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Chapter 20

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Arms and the Monk!
The Trappist Saga in Mid‑America

M. M. Hoffman

published by
Wm. C. Brown Company
Dubuque, Iowa, 1952

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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 p213  XXI

Historical Sidelights

1. Monastery Retreats

The impetus given the spiritual retreat movement by the erection of the guest and retreat house at New Melleray Abbey and described in the later chapters of this volume continues to this day. The schedule for retreats for groups of laymen for the first half of the year 1952 is herewith given, and it may be pointed out that it included not only parish groups from Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, but other particular groups: the Newman Club, University of Wisconsin, Madison; the Phi Kappa Fraternity, Iowa State College, Ames, Iowa; Chevrolet Motor Division of Milwaukee and Iowa; the Dubuque Business and Professional Men's group. The schedule follows:

January 18‑20 — Tennyson, Wis.

January 25‑27 — Darlington, Wis.

February 1‑3 — Cuba City and Potosi, Wis.

February 8‑10 — St. Mary's and St. Patrick's, Dubuque.

February 15‑17 — Monastery Retreat.

February 22‑24 — Newman Club, Madison, Wis.

February 29-March 2 — Lancaster, Wis.

March 7‑9 Cascade, Iowa.

March 14‑16 — Farley, Iowa.

March 21‑23 — Monastery Retreat.

March 28‑30 — Phi Kappa Fraternity, Iowa State College, Ames, Ia.

 p214  April 4‑6 — Palm Sunday group.

April 18‑20 — Chevrolet Motor Division, Milwaukee, Wis., and Waterloo, Iowa.

April 25‑27 — Dubuque Business and Professional Men.

May 2‑4 — Holy Ghost, Dubuque.

May 9‑11 — Plymouth, Wis.

May 16‑18 — St. Columbkille's, Dubuque.

May 23‑25 — Dyersville, Iowa.

May 30-June 1 — East Dubuque, Illinois.

June 6‑8 — Business and Professional Men, West Allis, Wis.

June 13‑15 — Business and Professional Men, Fond du Lac, Wis.

2. St. Philomena and New Melleray

The enthusiasm for the cult of the St. Philomena devotions which prevailed in the earlier decades of the nineteenth century was carried from Europe to Iowa by two of the founders of New Melleray monastery, Bishop Mathias Loras of Dubuque and Father James Myles O'Gorman, superior of the monastery from 1849 to 1850 and prior from 1857 to 1859. Bishop Loras' sister, a nun of the Visitation Convent in Condrieu, France, his oldest living sister, and his "Maraineº et seconde Mère," as she signed herself, bore the name of Soeur Philomene. One of the parishes he organized near Dubuque at Asbury he named St. Philomena's.

Prior James O'Gorman encouraged the devotion in his cloister and when he went to Omaha as bishop of the Nebraska vicariate, he named his first cathedral St. Philomena's, and this parish still flourishes today. That the cult of the "saintly Princess" continued from his time on is proven by the profusion of pictures and prayer leaflets left in the various books of the brothers who passed away. During the gloomy days of the threatened bankruptcy of New Melleray in the 1880s novenas of masses in honor of St. Philomena were said and the happy escape from ultimate extinction was frequently attributed to her intercession. From 1903 on Father John Burns was the leader of the devotees of St. Philomena, and on his death his mantle fell on the shoulders of Brother Timothy Westemeyer whose family gave several members to New Melleray, among them Abbot Bruno Ryan. Due to Brother Timothy's zealous activities, especially in recent years, this devotion has spread from the monastery to many other localities. Only since November of 1947 this Trappist brother has sent devotional articles to every state of the Union, as well as to  p215 Guam and Alaska, Canada, Ireland, Italy, West and South Africa and to India.

These articles include nine thousand copies of the booklet, "Saint Philomena, the Wonderworker," seventeen thousand medals, approximately fifteen thousand cords, two thousand six hundred pictures, about forty-five thousand prayer leaflets, and nine hundred third class relics.

In March of 1952 Father W. H. Dunphy, the Command Chaplain of the Royal Canadian Air Force, wrote a letter to the abbey how he, through the influence of Brother Timothy, has spread the devotion to St. Philomena not only among his fellow chaplains but among the airmen, airwomen, their dependents and all others entrusted to his care. In April Bishop John Collins of Monrovia, capital of Liberia, West Africa, wrote: "May God bless and reward you and the Client of Saint Philomena who defrayed the expense of sending this last box of articles."

3. A Prophecy of World War III?

Among the priests of New Melleray Abbey who enlisted in the army to serve as chaplains in World War II was Father Gregory Kennedy. In a letter in the abbey archives received from Father Kennedy from Seoul, Korea, and written on March 8, 1948, is a rather remarkable passage: "It is nearly two years since I arrived in Korea, the land of missionaries and martyrs. It is a very troubled place and it has accurately been called 'the powder‑keg of the world — a place that can easily explode and plunge the whole world into the agony of World War III.' I see daily the terrible struggle between Communism and the forces of Christ — and the holy monks at New Melleray should use every means of their prayerful lives to halt the inroads of this dreadful enemy." — This was written well over two years before the North Korean aggression across the 38th parallel in the summer of 1950.

4. Burials at New Melleray

What is of bizarre interest even to Catholics is the method of burials of the Trappist monks. The fact that they are buried in their monastic habits instead of in coffins brings at first a recoiling impact of distaste and aversion to those accustomed to the un‑Christian world's policy of gliding over and softening what should be to us the wholesome lesson of the shock of death. Yet, this interring of the monk in the earth from which he sprang is as logical as it is touching.  p216 From the Histoire de Notre Dame de la Grande Trappe (Bordeaux, 1903), the following beautiful description is taken:

Les cloches s'associent au deuil de la famille religieuse. Au cimetière le supérieur récite quelques oraisons, bénit la fosse, asperge et encense le corps et la tombe ; ensuite les quatre frères qui le portaient le descendent avec des bandelettes dans la fosse, où le Père infirmier est déjà descendu. L'infirmier reçoit le corps, l'étend avec respect, arrange ses vêtements, lui rabat le capuce sur le visage, et remonte après avoir accompli ce devoir suprême envers son frère défunt. On sait que les Trappistes pratiquent la pauvreté jusque dans leur sépulture ; voilà pourquoi on les enterre sans cercueil. L'infirmier étant remonté de la fosse, le supérieur asperge et encense une dernière fois le défunt, jette sur lui un peu de terre, puis les frères remplissent la fosse.

Which means — that amidst the tolling of the abbey bells and the pious recitation of the prayers of the brothers, the grave is blessed and the body is sprinkled with holy water and the fragrant clouds from the burning incense are wafted over it.

"The Father infirmarian standing in the grave receives the body as it is lowered to him, stretches it out with reverence, arranges the habit, draws the cowl over the countenance of the deceased, and ascends from the tomb having performed this supreme duty towards his dead brother. Just as it is well known that the Trappists practice poverty even in their very sepulture, so it is understood why they are buried without coffins. Once again the superior blesses the deceased with holy water and incense, tosses upon him a bit of earth, and then the brothers fill up the grave.

"The religious then sing seven psalms as though asking pardon from God for faults their brother may have committed through the seven capital sins . . .

"Among the Trappists, the cemetery is contiguous to their church, contrary to modern innovation, which under pretext of public health but in reality in order to erase from man the thought of death, locates the cemetery as far away as possible from the centers of population . . .

"After the death of a Trappist, following an ancient and venerable custom of the order of Citeaux, the place which he had occupied in the refectory is served his repast as though he were still present; a little cross of wood is placed on his napkin."

 p217  This pious practice continues for a month. And during this month — the Tricenary it is called — masses, prayers and good work are offered up in behalf of the deceased.

5. List of Abbots, Priors and Superiors at New Melleray

1. Father Clement
(Timothy Smyth)
Born: Feb. 24, 1810
Professed: Nov. 1, 1839

Prior: July 16, 1849–Aug. 18, 1849

Resigned his first appointment as Titular Prior. (See No. 4 below)

Died: Sept. 22, 1865

2. Father James
(James Myles O'Gorman)
Born: Oct. 16, 1804
Professed: Mar. 25, 1841

Superior: Aug. 18, 1849–Apr. 12, 1850

Appointed temporary superior until the arrival of new Titular Prior from Mount Melleray. (See No. 5)

Died: July 4, 1874

3. Father Francis
(Thomas Walsh)
Born: –––––, 1813
Professed: Feb. 2, 1834

Prior: Apr. 12, 1850–Dec. 6, 1852

Removed by Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick when monastery reached critical stage. Worked thirty years on Iowa missions by dispensation.

Died: October 29, 1893

4. Father Clement
(Timothy Smyth)
Born: Feb. 24, 1810
Professed: Nov. 1, 1839

Prior: Dec. 6, 1852–Apr. 16, 1857

Left New Melleray to become second bishop of diocese of Dubuque.

Died: Sept. 22, 1865

5. Father James
(James Myles O'Gorman)
Born: Oct. 16, 1804
Professed: Mar. 25, 1841

Prior: Apr. 16, 1857–May 2, 1859

Left New Melleray to become first resident Vicar-Apostolic of Nebraska, later Diocese of Omaha.

Died: July 4, 1874

6. Father Bernard
(Hugh McCaffrey)
Born: Aug. 6, 1813
Professed: Nov. 1, 1837

Superior: May 2, 1859–Oct. 2, 1860

Appointed temporary superior until arrival of new Titular Prior from Mount Melleray.

Died: March 3, 1883

 p218  7. Father Ignatius
(Michael Foley)
Born: –––––, 1824
Professed: Sept. 8, 1848

Prior: Oct. 2, 1860–June 15, 1861

Returned to Mount Melleray Abbey to become president of Mount Melleray Seminary. Later, Prior of Mount St. Joseph's, Roscrea.

Died: May 6, 1912

8. Father Bernard
(Hugh McCaffrey)
Born: Aug. 6, 1813
Professed: Nov. 1, 1837

Superior: June 15, 1861–Nov. 2, 1861

Served as temporary superior until arrival of new Titular Prior from Mount Melleray.

Died: March 3, 1883

9. Father Alberic
(Hugh Madigan)º

Superior: Nov. 2, 1861–Feb. 25, 1862

Served as temporary superior until arrival of new Titular Prior from Mount Melleray.

10. Abbot ephrem
(Charles Joseph McDonnell)
Born: Feb. 12, 1822
Professed: Nov. 1, 1846

Prior and Abbot: Feb. 25, 1862–Sept. 29, 1883

Elected 1st Abbot of New Melleray. Blessed May 10, 1863. Resigned office and returned to Mount Melleray.

Died: March 13, 1898

11. Father Alberic
(Denis Dunlea)
Born: March 8, 1833
Professed: Dec. 8, 1860

Superior: Sept. 29, 1883–Sept. 27, 1889

Election of new abbot postponed because of heavy debt and lack of vocations.

Died: February 4, 1917

12. Father Lewis
(Peter Carew)
Born: June 9, 1850
Professed: Dec. 8, 1871

Superior: Sept. 27, 1889–June 7, 1897

Aided in reducing the debt and left New Melleray to serve as Trappist Definitor in Rome.

Died: June 2, 1927

13. Abbot Alberic
(Denis Dunlea)
Born: March 8, 1833
Professed: Dec. 8, 1860

Abbot: June 7, 1897–Feb. 4, 1917

Elected 2nd Abbot of New Melleray. Blessed Oct. 28, 1897. Cleared the debt and enlarged the domain.

Died: February 4, 1917

 p219  14. Abbot Bruno
(James Ryan)
Born: Dec. 19, 1865
Professed: Dec. 14, 1890

Superior and Abbot: Feb. 4, 1917–Aug. 2, 1944

Elected 3rd Abbot of New Melleray. Blessed May 23, 1935. Built guest house in 1928. Farm and buildings modernly equipped.

Died: August 2, 1944

15. Abbot Albert
(John Beston)
Born: Nov. 15, 1880
Professed: Aug. 25, 1901

Abbot: Aug. 2, 1944–Sept. 5, 1946

Elected 4th Abbot of New Melleray. Blessed Dec. 28, 1944. Inaugurated building program to complete the monastery.

Died: Sept. 5, 1946

16. Father Vincent
(Vincent Daly)
Born: January 4, 1911
Professed: Dec. 8, 1932

Superior: Sept. 5, 1946 until election of Abbot Eugene. Now, Claustral Prior of New Melleray Abbey.

17. Abbot Eugene
(John Joseph Martin)
Baptized: July 17, 1878
Professed: Feb. 28, 1904

Abbot: Sept. 5, 1946

Elected 5th Abbot of New Melleray. Blessed Oct. 24, 1946. Continuing the building program. Sent colony to the Ozarks in Missouri, Sept. 25, 1950.

Died: Nov. 10, 1952

(Researches of Bro. Timothy Westemeyer, O. C. S. O.)

6. Statistical Personnel of New Melleray

When the Iowa Trappist foundation was commenced by Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick in July of 1849 its membership consisted of two priests and four lay brothers. Toward the end of that year, despite the tragedy on the Mississippi which took the lives of six of the monks, the number rose to six choir brothers of whom four were priests, and eleven laborers. The following numbers are taken from the records in the stated years:

 p220  Year Choir Brothers Lay Brothers
Professed Novices Oblates
Professed Novices Oblates
Total Priests
1851 18 7 20 5 50 5
1860 13 2 37 9 61 7
1870 8 3 38 3 4 56 7
1878 7 1 4 40 3 5 60 6
1889 6 6 31 4 6 53 10
1892 8 6 33 54 9
1901 5 4 21 4 34 8
1909 5 1 2 17 2 27 6
1911 6 2 15 2 25 6
1918 5 1 10 1 17 5
1920 8 1 1 13 2 25 7
1924 9 2 11 4 26 7
1930 7 8 1 15 2 5 38 4
1934 15 6 15 1 2 39 8
1941 19 6 2 21 3 3 54 16
1944 21 5 1 21 3 51 14
1946 24 12 3 20 8 67 15
1947 27 9 4 22 7 4 73 17
1948 32 12 1 20 13 6 84 19
1949 38 20 10 26 9 5 108 23
1950 45 28 3 27 15 17 135 24

7. "Westward Does the Star of Empire . . ."

Bishop Mathias Loras of Iowa, encouraged and pleased by the lives of the Cistercians whom he had helped to establish on the banks of the Mississippi, sought in the middle 1850s to bring their monastic cousins, the Benedictines, into his diocese also. One Benedictine house had been commenced as far west as Indiana — at St. Meinrad's — in 1854, and another near what is now Collegeville, Minnesota, in 1856.

The correspondence in connection with this effort between Dr. Loras and the celebrated Archabbot Boniface Wimmer of St. Vincent's Archabbey in Pennsylvania, found in the Dubuque archdiocesan archives, is both edifying and amusing. Much as he admired the archabbot and the Benedictines, Bishop Loras was such an advocate of Temperance — spelled with a capital T — as this historical study  p221 has already shown when speaking of the bishop's relations with Father Mathews, the giant apostle of Temperance, that he hesitated about an outright invitation because he feared the introduction of a monastic brewery in his diocese. The Bavarian monks of various orders were famous for their brews of beer in Munich, and the phantom of a possible Benedictine brewery proved too much for Loras — really somewhat of a Prohibitionist at heart — and he withheld the invitation.

This did not hinder the penetration of various other parts of the West by the Benedictine monks. Even today's press relates how these followers of the Rule of St. Benedict, commonly known as the "black monks," have now established an abbey high in the Coteau hills of northeastern South Dakota. A 576‑acre farm is being transformed into a monastic setting, and from now on will serve as headquarters for the Benedictine missions to the Indians. Hitherto, the administration of these missions was handled at the founding abbey, St. Meinrad's of Indiana. For more than seventy years these monks have labored among the Indian tribes of the Dakotas.

8. Formal Visitors at New Melleray

In general, all Cistercian monasteries are visited by their Father Immediate or his delegate, unless the Abbot General has already visited them. It is chiefly on the Visitation, properly made, that the preservation of regular discipline depends. Here is the list of Formal or Regular Visitors to New Melleray during its centuried existence taken from the Visitation Cards; the Visitation Cards are letters, sometimes lengthy, written by the Visitors containing solicitous paternal admonitions which are to be read on the ember days of the four seasons of the year until the next Visitation:

1849 Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick, Founder and Father Immediate, About of Mount Melleray, Ireland.
1857 Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick.
1860 Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick.
1862 Dom Benedict Berger, Abbot of Gethsemani, Kentucky.
1867 Dom Benedict Berger.
1868 Dom Anthony, Abbot of Our Lady of La Trappe, Melleray, (Nantes) France.
1870 Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick, Father Immediate and Abbot of Mount Melleray, Ireland.
 p222  1875 Father James Deportemont, Prior of Petit Clairvaux Monastery, Tracadie, Nova Scotia, Canada.
1876 Dom Eugene Vachette, Abbot of Our Lady of La Trappe, Melleray, (Nantes) France.
1878 Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick, Father Immediate, Abbot of Mount Melleray, Ireland.
1882 Dom Dominic Schietecatte, Abbot of Petit Clairvaux, Tracadie, Nova Scotia, Canada.
1883 Dom Jean Marie, Abbot of Notre Dame de Bellefontaine, France.
1886 Dom Eugene Vachette, Abbot of Melleray, France.
1887 Dom Jean Marie, Abbot of Bellefontaine, France.
1889 Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick, Abbot of Mount Melleray, Ireland. (Sixth, and Last, Visitation of the Founder before his death.)
1892 Dom Jean Marie, Abbot of Bellefontaine, France.
1894 Dom Eugene Vachette, Abbot of Melleray, France.
1897 Dom Carthage Delaney, Father Immediate, Abbot of Mount Melleray, Ireland, and Dom Eugene Vachette, Abbot of Melleray, France.
1901 Dom Edmund Obrecht, Abbot of Gethsemani, Kentucky.
1909 Dom Augustine Marre, Titular Bishop of Constantia, Abbot of Citeaux, France, and Abbot General of the Order of Reformed Cistercians. (First Visitation by the Abbot General of the Order.)
1911 Dom Maurus Phelan, Father Immediate, Abbot of Mount Melleray, Ireland.
1918 Dom Pacome Gaboury, Abbot of Notre Dame du Lac, Oka, Montreal, Quebec Province, Canada.
1919 Dom Maurus Phelan, Father Immediate, Abbot of Mount Melleray, Ireland.
1920 Dom Maurus Phelan.
1924 Dom Maurus Phelan.
1928 Dom Jean Baptiste Ollitrault Keryvallan, Abbot of Citeaux, France, and Abbot General of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. (Second Visitation by an Abbot General.)
1930 Dom Maurus Phelan, Father Immediate, Abbot of Mount Melleray, Ireland.
 p223  1931 Dom Herman Joseph Smets, Abbot of Citeaux, France, and Abbot General of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. (Third Visitation by an Abbot General.)
1934 Dom Celsus O'Connell, Father Immediate, Abbot of Mount Melleray, Ireland.
1935 Dom Celsus O'Connell.
1938 Dom Celsus O'Connell.
1941 Dom Pacome Gaboury, Abbot of Notre Dame du Lac, Montreal, Canada.
1944 Dom Celsus O'Connell, Father Immediate, Abbot of Mount Melleray, Eire.
1946 Dom Celsus O'Connell.
1948, 1950 and 1951 Dom Celsus O'Connell.

9. Coat of Arms of
The Right Reverend Abbot Eugene, O. C. S. O.
Our Lady of New Melleray Abbey
(For those who understand heraldry)


Impaled Arms. Dexter: Per fess dancetté, azure and argent, in chief a cross bottony rayonnant or, between four mullets of the second, in base on a bar wavy of the first three fleur-de‑lis of the second (Abbey of Our Lady of New Melleray). Sinister: Ermine, three bars gules, over all an eagle rising or, on the breast an inescutcheon azure charged with a crescent argent and a chief per pale of the first and of the last, on a chief azure, semé-de‑lis of the third an inescutcheon bendy of six or and azure within a bordure gules (Abbot Eugene).

The Martin family of Ireland has a coat of arms consisting of an ermine field bearing three red bars.

The motto of Abbot Eugene, emblazoned at the base of his impaled arms, "Nihil amori Christi praeponere" is translated, "To prefer nothing to the love of Christ," and is taken from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chap. IV, "The Instruments of Good Works," Instrument No. 21.

10. Conditions for Admission to the Cistercian Order

"The choir monks, whose chief duty is the solemn and public discharge of the Holy Liturgy, are either priests or destined for the  p224 priesthood. Candidates for their ranks must, therefore, be free from any canonical impediments which would prevent their reception of Holy Orders. Young men from sixteen to about thirty-five years of age are received as postulants. Good recommendations must be presented from one's pastor or former Superiors. At least a high school education is recommended. Those who enter without this must complete their classical studies here in the monastery before receiving the holy Habit. Before their entrance, candidates are asked to procure certificates of their baptism and confirmation and parents' marriage certificate. Also it is required that one obtain a certificate of good health from one's physician and have all dental needs taken care of.

"The postulantship ordinarily lasts one month, and is passed in one's civilian clothes. If the candidate shows evidence of a true vocation and the necessary aptitude, he is received into the novitiate at the end of this period. The two‑year novitiate is followed by a three-year period of simple vows, then the solemn perpetual vows. In all, a little more than five years must elapse before the aspirant is permitted to bind himself irrevocably to this life. In the meanwhile, the young religious pursues his philosophical and theological studies, and begins to receive the sacred Orders sometimes after his solemn profession.

"All that has been said for the admission, noviceship and profession of the choir monks applies also for the lay brothers. Their postulantship, however, lasts for six months, and the same educational requirements are not asked of them.

"Those seeking further information about Order and about the life at New Melleray are cordially invited to correspond with The Right Reverend Abbot, Abbey of Our Lady of New Melleray, Dubuque, Iowa."

11. A Monk's Will

Written by Abbot Bruno of New Melleray not long before he died in 1944, with the request that the document not be opened until after his death.

"Being weak in body but sound in mind, I make this my last will.

"In regard to worldly goods I have none whatever. Consequently, of the articles which I have been allowed to use, the Prior will dispose as, and when and where he may desire.

 p225  "Of spiritual goods I owe a tremendous debt. First to God for His mercies toward me and especially for having brought me into Religion, and for having enabled me to persevere therein until now. Next, the Blessed Virgin Mary I thank for the same.

"To the Archbishop and to all who offered masses, communions, sacrifices, or prayers for me, I return sincere and heartfelt thanks, and I promise them my poor prayers.

"To each in the Community I owe very much. There might be an objection to mentioning names; but how can I refrain from expressly thanking those who carried me up the stairs to the chapel so often to Mass and to Vespers! How can I refrain from thanking those who watched so patiently at my bedside, and deprived themselves of needed rest to assist me. To each and all I promise my lasting gratitude, and my poor prayers.

"If you would desire advice from an old monk, here it is. Always value very highly your vocation, be grateful to God for it, and prove your gratitude by fidelity to Him, and to the ever Blessed Virgin Mary. Amen.

"Brother Bruno, Abbot."

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