The Spirituality of Saint Meinrad Archabbey


How does one measure the spirituality of a community? The challenge is to try to get as accurate a pulse as one can realizing that in the end there is no measuring rod, or thermometer, available to us that can accomplish the task. The approach of this essay is to examine such written documents as we may have that might throw light on the subject and then rely on anecdotal reports to fill in the picture.

The centrality of the Divine Office and the Sacred Liturgy to the life of this community is patent and is reported elsewhere. The private prayer life or the devotional life of the members is not reported till now.

There were two novitiates in the community, one for fraters (brothers enrolled in the School of Theology, destined for a clerical role in the Church) and the one for lay brothers. The lay brothers did not participate in the full round of liturgical prayers, but the presumption here is that they had a formation in prayer and devotion that was mostly the same as the Fraters’. Certainly, they participated in all the novenas, Marian devotions, June devotions, etc. with the rest of the community. There were probably times when parallel devotions were conducted in German for them, at least in the early days. In particular, the brothers recited the rosary in German.

Father Abbot Ignatius Esser started a new program to initiate Americans into the community of brothers. He began receiving “oblates” into the Oblate School, called St. Placid Hall. It was a high school for young men who wanted to be Brothers in the community. It had a regular academic program and a formation program, but it also included learning a trade. Considerable planning went into the project of introducing the young men into the monastery. A separate administration for the “junior brothers” went into effect as the first graduates from St. Placid Hall came up to the monastery in the late 1930s. They lived in a separate space; they had their own chapel. A decision was made that they would not just recite the “Little Office of the Blessed Virgin,” as was the custom for the German-speaking brothers. A book of hours, called Divine Praise, was created first in mimeographed copies, later in book form, printed at the Abbey Press. I bring it up here because this was a dramatic shift in the prayer life of the brothers. The senior brothers continued to have their separate German round of prayer until the early 1960s when the English office of the junior brothers began to be the only one officially recited in public.

For many of the early years, each novice was handed a Holy Rule, a Novice Manual, the Imitatio Christi, and a small work known as the Tyrocinium. Further, it was the custom that each novice wrote out in long hand a set of novice rules that became more elaborate as the years past.

The Holy Rule is itself a document of formation. Benedict has disclaimers, but centuries of vital communities of prayer and work give evidence that, with the guidance of a master, it is a tool to shape lives and create a community ethos of reverence for God and concern for one another. The school of the Lord’s service is made up of people committed to seeking God, not just in the hours of prayer, but throughout the day and night; not just concerned with rooting out inappropriate behavior, but striving hour by hour and day by day to build up a community of believers permeated with love for one another. Benedict created an horarium and a community framework to help that formation take place. His chapters on obedience, on humility, on prayer and on service challenge the interior motivations and attitudes of his monks. There is ample evidence that the novice masters throughout the history of the order have striven to instill the principles of the Rule, and that monks have taken seriously their efforts to be faithful to the ideals laid down. Certainly, Saint Meinrad was not an exception to this long tradition.

In what follows, I will try to list elements of community formation that influenced the quality of the spiritual life of the monks.

Monastic Enclosure. The monastic enclosure is the place where the school of the Lord’s service takes place. The quality of that space and the discipline that pervades it creates an atmosphere conducive to monastic living and the discipline and prayer that take place there. While one would not label the horarium and the silence in the monastery as devotional, they are the matrix out of which the discipline and devotions flow.

Monastic Decorum. When we were clothed with the habit, we were instructed on some of the dos and don’ts for monks. We were issued two habits, one for work and everyday use, the other for major feast days, i.e., OA’s (Officia Abbatis). Some were issued a third habit to be used for outside and dirty work. These were little more than rags. Prayers were recited while donning the habit. Habits were to be worn in the house at all times. At the discretion of the superior, habits may or may not be worn for work outside, or for recreation. Not infrequently, we wore the habit at work and at play, including handball and touch football. We took hikes all around the countryside in habits. One did not sit on one’s scapular. It was to be pulled aside before sitting. The scapular was not to be thrown over one’s shoulder but folded around and tucked into the cincture, a regulation honored more in the breech because of convenience. When walking one does not swing his arms. Whenever not otherwise engaged, the hands were to be kept under the scapular whether walking or sitting. “The habit does not make the monk.” However, it, too, was a discipline of formation as one grew into a demeanor that helped preserve serenity, and a consciousness of vocation.

Obedience. I do not intend here to review all the monastic virtues, but obedience, stressed so strongly in the Rule, was reinforced in many small ways. Permission had to be gotten for almost anything outside the normal scheduled activities: to have visitors; to speak to a seminarian; to read a book; at times, even to go to the library; to write home more than once a month; to stay up beyond the hour for going to bed; to see the doctor; to take a nap during a recreation period; and the like. Even recreation was highly regulated. Permission had to be gotten even to sit down when the group was walking. In general, one did only what the group did. The norm in general was: “Follow the example of your senior.” No innovations without permission.” Seniority was strictly followed in everything. It was always proper to defer to one’s senior. These norms were sometimes oppressive, sometimes ridiculous, but always formational. I was corrected once in choir by a senior frater for the way I stood or knelt, I do not remember which. He said I should do only what my seniors did. Not yet as docile as I should have been, for a couple of days I scratched my head, blew my nose, and I do not remember what all, just as he did. As I continued my little ways, I gradually began to realize how ridiculous I was being. I stopped doing those things and accepted the lesson I seemed to have rejected. That I remember that incident over 50 years ago is indication of how it impressed me. In the end, I learned a valuable spiritual principle.

Poverty. The vow of poverty was taken very seriously. St. Benedict remarks that one has given up the rights even to his own body. All possessions were considered as belonging to the community. We were instructed to avoid using “my” in any context. “Our” was to be used instead. Things in daily use were spoken of as “ad usum,” i.e. for the use of. Even Fr. Henry’s copy of the Novice Manual, and mine, have “ad usum,” or a.u. for short, on the flyleaf. The vestry was the source of all our clothing and toiletry supplies. Permission was needed to use the items selected. Poverty is still taken very seriously, but today those little niceties of language are out of vogue. Permission is granted for things provided by the vestry without asking. Special purchases can only be made with permission. Benedictine poverty has a quality all its own. Living according to its norms was, and is, a very important factor in the spiritual values of the individual monks and the community as a whole.

Horarium. The horarium over the past 150 years has undergone a number of transformations. For around 100 of those years, though, there was little variation in the schedule. Matins and Lauds were at 4 a.m. The other hours of the Divine Office followed. The early hour for prayer preserved a long, monastic tradition of rising in the night to pray. Except for the last three days of Holy Week, when the first service was at 6 a.m., 4 a.m. was the norm, summer and winter, ferial or feast. Not much emphasis was given to this early rising. It amounted to a strong statement of the priority of prayer in the life of the community. The discipline of early rising for prayer implied a willingness to sacrifice the body in order to offer praise and thanksgiving. I once heard Fr. Abbot Ignatius say: “You never get used to getting up early. You just get used to being tired!” It is of interest to note that that horarium was set before electricity became a given in the house. The rhythm of early rising and early retiring was more in tune with light and darkness. Even after electrical lights had been installed, for many years, the electricity was shut off between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. As work and study became more feasible in the evening hours, some mitigation was established for the hour of rising, though in all the various schedules, Morning Prayer has never started later that 5:30 am. I believe that this early morning schedule of reserving the first three to four hours for prayer and meditation is a strong non-verbal statement of devotion sets a tone for the interior life of the monks.

Silence. St. Benedict devotes a chapter to the importance of silence. Silence not only disciplines the tongue, but it creates a kind of open space where prayer and recollection can be fostered. After the manner of St. Benedict’s fifth chapter, the community has distinguished night silence and day silence. The night silence has always been strictly followed. Culpa was called for if silence was broken, and an added penance of five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys was automatically added to whatever penances the superior might impose. Day silence, as it is called, is less strict but always implied. Speaking in the corridors was always considered a breach. Should one need to speak or converse, special spaces were provided. I believe that this discipline has been well observed both in the old monastery and in the new. I have little doubt that the community followed this same pattern in the early years, as I have seen it observed over the past 57. I remember one time in the early ‘60s. Fr. Barnabas Harrington, who was a very observant monk, returned home after a long session in St. Louis, where he was an apprentice architect. He was a dear friend of mine, and I had been his confessor. It so happened we came out of church together. Our eyes met as such friends’ would. We walked the corridor to the refectory in silence, not in any weird feeling of oppression, but respecting each other’s wish to observe the discipline of the house. We spoke of it later with mutual appreciation. That is rather personal incident, but I offer it as reflecting the discipline we had been taught and embraced. Occasionally a visitor, unattuned to the discipline, will make the silence almost palpable in its breech. It is presumed that day silence also applied to one’s place of work. I am not so confident that day silence was as well observed in the workplace. My work was in the library, where quiet is time-honored. However, I am not conscious that day silence inhibited my speaking there. I have my doubts that silence was observed at the place of work if the work occurred outside the cloister.

Trappist monasteries are known to have developed an elaborate sign language. That was not the case at Saint Meinrad. It is surprising how much can be communicated without talking. Eyes, facial expressions, shoulders, hands were all used to communicate. At table, there were signs for condiments and bread. The one for mustard was rocking the hands like a cradle for a baby. I will not say why mustard was called baby. Even this form of communication is traceable to the Holy Rule, where St. Benedict is adamant about silence at table.

Culpa. Culpa is the Latin word for fault. Used by monks, it refers to a ritual, both public and private, of admitting to a breech of some sort. It is public when in formal session the community has an opportunity by means of formulas to ask pardon for faults committed. Private culpa is a ritual performed by an individual monk admitting to a local superior some breech of discipline. It is not sacramental confession, but it is motivated by some of the same dispositions of spirit. For the most part, culpa pertains to the external forum, breeches of community discipline, or spirit, or the like. Some religious communities have sessions for accusing one another of faults for the betterment of the community living. Our culpa is not like that. It is self-accusatory. In so far as there is an admission of guilt, it is recognition of human frailty; it curbs pride; it restores the order that has been broken. The superior to whom one recites culpa gives some form of penance. For the most part, there are standard formulas for most offenses. Such as: de effuso fluido [for spilling water], de schisso vestimento [for tearing my clothes], de strepitu in dormitorio [for disturbance in the dormitory (where strict quiet prevailed), de fracto silencio for breaking silence], etc. I remember two stories in my time of rather unusual faults. One was “I threw a horse.” Another was “I broke a crow-bar.” For that one, the superior is reported to have shouted, “You WHAT??” I do not know what kind of a penance Frater Julius got. Probably an “in medio,” which stood for “in medio refectorii.” “In medio” meant that one knelt out in the dining room during meal prayers before the meal with a ritual of kissing the floor before proceeding to one’s place at table. “In medio” went into desuetude during the 1960s and 70s, but has come back in recent years. Of course, all such rituals are conducted in the vernacular now.

A similar practice is kneeling out in church after an office or Mass. This is left to the judgment of the individual. One “kneels out” if he has done something to disturb the choir: dropping a seat, dropping a kneeler or book, failing to intone, or making some egregious mistake in singing or reciting. This practice is au courrant. In a similar way, one bowed to the altar for more minor infractions. This practice has discontinued.

Formal culpa for over a hundred years was a weekly exercise built into the schedule; now it is more seasonal. Private culpa, for some years, faded out, but it is one of those monastic practices that have come back. I include a discussion of culpa here, not because it is a devotion, but because it is an ascetical practice that nurtures sensitivity to the ways personal negligence offends against charity and discipline so essential to the full living of the monastic life. As the saying goes, “a little humiliation is good for the soul.” There is lots of precedence in the Holy Rule for this ongoing practice.

Devotional Confession. Along these same lines, devotional confession was encouraged. This was almost a community exercise. After supper on Friday evenings, priest-confessors would be in their cells. Monks lined up outside the cell of the confessor of their choice. This was an ascetical and sacramental practice much recommended by spiritual directors. Exactly when this practice was introduced, if it wasn’t from the beginning, I do not know. I presume that it came from Einsiedeln. Some religious communities encouraged almost daily, devotional confession. That was not the case at Saint Meinrad. Actually, very little was said about it officially, but the exercise was a given. In these latter years, probably from the late 1960s, the emphasis has been on having a spiritual director and/or a confessor. The rest is left to the individual. The Friday night silence for confession has been dropped.

Fast and Abstinence. Fasting during Lent was Church law and was observed scrupulously by those between the ages of 21 and 60. As a special kind of penance, breakfast, consisting of bread, butter, jelly or honey, and coffee, was taken kneeling down. Meat was served once a day, but not on Wednesdays and Fridays, as Church law decreed for days of abstinence. Those not fasting were served the same fare. By and large, we were served a meat-and-potatoes diet with a heavy hand. Pie and cake were not uncommon, but other delicacies were. Not a few monks found the regimen difficult. I remember Fr. Dunstan, a rather hefty man, warning a class, in a morning hour at the beginning of Lent, not to unduly try his patience because the diet left him in a foul mood.

Monastic fast and abstinence was of a different order. It was a more mitigated restriction at meals. In a designated period from September to Easter, Monday, Wednesday and Friday were days of monastic fast. No eating between meals was permitted. On non-fast days, one might have fruit, or some other candy or food, during afternoon recreation period only. The bell for the end of recreation was the official signal closing down all eating outside meals. There was an expression “1:30 fruit stops,” which indicated the end of the open period for food. It was said, perhaps only in jest, that Fr. Stephen Thuis, novice master for only a brief period, got a migraine headache when one of the fraters admitted he had eaten fruit after 1:30.

Preoccupation with food, any excessive hankering for delicacies and the like, has been the target of ascetics from the earliest time. Eating and drinking easily lead to excess. Most spiritual regimens find food and drink a frontline battleground. Perhaps because these functions are so measurable, beginning programs start there. Some might say that the monastic fare in those days was mortification enough. That is certainly not true today in most houses and at Saint Meinrad in particular. Fasting is time-honored in the Church and in monastic tradition. It was not otherwise at Saint Meinrad, though in my time I do not remember much official emphasis being placed on its exercise. It was expected of a monk and that was that.

There has been some shift in worldviews in monastic communities. Spaces are set aside for some repast outside the meal and recreation periods. Coffeebreaks have been introduced. The point here being that fraternal camaraderie and good communication can take place in these informal settings, and that could be seen as a greater good than mortification. Monks whose worldview did not shift saw such shenanigans as scandalous. I remember back in a period before this more-mitigated position had been taken, a sign posted on a coffee urn by Fr. Abbot Ignatius. It said: “If you are sick, go to bed. The infirmarian will take care of you. There is no excuse for healthy monks eating and drinking outside the regular hours.” One can understand how a conscientious religious might struggle with the present practice if he did not know or buy into the theory of its usefulness.

Holy Water. This may seem like a rather strange heading, but for much of our monastic history the use of holy water was as much a part of our day as the air we breathed. Again, I am not prepared to say when the practice of blessing oneself over and over throughout the day was introduced. What I can say is that the practice was firmly entrenched by the time I came to the monastery in 1943, and I would be prepared to suggest that the practice had been around for a long, long time before, probably even from Einsiedeln. The practice of signing oneself with holy water combined two rituals deeply established in the history of the Christian life. Every room in the house had a holy water font. One of the regular, weekly duties of the novices was to fill up a spouted water-can at the container of holy water in the St. John the Baptist Chapel of the Abbey Church and make the rounds of every room. The routine was to knock first, open the door only enough to perform your little duty, say “Holy Water,” then close the door and move on.

I would not claim this to be an exclusive monastic practice. In fact, this was another practice about which little or nothing was said. It was the Christian custom of the time. Many of us had holy water fonts in the rooms of our homes. Meant to keep us in touch with our Baptism and its promises, it also was an instrument in repelling the wiles of the devil. Of course, the sign of the cross over one’s body was already an established practice in the second century. It is not an exaggeration to say that one might cross himself three to five times in the course of a minute as he moved from room to room. The very excessive use in the past may have reduced its meaningfulness. The practice has not been dropped. Now it is used primarily on entering church, as a reminder of our Baptism and as a kind of purification rite before entering the sacred space.

I might note that the transition was not always easy for all. In times we sometimes call turbulent, some wanted to drop the practice completely. Until that time, a frater was assigned to stand by the holy water font to dispense the holy water to the monks passing by in ranks in the center of the corridor. Sometimes the frater would not appear. Then the monk on the left, as the community entered the church in pairs, would have to step out of ranks to reach the font, wet his fingers, and then pass his wetted hand to his partner. Occasionally, the one on the left for personal reasons would not reach for the Holy Water. That meant that the one on the right either also had to do without, or make a political statement by leaving ranks to reach for the holy water himself. I remember this tense little drama going on for several weeks, until some genius put another font on the other side of the corridor so that each could take or not take the holy water as he preferred. Peace at last.

Along that same line, I had a personal lesson on how slow change can come about in the monastery. Before the Chapter Room was renovated in 1942-43, the holy water font was about six feet from the door. It was the responsibility of a novice to stand between the door and the font to facilitate the passing of holy water as monks entered for spiritual reading or for other exercises. In the renovated Chapter Room, the font was located in the doorpost itself. Our class was the first to be received in the renovated room. When it came my turn, as a novice, to distribute Holy Water there, I found it rather ridiculous to be stationed there for the distribution of the water, and I said so to my superior. I was commanded to do what I was told. The practice went on with the novice frequently bumping shoulders with the incoming monks for at least another year. Monasteries do not rush into change, and over the years, I have noticed how we continue to do little things that no longer have a purpose, or better, the purpose for which they were created is no longer practiced.

Visits to Altars and Shrines. In a number of places in this essay, I have spoken of “visits.” We are familiar with the use of the word in this way. We speak of making a visit to a church, or of visiting the Blessed Sacrament. Such expressions were and are a part of our Christian culture. I remember as a boy, before churches were locked up like banks, I was taught to make a visit whenever I walked past a Catholic Church, and for the most part I did. A very impressive development of that practice in the monastery was the visits to altars and shrines in the evening after compline. It was quite common for a goodly number of monks to stay back in church in order to visit various altars and shrines. The most popular shrine was Our Lady of Einsiedeln, where it was not uncommon to see ten to 15 monks kneeling for a few moments in private prayer. Other altars visited were St. John the Baptist, St. Benedict, St. Joseph, Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Benedict in the Crypt. There was a kneeler in front of an image of the Holy Face of Jesus. A few of the older brothers stopped there. Devotion to the Holy Face was very popular around the turn of the century. Now we practically never hear of it. Visiting altars was not something I remember being taught to do. I did it at first because I saw monks I respected very highly do it regularly. Those few moments each evening became very formational for me. The practice died out when the Abbey Church was renovated in 1969. Some monks still visit the Einsiedeln shrine. Quite a number make regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament.

Night Scapular. A little known and now almost forgotten artifact of monastic life at Saint Meinrad was the night scapular. This was a small swath of the same material as our scapular, probably about 12” x 16” with a hole for placing it over your head. This piece was neatly folded on the pillow during the day and worn at night. It was one more little reminder of our commitment that extended through day and night. I feel sure I wore mine for almost ten years. I have no recollection of why or when I stopped wearing it. My suspicion is that it was not issued to young clerics much into the 1950s.

Spiritual Reading. There were two scheduled periods of spiritual reading each day.

Public spiritual reading was a community exercise prior to compline each evening. Fraters were assigned as readers on a weekly basis. I believe the book selection was done by the prior, though I know that Fr. Abbot Ignatius would not hesitate to insert a title for reading. For the most part, the selections were not heavy reading. This exercise obviously was meant to nurture our spiritual life. There are probably lists of the books read somewhere. The reading was done in the Chapter Room. This public reading was also a buffer period after all the activities of the day in preparation for compline and night silence. Every effort was made to have everyone present for the night blessing during and after compline. I remember reading that in the early days, a signal was devised to ring in the kitchen so that any brothers still working there could get to church in time for the night blessing with holy water by the sbbot or prior.

A little footnote to that night blessing. If one had to miss compline for any reason, he was expected to get a night blessing, on his knees, right after supper, or go privately to the superior later in the evening for such a blessing.

Another form of public reading is at table. For more than a century, there was reading at both the noon and evening meal. Not all selections would be considered spiritual. The noon reading might be a secular book; the evening reading was of a more religious flavor. I remember monks telling that volumes of Pastor’s “Lives of the Popes” were read at supper. Currently, there is no reading at the noon meal, except on Sundays. Selections for the evening meal may be religious or secular, but presumably inspirational. Visitors find this ancient practice, even referred to in the Rule, as quaint. We, for the most part, find it enriching. The reading of a portion of the Holy Rule every day and reading the martyrology for the next day has continued from the beginning till now.

The other scheduled period of reading was for private spiritual reading. For the fraters, private spiritual reading was done in common. After 4:00 Vespers, all the monks were expected to go either to the study hall or to their cells for spiritual reading on their knees. Each monk’s cell was equipped with a prie-dieu of sorts for this exercise and for other periods of private prayer. The fraters had kneelers at their desks. On feast days, one could sit. This was a half-hour exercise. I know that I had occasion to visit several monks’ cells during that period and was edified to see that they were observing their spiritual reading on their knees, just as the fraters and junior brothers were. I remember one father complaining about Fr. Dunstan, mentioned above, because he had the bad habit of drumming his fingers on the prie-dieu as he knelt and read.

In a later incarnation of the schedule, a spiritual reading bell was rung at 4:30. Monks were expected to be doing spiritual reading at that time. The exercise was an expectation, was frequently encouraged, but not policed, as St. Benedict recommended. I for one found it almost impossible to keep that schedule because of my work. Our most recent schedule captures two periods of at least a half-hour each a day, one in the morning between breakfast and Mass, and one after Vespers and before supper. I think it is safe to say that spiritual reading is more treasured now than ever. It should be added that the concept of lectio divina is deeply ingrained into the ethos of the community. I would not dare to point to the former practice and say it was not lectio, but the approach to Scripture and other reading is different today than it was even 30 years ago.

St. Benedict designates Lent as a special time for holy reading. He clearly states that each is to receive a book to read completely and thoroughly. That must have been a challenge to the librarian, whose library would have been nothing like ours today. St. Benedict wrote his Rule almost a thousand years before printing was introduced. What they had were manuscripts, mostly the writings of the Fathers and Scripture. At Saint Meinrad, I am sure customs varied about this, though each monk was and is expected to follow the Rule in this regard. In the particular period that I was in the fratery, the assistant novice master, Fr. Claude, dispensed all reading. This rule was not just during Lent. Even if one got a book from the library, one had to get permission to read it. As I recall, we did not find the requirement oppressive, but of a piece with the way our lives were regulated. For most of my period in the clericate, I chose readings from the set of Migne’s Patrologia Latina, which lined our study hall walls. Permission was not required for that.

Spiritual reading, both public and private, continues to be what it has been through the centuries—an important formational exercise for the interior life of the monk.

Bells. I can imagine that it may be difficult for persons outside a closed community to appreciate the important role bells play in the daily life of Saint Meinrad. Bells filter through our day like threads in a pattern. Some may feel it is stretching things a bit to include bells in a discussion of the devotional life of a community. Not me. In times past, I have waxed poetic about the bells. What I wrote 25 years ago is still true today. Little has changed in the patterns of ringing them.

They are rung for fifteen minutes daily for Morning Prayer and evening prayer. They are rung daily for Mass and Noon Prayer. They are tolled at the death of any of the brethren (one toll for each year of profession). The Angelus continues to be rung morning, noon and evening. They are rung on special occasions, such as the death of a president or the election of a pope. They used to be rung at the consecration at the Conventual Mass. There also was a toll at 3 p.m. every Friday in honor of the Passion of our Lord. Monks were expected to kneel and pray no matter where they were or what they were doing. I remember a number of times at St. Placid Lake when monks in swimming gear knelt at 3 p.m. on Friday while the bell tolled.

Our bells are not automatic. A live monk stands under them and pulls the ropes that make them peal. The person assigned to ring them gets a good lesson in faithful responsibility. No one remarks their ringing. Everyone, it seems, notes if one is late in ringing them. In the Holy Rule, the responsibility is the abbot’s. The bell-ringer is his delegate.

Bona Opera. The Bona Opera, traceable to the Holy Rule, is a monastic exercise. Before the beginning of Lent, each monk prepares a document pledging himself to some extra prayer or penance for the duration of Lent. These are meant to be over and above the ecclesiastical fast and abstinence and other community penances. The Bona Opera is submitted to the abbot for his blessing. Some such added penances might be: no alcoholic beverages, give up desserts, visits to the cemetery, extra visits to the Blessed Sacrament, daily Stations of the Cross, daily rosary, and the like. This practice is still in place, and has branched out into the oblate program so that many oblates also follow this practice. The formula for the Bona Opera is very precise. Usually Fr. Abbot will sign the document before it is handed back. He also usually offers some pious note to each person’s formula, encouraging perseverance in good works.

Care of the sick and aged. St. Benedict goes out of his way to stress the importance of care of the sick and aged. The charity and care given in this area is a good barometer of a healthy community. I believe that sensitivity in this area has always been high. It certainly has been since I have been in the community. In the most recent 30 years, we have had the services of Brother Daniel Linskens, who has taken quality medical care to a very high level. We have always had to rely on local doctors who have been very dedicated, but the presence of Br. Daniel in the house and the quality of professional care he has been able to provide is remarkable. Happily, Fr. Anselm is in nurse’s training to assist and carry on the work Brother Daniel has been doing. The creation of an infirmary wing in the new monastery has also contributed dramatically to the program. For some years now, we have hada nurse in five days a week, and nurse’s aides 24 hours a day and seven days a week. I am one who has taxed its resources and enjoyed its services.

Devotions. Under this generic head, I would like to reflect on a number of religious exercises that manifest the religious priorities of the community. The public devotions reflect the official position of the community. Some others grow out of basic Catholic doctrines. Some come from a Benedictine tradition. Some may reflect Catholic culture of the period. Private devotions reflect how the spiritual ethos is incorporated into the lives and actions of individual members of the community. In any case, I believe these devotions make a powerful statement about the faith of the Saint Meinrad community.

To Jesus Christ. I have stated elsewhere that community exercises were strongly Christo-centric. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament were expected before and after almost every exercise.

The whole community, after lunch and supper, gathered in the church for a “visit” and for some exercise of prayer.

Benediction was celebrated after Vespers every Sunday.

The “40 Hours” devotion was celebrated annually, during which there was perpetual adoration. (Four monks, at least, were expected to be in the sanctuary at all times.)

Corpus Christi was celebrated with elaborate decorations in the church and all around the grounds. On that day, a solemn procession around the buildings was held with the abbot carrying the Blessed Sacrament. Two or three special altars would be set up along the way, where the blessing with the Sacrament took place. The bells would ring. Hymns were sung. A marching band played.

Benediction was celebrated every day of May, June and October in connection with special devotions during those months. The June devotions were in honor of the Sacred Heart. I remember hearing singing in a cell as I walked down the corridor one evening. It was Br. Philip singing the hymns for benediction. It was quite unusual to hear such sounds in the corridor. Radios were not allowed so it was quite rare that such sounds were heard. I learned from some of the monks in neighboring cells that Br. Philip “had benediction” every evening about 8 o’clock. He sang all the hymns and recited all the prayers. It was a bit odd, but it showed how deeply the devotion had penetrated his personal life.

The Novice Manual had prayers: Monthly Devotion of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Sacrament, which started with an Act of Atonement to Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament.

In July, a novena in honor of the Precious Blood of Jesus was provided (1889 ed.). This was not included in the third edition, and was not in vogue when I entered the monastery.

Stations of the Cross were held once a week during Lent. Many monks put daily Stations of the Cross in their “Bona Opera.” The Stations were a popular devotion for some all year round. I heard a story from an old priest in another monastery. He said his monastic cell was next door to a small, brothers’ chapel. A pious, elderly brother was accustomed to come to the chapel long before Morning Prayer every day to pray the Stations in the dark. One morning he was off by one door and Fr. Thomas bumped into the brother in his cell.

There was a rubric in the liturgy that one bowed his head at the name of Jesus. This practice was extended to any time the name of Jesus was pronounced in public, a practice still honored by many. This was not just a monastic practice, but was part of Catholic culture of the time. Again, this pious practice is still kept up by some of the older monks.

There was a lifesize crucifix at the foot of the stairs on the first floor of the old monastery. It was a constant reminder of our Lord’s love for us, and the suffering He endured on our behalf. I am sure it evoked many a pious reflection. I noticed that the feet of the crucifix were well worn. I was told that many of the senior brothers kissed the cross on the way to morning office. I know, in particular, that this was a pious practice of Brother Odilo. After he had retired in old age from his job as shoemaker, he had a regular routine around 11 o’clock every morning. He would start out at the foot of that cross, and then proceed to the crypt where he prayed before St. Benedict’s shrine, then at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. From there he proceeded up to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. He would then walk around to the front of the church on the outside, stopping only to light up a pipe and take a little smoke. After that, he would conclude his rounds at the Einsiedeln chapel. I was so edified by him that I wanted my brother to meet him on an occasion of Tom’s visiting me. Since I knew Brother’s routine, we waited for him a little after 11 on the north side of church. He was right on schedule. There could be many such stories. The older brothers were especially edifying in their devotions. Brother Clement spent several hours a day sitting in front of the St. Joseph altar.

Whenever one entered the cell, office or classroom, the proper expression was Laudetur Jesus Christus, Gelobt sei Jesus Christus, or Praised be Jesus Christ. The response was In aeternum, In alle Ewigkeit, or Now and forever. Again, this custom is still practiced by some the older monks.

To Mary. Devotion to Mary is quite notable at Saint Meinrad. This is well within the Benedictine tradition. Although St. Benedict makes no mention of Mary in the Holy Rule, devotion to the Blessed Virgin has been an integral part of the tradition, and Saint Meinrad is no exception. After all, it was founded from a monastery in Switzerland that had a long history of being a place of Marian pilgrimage. Our Lady of Einsiedeln is the patroness of the Abbey Church. In the early days of that church, there was a small chapel, within the church, dedicated to her with her image above the altar. A shrine in her honor has always been a part of the church. Processions to the shrine, with singing of the various seasonal Marian antiphons, were always a weekly tradition, until the mid-1980s when that rite was increased to three times a week. In 1954, the centennial of our founding, Einsiedeln Abbey gave Saint Meinrad a replica of the statue that stands in the Abbey Church of Einsiedeln. A black Madonna, its regal beauty is often dressed in colored clothing to match the liturgical season. Even the stained glass window at the shrine represents St. Meinrad, in the 10th century, as having a devotion to her. Besides the community devotions, it has long been the practice for individuals to pray before her shrine, in particular, when the monks visited altars after compline.

One late afternoon, I was kneeling before Our Lady of Einsiedeln shrine when Fr. Francis came up and called me into the chapel area. He said: “Get me the missal.” I brought it out for him. Then he said: “Open it to the Saturday Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin.” After I did that, he proceeded to recite the Introit, Salve sancta parens… “There, you see, I can read so I can offer Mass.” The fact was, he was almost blind, and was reciting the passage by heart. He could no longer offer Mass. For a short time, the superiors took his name off the bulletin board where altars for offering Mass were assigned. Fr. Francis made such a fuss that finally they assigned him an altar so that the struggle would only be in the morning to prevent him from trying. Frequently during the day, he would grab a monk and ask him to show him which altar he was assigned to. With his name now back on the board, he was content, at least for the moment. Fr. Francis was also very devoted to the Divine Office. He insisted on being at Office. He sat behind the choir and insisted on having a book in hand. A junior monk was assigned to sit by him to provide him with a book. Sometimes for fun, they gave it to him upside down. He still held it religiously and proceeded to recite. He knew most of the psalms by heart. These are light moments that make us smile, but I think they also reveal how totally dedicated he was to Office and Mass. The attitude was ingrained in him. He was only one of many.

The rosary is a time-honored devotion to Mary. For many years, at least to about 1945, the rosary was recited daily in church as a community exercise. For many years, select phrases, according to the mystery of the decade being recited, were added to every Hail Mary after the words “thy Name, Jesus.” (In the various editions of the Novice Manual the phrases were given in Latin, English and German, such as: Who rose again from the dead; Who ascended into heaven; Who did send the Holy Ghost; Who hast assumed thee into heaven; Who has crowned thee in heaven; etc.) Every monk is expected to have a personal rosary. Many recite it every day. It is still not unusual at all to see a monk carrying his rosary in prayer. Old Brother Philip carried it all the time. Bowed over as he was in his latter days, the rosary dragged on the ground. It was part of his environment. I remember one time in the dark of the church when Brother thought he was alone, he called out at our Lady Chapel, “Wie Lang? Wie Lang?” “How long before I can die?” was his plea. I remember being deeply touched by the sincerity and simplicity of his prayer.

The Angelus is another devotion that was a part of the Catholic culture. Many churches rang the bells for the Angelus three times a day. I suspect that at Saint Meinrad this custom was followed right from the earliest days. The Angelus bell still rings. The monks recite the prayer privately. For many years, though, it was recited publicly in choir after Lauds and the office closest to noon, None or Vespers during Lent.

Some of the major feasts were prepared for by novenas by the community. The prayers were said usually after dinner, during the visit to the Blessed Sacrament in church. Novenas in honor of Mary dotted the calendar. In more recent years, from around 1910 on, the Immaculate Conception (December 8) had a novena. Earlier, according to the 1889 Novice Manual, Christmas, the Feast of Assumption (August 15), and the Birth of Mary (September 8) had novenas as community exercises. That edition also provided for a private novena for our Sorrowful Mother in September. Novenas have not been a part of the community prayer life, probably since the 1960s.

Under the choir in the Abbey Church before the recent remodeling was a rather large space designated as the crypt. A huge grotto was built in the crypt honoring Our Lady of Lourdes. A kneeling statue of St. Bernadette of Soubirous was part of the shrine. There was a great devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes. Many monks and students prayed in that space every day. The stairs leading down into the crypt were of sandstone. I remember being impressed as a young student at how that stone had worn down from the many devotees who plied them. It was removed in a renovation in 1969.

A statue of our Blessed Mother has been on the grounds since the 1940s. Also, the very imposing seated Madonna in the niche over the doors of the church, I believe, was set in place in time for the centennial of the abbey in 1954. Mr. Jogerst had carved it from a solid block of Tennessee marble in the Abbey Art Shop. Getting it up into that niche was a great challenge. The piece weighed around 2,000 pounds. I was privileged to be able to watch the whole procedure. The model for his work was an early seal of the Abbey of Einsiedeln. Father Albert Kleber remarked to Mr. Jogerst that the shape of the image lacked modesty, which threw him into a rage. [Mr. Jogerst, a native of Germany, had been a prisoner of war in Kentucky. Fr. Peter Bremer invited him to come to work for the abbey after he was released from prison. Mr. Jogerst carved a number of other statues on campus and in the area. St. Benedict, St. Scholastica, St. Bede, and Christ the King were the others on our campus.]

A hill about a mile from the abbey has been named Monte Cassino. From very early days, there has been a shrine to our Lady there. A fine stone chapel, dedicated to Our Lady, was built and dedicated around 1870, and refurbished in 1940s. For many years, there was a procession from the Abbey Church to Monte Cassino on one of the rogation days. It was quite a sight to see the long winding procession of seminarians in their cassocks and surplices and the monks in their habits and cucullas making their way down the highway and up the hill. At the peak of our enrollment, close to 700 would be in that line. The rosary was recited as we walked, each group leading a separate recitation. Invariably, we would meet the parishioners from town coming down the hill as we were going up. There was a kind of cacophony as the two lines recited the rosary out of sync with each other. For years, too, Monte Cassino was a destination for a walk, a visit, and a return—a trip of a little more than an hour. Since the 1920s, the abbey has been responsible, usually through a few assigned monks, for devotions on the Sundays of May and October. A Community Bulletin note said that there were over 600 cars for each of the Sundays of October 2000, except one. These services consist of a short liturgy of the word, a devotional sermon, and the recitation of the rosary in procession around the top of the hill with a concluding blessing by the presiding monk. Some monks attend these services. They are not an official community activity, but it is one more indication of how the devotion to Our Blessed Mother is fostered in community members, and through them to the Catholics in the area surrounding the abbey.

In connection with Marian devotions, mention should be made of a phenomenon known as “Fatima Week.” In the summer of 1948, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima was being carried from diocese to diocese throughout the country to foster devotion to Mary and to make more public her message at Fatima. Fr. Abbot Ignatius and a number of other monks wanted to make a “visit of the statue” a special occasion at Saint Meinrad, not only for those of us on the hill but also for the Catholic population in the parishes of southern Indiana. The abbey council affirmed his wish. There were 24 planning committees established, which ultimately involved a greater part of the community. For publicity, we had the help of a businessman in Evansville, Mr. W. Bussing, who directed a barrage of information all across southern Indiana. A complete description of all the activities has been published, which included most of the sermons and homilies preached during those days. [The Fatima Week Sermons. The complete text of the Sermons delivered on the occasion of the visit of the “Pilgrim Virgin” to St. Meinrad’s Abbey, St. Meinrad, Indiana, August 14-20, 1948, with an Introduction, “The Story of Fatima Week in St. Meinrad” by the Right Reverend Ignatius Esser, O.S.B. Abbot of St. Meinrad’s abbey. St. Meinrad, Indiana, A Grail Publication, 1949.]

Suffice it to say here that it became a major event in the history of the Abbey. The statue arrived in a motorcade, which was said to have been ten miles long. Fifteen state police officers were on hand to control the traffic. There were 749 automobiles in that motorcade. It was estimated that 125,000 people participated in one program or another over the course of the week. Each day there were 21 functions. There were communion Masses offered in the church every half hour from 6 a.m. to 11. The rosary was recited in church, along with a sermon, six times each day. A huge altar was erected on the grounds. A Pontifical High Mass was celebrated outside every day for the public. In sum, the whole occasion was one large statement of faith and devotion to Mary writ large on the Hill and in the minds and hearts of thousands of God’s people. One priest of the Indianapolis Archdiocese wrote: “To my knowledge there has never been anything comparable to Fatima Week in the history of religion in the State of Indiana.” Monsignor William C. McGrath, P.A., the person in charge of the touring statue said, in part, in his opening remarks: “During the past ten months, my dear friends, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and through many dioceses and States of the Union, we have seen receptions accorded our Blessed Mother, but without wishing to indulge in a solitary word of pretense or flattery I will say that today’s reception has been unsurpassed by anything we have seen in these United States.”

To St. Benedict. Devotion to St. Benedict has always been fostered. The daily reading from the Holy Rule, the instructions of the novice masters, celebration of two major feasts in his honor, the novena before the March 21st feast, altar and statue in the church, shrine and statue in the crypt, as well as private prayers of intercession wove a pattern of devotion that permeated community life.

To St. Joseph. In a similar way, devotion to St. Joseph has always been in evidence. In the Novice Manual of 1889 there was a novena in his honor. It did not appear in later editions, but special prayers were attached to the other prayers normally said during the visit to the Blessed Sacrament after dinner during the month of March. An altar and statue were in the Abbey Church. A special shrine to St. Joseph was commissioned by Fr. Abbot Ignatius. Brother Herman carved the statue that still is enshrined in a sandstone nook in a lovely spot across the Anderson Valley. Its dedication was an occasion of great pomp. In more recent times, Fr. Abbot Lambert has fostered devotion to St. Joseph. He commissioned Fr. Donald to do a mural in the passage beneath the church and on the way to the crypt chapel, recently dedicated to St. Joseph.

Conclusion. This has been a romp through the practices of the monks of Saint Meinrad. No single devotion or custom would stand out as shaping the character of the monks, but I think the preponderance of little things adds up to a value-laden life that kept the monks focused in the “school of the Lord’s service.” Without doubt, more, similar practices could be brought up. It has been difficult for me to draw the line between the past and the present. It is evident that many of the small practices have been dropped. Certainly, the numerous lengthy novenas and verbal public prayers have been curtailed or dropped. Some died as the culture changed. Some were almost drastically uprooted. Some practices that were dropped have been picked up again. I am prepared to say that the next 150 years will see a somewhat similar pattern. I trust that the core values will continue to be preserved.

Copyright © 2008 Saint Meinrad Archabbey