the participants realising they need to accept responsibility for their own province with greater commitment, without expecting us to solve things from the outside. It has been possible to establish a shared work programme within the province, and this is already a good start.

 

  • Dom Geoffroy Kemlin, Presidentof the Solesmes Congregation

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

The main concern of our Congregation is to be faithful to our monastic vocation in a multifaceted and rapidly transforming world. We try to live out our monastic values in a way that gives a real witness to our faith and to our monastic call, but at the same time we want to make ourselves heard in our current culture. In Western cultures for instance, monastic life is barely known and if so, it seems like life on another planet for many young people, even when they are Catholic. Having monasteries in Africa and West Indies, it should be easier for our Congregation to broaden its horizons beyond the Western world and to avoid a too western focussed understanding of everything. One of our other concerns is the dwindling number of monastics in many of our communities.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

My priorities revolve around the unity of the communities, living in a more synodal way, and the unity of our congregation in which many different expressions can be found. We try to put into practice the fact that differences are not a threat but enrich each member of the community and the congregation. I also think that superiors should be more adequately trained for a service which is not an easy one. Some very interesting programmes are now offered.

How can AIM give you practical help?

AIM helps us to keep in mind that the Western civilisation is not the only one, and that there are places in the world where monastic life is thriving and responds to the spiritual yearning of many people. AIM is also a place where the exchange of gifts is very present. Monasteries in the emerging world have so much to give as places full of life, monastic ways of life which are acculturated... AIM is also set up as a possible channel for material help to our communities in the emerging world. It can build networks. It could help also by doing an economic evaluation, and by supporting a practical project in such or such community: to build a pigsty or a hen house. Perhaps also to provide scholarships especially for the formation of future formators, or to set up formation programmes locally. But this is already done, and I wish that it will continue.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

Being a new abbot, I have not been to Africa myself. During a recent stay in Séguéya, in Guinea, a monk of our community reported to us how cheerful monastic life is there, even in a state of real poverty in both the country and the community. This is the latest foundation of our congregation. The country where they live lacks infrastructure, such as ways of communication (roads), medical assistance… but the small community maintains a high standard of liturgical life, using the liturgy established at Keur Moussa, and there is a deep spirit of fraternity. Formation is not easy, and the economy is very fragile due especially to the lack of infrastructures; they need support from monasteries of our congregation to complete the construction of the permanent monastery.

 

  •  Dom Christopher Jamison, President of English Benedictine Congregation (EBC)

What are the main concerns of your Congregation at this present moment?

Like so many Congregations within the Benedictine Confederations one of the primary concerns of the EBC at present is the fall in the number of vocations and the aging of many of our communities. These two factors bring a fragility to many communities of monks and nuns which raises questions of sustainability. We add to this the present economic challenges and the need to creatively look for sources of income. A further concern, though it has a positive dimension, is the nature of our apostolate in male monasteries in the future and how we can best respond to the needs of the wider Church. A clear positive concern is how best to integrate the newly aggregated female monasteries which have given a sense of new life to the monasteries of nuns in particular. This brings its own challenge as they need to work together to create new Constitutions that express their common vision of monastic life. The EBC is therefore in an exciting moment of transition as it renews its common sense of mission and finds new ways of being a vibrant tool for evangelisation.

What do you see to be your priorities? How are you dealing with them?

As mentioned in the previous question the priority for the EBC is to:

- Strengthen and where necessary consolidate our monastic presence in the eight countries in which we are present. Creating genuine communities of faith and fraternity.

- To regain a renewed sense of mission and common vision of monastic life that empowers us to be a tool for evangelisation.

- To grow in our understanding of “Communion” both within individual monasteries and as a Congregation that is made up of male and female as well as different cultures and languages. This internationality and diversity are a gift that we need to explore and nurture.

- Courageously look at where we need to possibly close monasteries and amalgamate together so that we might grow stronger and be more effective in attracting vocations.

- Take a refreshing look at the way visitations are conducted so that they become a moment of significance for each community.

Our recent General Chapter was a moment of grace and growth towards greater participation within the Congregation. Six commissions were set up to look at key areas of renewal and to continue and facilitate the discussion:

- A possible period of shared formation

- The way we elect the Abbot President and how his extended Council can reflect the internationality and diversity within the Congregation.

- To take seriously the continuing formation of our monks and nuns, especially in human formation.

- To revise the Constitutions of the Nuns to reflect the history and traditions of the newly aggregated communities.

- To look at the issue of internationality and how we can respect and use the different cultures that make up the EBC.

- A re-examination of how to make visitations a lifegiving and renewing experience.

How can AIM give you practical support?

The Bulletin provides a rich resource of articles which reveal how the charism of monasticism is lived in many different parts of the world. AIM can be a real bridge between the monasteries in the developing world that are exploring new and creative ways of living the Rule and the established monasteries of Europe and North America etc. This is an important dialogue of listening and learning from one another. AIM has an important mission to bring these different voices and experiences together. It could perhaps consider inter-continental gathering of monastics to share common concerns and growth in communion.

What recent significant experience can you share with us?

Perhaps a significant experience was the fruitful way that the Covid pandemic led to a strengthening in bonds within the EBC. The periods of prolonged ‘lockdown’ led to an appreciation of community life together and a reaching out through ‘Webinars’ that fuelled a real sense of engagement intellectually and fraternally. Covid also meant that our General Chapter was postponed, and this gave us a wonderful opportunity to enter a process of preparation that involved each community, as well as the Capitulars. General Chapter itself was a moment of real Synodality, a fraternal listening that has spilled over into the creation of six Commissions to take the discussion further. The experience of this General Chapter has already spurred us on to begin a process of dreaming about the future and facing the challenge to make our dreams a reality. Immobility is not an option so our concerns become the impetus to move forward.

Summary elements of the responses to the questionnaire

3

Perspectives

International Team of AIM


Summary of the Answers to the Questionnaire



Here are some key points from the responses to the AIM questionnaire:


The main concerns

The meaning of monastic life in today’s world and how we transmit the values of monastic life to the new generations.

Leadership and formation: the problem of finding suitable people for these services in our communities.

The lack of vocations, the slowdown in making foundations and the increasing number of monasteries being closed as matters of real concern.

The need to root our monastic life in the Word of God, monastic tradition and the sharing of human and spiritual experience.

The ways of overcoming the dichotomy and divisions between members of communities and between individuals concerning our life and the common good.

The need to reflect on the differences in monastic life as lived in the Northern and Southern hemisphere and relationship between them.

The practical ways of applying the encyclical Laudato Si’ and the synodal approach of Pope Francis in our monastic communities.

The questions and problems arising from family ties and relationships, particularly in regard to the needs of the aged and the sick in the context of local cultures.


Priorities with which AIM can help

The exercise of authority in communities by reflecting our different approaches and seeking to develop a deeper understanding of our service of authority.

Promoting formation at all levels: training of superiors and formators (the work of regional and national associations should be emphasised), professional training and income earning work, training in communication skills. Help with international ongoing formation meetings. Bursaries for specific studies with a view to the training of resource people within communities. The development of concrete means of working online in the area of spiritual and intellectual formation.

Providing practical support for fragile communities.

Research into the question of how to support elderly brothers and sisters within communities.

Providing help in fostering relations between younger and older members of communities for their mutual benefit.

Researching and studying the use of monastic buildings in relationship to the life and size of the communities: AIM might provide a forum for discussion.

Helping to develop cooperation and closer working with lay people as well as in sharing responsibility with them.

The ongoing service provided by the Bulletin and AIM other publications.

AIM can help in promoting networking between communities 
locally and worldwide. AIM can provide a bridge between the Northern and the Southern hemisphere as well as the East and West by encouraging and facilitating exchanges between communities and the hosting of migrants in our guesthouses.

Helping communities in their efforts to become economically self-sufficient.

Helping communities in the process of moving towards closure to work reflectively on their experience and in studying possibilities in the future for them.

Encouraging and facilitating exchanges of monks or nuns between communities on a temporary basis or more permanently.

The promotion of relationships on an equal footing between men and women in our Orders and Congregations.


Some important recent experiences

The establishment of new congregations of monastic women with the challenges and opportunities that have arisen.

International meetings of young professed sisters and monks which have taken place in Rome.

The application of the synodal approach in meetings of superiors and communities.

Closer working together of the two Cistercian Abbots General with the Abbot Primate and the Moderator of the CIB.


In conclusion

None of this is not really new, but the fact that the leaders of our communities point to the importance of the role of AIM in facing all these challenges clearly shows the need for AIM to develop its service and provide effective help.

AIM will continue in its work of providing financial help for all kinds of projects, in particular those linked with formation and training in monasteries, Congregations, in the various regions. It will also play its part in providing guidance as we seek to move forward in the best possible way. Thus it may help us in responding more and more effectively to the call of Christ who is in search of workers for his Kingdom. Whoever we are, if we respond to him, he will lead us to share in the joy of faith and love as we look towards His new world.

Travel to Canada and the USA

4

News

Journey to Canada and the United States

October 2023

 

Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat, OSB,

President of AIM

 

 

 

Father Mark Butlin and I visited a number of monasteries on the West Coast of the United States in October 2023, like we had already done in the Mid-West around the Chicago area in 2015.

 

Thursday 5 - Friday 6 October

We left Roissy in middle of the day on the 5th October, and after a transit stopover in Amsterdam, we arrived in Vancouver after a ten-hour flight. We were met at the airport by Father Joseph, a monk from Westminster Abbey, some sixty kilometres away. He is an alumnus of the English-speaking course for monastic formators (MFP). So he knows Father Mark well and they had a cordial reunion.

Father Mark is an old hand at AIM, having served the organisation for almost forty years. He’s 91 now, but looks 20 years younger, and he’s still up for any mission around the world. He even prepared this trip; he made contact with all the communities, drew up the programme and arranged travel between Vancouver and Los Angeles. I really admire his ability to live life to the full.

We discovered the beautiful scenery of this region between the sea and the mountains, not far from the US border. The monastery is nestled at the foot of the mountain. We arrived at night. Dinner awaited us.

Lauds is celebrated in the church at 5 a.m. The building dates from the middle of the last century. The community is made up of around thirty monks, many of them young, and several aspirants or postulants who have not yet donned the monastic habit. The services are held entirely in English, in a very peaceful and prayerful atmosphere.

Mass is celebrated at 6.30 a.m. It takes place in the presence of the students, who take an active part (the monastery has a small college of thirty-two students). The celebration is both dignified and very simple. The music is in English except for the Gregorian entrance and communion chants. The presiding priest gives a homily. There were about twenty of the faithful in addition to the students.

In the morning, we met the group of monks in formation. There are about ten of them (postulants and novices). We talked with them long and wide about the monastic experience and explained what AIM is all about. In particular, we answered their questions, which were very pertinent. We talked about the outward expressions of monastic life, agreeing that the important thing is not the outward form, but to communicate that Gospel values give sense and meaning to the community’s lifestyle. We need to avoid making absolutes of monastic practices, and considering them alone to be valid.

This also implies that the Word of God is at the centre of the community’s life. Generally speaking, monks and nuns who manage to share this Word in a meaningful way, whether in the liturgy, through what has struck them personally in their lectio, or during sessions of shared lectio, give meaning to the Word. This gives creative energy and dynamism, regardless of the age or number of the members of the community! In this way, the Word of God is not merely listened to personally in one’s cell, but permeates the community’s daily life, refreshes and renews our taste for life, opening the doors to salvation and a way out from the impasse of death. This Word can then touch our visitors, the community’s guests, and be shared with them in a living and fruitful way. The Word has a world-wide dimension that can touch every heart, including those who do not necessarily share the Christian faith.

After this excellent meeting, we celebrated Midday Office and then shared dinner. The monastery has a vegetable garden, and the produce we ate came straight from the garden!

In the afternoon, the Guestmaster took us on a tour of the monastery. The monastery was founded in 1939 and has continued to grow ever since. It is now very extensive. The church, which was inaugurated in the mid-1950s, is very large and has highly original concrete architecture. The monks commissioned several major artists to decorate the church, which features impressive statuary built into the walls. There is also a powerful organ and recent furniture (including stalls) created by a former monk of the community who now runs a small carpentry business.

At 4.15 p.m., we met the community at length for a Power-point presentation of AIM. It is striking to see how little is known about this organisation among the members of our communities. We are more interested in acquiring our own autonomy than in the far-reaching construction of a communion of communities as encouraged by the Second Vatican Council. There was no shortage of questions after our presentation.


Saturday 7th October

The morning was a little less busy. I went for a walk in the surrounding area. The monastery is situated on a high hill; from here you can see a wide river below and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. All this is in perfect harmony, and no noise or disturbance reaches the heights of the monastery.

We then drove to the farm. Two brothers are in charge. There are around fifty cows; two calves remain in the cowshed, one of which was soon to be killed to fill the plates of monks and guests, while the other will be kept as a breeding male. The herd is intended to provide meat, and is made up of Charolais cows, some of which were exported from France as adults and only obey orders given in French! There are also some 150 hens that provide eggs for the community’s consumption. Animal husbandry helps to contribute to the balance of the community’s life and work.

In the afternoon, some of the monks wanted to continue our meeting from the previous day. We had talked about the importance of a relationship with the Word of God as the foundation of our lives. Many of them asked for a time of communal lectio on the next day’s Gospel. Twelve brothers came together for what was a new style of Lectio for them. The gospel was not an easy one: the one about the landowner’s servants who are mistreated by the tenants of the vineyard. After three slow readings of the text, we let what emerged from our hearts rise to the surface. I was amazed at the sharing that took place. We really got to the heart of the text and related it to our monastic vocation. We experienced that we were being given God’s very own life that we were able to receive together. How can Christian communities not understand that this is the basis of their nourishment and the means of their conversion?

We then gave an echo of the latest work of the AIM International Team, based on the questionnaire sent to the Presidents of our Orders and Congregations of the Benedictine Family. Based on the responses, we have identified a number of orientations that we offered to the group. The reactions were really excellent. A few other brothers joined us; they are all young people, thirsting for meaning and life. This promises well for the years to come.

After visiting the different areas of the monastery in the morning, Father Mark told me that he was very touched by the collaboration between the young in formation and the senior brothers. There are not very many seniors, but they fully participate in the ongoing development of the community. One really feels that community life is shared by all.

Entries have been rising since around 2004. Why is this? It’s difficult to say. Nothing has been done in this regard; there has been no publicity, no vocations’ ministry or anything of that kind. The school that the monks run inspires some students to want to join the community; some students come from far away, even from Latin America.

After Vespers, followed by a meal and Vigils, we said goodbye to the community because the following morning we would be leaving after breakfast to join the Sunday Eucharist at Saint Martin’s Abbey in Lacey, almost 400 km away. Brother Joseph was to drive us there.


Sunday 8th October

After breakfast, we left quickly. Crossing the border into the United States took time. The correct identity documents had to be shown at the security checks.

We arrived at the monastery at around 10.30 a.m. We were welcomed by the Guestmaster, who immediately took us to the sacristy to prepare for Mass, which was celebrated at 11 a.m. There are around twenty monks of varying ages in the community. The wooden church was packed with worshippers, who stood in a semi-circle behind the monks. The liturgy is celebrated in English, with some original music by a local composer. The organist led the congregation with great gusto. The monk who presides over the Eucharist also preaches. He wanted to be a little provocative by beginning his homily like a fairy tale: “Once upon a time...”. He took the opportunity to show to what point an institution being closed in on itself can become a real trap. The parable of the homicidal vinedressers that had been read concerns not only the Jews but ourselves as well, and we must remain vigilant when it comes to the non-appropriation of goods that pass through our hands.

After Mass and settling into the guest house, there was a self-service meal.

On leaving the refectory, the Guestmaster took us on a tour of the grounds. The property extends over many hectares and there is a huge campus with some 1,500 students on the periphery of the monastery. A wide variety of programmes of study is proposed: from the classics to the health professions, not forgetting science, technology and music... A few monks are involved in these programmes, but mainly lay people work there. We learned that the buildings were constructed over a long period of time.

Vespers was at 5 p.m. As at Mass, the brothers sang very complicated compositions in several parts: you realise that this is part of their local tradition, and they were fully able to carry it out.

After Vespers, the self-service meal serves as a time of recreation. I had a long chat with the former abbot, part of whose family, on his mother’s side, has French origins. He doesn’t speak or understand much French, but he was quite good at mimicking French mannerisms and we joked about it. He also talked about the history of the monastery. It was founded at the end of the 19th century when a monk was sent from Collegeville Abbey to the local German settlement. A school was soon founded around the parish and other monks were sent to this new mission. Since then, the work has continued to flourish. It is clear that the vocation of these monks is closely linked to education. Their establishment is renowned.


Monday 9th October

The Office of Lauds was at 6.30 a.m.: the psalms are alternated simply by being read in strophes, alternated by the two choirs. The hymn was the only thing sung during the Office.

In the morning, we visit the University’s splendid library.

Midday Office was immediately followed by lunch, eaten in in a special room reserved for the monks in the university restaurant. The meal was accompanied by an audio book.

Before Vespers we met the community, unfortunately without the Abbot as he was in Rome at the time to settle some business. He has only been in charge for a year and a half. He is of Vietnamese origin but has lived in the United States for a long time. The exchange with the brothers was very rich. Everyone was surprised by the fact that AIM is not just a dispenser of funds for monastic projects, but also an observatory of monastic life in the world and a source of support for current initiatives. We decided to meet again after Vespers to continue the debate over dinner. The informal discussion reflected the spirit of this community, whose vocation is unquestionably educational, but who now live this by their presence and openness to the mission, with less hands-on involvement in the college’s activities (although there is still some).

The brothers have been aware of AIM issues for a long time, through the AIM Secretariat in the USA. They regularly make a generous financial contribution. But we must try to go beyond that. We are going through a time of radical change and essential questions need to be clearly addressed by sharing them together.


Tuesday 10th October

After Lauds and breakfast, we got ready to leave. Before taking off for Sacramento, Father Justin took us to the Benedictine Sisters of the Congregation of St. Benedict, who have a priory (St. Placid’s) and spiritual centre a few miles from Saint Martin’s.

It was a wonderful meeting, lasting about an hour. The ten or so sisters who make up this community are not lacking in dynamism. They welcomed with great interest the reflections we shared with them about the present and future of monasticism in the world. We parted with warm embraces that reflected the tone of our meeting.

The car then headed for Seattle airport, about an hour away. From there we flew to Sacramento.

On arrival, we were greeted by Abbot Paul-Mark from New Clairvaux Abbey, where we would be staying for a few days. To get there, we had to drive another two hours.

Arriving at around 6 p.m., we just missed Vespers and were quickly taken to the refectory for a quick bite to eat.

After a brief chat in the abbot’s office, we made our way to the Chapter House, where we were quickly introduced to the community. During our stay, there were to be at least two meetings with the community, and we were to meet several brothers who would show us different facets of the monastery.

Compline was sung in the dark. It ends, as it should, with a Marian antiphon. Everything about this place is so beautiful. The buildings cover a very large area and are all on one level. There are open-air walkways covered by a simple wooden structure to link them all together. It’s like a large garden surrounded by various buildings.


Wednesday 11th October

Vigils was at 3.30 a.m. The whole community was present! The reader had a deep voice; he was very articulate and I really understood everything, although he had a very strong accent. It was a joy to listen to his voice in the depths of the night.

The service was followed by half an hour’s silence. I appreciated this interval of time shared by the community. The quality of the silence was intense.

Breakfast and personal time followed, then Lauds and Mass at 6.30 a.m. The Abbot then took us on a tour of the church, which in itself is a real curiosity, and one that people come from far and wide to see. Part of the church is actually a medieval chapter house imported from Spain. It’s a long story, and construction was not completed until the 1980s. Not only was the chapter house rebuilt, but the architect had a modern section added to it, opening up a view of nature with arched windows each topped by a stylised bull’s eye window. The furnishings were designed in the same spirit combining modernity and tradition, and the result is very attractive. There is also an organ that came from a nearby religious community that wanted to dispose of it, a beautiful adjoining Blessed Sacrament chapel and an entrance hallway that makes a fitting entrance to the building as a whole. There is an article on the Church in this issue of the AIM Bulletin.

After the office of Terce, the Abbot entrusted us to Father Thomas, the monastery’s former abbot, who was soon to celebrate his 90th birthday. Father Thomas, whose simplicity and spontaneity are disarming, took us on a tour of the magnificent library that he oversees himself. It has some 40,000 volumes. It is the largest Trappist library in the United States! Monastic formation has been a serious concern of the successive superiors of the monastery, who have succeeded in building up an extensive library containing all the major reference works, both in terms of journals and books.

After None, Brother Francis took us on a tour of the estate by car. The monastery grounds cover 600 hectares. They grow fruit trees, mainly plums and walnuts, and also tomatoes. All this is entrusted to an independent company, which frees the monks from being too taken up with it and allows them to derive the maximum benefit from the harvest, with a percentage going to the company in question and the rest, of course, to the community. There is also a vineyard with all sorts of vintages, particularly Spanish ones. We ended our visit in the wine-tasting room! The vines, like the rest of the plantation, are treated organically.

We met with the community after Vespers to talk about the work of AIM. The community knows AIM-USA well, as Abbot Paul-Mark was a member of its Council. We explained how the work this its Council fits into the overall activities of AIM International, and then we shared a summary of the answers to the AIM questionnaire. The following day we would have another working session with the community to gather their comments and questions.

There are many non-native brothers or brothers of non-native descent in the community, especially from the Asian world. Of course, this is a characteristic of the United States in general, but all the same, integration remains a process that needs to be accompanied. The community of New Clairvaux is one of the most prosperous in the United States, at least among the Trappists, but it would be interesting to know what criteria are used in the discernment of vocations. In any case, the overall impression was very positive and this community is certainly doing a lot of good.


Thursday 12th October

In the morning, we spent some time with the Cellarer. He is Vietnamese. He has been in the United States for years. He showed us around his department which has several rooms. He introduced us to a Colombian who has been the handyman there for the past eight years. Then we were shown the administrative part of the farm, mainly the vineyards, as well as the various workshops where a number of employees work. The buildings are commensurate with the immense size of the property; there are old barns covering a large area where work is never lacking. Yet the atmosphere is serene and monastic. Not so long ago (just a few decades ago), the monks were responsible for all the work; there were virtually no lay employees. Nowadays, the monks are freed from overly specialized activities; they hold a number of positions of responsibility in the administration of income-generating activities, or devote time to the running of the monastery and welcoming guests in the guest house.

In the afternoon, we had a long meeting with the Abbot, who gave us a more detailed presentation of his community. The internationality that characterises it is, in the end, a very Californian note. There’s nothing extraordinary about that, and it’s been that way in the community for a long time: the fact that there are Chinese, Vietnamese, an Indonesian and goodness knows what other nationalities rubbing shoulders with native-born Americans who themselves have various ancestries, some of them European, is hardly a problem in his eyes. We must let time do its work and bear witness that this universality is possible. Isn’t that one of the dimensions of the Kingdom of God?

The evening meeting was very lively. There was no shortage of questions, including those about of collaboration and even about communion shared with lay people; this was the one that we spent the most time on. The Abbot spoke of the importance of the AIM Bulletin, which helps us to ponder certain subjects concerning the evolution of monastic life. We were happy to see such a high level of participation but we would have needed much more time to go into all this in greater depth and to draw concrete conclusions for the daily lives of our communities.


Friday 13th October

The morning was a little more leisurely before our 10.30 a.m. departure for Sacramento airport. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a typical Californian restaurant, decorated with wooden boards and a few stray cowboy hats.

There were very few people at the airport. Check-in and security checks went smoothly. We landed in Portland (Oregon) at around 4.45 p.m. We had a bit of trouble finding the monk who had come to pick us up. His name is Jean-Marie Vianney and he was originally from Vietnam. We set off for Mount Angel, arriving at the monastery around 7.30 p.m., where Compline had already been sung. We were immediately ushered into the guesthouse.


Saturday 14th October

Vigils, Lauds, breakfast and Mass followed one another in the morning. It was a fairly heavy start to the day. After Mass, the Abbot took us on a tour of the monastery and its surroundings. He became abbot in 2006. He has been able to develop a very coherent overall vision within his monastery.

The monastic community of Mount Angel belongs to the Swiss-American congregation. It was founded by Engelberg Abbey at the end of the 19th century. It currently has around forty monks, with a fairly large number of young people.

It is part of an interesting ecclesial landscape. The abbey runs a diocesan seminary with seventy seminarians for a number of dioceses in the region. Several monks work there, and the Abbot appoints the rector. The seminary building is quite striking. It is located on the edge of the monastery, in perfect harmony with the overall architecture. I find the idea that seminarians can be formed in association with a monastery very inspiring: it is an encouragement to base one’s life as an apostle on deep spiritual foundations, both at a personal and community level.

We then visited the library, which serves both the abbey and the Seminary. It was designed by the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aälto and was his last work; it can be considered his architectural testament. My visit to this place left me speechless. The 300,000 volumes gathered here are placed as if in a sanctuary of intellectual and spiritual study. The layout is not only practical, but the beauty of the design and space is truly unique. It is essentially a religious library in which silence is demanded from the moment you enter. I couldn’t contain my admiration as I wandered through the bookshelves.

Next to it is another building designed by another architect who was proud to think that his work would be next to that of Alvar Aälto. The building is a monastic institute where individuals and groups come to learn about monastic life and the literary, artistic and cinematographic culture of yesterday and today. These events are very popular. In July, for example, there is a major music festival as part of the Monastic Institute’s programme. There are even sporting activities.

The guest house, also built in recent decades, is quite outstanding. When we visited it, we came across all sorts of groups meeting in different rooms. Everything is perfectly laid out and very beautiful. There’s also a terrace. The dining room looks out onto the countryside through large bay windows, and heaven knows how beautiful the scenery is around this hill-top monastery. There are forty-five guest rooms which are always in demand. The fact that there is a seminary at Mount Angel means that the monastery is involved in a pastoral programme to welcome immigrants, in conjunction with all the dioceses concerned.

To support all this, there are around eighty employees who work in close collaboration with the monastery. In addition, the monastery’s resources come from intensive farming, 700 hectares of woodland, investments and gifts (for which there is a special department responsible for managing fundraising and investment policies). Donations are not only made spontaneously, but they are also solicited, and a monk is the director of this fundraising unit.

We had time to catch our breath before the Midday Office and the meal.

The liturgy is entirely in English. The texts used are those set out in the missal and antiphonary. These texts are translated and adapted from Latin and set to music by a monk. From my point of view, this is wholly satisfactory. The Gregorian melodies have been adapted to the texts (which is possible with the English language) and the atmosphere of prayer is not very different from that of a liturgy where the classical Gregorian repertoire is sung. It was very peaceful and serene; communal prayer where you can meditate with ease.

In the afternoon, we met with the community to talk about AIM. All the brothers were present and many of them asked very interesting questions. We sensed their strong desire to reflect about what is happening in the world and in our communities. The monks had open minds and freedom of spirit. The community is fairly homogeneous. There are a few fully integrated foreigners. I imagine that it can’t all be easy on a day-to-day basis, but in any case, it doesn’t show at first glance. We decided that those who wanted to should have the possibility of meeting up after the meal during “recreation” to continue the exchange. This is exactly what happened and the debate was just as rich as in the afternoon.

The Sunday Vigils brought the evening to a close.


Sunday 15th October

Lauds wasn’t until 6.35 a.m. that morning! We were able to benefit from some personal time before the 9 a.m. Mass. Mass is solemnly celebrated with a fairly large number of the faithful, as well as all the seminarians helping with the singing. Everything is in English, but in Gregorian style. It’s simple, accessible and well composed. At the end of the celebration, however, the monks and the crowd sang a hearty chorale in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, which contrasted slightly with the sobriety of the rest of the ceremony.

After Mass, the Abbot presented what has been put in place in the community in terms of clarifying objectives and making them more visible. Everyone knows what they are committing themselves to and what this means in the very heart of the community. This blueprint for life was drawn up by all the brothers together, and acts as a reference in which the monks find a common language and shared perspective. An article in this AIM bulletin presents this perspective.

At 11 a.m., we met up with the ten or so young monks still in formation for a free discussion that followed on from our presentation of the day before. We started the document presented by the Abbot. The discussion went far; we were able to tackle some fundamental questions about the meaning of our lives, the quality of our relationships, the question of balance between personal expression and the common good, and so on. I was struck by the diversity of the young monks here, and their ability to express themselves with such freedom.

I returned to the importance of being rooted in sharing the Word of God and the texts that have conveyed its message in the monastic tradition. The conversation continued for a good hour.

After lunch and a rest, at around 3.30 p.m. we set off by car for a tour of the property. The monks own a total of 2,000 hectares, including forests and farmland. So visiting the property is extensive. We drove to the neighbouring town, which is also called Mount Angel. We went as far as the parish church, which was closed. On the way back, we stopped off at the monastery brewery. The monks produce a beer called Benedictine, which has been a great success. We visited the buildings where the beer is made and stopped for a drink in the small cafeteria next door. Quite a few customers were sitting around the tables in a convivial atmosphere.

We returned for Vespers, followed by the meal. As on all Sunday evenings, this is a time for conversation and a chance to drink a little wine and other beverages. Afterwards we joined in with the community recreation. We returned to the themes raised in previous gatherings. Only those who wanted to be there were present, which meant that that everyone could give their impressions of all that had been shared.

Compline ended the day. The next day we were to leave at 5.15 a.m. for Portland airport and return to California, to the monastery of New Camaldoli, where we would have a very different experience indeed.


Monday 16th October

The journey went as smoothly as possible, first by car and then by plane to Monterey, via San Francisco. On arrival, we were greeted by a Camaldolese postulant, whose monastery we were to visit. He had taken Father Prior to the doctor and was due to pick him up after meeting us as we got off the plane. By the time we picked up Father Ignatius, it was already late, and as it was quite a distance to the monastery, we decided to stop somewhere for lunch.

We arrived at the monastery in the early afternoon, after driving along a winding mountain road overlooking the coast. The scenery is breathtaking. The Camaldolese monastery is set high up on a hill, and all the buildings form a small village. We settled in and headed for the church at 5 p.m. for Vespers and Mass. There were a dozen brothers and a few guests. The Prior presided over the service and improvised a very thought-provoking homily.

In the evening, there is no meal in common; everyone makes their own arrangements in their hermitage. The evening ends with everyone retiring to their hermitage until the next day when there is Vigils at 5.30 a.m.


Tuesday 17th October

The Camaldolese are a monastic order of pontifical right founded by Saint Romuald of Ravenna in 1012 at Camaldoli, in Tuscany (Italy), under the Rule of Saint Benedict. Camaldolese monks combine a communal life of work and prayer with eremitism. They generally live in hermitages and meet together for a few common activities: certain offices, meals, chapter, work or relaxation. Their life of solitude is less radical than that of the Carthusian monks, but it is of more or less the same inspiration, in a Benedictine style.

In the morning, after Lauds, we met the community. We proceeded in the same way as in the other places. They listened attentively. There was a real sense of interest. We decided to meet again the next day to have a more in-depth discussion.

Father Mark had just received a message from the Valyermo monastery, which was to be our last stop. They had had two deaths and so were not in a position to welcome us. Thus we would be staying at New Camaldoli until the date of our return to France.

We had lunch with the community. Paradoxically, the brothers talk during this meal together, except on Fridays when the meal is in silence. In the evening, they prepare their own food in their hermitages.


Wednesday 18th October

In the morning we had another excellent encounter with the community in response to our presentation yesterday. It was a really positive meeting. And as we were still to be there for the next few days, we decided to organise further meetings to which the monks of the community would be free to come or not.


Thursday 19th October

Another meeting in the morning with a smaller group of the community, nevertheless a fascinating discussion raising very important questions on all sorts of subjects relating to the life of our communities: where to study, periods of formation abroad, questions of interculturality, closures of monasteries, how to live when you know the community is going to close, recentring on evangelical values, etc.


Friday 20th October

This was our last full day in the USA. The following day we were to fly back to Los Angeles.

In the morning, Father Prior Ignatius suggested that we go to the summit of the mountain above the monastery, to get a breathtaking view. We went up in a car, a sort of old off-road jeep which needed cleaning up a bit before we sat down. It was driven by Brother Carlos, a Mexican novice who was our guardian angel throughout our stay. Halfway along the route, we stopped by a lake that seemed to have come straight out of romantic fiction. There we were reminded of the ancient natives of these parts, native Americans who long ago migrated to the cities where they have become successful in business, while at the same time trying to maintain their own identity. We talked about the wild animals that still exist in these mountains: bobcats and even lions (pumas). Our driver had already come across a bobcat, a type of feline that looks like a large wild cat, the sight of which makes you very uneasy.

A little further on, Carlos showed us a rock in which holes had been dug and in which there are dressed stones that were used to grind grain in the cavities. This was a common practice of the California Amerindians.

We continued up to the top of the mountains, where the view was indeed breathtaking. It was awe-inspiring.

Below us, we could see the hermitages and monastery buildings hidden between the trees! The monks who have lived here since the 1950s have developed the whole area. They created the beaten and gravelled mountain roads. They designed the architecture and layout of their monastery with the help of skilled friends. Here, in this totally remote corner of the Californian mountains, they still lead a monastic life that is balanced between solitude and cenobitic life. Their faces bear witness to the beauty of their life, although of course we shouldn’t idealise it.

Time to head back down. Our driver manoeuvred on the narrow road to make a U-turn, driving a little further along the edge of the road. But just as he was about to reverse, the rear wheels of the car were unable to go backwards and dug into the sand until they were spinning in the void. The vehicle was stuck and we couldn’t move off. The telephone doesn’t work in these remote places. There was only one solution: to walk back down to get help. We were about two hours’ walk from the hermitages. Carlos set off ahead of us at a brisk pace. In fact, he ran all the way down. I was alone with Father Mark and, like old adventurers experienced in all sorts of trying circumstances, we laughed at the situation. Inwardly, I was not very happy because Father Mark could not conceivably walk for very long without getting worn out. I found a walking stick for him by the side of the path and we made our way forward, taking small steps. We went where the wind blew, we didn’t know the way and we were stumped at some of the turnings. After a while, we had the impression that we were a bit lost in the middle of nowhere. I was afraid a bobcat would suddenly appear out of nowhere! We kept our sense of humour and once again, Father Mark won my admiration. I don’t think many people his age would be able to cope so generously with such a situation. Eventually we heard the sound of cars. Our driver had run so fast that he found us in no time, accompanied by some big guys who work at the monastery and who would be able to get our vehicle out of the place where it was stuck. Brother Carlos was sweating profusely and still out of breath. We felt sorry for him. But the adventure was over. We returned to the monastery in a different vehicle and went straight to the Mass that had just started.

The day passed peacefully and, in the evening, after Vespers, we enjoyed a festive dinner with the whole community. Once a month, the brothers take this much-appreciated free time. It was also a way of saying goodbye to us. There was some wine from California or New Zealand and a few beers from different places. At the end of this time, we offered a few words of thanks. The Prior offered us two books on the history of their monastery and that of the Camaldolese. It was a warm and fraternal moment. We then returned to our respective hermitages for the last night.


Saturday 21st October

Saturday was our last day on American soil. We celebrated Mass with the community at 6.30 a.m., then set off for Monterey, where we boarded the plane for Los Angeles and Paris.

We embraced each other warmly and promised to return, as we always do on these occasions. These are sincere promises, but it isn’t always possible for them to come true … we know that. But at the time, we truly believe it!

We landed in Paris late morning on Sunday 22nd, half an hour ahead of schedule. The weather was rather grey. California was far away. I could hear myself speaking French! Mission accomplished!



A short essay on the vision visual

5

Reflection

Dom Jeremy Driscoll, OSB

Abbot of Mount Angel (USA)

 

A short essay on the vision visual

 

The vision visual attempts to summarize in visual terms and with short phrases my vision for how I hope to lead the community as its abbot. The whole vision is rooted in my motto: “Seek the things that are above.” This short phrase from Colossians 3:1 is meant to evoke the longer passage that St. Paul develops on the basis of this exhortation. Colossians 3:1-17 is the expanded vision stated in biblical terms and with biblical authority. It includes verses that refer to ongoing monastic conversion: “put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly.” (Col 3:5) And it refers to a list of beautiful virtues and practices that the monastic communal life seeks to develop in us. (Col 3: 12-17)

This scriptural vision is broken down into five pillars, each rendering explicit in a different area what I describe as “The Monastic Way and the Mount Angel Way.” Being a monastery establishes us in a particular form of religious life in the Church, deeply rooted in traditions that should be constantly forming us. But there are many styles and approaches within the monastic way, and through its history Mount Angel has established its own style and traditions within the monastic way. I want both these dimensions of our rich past to guide us in our present and in our moves forward in the future. We are not bound simply to repeat the past, but I do want any new moves and decisions we make for present and future to be in intelligent, conscious, and thoughtful continuity with the past.


The first of the five pillars is titled “Clarity on how and why.” Here I express my conviction— learned from the tradition and confirmed by experience— that the uniqueness of the monastic way does not take deep hold unless it is articulated aloud with regularity and continually deepened by exposure to the monastic sources. I think that doing so is one of my major responsibilities as abbot, and my previous assignments as a monk have put me in a position to do so. Beneath this pillar, several practical ways of enfleshing this are listed for this present moment in the life of the community. Without attention to this pillar, we risk being a community of, yes, good men living together, but nothing specifically monastic about us. The boxes beneath the pillars are fluid in their formulation. They can be added to and checked off as goals accomplished.

The second pillar is titled “Togetherness.” This stresses the value of the strength of cenobitic monasticism in the version articulated in St. Benedict’s Holy Rule. Throughout the entire Rule, St. Benedict legislates and exhorts in little and large ways practices that carry the whole community along. We are not so many individuals who find themselves living together in the same building, but we move toward God as a corporate body, and God moves toward us with graces that make us one body. This is the “nos pariter” of the finale of the Holy Rule at RB 72. Beneath this pillar, several ways of togetherness are spelled out. The abbot and the community must continually look for ways of strengthening these communal bonds.

The third pillar is called “The Abbot’s Presence and Guidance.” St. Benedict places enormous focus on the role of the abbot in the community. This is articulated at length in RB 2 and 64 but also throughout the Rule in little and large ways. Here the community will inevitably feel the impact of the particular abbot that God, through the community’s discernment, has put in the abbot’s role. A particular abbot will be able to do what his own gifts and background allow, necessarily with certain shortcomings. For my part I want to develop a body of teaching for the community about how to live the Christ mystery and how to be let ourselves be shaped by the monastic tradition. I want to find the courage and fortitude needed to challenge the community to greater growth and at the same time to create a certain ease and joy in following my lead. I am aware that the community as a whole needs the abbot’s presence in all our day to day living, and I am aware that many, if not all, of the monks can profit from the abbot’s personal attention. I confess to feeling unable to be present to all as I would wish, and I look for the community’s creative ways to help me. Beneath this pillar some of my present goals for presence and guidance are expressed. I will need the community’s feedback and commitment as this pillar guides us all.

The fourth pillar is called “Contributing to the Church Worldwide.” This pillar acknowledges the way in which monastic life throughout the history of the Church has had a particular impact that can be labeled the “monastic contribution.” Mount Angel itself has had its own impact in this region of the country and, indeed, throughout the country and in various parts of the world. I see that the community is definitely called to continue to make this contribution and that doing so gives energy and purpose to our life together. Beneath this pillar, there are grouped our work especially in the Seminary, Library, and Guesthouse, as well as various levels of involvement in parish work, all of which formed an inextricable part of the Mount Angel monastic way throughout its history. I think that we are now in a new era where the Church is looking to us more than ever to make this unique monastic contribution in hospitality, in culture, in learning, and in a particular pastoral and theological style.

The fifth pillar is called “Progressing In This Way of Life,” a phrase taken from the Prologue of the Holy Rule. Monastic tradition is insistent on the fact that our life of faith is a process that needs continual attention and urging forward. Never is there a point of arrival where we can comfortably rest and say we’re finished. This is a pillar where the abbot and the brethren all apply pressure on one another to grow. It means an openness to doing things differently— not just to be different for its own sake, but to have the courage to do things differently if circumstances call for it. Wisdom and moderation are required to know how to apply just the right amount of pressure. Beneath this pillar, a line from RB 64 can guide us: “so that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from.”

Living a multicultural monastic community

6

Witness

Dom Paul Mark Schwan, OCSO

Abbot of New Clairvaux, Vina (USA)

 

 

Living a monastic multi-cultural community

 

Our monastery of Our Lady of New Clairvaux, Vina, California, USA, is situated in the northern section of the state. Our monastic community, most often referred to as Vina, reflects the ethnically diverse population of the State of California, where no single ethnic, linguistic, group forms a majority. We are all minorities.

Currently, our monastic community is made up of the following ethnicities, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Canadian, Filipino, Chinese, Hispanic and Euro-American. How do we live the practical reality of this ever-present diversity in our community?

As a Trappist-Cistercian community our common baptismal call and its particular vocational expression in a school of charity under the Rule of our Father St. Benedict, the leadership of our abbot, and the imperative to be lovers of the place, the brothers, and the Rule are essential unifying factors that form the particular monastic culture here at Vina. This necessarily transcends the ethno-racial cultures of origin of the 19 monks in our monastery. Nevertheless, the reality of living, understanding, accepting, and respecting one another, challenging enough in a mono-culture setting is all the more tested in the multi-cultural setting of Vina.

Before proceeding further in articulating my experience of shepherding our multi-cultural monastic community I would first like to define culture and how I understand multicultural living. I offer ideas gleaned from two helpful books, The Bush was Blazing but not Consumed[1] and God is Rice[2].

What is culture? The concept cannot be limited to race and/or ethnicity. Culture is all encompassing of an existential experience. It necessarily includes a system of values, beliefs, perceptions, assumptions, patterns, mores, and practices. Some of this is conscious but much more I believe is unconscious. This cultural system is what provides the lens through which any of us are able to interpret, evaluate and respond to life and our environment. Life is a great mystery that can at times feel hostile. All cultural systems are attempts to comfort and shelter a person, to reduce anxiety by explaining forces that can undermine family, community, society, and a nation. Hence a cultural system is that which helps to provide a scaffold of unifying elements that build structures that hold a collective body of people together safely.

In a multi-cultural community, such as ours, the uniqueness of the cultures represented in the monastery cannot be destroyed. For example, for a candidate from outside the USA to join Vina, he is not going to be moulded into an American, even if the larger society in which the monastery exists, has an impact. No, the candidate comes to us in vocational response to a call from God to live the gospel as a monk. So, the candidate enters the monastic culture as found at Vina and is formed to be a monk within the charism of Trappist-Cistercian monasticism.

What is maintained in this case of formation is a candidate’s identity while at the same time he is taught to engage in a constructive dialogue with others. Respect and support are crucial on the part of all involved. This is a basic criterion of monastic formation in any healthy program of formation. To balance communication with the other and at the same time to recognize one’s authentic identity enables both parties to learn from one another, to grow, to change (conversio) and to take on a collective identity, cohesion, and spirit (communio). This is evangelical transformation, the very purpose of monastic life.

When receiving a candidate from a culture different from the culture of the receiving community two things have been helpful for me. One, to know and understand more about my own culture. This is an enlightening experience. Second, to know as much as possible of the culture of the candidate being received. For example, I have read so much on the various histories and cultures represented at Vina that I can find myself with more knowledge than the candidate about his own culture. But as was stated above, culture is much more than knowing facts, it is a complete way of life deeply rooted in one’s spirit.

Aspects of my own culture, are, unsurprisingly, often unconscious and can only surface to the conscious level by study and reflection. And this is part of the monastic ascesis of growth in self-knowledge (humility). With a new appreciation of my own culture, I am provided with a vocabulary that makes possible questions I am able to ask the candidate by which he is able to share with me the richness of meaning his culture holds for him as it meets both our monastic culture and the larger American culture which he is now part of.

If English is not the first language of the candidate, then there is the necessity to provide language classes. Our practice has been to hire a qualified teacher of English as a second language to come to the monastery. Classes are usually several times a week. The duration of the course runs from between one to two years depending on the capacity of the candidate. It has proven valuable, if not essential, that at a later time it is good to have the candidate exposed to the larger American culture. To do this we enroll the candidate in English language courses offered for foreign students at the nearby State University. The university program is intended to prepare these students for entrance into the university. As part of this program our candidates have taken the TOFEL exams to test their proficiency in English. The exam has affirmed our candidates’ level of English as it indicates their level of comprehension which they otherwise would not have.

We have also arranged for language coaches and other tutors to work with the candidates on accent reduction or to improve writing and reading skills. We have enrolled them in similar programs available through the Diocese of which we are part.

Once simple professed the OCSO houses here in the USA provide a two-week course on monastic theology for all simple professed hosted each time by a different monastery. This exposes our candidates to the other monasteries and the other simple professed of the Order here in the USA. Furthermore, after solemn vows there is the opportunity for higher theological studies at various Benedictine Schools of Theology if this is deemed beneficial. This too is helpful in the area of inculturation.

Another useful tool used here at Vina to build a multi-cultural community, is workshops under the guidance of professionals trained in multi-cultural exchanges.

To live with a diversity of cultures, even if united under the banner of a common monastic culture takes on-going conversion on the part of all the monks. First there is the reality to learn to accept English spoken with a variety of accents. Given the common use of English around the world today where is English not spoken with an accent? Every native speaker of English speaks with an accent. Whose accent is correct, the graduate from Oxford, or the guy from the outback of Australia, or from anywhere in between? Nevertheless, the need for patience and to develop the practice of close listening as a text is read in a variety of accents is demanding and does spill over into frustration at times. Some brothers here at Vina refer to the Rule of St. Benedict, arguing that only those readers able to benefit their hearers should be allowed to read. The result could be that few brothers, if any, would be available for public reading here at Vina!

Another challenge is how to make corrections? Cultures around the world each have the particular way to correct inappropriate behavior. Saint Benedict lays out a method of correction, the penal code, that would be difficult to implement in most if not all areas of the world today. But it is inevitable that corrections need to be made in the monastery. Some cultures are more direct in addressing corrections, other cultures more indirect. What is important is that when correction is made the person corrected is respected and the monk making the correction is sensitive to honor the other. Think twice before correcting another! Another aspect of correction here at Vina that is sometimes overlooked is that no matter how carefully crafted the correction is worded the brother being corrected may not understand all the words or fail to catch the nuanced subtleties of the English vocabulary. The result can cause misunderstanding, resentment, and anger.

The value of words in any language holds a plethora of nuances. For one learning English, these nuances are not likely to be picked up. The native English speaker needs to recognize that the other may not likely pick up these nuances. Hence the necessity to use basic vocabulary. In this process the native speaker can implicitly think the other is less intelligent, less educated and be a condescending and even dismissive of the other. The need for the native English speaker to practice patience in imperative when the non-native English speaker is trying to express significant inner experiences while lacking the nuanced English vocabulary to do so.

The role of body language can never be underestimated in interpersonal communication. What is consider the appropriate distance between two people when they are communicating with one another? In US culture, three feet is considered the comfortable physical distance between two people. Other cultures expect physical distance to be closer or further. In some cultures, the junior holds the hand of the senior when addressing him on an important matter. This expresses the respect and submission of the junior. Another cultural expression of respect is for a junior to walk behind and to the side of a senior, never side to side as an equal. In other cultures, it is considered appropriate to simply walk into the office of the superior withoutknocking. But for other cultures, when given permission to enter it is appropriate to first excuse oneself before entering.

Related to body language is the place food has in our monastic community. Food, in itself, holds a treasure of cultural expression. What is prepared, how it is prepared, how it is served, when it is served, and how it is consumed are all significant. We have a brother assigned to oversee the kitchen, who orders and monitors quality, quantity, and consumption of food but a number of brothers take turns to cook. Following the basic guidelines of Trappist-Cistercian fasting, abstinence, and simplicity, the brother cook of the day prepares dishes he is familiar with. For us it means a variety of food, reflecting the brothers’ native cultures that demands an adjustment in diet for all of us.

Another theme to consider is that fact that it cannot be emphasized enough how important it is to respect and honor the other’s cultural expressions. The origin of many of our brothers is eastern Asia. For them the lunar new year is the central celebratory event around which the whole year revolves. It is a celebration that contains timeless rituals of remembrance, history, and identity both as a people, a family, and as a person. To consider the lunar new year as foreign and meaningless within our community because those of us native born Americans are unfamiliar with it seems to me to do violence to another’s identity. It is more than disrespect; it implicitly states that I have little or nothing to learn from my brother. Multi-cultural community is by necessity two-sided, it is reciprocal. Both of us receiving, giving, and learning from one another.

Finally, it is important to speak of the role of family and how hospitality is expressed when receiving the family in a multi-cultural community. Our Trappist-Cistercian practice remains strict as regards family visits. Our families are expected to come and visit at the monastery. We monks do not, as a rule, go to visit our families although there are exceptions. The families of our brothers from foreign lands often are unable to obtain visas, nor can they afford the costs of travel. We have had to make exception to allow brothers to return to their homes. Related to this is the involvement in family affairs around issues of health, sickness, and finance. Our Cistercian way of life limits involvement in these concerns but it is not so easy to form brothers in this radical renunciation of family let alone convey this value to the families. Careful discernment needs to be made on if and how to assist the family when these issues arise. The monk has to be well formed in the monastic ascesis of a healthy detachment from family. Likewise it is important that the monastery not be perceived as a source of money.

The human heart is complex, and love is a mystery. Neither of these is beyond understanding, but neither do they readily reveal themselves without risking going inward to explore our heart, our love. This inner journey is of course a crucial aspect of the monastic vocation. Combined with our multi-cultural monastic witness here at Vina is, I believe, what our polarized, fearful world needs. Such great diversity as our monastic community represents is challenging but the rewards are greater; to expand my horizons, to see life through a different lens, to move out of my own narrow, comfort zones, these are a few of the rewards I have received living in a multi-cultural community.


[1] The Bush was Blazing but not Consumed, Eric H.F. Law, Chalice Press, 1996.

[2] God is Rice, Masao Takenaka, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1986.

 

The saga of the chapter house of Santa Maria de Ovila

7

Art and liturgy

Dom Thomas X. Davis, OCSO

Emeritus Abbot of the Abbey of New Clairvaux (USA)

 

The Saga of

Santa Maria de Ovila’s Chapter House


 


It was June 1955, just a matter of days before the original group of founders destined for Gethsemani’s fifth daughter house would leave for California when Dom James, abbot, suggested that he would like for me to be part of this group. This came as quite a shocking surprise. I responded that I did not want nor even had the desire to go. I naively thought I could change the abbot’s mind. Time would be required to do this. Three months later, September 15, I found myself landing in San Francisco along with a brother also destined for this newly founded community. The superior was there to meet us. He decided we should see a bit of the city before making the six hour drive up the Sacramento valley to Vina that night. A friend of the superior drove us around San Francisco selecting the major tourist sites. As we were going through the Golden Gate Park, this person casually mentioned the wooden crates we saw neatly stacked under the eucalyptus trees behind the De Young Museum was “the Cistercian monastery that William Randolph Hearst brought over from Spain.” Immediately, I knew the architectural value of this monastery. Thomas Merton (Fr. Louis as we knew him) had just given us junior monks a course on Cistercian architecture and its significance. The thought, a wild ambitious one for a twenty-year-old simply professed, came to me that it would be wonderful to have this monastery for Vina. Looking back on events I realize now that had I come on the train with the original founding group, I would have arrived at Oroville’s train station, a town not too far from Vina. I would never have landed in San Francisco to have the opportunity to see those neatly stacked wooden crates under eucalyptus trees.

Alfonso VIII, king of Castile (1155-1214) founded the Cistercian Abbey of Santa Maria de Ovila, near Trillo, some eighty miles northeast of Madrid. This abbey was part of his strategy to maintain the boundaries of his kingdom as Christian regions. The abbey was founded around 1181. The size of the Church and Chapter House suggest the abbey may have been destined as a royal monastery. A few years after the founding of Ovila, Leonor, wife of Alfonso VIII and daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, initiated the foundation of Las Huelgas at the royal city of Burgos. Las Huelgas became the royal monastery.

The Chapter House, a magnificent exemplar of early Cistercian Gothic Spanish architecture, was begun around 1190. The Chapter House with the entire abbey came under the patronage of the Cistercian Bishop of Siguenza, St. Martin de Finojosa and his family in whose diocese it was located. (In the Trappist Cistercian liturgical calendar Martin’s feast day is September 17. He was formerly known as St. Sacerdos, May 5.) The Chapter House was completed in 1220 and takes its place with Las Huelgas and Santa Maria de Huerta as splendid paradigms of Cistercian architecture.

Ovila Abbey was closed in 1835 by decree of Queen Maria Christina’s government and sold to private ownership. Arthur Byne, the agent for William Randolph Hearst who was always interested in fine arts and architectural pieces to transport to the USA, came upon Ovila abbey in 1930. Hearst agreed to purchase artistic, architectural sections including the entire chapter room and refectory. The dismantling took place between March and July 1, 1931. The stones were shipped by boat to San Francisco. Hearst began to experience effects of the depression. He offered them to the City of San Francisco in 1941. The city stockpiled the crates behind de Young Museum under the eucalyptus trees. This was how I saw them in 1955. Various causes made it impossible for the city to restore the stones “as a monastery.” The stones were even offered to Buddhist monks but the city’s public opinion opposed this transfer. The crates remained under the eucalyptus trees. Five fires, vandalism, theft and the damp, foggy weather patterns of the Bay area and ocean reduced the stones to a helpless heap.

During these unfortunate years, I was kept informed by a good friend as to what was or was not happening to these stones. After I had become abbot in 1972, I decided to pursue my wild dream of acquiring the Chapter House for Vina. The portal to the Ovila’s church had been restored inside the de Young museum. A previous study by Dr. Margaret Burke, an art historian, revealed that only the chapter house could be restored; other stones were too damaged or lost. Endless negotiations with the city began. There were “ups and downs.” I was about to discontinue the pursuit, when Cistercian scholars David Bell and Terryl Kinder urged me on. In 1992, Vina’s conventual chapter voted favorably to proceed. An agreement with the city was finally signed on 12 September 1994. The next day, the first of 11 large truck and trailer loads left for Vina.

Sorting, cataloging, restoring the damaged, cutting the new, and much more comprised the massive undertaking of stone masons Oskar Kempt, Ross Leuthard, Frank Helmholz and Jose Miguel Merino de Caceres, a Spanish architect. The magnificent chapter house portal and most of the interior were completed by the fall, 2008. Under Vina’s fourth abbot, Paul Mark Schwan, the decision was made to incorporate this edifice into the new Church. This was completed and consecrated on 2 July 2018.

Cistercian architecture uses space, proportion, lines, form and light to signify the mystery of Divinity. The brothers enter into this place of divine mystery seven times a day to chant the praises of God (Opus Dei) and be blessed by the transforming power of this medieval edifice. Ovila’s chapter house serves us well.





Sister Judith-Ann Heble

8

Great figures in Monastic Life

Mother Maire Hickey, OSB

Kylemore Abbey (Ireland)

 

Sister Judith-Ann Heble,

Second Moderator of the Communio

Internationalis Benedictinarum (CIB)[1]

 

 


When I remember Judith Ann, it is not much in terms of roles. I knew her as someone who gave her whole self, heart and soul, to whatever task had fallen to her lot. Rising to the challenge, whatever it may have been, was her role. I worked with her for 9 years in the leadership of the CIB. From 1997 until 2006 I was the Moderator, with Judith Ann as a member of the Administrative Council from 1998, and as Deputy or Assistant Moderator from 2002. I have warm, vivid memories of how she was as a partner in that task, and I am grateful to Lynn for asking me share some of them with readers of the Newsletter.

Our relationship began in 1997 at the final preparation meeting for the opening of the third Symposium, planned for 1998. I was the Moderator, my Assistant was Prioress Irene Dabalus, both appointments having been made by Abbot Primate Marcel Rooney. The other members of the Executive Committee - Abbess Joanna Jamieson and the newcomer Sr. Judith Ann Heble - were present, as well as Secretary Sr. Monica Lewis. Our experience of conducting meetings was up to that point pretty limited, consisting mainly of leading Chapter meetings each in her own community. Organization was a little haphazard. As we sat together deciding who would have what task at the various sessions of the Symposium, Judith Ann announced with no questions or qualms, “I’ll take care of the nuts and bolts”. And so it was. At every meeting from then on, Judith Ann’s “nuts and bolts” session at the beginning of each day made absolutely sure that everyone knew what would be happening, where one had to go for what, when the breaks would be and so on. Part of Judith Ann’s signature for this daily ritual was a light touch that always left everyone smiling and looking forward to an interesting day.

That is how I experienced Judith Ann in her role as Assistant Moderator. She brought positive energy into the room, was fully aware of all details that needed to be organized for everything to go smoothly, and made sure that everyone knew what they needed to know. An important aspect of life according to the Rule of St. Benedict: good order, peace, no one sad in God’s house at the end of the day.

By the end of that Symposim Sr. Judith Ann had grasped what the CIB is and where it was trying to move to. At a post - Symposium meeting of the Conference members to start preliminary planning for the meetings of the next four years, Judith’s was one of the American voices that dropped the bombshell question, whether Rome was going to be for the future the sole venue for CIB meetings. “Why not try another venue? Why not come to America???” After the initial shock, it was very obvious that minds were being opened for something hitherto unthinkable.

Judith enjoyed her PIONEER role over the following years as Deputy Moderator and later as Moderator (from 2006). It gave her great joy to be able to contribute to the ongoing formation of many Benedictine nuns and sisters by facilitating for them the unforgettable experience of travelling abroad for Delegates’ meetings and visiting communities in the USA, Nairobi, Sydney, Poland, followed later by other countries.

CIB meeting in Sydney, Australia 2003.

Over the years the CIB acquired its present structure, of which Judith Ann was a leading ARCHITECT. From the beginning, the structure of the Abbot Primate’s Commission of Benedictine Women (that was still the name of the organization) consisted of the 19 regions, each with its representation, and the Council consisting of Moderator, Assistant Moderator and two further members. The Abbot Primate was the final instance. At a meeting of Delegates in Nairobi in 2001 the decision was taken to give the organization a new name. The predictable divergence of opinions was surprisingly resolved by settling for Latin as the language that excluded no -one, and so Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum (CIB) became our name. The status of the monasteries, congregations and federations of the women Benedictines was defined in a couple of clauses of the Ius Proprium of the Confederation. By 2002 the Council (Sr. Maire, Sr. Judith Ann, M. Irene Dabalus and M. Joanna Jamieson), with expert canonical help from Abbot Richard Yeo of Downside, had completed work on a draft Statute for the CIB, which was approved at the Symposium of that year.

A great deal of hard and painstaking work went into the developments of the CIB in the years that followed. Many sisters from many monasteries were involved. Judith Ann spared herself no efforts in finding people to help: an American artist sister was found who created our beautiful logo; a Treasurer was found who would secure and manage the finances including a solidarity fund to ensure that no region needed to be excluded from participation because of lack of funds; a team of translators had to be put together. Records had to be kept of meetings and correspondence, and the growing international community was requesting the publication of a Catalogus, the first edition of which went into print in the year 2000. Credit is due to innumerable sisters, nuns and communities for all that was done during those years. The establishment of the CIB was truly a community project, carried not by any one person or group. But Sr. Judith Ann as Assistant Moderator was the person who had everything in view and was totally reliable in getting done what needed to be done. She was engaged with everything, putting her experience, her wisdom and her hard work into the task of shaping the CIB.

Finally, I remember Judith Ann as a BRIDGEBUILDER.

From the beginnings in 1983 the canonical distinction between moniales and sorores which had developed through several hundred years of Church history was making it difficult for the members of the Abbot Primate’s commissions of women, representing thousands of their sisters at home, to agree on expressions of identity with which they could witness credibly to Benedictine women’s monastic life in the Church and in society. The unshakable belief in that common identity and the desire to articulate it and make it palpable in the Church and the world was the driving force in the evolution of the community (Communio). Changes in structures were necessary and promoted the evolution, but it could not have been peacefully effected without the experience of a deep spiritual communication and a sharing of the most precious values of their respective vocations that nearly all Benedictine women experienced who participated in a CIB meeting. Judith Ann was outstanding in the openness and life-giving curiosity with which she engaged in relationships with her fellow Benedictines in the Communio. She didn’t stop at respecting and tolerating those whose way of life was very different from hers. She was creatively curious about where the other person came from and launched out boldly to meet them and understand a bit more. Maybe it was not always a complete success, but her simplicity and her humour made the occasional faux pas easily forgivable. Judith Ann’s brand of hospitality was a wonderful catalyst. This way of meeting new people, constantly building bridges to draw people of divergent views together, became typical of CIB meetings.

A participant wrote after attending the 2014 Symposium “Though there are obvious differences among us, we have come to appreciate the fact that we share a common life, a common charism, a common vision”. The common vision, which is in its core the belief in the presence of Christ in every human being and the presence of his spirit in the monastic community , emerged and is continuing to emerge through the sharing of life and faith of all members of our Benedictine family. But all who knew Judith Ann and her love for the legacy of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica will agree that her presence and her work in t he CIB from 1997 until 2018 played a unique and defining role in the mundane process of breaking down misunderstandings and fostering mutual respect that is the foundation of unity in any body.

Thank you, Judith Ann! Help us from where you are now to work with the legacy you have passed on to us, as we muster our forces to deal with the challenges of the present time.


[1] Article taken from the CIB newsletter, November 2023.



Rencontre à Rio de Janeiro (Brésil ) en 2013.

Mother Lazare Hélène de Rodorel de Seilhac

9

In Memoriam

Benedictine Sisters of Saint-Thierry (France)

 

Mother Lazare Hélène de Rodorel de Seilhac

1928-2023

 

Mother Lazare, a temporary professed sister at the time of the birth of the AIM Secretariat, helped to set up the first AIM office for Father de Floris, President at the time, and was a member of the AIM Council for many years. We publish her obituary here before publishing a more detailed article in the next newsletter.

 


In the light of the feast of Christ the King, our Sister Lazare Hélène de Rodorel de Seilhac entered into Life on the 27th November 2023.

Born on 10th August 1928 in Paris, she retained a great love of her family roots in the Corrèze, and kept many fond memories of her two brothers. After a degree in Classics, she entered the priory at Vanves in February 1953, made profession there in February 1956, and perpetual profession on the 24th June 1961. She taught Latin and was assistant Novice Mistress. She wrote a thesis in Christian Latin, which she defended in 1967: “The way Caesarius of Arles used the Rule of Saint Augustine”, published in 1973.

She conducted numerous sessions on Patrology and the Rule of Saint Benedict for monasteries in France and French-speaking Africa. At Jouarre, she organised patristics’ sessions to form teachers in women’s monasteries. She was also involved in the translation of monastic and patristic texts into fundamental French in collaboration with Sister Lydie Rivière, a Xaverian sister.

She also led numerous sessions for the women’s monasteries in France, reflecting on work and the balance of monastic life. In the meantime, she had become the delegated Prioress of the monastery in Vanves, whilst part of the community, the Prioress and the novitiate moved to Saint-Thierry. The two communities shared a common chapter.

In 1974, once the buildings liberated by the Vanves community had been rented out, she moved to Saint-Thierry. As well as liturgy and sacristy and teaching the sisters in formation, she took charge of the printing workshop, where she was always keen to get the sisters to work together. She had a talent for finding work for all the stagiaires who passed through the monastery. She continued her research work, and took part in the AIM Council, the foundation of STIM (Studium théologique inter-monastères), and for twenty-five years taught patrology at the seminary in Rheims.

In 2003, at the age of 75, she was elected Prioress of Vanves, and continued her service until 2010, ensuring continuity while the Congregation looked at how to continue its presence in Vanves. After the 2010 General Chapter, several sisters from our communities arrived in Vanves, and she was able to return to Saint-Thierry, handing over the baton of prioress to Mother Marie-Madeleine. During this last period of her life, she undertook with determination the challenging task of writing the history of our Congregation, the fruits of which she shared with us during the centenary year. She did not quite finish her work, but she remained committed to it right up to the end.

Over and above all her endeavours and research, we remember the witness of a sister who never “opted out” and was always there to take her part in the community services. She knew how to dialogue with young and old, with family and friends; for many years she accompanied the Oblates of the community wholeheartedly. Always attentive to sisters or friends in difficulty, she bore witness to what she taught by her way of being; she believed in monastic life, and was able to show her confidence in the younger sisters. She practised openness of heart through conviction, even though it was difficult for her. We thank the Lord for having given her to us. On the subject of her death notice, she wrote : “Thank you for not writing that I have ‘returned to God’: that is reserved for the Son, and Origen got into posthumous trouble for believing in pre-existence...”. Her funeral was celebrated on Friday 1 December 2023 in the monastery chapel.

bottom of page