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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part 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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 p. vii  Foreword

No other monastery has had a more inspiring, a more soul-stirring existence than New Melleray at Dubuque.

Over a hundred years had passed and no one had written an authoritative history of this Iowa Trappist house. Something had to be done about it. Here was a story of the austere, spiritual soldiers of Christ, a most unique one, with sparkling annals and moving, melancholy chapters, growing cobwebby with oblivion, and threatening to remain forever untold. Pious disquisitions on the Cistercian life at New Melleray had appeared, and spiritual treatises, pamphlets, booklets, even magazine articles embellished with splendid photographic studies, had often touched on the richly mystic existence of the contemplative sons of La Trappe in the midwestern countryside. But no pen had ever traced out its definitive history.

Brilliant writers as well as profound students at our universities pondered the matter but they all side-stepped the task. They were intrigued, and there is no doubt about this fact: the interest in the great Cistercian order today is extraordinary. In the summer of 1950 and not long before his death James Norman Hall, co‑author of Mutiny on the Bounty and author of other gripping tales, spent a few days of rest and reflection at New Melleray Abbey. He became interested in the snatches of the fascinating stories he listened to about the humble Trappists and toyed with the idea of writing their legend, but went no further. No son of the Church was he, and as a stranger to monasticism he was diffident about making such an attempt. One wonders what this captivating chronicler of the sagas of the seas would have made of the saintly saga of the Iowa prairies.

This present attempt is not an historical study of the Cistercian way of life with all its religious and devotional implications. It tries simply to be an honest and straight-forward history of New Melleray, striving also to retain, of course, those spiritual undertones which form a part of it. It is as far as possible a faithful reflection, without any exaggeration or distortion, of the old and grand Trappist cloister and community that for over a century has been sending up from the  p. viii Mississippi valley its prayers and penitential works to the throne of God for all mankind.

A major part of it has been garnered from the old manuscripts of the monks themselves. Much more in the form of letters has unfortunately disappeared through fire. Father Benedict Cowles, O. C. S. O., assembled materials during several years that proved of invaluable assistance. Brother Timothy Westemeyer, O. C. S. O., a son of the Iowa country and with kinsmen, near and distant, in the Cistercian order since time immemorial proved to be a veritable mine of Trappist information. Only through their encouragement was this task commenced and only through their help has it been completed.

M. M. H.

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Page updated: 3 May 13