From left to right: Brother Stephen (New Melleray Abbey, Iowa), Father Kevin (Mepkin Abbey, South Carolina), Sister Kathleen (Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, Iowa), Father Luke (Saint Joseph Abbey, Massachusetts), Sister Sophy (Our Lady of the Angels Abbey, Virginia), Brother Elias (Holy Spirit Abbey, Georgia), Father Casey (Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey, Oregon), Sister Rita (Santa Rita abbey, Arizona), Brother Anthony (Genesee Abbey, New York), Sister Bonitas (Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey, Massachusetts), Father Thomas (New Clairvaux Abbey, California), and Brother Lawrence (Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky).
The OCSO (Trappist) novice directors for the United States region gathered at New Melleray Abbey in Iowa from May 21 to 30 for our biennial meeting. Twelve novice directors were able to be present (see photo). Each novice director came prepared to present material he or she has found helpful or that was well received when teaching the novices of our Order throughout the country. Brother Lawrence of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky served as the coordinator of the meeting since Brother Efrain of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville could not attend. We also invited the novice director of Val Notre Dame in Canada, one of the men’s OCSO house in Canada, as well as the novice director of the men’s OCist house in Dallas, Texas, and the novice director of the women’s OCist house in Prairie-du-Sac, Wisconsin.
The monks of New Melleray Abbey were most gracious hosts. We joined them for prayer each day at all the hours except Terce and None which we prayed together ourselves as part of our morning and afternoon program. Topics for our presentations came from the writings of Saint Bernard, Saint Benedict, Saint Aelred, Cassian, Dom Andre Louf, OCSO, Sister Jean-Marie Howe, OCSO, Father Charles Dumont, OCSO, as well as Dom Christian de Cherge, OCSO, Father Martin Laird, OSA, and Sister Manuela Scheiba, OSB.
Time was allotted for us to tour the monastery of New Melleray founded in 1849 from Mount Melleray in Ireland and to view their current industry, a casket factory. We also had the good fortune to visit the sisters of Our Lady of the Mississippi in nearby Dubuque, Iowa which was founded in 1964 from Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts. For an industry the sisters make candy – delicious caramels. And so (of course!) we toured the candy factory and were given a tour of the monastery itself. We prayed Vespers with the sisters, were feted with a pizza supper, joined the sisters for Compline and then returned to New Melleray.
While the learning aspect of our meetings is very important, both for content of teaching as well as how to impart this rich heritage, the mutual support of novice directors one for another and the opportunity to share challenges and “successes” with one’s peers, the sharing of experiences, the offering suggestions of words of encouragement, as well as a little moderate laughter are most beneficial.