Four of our cooks are caught cleaning the cooler. Left to right: Diane Messer, Jane
Mayer, Virginia Fettig, and Diane Hauck. Not pictured are Eva Messer and Cathy Tormaschy.
North Dakota has a bad reputation for cold weather. This January has been normal
for here, that is, frigid. But not all of the monks dislike that state of affairs.
For example, before he became infirm with age, Father Francis did not hesitate to
walk outside to recite his Rosary, no matter what the weather. This is quite remarkable,
since he is a native of Bombay, India, one of the hottest cities in the world. Before
he entered religious life, he worked in Alaska, and he did not mind that, either.
Then there is Brother Michael. He takes a walk around the perimeter of Richardton
every day, come what may. That includes ten below zero. Before he joined the community
four years ago, he worked in Georgia, which is not noted for its cold weather. But
he claims that one of the attractions of Assumption Abbey for him was precisely its
cold weather. Last summer Abbot President Timothy told us he was amazed that we get
any vocations, far north as we are. It could turn out that this will be our trump
card in the end. Global warming, anyone?
The other day at lunch, Brother Elias coyly remarked that he had been interviewed
that morning by the New York Times by phone. One of the monks finally asked him what
the Times wanted to know. It turns out that Elias is involved with a group of aficionados
(read: fanatics) of the New York subway system. These people, who communicate constantly
via internet, are fascinated by the labyrinthine tunnels and the high-speed trains
that keep New York humming. Apparently, Elias is something of an expert on maps of
the system. He finally got together with the group on his vacation home last summer.
How did our man come to know so much about so little? He is a native of New York,
and knows it inside out. Also upside down. Of course, all the monks are well aware
of this obsession, because he often brings it into conversations. Sad to say, none
of the rest of us know (or care) anything about the subject. That doesn’t deter Elias,
but it must be a somewhat lonely life in such an alien culture as this. Well, finally
the world has taken notice of him and his pals. When was the last time the New York
Times called anyone in North Dakota?
At Christmas time, we have a lot of candy on our coffee table, some of it palatable
and some of it less so. This year there was a sort of sampler called “Jelly Bellies,”
little bitty jellybeans in about fifty flavors, divided into compartments. Some of
these flavors are traditional like licorice, but some of them are exotic. They all
taste about the same, except for one—the jalapenos. You want to avoid those little
We had pretty well kept away from the jalapenos until one day we found that somebody
had redistributed all the Jelly Bellies at random. Bro. Nicholas confided that someone
had in fact accidentally dumped the whole shebang on the rug, and that he (Nick)
had helped this poor fella retrieve every last bean. When pressed for further details,
he steadfastly declined to name the culprit. As for the jalapenos, however, they
did not remain anonymous but did their deadly work among us. We now know enough to
avoid dark green Jelly Bellies.
Abbot Brian traveled to Prince of Peace Abbey near San Diego, January 28 to February
1, for the annual retreat of abbots. This year’s speaker was Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald
of the Vatican’s department of interreligious dialogue. He spoke on the general purpose
and experience of dialogue with non-Christian religions, with emphasis on Islam.
This man really knows his stuff: is fluent in Arabic, has been a missionary in Sudan,
and so on. Nowadays, most of us wish we knew more about Islam: just ask the Vatican!
Abbot Brian has been getting settled into the office and role of abbot. No other
work fully prepares a monk for this office, but perhaps the job of parish priest
comes as close as any other. Still, a parish priest does not have much chance to
paint park benches. What’s that you say, park benches? Yes, the Abbot is working
away over in the carpenter shop on those distinctive green benches of ours that need
new paint every so often. It is a pretty contemplative task, this painting. Certainly
nobody else is fighting him for it. The new abbot is also washing dishes. A man after
our own heart.
This display of abbatial zeal inspired Bro. Pius to weigh in with a brief history
of the benches. It seems they date back to about 1950 when Abbot Cuthbert acquired
a pattern which Bro. Pius then executed. This involved the skilled work of bending
the iron supports into their classical scrollwork shape. Ornamental iron work is
not something that happens around here every day. But just this spring, Don Kramer
of Dickinson has crafted a new set of sheet-metal winged-balls for the church steeples.
Many thanks to this generous man.
Lent came early for this year (February 9), but it came even earlier for the monks.
Beginning January 2, and then every Monday night, we watched a long series of videos
concerning the current scandal of sexual abuse of underage victims by religious officials.
This series, which features Dr. Monica Applewhite, a very personal and knowledgeable
expert, told us everything we wanted to know about this subject, plus quite a bit
more. Even though few of us ever work with youngsters, Fr. Abbot felt it would be
good for us all to know as much as possible about this dreadful situation. God help
us all, but also, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
In recent months our library has accessioned its one hundred thousandth book. It
does not contain quite that many volumes, but it is still a huge library for a small
group of monks. How did it get so big? For one thing, it has been accumulating since
1928 and a lot of books can pile up over 76 years. Secondly, when we had a school
we gathered books that we needed for the students. Of course, since the school closed
33 years ago, our acquisitions have mostly been theological and monastic books.
Not only is our library big, it is good. That is, it contains mostly quality items
and some of them are first-rate. The community has always had book lovers such as
Abbot Cuthbert Goeb, Father Bernard Fritz, and the Pfaller brothers, Benedict and
Louis. These men put their personal mark on the collection. But no one has been more
important to this library than our present librarian, Bro. Aaron Jensen, who has
been working on our books for twenty years. Besides being a prodigious reader himself,
he has seen to it that the other monks who are nuts about books are able to indulge
Our photographer, Fr. James, catches Bro. Jacob up on the scaffold. Last spring we
remodeled the skylights on the third floor. As his face mask shows, it was a dusty
Dueling cranes? Not really, but it did take two of them to lift the big crosses off
of our towers last fall. The crosses have been rebuilt and regilded. They will be
replaced this spring.
Recently the community got a new car. In itself, this is not newsworthy since the
cars come and the cars go. But this is a bright yellow car, and for us that is certainly
not normal. It seems the Procurator was looking for a hatchback, so he bought a good
used Pontiac Aztek from Rural Auto (“Taylor’s biggest used car dealer”). To him the
color was not a big consideration. But aesthetically speaking, a bright yellow car
is really a very significant thing.
By and large the monks belong to the Henry Ford school of automotive décor.
He said, concerning the beloved Model-T: “You can have it in any color you want,
as long as it is black.” Historically speaking, this is not the first yellow car
we have ever had. Fr. Louis Pfaller used to drive a yellow Ford, but that was long,
long ago. To add to the shock, this little Aztek looks like a troop carrier but with
no machine gun on top. Very curious.
Unlike most other monasteries, we practice a fairly open policy in regard to our
choir stalls. Even grade school groups are permitted to join us for certain services.
Usually they behave themselves pretty well, but sometimes they are bored and restless.
One day in early March a school group got pretty rambunctious and the monks were
not amused. But the next day there was another group that behaved like angels. Were
these kids that different? Probably not. Bro. Michael confided that he had just perfected
his stern speech of preliminary admonition.
Abbot Brian spent March 10-19 at our satellite community in Bogotá, Colombia.
His primary purpose for the trip was the Visitation of the community. He was accompanied
by Fr. Valerian, who acted as translator and co-visitator. One of the upshots of
the Visitation was the election of Fr. Gonzalo Blanco Gutierrez as Prior, the first
native Colombian to occupy the head spot in the community in 44 years. As such, this
represents a significant step in the direction of independence for the South American
group. The visitators interviewed seventeen monks, eight of whom are in vows and
the rest are newcomers. As someone pointed out, there is a lot of black hair in this
community. Translation: they are pretty young.
Another feature of the visit was the ordination to the priesthood of Fr. Manuel
Cely. He recently finished his priestly studies at Collegeville and is now working
as the vocation director of the priory. Since he grew up near the monastery, a good
crowd attended his ordination. Fr. Basil Atwell, who is a friend of Manuel and fellow-alumnus
of St. John’s, attended the ceremony. It gave him a good chance to see South America
for the first time.
Meanwhile, down in the metal-shop beneath the garage marvelous things were taking
place. A professional decorator from Minneapolis was gilding the ornaments for the
twin towers. This involved covering the big structures (globes surmounted by wings
and a cross) with gold leaf. It turns out that this is an extremely delicate process:
if the artisan so much as touches the gold with his bare hand it is tarnished. Well
then, you say, how on earth will it stand up in the extreme weather conditions 120
feet up in the air? As the man says: We shall see.
In related news, the big bell arrived on the last day of March. It was cast
in the Netherlands and weighs 4,600 lbs. It will be hung in the east tower, whereas
the other three bells are in the west tower. That means that the whole supporting
structure will have to be built for it. Right now, the bell waits on the front steps
of the church, gleaming in the bright spring sunshine. Anybody who comes along can
ping it with his knuckles, and anybody who can lift it can (try to) steal it.
The local landscape got significantly altered in early April when Fr. Thomas
supervised a group of local men in the removal of about sixty trees from our property.
Most of these were dead or dying American elms that formerly stood in an east-west
line along the north side of our vegetable garden. Since they had the use of modern
tree-removal equipment, these men made rather quick work of the job. But of course
it left a considerable stack of cordwood and wood chips. It is a sin to cut down
a tree in western North Dakota, but when they are dead, they are dead.
Alas! These are not very wet times in these parts! In fact, we have had hardly
no rain at all this spring. It has been warm and breezy, but clear skies don’t bring
May flowers. The farmers are getting the crop in early, but it won’t do much unless
we get a good deal of rain. Since last August we have had about three inches of precipitation.
Our hay reserves are down to virtually nothing, so we need rain for the pastures.
Wheat can handle cool, dry conditions but eventually the prairie needs rain or it
A nasty virus tore through the community this month, reducing us to coughing,
wheezing, helplessness. Once half the monks were in the grip of respiratory illness,
choir recitation and singing became difficult if not impossible. Some monks went
to the doctor and some did not, but nobody got quick or easy relief. Our own infirmarian,
Bro. Elias, was not well positioned to help since he was laid up with foot surgery.
Bro. Anthony graduated from the University of Mary on April 30 with a bachelor
of science degree in social sciences. He also took computer courses and was listed
among Who’s Who in American Colleges. His family from Minneapolis was able to attend
the graduation, and his mother, Mrs. Jovita Baker, stayed at the Abbey a few days
afterward. During his time at Mary, Bro. Anthony was active in the campus ministry
team. In recent months, he has been writing a term paper on the history of Belfield,
ND. He had previously done some study at the University of Minnesota.
Br. Aelred applies finish to a box in the carpentry shop. His favorite hobby is mounting
Byzantine icons is his studio above the library. He is responsible for most of the
decorations for our liturgy.
Fr. Francis poses beside our new bell. He is a short man, but the bell really is
huge. It weighs 4,500 pounds. Is there a bigger bell in the state of North Dakota?
Calving season was especially difficult this year due to an epidemic of coccidiosis
among the calves. This disease, which is endemic to the soil, and which can spread
rapidly among closely confined calves, has to be treated vigorously or it will be
deadly. As it was, only two of the fifty sick calves died, because of the hard work
of the ranch brothers. The treatment required that each calf be dosed every day for
five days. Sounds simple enough, but it takes three men to maneuver these little
critters into the chute where they can be treated.
Fr. Terrence gave a talk entitled “St. Benedict and the Environment” at Bismarck
State College on May 3. This lecture was sponsored by the Sierra Club in connection
with Earth Day. In his presentation, Fr. Terrence pointed out that St. Benedict has
been proposed as the patron saint of ecologists by Rene Dubos because he wants his
monks to be both farmers and scholars. According to Dubos, this is what is needed
if we are to approach the environment sensitively. But Terrence thinks that the subsequent
history of Benedictine monasticism does not bear this out. For the fact is that very
few monks have ever been able to combine hard, physical labor on the land with serious
study or choir duty. He gave this same talk to our Oblates at their spring retreat,
Fr. John’s relatives joined the monks for supper on Ascension Thursday, May
5. His siblings and their spouses gathered to fete him on the fiftieth anniversary
of his ordination to the priesthood. The very fact that most of his brothers and
sisters are still alive to celebrate is a tribute to the Odermann hardihood. Fr.
John himself is not sprightly, but he still puts a lot of energy into his beloved
hobby of making crosses out of tree branches. We know when he is at the Abbey because
his pickup is parked outside the door of the woodshop and there is a roar inside.
Our community retreat this year was given by Abbot Aidan Shea, O.S.B., of St.
Anselm’s Abbey, Washington, DC. This event, which lasted from May 22 to 26, is primarily
for the spiritual edification of the individual, but it also brings the whole community
together for a few days this time of the year. St. Anselm’s Abbey is located near
the campus of the Catholic University of America. In fact, it was founded to function
as a sort of faculty house for monks who would teach at the University but still
live the common life. Abbot Aidan is an ideal retreat giver: sensitive, humorous
and very, very wise.
At a meeting of the Assumption Abbey Chapter in early May, Bro. Michael Taffe
was accepted for solemn vows. He has been assigned to teach psychology at the University
of Mary this coming year. Since it has been some years since he taught, he has been
practicing, as it were, at Dickinson State University this spring. In May he taught
a weekly seminar at Trinity in group dynamics for the U of Mary business department,
and in June he will teach a DSU summer school course in Introduction to Psychology.
This big tree was laid across our driveway by a high wind on the night of June 19.
Notice that the roots are simply pulled out of the ground. Other trees all over our
campus were snapped off like toothpicks. It is tough being a tree on the Great Plains.
The big event for June was definitely the weather, or rather the rain, of which we
received an abundance. After a couple years of drought, and after a dry early spring,
we got almost seven inches of precip from the middle of May til the middle of June.
In Western North Dakota, that means a good hay crop and probably presages a decent
grain crop as well. Unfortunately, Eastern North Dakota got far too much rain, as
it almost always does when the West gets enough.
After its long hibernation, the prairie positively exploded with chlorophyll. The
green was so intense that it almost hurt the eyes. From worrying whether to sell
off more cattle, we went to a situation where the cows were getting lost in the long
grass. Well, not quite, but it was another demonstration of the astonishing resiliency
of the prairie. This may be a semi-arid region, but it certainly doesn’t lack fertility.
All that rain means burgeoning lawns, and we have acres of them. Brothers Basil and
Anthony spent most of June on their trusty riding-mowers, trying to keep ahead of
grass. Brother Louie has the contract for mowing the vacant lots across the street,
and Brother Alban works away at the margins with the weed-whacker. In a year like
this, half the community is needed to keep the place looking halfway decent.
Fr. Terrence was in West Texas for the first time in his life, preaching a retreat
on the Rule of St. Benedict to the Sisters at Canyon, TX, June 19-24. Canyon is a
few miles south of Amarillo in the Texas panhandle. As such, it lies in the Great
Plains region like we do, but about 1,500 miles south. Of course, it is much hotter
and much drier. Fr. Terrence also has four articles in the recently published New
Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality.
Fr. James continues his work on the maintenance crew, but in the summer he moves
outdoors. This summer he is putting new siding on the east side of the ranch barn.
From the looks of it, it has been maybe half a century since it was sided. James
is also painting the church doors. Needless to say, these doors are not your average
plywood jobbies. They are huge portals of solid oak, taking four men to carry to
the carpenter shop, where the painting takes place. Fr. James is also trying to round
up a crew to help him scrape and paint the windows of Schnell Hall. Good luck.
In general, it was a beautiful June, but there was one glaring exception. In the
early morning of Father’s Day, June 19, a terrific sou’wester blew in, bringing with
it heavy rains and 86 mph straight-line winds. It blew like that for about 15 minutes,
and one monk who would rather die than exaggerate said he actually thought the whole
building might collapse. Needless to say, weak trees were snapped off like match
sticks and some were just uprooted. The copper roofing came off the apse of the church
and ended up in the front yard. It must have sailed over the roof, which is three
stories high. And it would have killed anyone it struck.
What does the well dressed monk wear these days? To judge from these three confreres
(left to right, Bro. Llewellyn, Br. Placid, and Fr. Raymond) it is a baseball cap.
Next thing you know, they'll be turning them backwards.
The Kolling Construction Company is working away at the renovation of the church
towers, but it is going slow. The reason is that they need almost calm conditions
to take the new windows and louvers up in the car of the crane. Now, calm days in
this area are rare as hens’ teeth, and great towers seem to attract wind. Which a
saying: “Beware of the strong winds that swirl around the bases of tall towers and
But they don’t need a calm day to hoist the new bell up into the east tower and it
is ready to go. They will pull it up from the lobby through trapdoors, and the power
will be supplied by a winch that runs on compressed air. They will probably not want
anyone to stand below the bell as it goes up to its new home. Note: the bell was
hauled up to its new home on July 12. It now rings before most of our liturgical
exercises, but not at 6:20 a.m.!
Abbot Brian and Fr. Lawrence drove to Hastings, MN, July 3, for the golden jubilee
Mass of Fr. Stephen. Although they went down in one vehicle, they planned to drive
back in two since the Abbey had been bequeathed a pickup truck by the recently deceased
Richard Biskupski (a former confrere). But the plan had to be scrapped when they
learned that the pickup had not yet been released by the estate. So, being the flexible
people they are, they simply drove up to eastern North Dakota to visit relatives.
Oh yes, Fr. Stephen beat them back to this area. He could not wait to get back to
work in Mandaree. Fr. Jerry Ruelle also attended this event.
A major change occurred at Monasterio de Tibatí this July when Fr. Philip Vanderlin
returned to the States for reassignment. He has spent his entire monastic life in
Bogotá (1967-2005), so this will be a big change for him. His most recent role at
the dependent priory was that of prior (superior), which he performed for 3 terms
(9 years). With the return of Fr. Philip, Fr. Francis Wehri remains the only “gringo”
(North American) left at the priory. Fr. Francis has been rector of Colegio San Carlos
for almost 40 years, which would have killed a lesser man.
The Hoff family, descendants of Eleanor and the late Paul, gathered in Schnell Hall
for several days in late July for a reunion. Since the residence is rather far from
the monastery, we don’t see too much of these groups. But they were with us for the
evening meal for five or six days, so we did get a good look at them. One thing is
sure: the Hoffs are not about to die out soon! There were innumerable citizens in
the range of zero to six years, and most of them seemed full of zest for life. There
were newborn babies, crawlers, toddlers and sprinters.
Fr. Valerian did not loll about this summer but spent it preaching the Kingdom of
God. During the last week of July he lead a retreat for the Sisters of Sacred Heart
Monastery in Yankton, SD. Then on July 30 he was a featured speaker at a congress
of Oblate Directors and Oblates at the same monastery. Finally, he celebrated the
wedding Mass of a U of Mary grad at Garretson, SD. The pastor of Garretson is Fr.
Tony Imberi, an Abbey alumnus, and one would like to have been a fly on the wall
when these two got to know each other. Further, Fr. James drove to Yankton with Oblate
Paul Usselman for the Oblate conference.
Maintenance Head, Bro. John Seiler examines the guilding on the crosses for the church.
The main part of the crosses and ornaments was guilded by an artist from the Twin
Cities, but Bro. John himself went to the tops of the spires to guild the supporting
structures. The results are splendid to say the least.
In addition to the church towers, there were many other outdoor projects that got
taken care of this summer. The library building was tuckpointed. There were new roofs
laid down in various places and so forth. At one point there were four separate crews
working on the physical plant, all of them using machines that whined, roared or
grated. It was a good time to stay away from here, but is also a good time to be
here. The weather is generally gorgeous, nature is in full bloom and people are probably
at their healthiest.
The farm and garden report is overall quite positive. With the heavy spring rains
we got a lot of hay (about 1,500 large bales) and the pastures came back to life.
On the other hand, the fruit trees and bushes were damaged again by late frosts,
so we got few apples, chokecherries and so on. This comes with living so far north.
Bro. Louie’s garden looked spectacular, with the potatoes, tomatoes and corn doing
especially well. But here again there were problems. Some crops like beans, cabbage
and peas were distinctly subpar. Either they didn’t come up or they languished.
Fr. Claude had surgery for cancer in July and spent the next couple of months recuperating
in the Abbey Infirmary, Bro. Elias, Prop. Although the surgery was successful, the
patient is not young, so recovery was slow. But once he got the hang of his electric
cart, Claude became a force to be reckoned with. His recovery was aided by the visit
of his sister, Sister Judeen, O.S.B., of Watertown, SD. Fr. Claude is a hospital
chaplain of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Dickinson. And emeritus chaplain of the Minnesota
Twins, a truly onerous task. Bro. Pius and Fr. Sebastian are also loyal Twins fans,
never complaining, never deserting. If (per impossibile) the team should ever again
win it all, men like these would be rewarded for their long years of frustration.
Two of our confreres lost parents this August. John Wordekemper, father of Fr. Thomas,
died at West Point, Nebraska, August 12. Mr. Wordekemper was a lifelong resident
of the Omaha area, who earned a living as an accountant. He was a generous donor
to our church fund, and he and his wife, Juliana, prepared the altar at the liturgy
of rededication of our church in December, 2001. Fr. Thomas attended his father’s
funeral August 16. Bro. John Patrick Arnett was informed of the impending death of
his mother, Bette, so he flew to Salida, CO, on August 1, but arrived too late. Later,
John Pat, accompanied by Bro. Jacob, drove to Colorado Springs, CO, for the August
23 memorial service for his mother.
Bro. Elias always leads a fairly busy life, but this summer was exceptional. In addition
to his work as Abbey infirmarian, he has long been involved in the Richardton-Taylor
ambulance service. For this specialized work, he needs to update his nursing credentials
and he did so by attending classes at Killdeer once a week this summer. Since turn
about is fair play, Elias himself gave ambulance classes to new volunteers here in
Richardton during August. People like him make it easier for those who live far from
The tuckpointing of the library building during August involved some fairly fancy
footwork. In the old days, this kind of work was done from scaffolds, they are laborious
to erect and take down. Nowadays, people use mechanical hoists (“cherry pickers”)
but the east side of the library lies in a courtyard. No problem. The big Kolling
crane took a few moments from its work on the church towers to lift the cherry picker
into the courtyard. And to lift it out.
These past two summers have seen a lot of work on our roofs. This labor is contracted
out, but our maintenance chief, Bro. John Seiler (hard hat) makes sure to get up
there every day to see how things are going.
As noted in the last issue, we find ourselves once again in that unenviable position
that contemporary monasteries so often experience, namely, an empty novitiate and
juniorate. Now one of the nice features of apprentice monks is that they normally
do much of the housework. It would not have to be like that, but it is convenient
for all concerned because these are stable jobs and they do not bring too much responsibility
Without novices, however, the housework must still be done. And so we came together
in a community meeting recently to decide how we would do it. The list of jobs was
presented: cleaning bathrooms, lunchroom, hallways, etc., etc. Gradually, one by
one, people began volunteering for these jobs. They knew it would either be that
or be assigned to them. But still it was heartwarming to witness all that good will.
The newly gilded crosses have been installed on top our church towers and they are
magnificent. But some of us were skeptical that anything as delicate as gold leaf
could stand up to the ravages of nature. We have extreme temperatures and we have
roaring winds that tear things apart. No, we were told, gold leaf is extremely durable.
Well, apparently it can not withstand just anything. A certain owl has been perching
up there at night and doing something besides hooting.
Fr. Hugo has been doing a lot of writing down there in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, where
he is parish priest (see last issue). Recently he published a feature on our confrere,
Fr. Philip, in the Cheyenne diocese newspaper. Philip is spending a few months assisting
the pastor of Jackson before assignment to the Hispanics of the diocese. The curious
thing is that there are several Colombians in the Jackson parish, including the assistant
priest Philip is replacing. Philip just returned from many years in our Colombian
priory, Monasterio de Tibatí in Bogotá.
On Sunday, September 18, we had a nice musical event in our church here at the Abbey.
Trio Apollo, a Bismarck-based woodwind group, played an assorted program of music
entitled “A Lewis and Clark Musical Excursion.” Lewis and Clark did not play clarinet,
oboe and bassoon like these women, but apparently they did dance to fiddle and harmonica
when things got dull. With its vaulted ceilings to enhance the acoustics, the Abbey
church is an ideal place for concerts.
In January, it is pleasant to recall the warmth of summer. Here the brothers pick
up their lunch at a courtyard picnic. Left to right: Benedict, Jacob, John Seiler,
Odo, Thomas, Hugo, John Patrick, and Francis.
Winter came in like a lion this year in our area. On Sunday, October 2, the temperature
reached 86 degrees. By Tuesday night, one and a half feet of wet snow had fallen
and things ground to a halt. Highways were blocked and the electricity was off for
four hours in the monastery. Because most of the trees had not yet dropped their
leaves, the damage to them was extensive. Added to the wind damage in June, it was
definitely not a good year to be a tree in this neck of the woods.
But the blizzard was not all bad. Best of all, it brought 1.6 inches of precipitation
and meant that we would not go into winter with no sub-moisture. It had hardly rained
here since the 4th of July. Our cattle were stranded without feed, but in no real
danger because the temperatures were not very low. The farm-crew managed to bring
them in for some lunch after all.
We had an unusual visitor this October in Felipe Mora, who graduated in June from
our Colegio San Carlos, our school in Bogotá, Colombia. He is college-bound and also
interested in pursuing a monastic vocation in our priory in Bogotá, Monasterio de
Tibatí. At any rate, he was able to travel for some months in this country, and he
decided to stop in here on his itinerary. While here, he teamed up with Brother Bertrand
on the recorder for some very nice music during our Sunday liturgy.
Bro. Llewellyn spent a couple of weeks in Minnesota this month showing his pottery
at the College of St. Benedict. He was part of a show called “Taking It With Us,”
in honor of the retirement of Sister Denis Frandrup, his teacher. Llewellyn was able
to stay at nearby Saint John’s Abbey where he had lived during his schooling fifteen
years ago. During this same period, Bro. Aelred vacationed at Saint John’s lake cabin
in the North Woods of Minnesota.
Fr. Terrence traveled to Clyde, Missouri, to give a retreat to the Benedictine Sisters
October 1-7. Clyde is in the northwestern corner of Missouri, only two miles from
Conception Abbey. Both of them are large communities with well over a hundred years
of history behind them. The Sisters operate a factory for the making of altar breads.
Since their numbers are down and their age is up (like most of us!), they have had
to automate much of this production.
The Liturgical Press came out this fall with a book of meditations on the Rule of
Benedict by Fr. Terrence. The title is Day by Day with Saint Benedict. It is a volume
of 286 pp. ($14.95, very cheap!) and includes a 200-word meditation on the Holy Rule
for every day of the year. As the author worked away at this project last year, he
began to notice that there really are quite a few days in a year.
Lent started early this year for Bro. Pius when he fell and broke his femur bone
in early October. After surgery, he spent weeks at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Dickinson
doing physical therapy. But Pius is good at therapy; he has been inventing his own
exercises for arthritis for years. Presumably he showed the therapists at St. Joe’s
a trick or two. He also watched more TV baseball than he had before in his long life.
Bro. Gregory took the vacation of a lifetime in Los Angeles this month. In honor
of his 40th anniversary of profession, his relatives (Bill Goetz, chairman) gave
him a plane ticket to anywhere in the USA. In the follow-up interrogation by his
fellow monks, Gregory said that he did not go to Disneyland because 1) It is too
expensive. 2) It takes all day. As for Las Vegas, well, don’t even ask. But he did
get to Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, CA, so he had a nice busman’s holiday.
Marshmallows, anyone? The bonfire crew (left to right, Louie, Placid, John Patrick)
warm themselves at the big fire they have set. Periodically, our burn-pile reaches
a state where something has to be done. They done it.
The month started off with an aesthetic highlight consisting of an organ concert
by Gerrit Lamain of West St. Paul, MN, in the Abbey church. The event began with
the blessing of our new organ by Abbot Brian followed by a particularly spirited
rendering of “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” by the packed church. For some reason,
everybody joins in on that hymn. Mr. Lamain, who is a lifelong music educator, was
sponsored by the Schmitt Music Company of Fargo, which sold us the new Johannus organ.
His program was a nice blend of the stately and the spritely, both of which were
meant to show off the range of the instrument. To judge from the response of the
audience, it was well-received.
Fr. Thomas has been busy again this fall visiting the Catholic schools of the region.
He sometimes works alone and sometimes participates in vocation programs that feature
diocesan and religious speakers and representatives. Of course, grade and high school
children are too young to know what they want to do with their lives, but at least
everyone who attends a Catholic school should know that monks and nuns still exist,
and it is still possible to become one.
November was a time of retreat for Fr. Terrence, but he did not spend it in a monastery.
He was taken to St. Alexius Hospital, Bismarck, with kidney failure on November 6.
Two days later, doctors removed a large stone and the patient began to return to
the land of the living. Life in a modern hospital often consists of being hauled
in and out of large, shiny machines. If you are lucky, these hi-tech contraptions
eventually reveal what is wrong with you. But it is still the doctors and nurses
who bring you back to health with tender, loving care. All you have to do is accept
On November 2, Fr. Lawrence climbed into his car and headed south—a long way south.
His destination, St. Walburga Monastery, Virginia Dale, CO, where he will be chaplain
for the next six months. St. Walburga, which was founded from Eichstaett, Germany,
as were most of our American female monasteries, is one of the strictly contemplative
Benedictine monasteries in the country. It was founded in Boulder, CO, but in recent
years the nuns found themselves surrounded by suburbia, so they moved to a rather
remote spot on the Wyoming border north of Fort Collins, CO. The elevation of the
new monastery is so high that they cannot raise a garden! But now they are closer
to God, and so is Fr. Lawrence.
Owl Update: The church crosses have been strategically wired, so there will be no
On November 25, Frs. Gerald and Sebastian set out for Bogotá, Colombia, where they
were honored guests at the 40th anniversary celebration of the first graduating class
at Colegio San Carlos (1965). These two men were members of our priory of Tibatí
at that time, so they provide a living link with the beginnings.
Over the weekend of November 18-21, Brothers Anthony and Aelred drove to Sidney,
MT, to participate in a youth retreat called Big Sky TEC. They functioned as adult
staff members for the program. TEC retreats resemble the Search retreats that were
held for many years at the Abbey. Now that Search has moved its operations to Minot,
it seems that the brothers want to keep in touch with youth work, even if they have
to travel to find it.
On Sunday, November 20, Brothers John Patrick and Bertrand traveled to Bismarck,
where they attended the play “Dead Man Walking” at the University of Mary. The main
attraction for them was the fact that our very own Bro. Michael played one of the
roles. Apparently one of the actors had to drop out, so Michael stepped in on short
notice. He did fine, but he says it took a lot out of him.
Abbot Brian has resigned as Pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Richardton, which includes
the missions of St. Stephen’s and Gladstone. He took over St. Mary’s in the summer
of 1983, so he has been at the helm for 21 years. As far as we can tell, Brian’s
was the longest pastorate in the history of St. Mary’s, outdoing even that of the
legendary Fr. Peter Fehren-bach (1930-1949). During all these years he has lived
in the Abbey and been a very faithful participant in the common life. Not an easy
act to follow.
His successor is Fr. Boniface, who has in fact been handling the ordinary pastoral
duties since the abbatial election at the end of May. Becoming a pastor is a change
in lifestyle for Boniface, since he has been a teacher at the University of Mary
for some years. He has also been the pressman in our printing business, which will
now have to be put on hold. As of this issue (April, 2005), this newsletter is printed
Even though Fr. Boniface is heading into new territory, he has been doing a good
deal of pastoral supply work since he was ordained in 1990. Before that, he got an
excellent theological seminary education at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Although St. Mary’s, St. Stephen’s and St. Thomas are a rural parish cluster, Boniface
himself is a big city boy. He grew up in Chicago, the son of Robert Muggli, a former
Richardton resident. Still, he has been a monk of Assumption Abbey since 1983, so
he is no stranger to these parts.
There are also some other new developments in our little town these days. We now
have a resident physician again in the person of Dr. Shelly Selph. She and nurse
practitioner Leah Floberg have reopened the Richardton Clinic. Gary Messer and Co.,
have built a new factory just south of the train tracks for turning out prefabricated
houses. And the ground is being prepared for a new ethanol plant southeast of town,
the construction of which will begin next spring. So, despite appearances, “we ain’t
Abbot Patrick passed through the Abbey for a few days (December 8-11) on his way
from San Francisco to Richmond, VA. He will serve as administrator of Mother of the
Church Abbey for the next three years. This community existed in Richmond for many
years as a dependent priory of Belmont Abbey (North Carolina). Their main work was
always a military school in downtown Richmond. In 1989 they became an independent
abbey, with headquarters some miles west of the city. The Abbey has fifteen members
at the present time.
This has been one of the warmest, sunniest autumns in memory for these parts. Although
some of us are worried that we have to pay dearly some day for this nice weather
(that’s our North Dakota German/Norwegian blood speaking), and we know that we need
mountains of snow to relieve the drought we are in, we are still happy as clams that
there is no ice to scrape and no snow to shovel. Now if we could just have a little
bit of snow for a White Christmas. . . . Sure enough, winter arrived December 21
and we had a nice white Christmas!